“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
I had previously heard nothing about the tragic and remarkable case of Andrew Wordes of Roswell, Ga., who set his house on fire and blew it and himself up as police arrived to evict him from his foreclosed-upon home. It was Agora’s 5 Min. Forecast that alerted me to the case, and this report remains one of not too many mentions in Google’s news feed.
So I got curious about this case, read some of the background, heard an interview with Andrew and read all the tributes at his memorial service and now I realize he was like all of us living under the despotism of our time. He resisted and resisted as long as he could. But rather than finally complying, he decided that a life that is not his own is not worth living.
It is a dramatic and deeply sad story that should raise alarms about the least-talked-about cost of a state-run society: the demoralization that sets in when we do not control our own lives. (I’m grateful to Glenn Horowitz for his careful reconstruction of the timeline of events.)
The whole ordeal began only a few years ago, when Wordes began to keep chickens in his backyard. His property was on 1 acre, but it was surrounded by secluded woods. He loved the birds, sold and gave away eggs to people and enjoyed showing kids the animals. He was also very good at this job, and being something of a free spirit, he chose to make something he loved his profession.
The city objected and came after him. In 2008, the zoning department issued a warning about the chickens on his property. This was odd because he was violating no ordinance at all; indeed, the code specifically approved chickens on properties of less than 2 acres. Even the mayor at the time objected to the department’s claim, but the department went ahead anyway. A year later, and with the assistance of former Gov. Roy Barnes, Wordes won in court!
But then look: The city council rewrote the law with no grandfather clause. It forbade more than six chickens on any lot, and specified that all chickens have to be in a permanent enclosure. He had tried to get approval for an enclosure, but because his house was on a flood plain, the city would not issue an approval. In the midst of this controversy, a flood did come to his house, and he had to use a Bobcat to move dirt around to save his house and his chickens.
Sure enough, the city then issued two citations for moving dirt without a permit and having illegal, unrestrained chickens. Then, the city refused to submit to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) his request for reconstruction funds after this storm (individuals on their own cannot get money of this sort). Next, the city contacted his mortgage holder, who was a friend and who had carried his mortgage for 16 years, and pressured her to sell the mortgage to stay out of legal trouble.
Do you get the sense from this that Mr. Wordes was being targeted? Absolutely. And he knew it, too. The Roswell Police Department pulled him over constantly and issued as many tickets as possible for whatever reason, tangling him in more difficulties. Police cars would wait in front of his house and follow him. And when he didn’t cough up enough money (he was nearly bankrupt after all this), they would book him and throw him in jail. This happened on several occasions. Meanwhile, the city itself filed several more suits against him.
It gets worse. The city planners came up with a “Roswell 2030 Plan” that posited a parks area exactly where his home was. Hearing of this, Wordes offered to sell his home to the city, but the city refused. They clearly planned to drive him out of it with this legal barrage. It didn’t matter that Wordes won every legal challenge or managed to get the suits thrown out in court — that only made the city angrier. Eventually, the city managed to a get probated sentence, setting up a tripwire that would eventually destroy his livelihood.
He posted on his Facebook account that he was going to be a attending a political event. While he was gone, his chickens were poisoned. Also poisoned were the baby turkeys, 10 of which were actually owned by the mayor, who was a friend. At this point, he had lost his means of support. While panicked about what to do, he missed a probation check-in. He was ordered to serve the remainder of his probated sentence in jail for 99 days.
While in jail, his home was ransacked and looted. Of course, the police did nothing. In fact, they probably approved it. Also while in jail, the new mortgage holder foreclosed on his home. His entire life was now in shambles.
The final episode came on March 26 this year. The police had come for the final eviction. Wordes locked himself in the house for several hours. He then came out and told all authorities to step far away from the house. He lit a match, and the gasoline he had doused all over the house created a gigantic explosion. Wordes’ own body was charred beyond recognition.
Maybe you think that Wordes was some sort of freak who couldn’t somehow adjust to normal life with neighbors. Well, it turns out that he was just about the greatest neighbor one could ever have. At his final service, person after person testified how he would come to anyone’s aid at a moment’s notice, how he fixed things and gave away eggs and was incredibly generous to everyone around him. I listened to an interview with him and found him extremely well-spoken and intelligent.
I tell you, if you can listen to this interview without tears welling up, you have no heart. This man was the heart and soul of what made this a great country. The law hounded and hounded him, mainly because some bureaucrats had made a plan that excluded his home. They carried out that plan. He became an enemy of the state. Demoralized and beaten down, he finally had no way out. He ended his life.
Note, too, that he had the support of the high-ranking members of the political class, including the current mayor and a former governor. Bear in mind what this signifies: The political class is not really running things. As I’ve written many times, the political class is only the veneer of the state; it is not the state itself. The state is the permanent bureaucratic structures, those untouched by elections. These institutions make up the real ruling apparatus of government.
It is hard to say that Wordes made the right decision. But it was a courageous one — at least I think it was. It is a difficult moral choice, isn’t it? When the police come to take all you have and are determined to cut out your heart and soul and reduce your life to nothing but a sack of bones and muscle, without the right to choose to do what you love — and you really see no way out — do you really have a life? Wordes decided no.
The rest of us need to think hard about this case, and perhaps you can also spare a few thoughts in memory of his good life, and even a prayer for his immortal soul. May we all long to live in a society in which such people can thrive and enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”