Witch Hunts in Modern Times

Those Who Cannot Remember the Past are Condemed to Repeat It"
-George Santayana-

In 1484, during the latter years of the Renaissance, the Catholic church became obsessed with demonology. Pope Innocent VIII published a Bull (a formal papal document with a seal attached) regarding such matters. The Renaissance was a time of cultural growth and as minds opened, new theories and ideas emerged. The sciences made great advances and art and architecture experienced a revival. Humanism was born and was little more than a rediscovery of past philosophies and religious ideas. The Catholic Church was slowly losing its power and control over the masses and the Protestant Reformation further challenged her domination.

This period, rich in history, was the setting for the infamous witch hunts. The distilled essence of the Malleus Maleficarum (the Hammer of Witches) by Kramer and Sprenger stated that if you are accused of witchcraft, you are a witch. The defendant had no rights and torture was an acceptable method of justifying an accusation. There was no opportunity to confront the accusers. Little attention was given to the possibility that accusations might be made for hidden agendas. In fact, the jealousy, revenge or greed of the inquisitors who routinely confiscated the accused's property for their own private benefit helped create this self-serving monster (in the guise of a Holy mission) which preyed on innocent people.

Oh... How familiar that sounds!!!

All costs of investigation, trial and execution were paid by the accused or her relatives. She, or they, also paid the per diems for private detectives hired to spy on her, wine for her guards, banquets for her judges, travel expenses for a messenger sent to fetch a more experienced torturer from another city and even for embers for the fire, for tar and for the hangman's rope!

The tribunal received a bonus for each witch burned. If the witch had any property, it was divided between Church and State. Thus, theft was legally and morally sanctioned and once it was institutionalized, a vast bureaucracy arose to service it. Eventually, attention was diverted from poor elderly women and the middle class and well-to-do of both sexes were targeted.

Since each witch was impelled to implicate others, the numbers of the accused grew.

Witch finders in Britain were employed and received a handsome bounty for each girl or woman they turned over for execution. There was no incentive to be cautious in their accusations. One witch finder confessed he had been the death of over 220 women in England and Scotland for the gain of 20 shillings apiece.

In the witch trials, mitigating evidence or defense witnesses were inadmissible.
History will repeat itself if allowed to do so. Our government was once great because of what it was prevented from doing. Safeguards to protect Americans from the oppression which our founding fathers fought against have been severely eroded.

James Madison stated in 1788: "I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedoms of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations."

Our Constitution allowed only three branches of government, but we allowed the federal government to create the fourth branch. This gigantic bureaucracy has the power to write its own laws and to enforce those unconstitutional laws through swarms of inspectors, agents and informants. Not only that, but it can declare guilty all who do not comply with their "bureaucratic bulls." The burden is upon the people to prove themselves innocent before judges who work for this bureaucracy. (Note: You are often considered guilty until proven innocent)

The accumulation of all power in the same hands is tyranny.

The "bureaucratic bulls" are the administrative laws which are published in the Federal Register. A person's ignorance of these reams of regulations is no excuse for unintentionally breaking them. (same with each and every law, rule and regulation that our country is inundated with!) If we took the time to read all the edicts published to govern us, we would get nothing done.

Add to that the frustration resulting from the vagueness of poorly written laws and regulations. Ask two officials of an agency to interpret a portion of their code and you will likely get two conflicting answers. Other laws are hidden in various internal federal manuals which lay people have no access to. These can be aimed arbitrarily at unsuspecting victims.

What happens if a victim seeks justice? For instance, a fine is levied against someone or a requirement is made for a businessman to buy expensive equipment. Should that person wish to appeal, they must present the case to the very agency which created the law and found him guilty. After that trial, the individual may appeal to the federal courts but this is a very expensive process. Although cases are sometimes successfully won against the government, often they are not. The government has great power and resources at its disposal to defend its side of a lawsuit.

It is the unchecked power and unlimited federal funding of the bureaucracy that must be controlled. Congress has the ability to remedy both, but all too often, Congress only hears the political views and arguments of well-funded professional lobbyists who usually favor the bureaucracy.

The Constitution never intended for Congress to delegate is lawmaking authority to federal agencies. Congress can refuse to originate bills to fund any and all agencies. Should the Supreme Court attempt to block such a constitutional and legal dismantling of the agencies, the House could initiate impeachment proceedings against Supreme Court Justices.  They could...but it is unlikely.

Congress members need to receive more letters and calls from the individual citizens which it represents. Imagine the roar we can make four our team at a baseball, football or hockey game. Let's let Congress hear our roar!
Carl Sagan. Science as a Candle in the Dark: The Demon-Haunted World. p. 119-121. New York: Random House. 1995

John F. McManus. America's Vanishing Liberty. The New American. p. 5-8 May 17, 1993.

Note: In the past 15 years, since this article was written for On Wings, state and local government has learned a great deal from their federal "Big Brothers." Unfortunately, things have become far worse than I ever imagined they would be.  - Sue Beaulieu