If you’re an American laboring under the assumption that you’re “free” because you live here, this story ought to allow you to see the truth.

In the May 6th edition of the Albuquerque Journal, the plight of Joseph Rivers was detailed. Rivers is a 22-year-old man with a dream of becoming a producer of music videos. He scraped together all the cash he could, saving for a long time, and then added money donated to him by loved ones who supported him, and believed in his dream. In the grand scheme of things, depending on your station in life, you might consider his $16,000 a paltry sum, but it’s all he had.

He boarded an Amtrak train in Michigan and headed out West, aiming for Los Angeles and the beginning of a career, cash in hand. Agents from the DEA boarded the train during a stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and began to randomly question passengers. (Already, we have an issue here. Why, in a free country, are free people subjected to spontaneous “fishing” interviews by federal law enforcement?) The agents quickly settled their sniffing on Mr. Rivers, quizzing him about his destination and his reason for traveling. They asked him for permission to go through his bags and he consented, obviously not wanting to cause a scene or make a fuss. (Second issue. Always refuse the search and demand a warrant.) They eventually found the money he had with him.

They decided to take it away from him.

No arrest. No charges. They just took the cash and left. In the 2015 version of the Land of the Free, that is perfectly “legal,” which should highlight again for us the precept that the words Legal and Lawful are not the same thing. The Journal’s Joline Gutierrez Krueger writes,

Under a federal law enforcement tool called civil asset forfeiture, he need never be arrested or convicted of a crime for the government to take away his cash, cars or property – and keep it.

Agencies like the DEA can confiscate money or property if they have a hunch, a suspicion, a notion that maybe, possibly, perhaps the items are connected with narcotics. Or something else illegal.

Or maybe the fact that the person holding a bunch of cash is a young black man is good enough.

Mr. Rivers begged officers to call and speak with his mother, a military veteran and current hospital coordinator, to verify his story. They didn’t need this. They knew he was guilty. Not guilty enough to charge or arrest, mind you, but guilty. Maybe his eyes are too narrowly set together, or he has some other classic, tell-tale sign of guilt.

Rivers also informed the officers that they were taking all the money he had and so he would therefore hit the ground in L.A. penniless and knowing no one: No way to purchase food or water, much less a ticket back home. Too bad. Not the DEA’s problem, buddy.

Thankfully, another passenger on the train performed the Biblical function of a Good Samaritan and helped the man who had been devastated by robbers. This angel wishes to remain anonymous, but he bought Rivers a ticket back home and also was able to put him in touch with an attorney who specializes in these sorts of things. The case is now rocketing through the court system at half the speed of smell, as Ron White might say. No doubt, the feds are trembling.

When you hear Civil Asset Forfeiture, what you ought to think is “R.I.P. Fifth Amendment.” (That’s the Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that demands that citizens not be killed or imprisoned; neither have their stuff stolen from them, apart from “due process.” The Fourteenth Amendment also mentions this due process, making it the only Constitutional command that is written out twice.) But before that, even, what you should think is, “I am not free. Private property rights in America are nothing but an exercise in Liberty Theater. The government can take it whenever, wherever, and for whatever reason.”

It reminds me of the sage words of Lysander Spooner, the Civil War era political theorist who wrote in No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority:

The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money, or your life. And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat.

The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the road side, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful.

The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber. He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a “protector,” and that he takes men’s money against their will, merely to enable him to “protect” those infatuated travelers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these. Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful “sovereign,” on account of the “protection” he affords you. He does not keep “protecting” you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villanies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.

The Journal piece recognized that some people might call the DEA’s actions in the above incident theft. What I’m wondering is, who are the ones who wouldn’t?

But then, we don't have to wonder at all. Sadly, a big part of the answer is, a whole goat-herd of Christian pastors, the ones who have bought into a Hitlerian misinterpretation of Romans 13. These men (and women, and other) go on deceived and deceiving, actually suggesting to the Lord’s flock that civil government gets to right its own check, follow its own rules, and God is fine with it.

One of the first axioms that a Christian citizen must have in his head with regard to government is this: The civil magistrate is just as accountable to the Lord Jesus as anyone else is. He must obey the same Law, and will answer for his transgressions, just as surely as all the rest of us will. Romans 13 is no cover for tyranny. (See here for line upon line, precept upon precept proof.)

If we were to apply the Law of God to this situation, what would the remedy be? What would justice look like here? Well, after a fair trial, complete with presentation of evidence and cross-examination of witnesses, if the agents were found to have really done what is reported here, they would owe Mr. Rivers his $16,000 back, plus an additional $16,000 on top of that. And when I say “they” would owe it, I mean them personally, not the taxpayers. If they were unable to pay it promptly (meaning, right stinking now) they would be remanded to a forced-labor situation until such time as they paid off their debt.

Meanwhile, a note of kudos to New Mexico’s Governor, Susana Martinez (R) who recently signed legislation aimed at eliminating the practice of civil asset forfeiture at the State level.

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