Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

The Politically Incorrect Parrot

On Wings August 1997

. . . and the Home of the Brave?

A few months ago, in November 1996, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt attempted to give more police powers to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The public was outraged, and it didn't happen. But the problem is, agencies like the BLM have already unilaterally assumed a power over the lives of American citizens that is far in excess of the powers envisioned for them by our founding fathers.

The Congress has been remiss in not reining in these agencies. They will continue to be so until such time as the public says "enough is enough," or they are forced by some wholly unnecessary tragedy to address the problem. Although it is unlikely that Department of the Interior agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the BLM will abuse the public to the extent we have witnessed at Waco and Ruby Ridge, where human lives were unnecessarily taken, these agencies have indeed been guilty of gross abuse of American citizens. Congressman Sam Gibbons, (D- Nevada) is one of those members of Congress who has looked at the problem, and he has found DOI regulatory agencies to be out of control. Witness his May 14, 1997 House Testimony that follows:


The SPEAKER pro tempore.

Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Nevada (Mr. Gibbons) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. GIBBONS. Mr. Speaker, today I want to discuss something so powerful and hurtful that it cripples the economy, puts a stranglehold on businesses and farms, destroys livelihoods and families, and yet seems unstoppable.

The monster that I am discussing is the power that was once granted to Congress in Article I Section 1 of the U. S. Constitution which reads: All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in Congress. Today, however, the executive branch of this very Government has taken control of this reserved privilege and holds it captive at the expense of American citizens.

To illustrate my point, I would like to discuss newly assumed police power Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and Bureau of Land Management allege to possess. The proposed law enforcement regulations attempt to vastly, and in most cases unconstitutionally, expand the BLM's law enforcement authority by increasing the number and types of actions which may result in the violations of law and which substantially increase penalties for violation of such regulations.

Let me share with my colleagues, Mr. Speaker, exactly what powers the BLM is commandeering. On July 24, 1994, a family from New Mexico was on a family outing in the Santa Cruz Lake area in the northern part of New Mexico. After fishing and picnicking for 2 hours, the family loaded up their car and were leaving the area when they were stopped by BLM ranger.

According to a complaint filed by the family's attorney, the BLM ranger approached the vehicle carrying a shotgun and ordered everyone out of the car using threats of bodily harm laced with profanity. The BLM ranger fired his shotgun at the car to show that he meant business. This complaint continues to state that the three men got out of the car and asked why they were being stopped. They asked if it was for fishing without licenses, but they were never asked for their fishing licenses.

When a man, woman and the children tried to leave, the BLM ranger maced the driver and handcuffed him. The driver's mother tried to help her son but was knocked to the ground by the ranger who then stomped on her leg before handcuffing her. After handcuffing the mother, the BLM ranger went back to the driver and sprayed him again in the face with mace. All this time the children were crying and the ranger yelled at them to shut up. According to the complaint, the BLM ranger said he was going to blow their, and I will delete the expletive, heads off.

It gets worse, Mr. Speaker. When one of the men picked up a child to comfort him, the BLM ranger put a shotgun to the child's head and ordered the man to put the child down. Two other BLM rangers allegedly arrived and began waving their weapons as well. The BLM rangers refused to say why they had stopped the family in the first place.

The adults were incarcerated, and the BLM ranger did not notify the Attorney General, as they are required to do. Although records at the Santa Fe jail indicate six adults were arrested on charges of assault and hindering a Federal employee, a U.S. magistrate released all those jailed because the BLM did not produce a written complaint and no formal charges were made. To this day the family has no idea, Mr. Speaker, why they were arrested.

Remember these are Federal public land management employees who are committing these atrocious acts. It becomes very evident that these power hungry bureaucracies have designated themselves unconstitutional police powers without having proper authority or training. The agents are turning into bullies with little respect for public safety or property.

Mr. Speaker, no longer are Americans free. They are chained to the dictatorship of bureaucratic monsters. It is time for Congress to stand up for its constitutional rights and the protection of the American people.

This is exactly what I and the Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands intend to do tomorrow when we bring the BLM and the Department of the Interior before our committee and the American people.

The regulatory authority now used by these Government agencies to create rule after rule and regulation after regulation has begun to put a stranglehold on the Western part of this country to the extent that it may never breathe again."

Bear in mind that Babbitt, et al, had asked for even more power for the agencies under their control, before public outrage forced the withdrawal of his propositions on March 11. Babbitt has not addressed the excesses such as those recounted by Congressman Gibbons; indeed, in failing to address these excesses, and rather seeking to actually increase the already frightening powers these agencies have assumed, he is implicitly giving his stamp of approval to these activities.

If Secretary Babbitt is unaware of these activities, one must question his management capabilities. If he knows of these outrages and does nothing, he is every bit as guilty as those agents who have abused the rights of the American public.

It is my belief that there should be sanctions against those officers who put this family at risk of their very lives. It is unthinkable to me that a representative of the American government would put a shotgun to a child's head, as his father held the crying babe in his arms.

They did worse at Ruby Ridge, I know, but we don't need another tragedy to know these incidents have become inexcusable. If Babbitt can't or won't put an end to these outrages, he has no place in American government.

And of course, the BLM is not the only regulatory agency under Babbitt that can be seen to be running amok. Not to be outdone in the outrage department is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as most of my readers have come to know by now.

It had been my intention this month to discuss the annoying habit of the USFWS to seize pet birds from USDA quarantines under the flimsiest of reasons. Reports have come my way from both coasts as to the commonplace nature of this occurrence; because of the events I will be discussing here, however, I will put off discussion of several of these incidents to a later date.

In the meantime, I would ask any of you that have experienced the seizure of a pet on `shaky' grounds to contact me - - - you are by no means alone.

This month, however, I wish to recount the tale of a family that long has been involved in the animal business: elephants, cats, birds, big cats, most anything you can imagine. A family whose life centered, and still centers, on their beloved animals; a family abused by the system and the FWS. This is a story I have been sitting on for a few years already. Now is the time to tell it.

First, this incident will serve to illustrate that the USFWS has more than its share of bullies. It will show their utter and com¬plete disregard for the health and well-being of the animals they are charged to protect. It will show their complete and utter disregard for the rights of American citizens.

And finally, this case, along with another case I am following, will serve to illustrate how the rights of innocent Americans are systematically trampled by federal agencies that are insufficiently supervised, insufficiently accountable, and wholly unconcerned with the truth.

On July 22, 1997, the owner of a Chicago pet store was fined $10,000 and sentenced to one year's probation by a U.S Magistrate, after he signed a plea agreement in which he admitted to transporting two black leopards from Tennessee to Illinois without the proper documentation. The problem is, he did nothing of the kind, and the FWS was well aware of that fact.

The story began in 1994, when the State of Tennessee contacted the owner of an Illinois animal rental business regarding two black leopards that had been confiscated by the USDA. Rather than put the cats down, the State asked if the business, which was already licensed for big cats, could take the animals.

At first the request was refused, but rather than see the cats euthanized, the businessman assented. The state agreed to acquire the necessary permits to transport the cats, and these were provided by the USDA and the State. The problem was, the State did not procure permits from the USFWS for the interstate transport of the cats.

The animal rental owner, part of this animal oriented family, placed the cats with his brother, who owned a pet store, and was also licensed for big cats. This pet store was well run, well managed, and had been in business for over fifty years.

There the cats happily resided for the next several months, in full view of all, regulatory agencies and customers alike, until April, 1994, when USFWS agents entered the picture. Charging correctly that the owners had erroneously failed to obtain the proper FWS permits, FWS agents set about to seize the cats. There was no talk of assisting with obtaining the proper paperwork; no room for error is allowed for those running afoul of the wildlife police. No second chances, by the book only. The cats' owner was so notified.

In the pet store parking lot, where they were met by the animal rental business owner, fatigue-clad cops immediately sprang to action. They pulled the man from his van as he drove up, and threw him to the tarmac, where he was handcuffed and detained, lying face down, for an extended period of time.

The agents kicked and verbally abused the man, demanding submission, if not respect. Alarmed passersby spied the assault, and called the Chicago Police, who responded, and to their credit, tried to defuse the situation. In the meantime, the terrified victim asked fatigue clad agents to produce a warrant for the seizure, which the agents were unable to do. In fact, it was to be some time before an agent would leave, to finally return with a warrant, signed by a friendly judge, hours after, by all accounts, the seizure had been initiated. We'll talk about that judge another time.

But unbeknownst to the raiding agents, the rental owner's girlfriend had a video camera, and she knew how to use it. The kicking and abuse had been caught live on video. As this became apparent, it enraged the officers, who attempted to seize the tape; the girlfriend fled, running down a major Chicago thoroughfare with armed federal agents in pursuit.

But anticipating retaliation of this sort, the woman had taken precautions. When she noticed the agents eyeing her askance, she switched tapes on her would-be pursuers. The agents seized a parakeet training tape, not the evidence of their own excesses. Then an impasse was reached. The agents had not planned ahead, and even if they had taken the cats that night, they had not thought to bring a vehicle equipped to transport the animals. And of course, neither had they thought to bring anyone experienced in handling large cats to assist them. They left, parakeet tape in hand, to return another day.

Soon realizing they had been duped as to the tape, the agents returned to get the sorry record of their actions. Too late: thirteen copies of the tape had already been made. Yes, I have seen it, and yes, I am of the opinion that the agents failed to act in a professional manner, to say the least. Their conduct was inexcusable. American citizens were the victims of their abuse. But they weren't yet finished. Several days later, agents returned to get the cats. The manager of the store was in charge that day. Let me share with you his experiences, as he has related them to me:

"At approximately 10:30 am on Saturday, April 30th, 1994, agents of the Department of Interior dressed in DOI jackets entered (the store). An agent, who did not identify himself to me, held up a folded piece of paper and stated that this was a warrant and that he was here to pick up the cats. These cats (black panthers) were already under their jurisdiction as per their request on April 26th. His words to me were, "Are you going to give me any trouble?" I explained that I was an employee of the store and not the owner.

Again, he repeated, "Are you going to give me any trouble?" At this time I noticed that agents were telling customers in the store to leave. I asked the agent if it would be all right to videotape the seizure of the cats. I felt that this would show the owner of the store who was responsible and what had happened to the cats. He replied absolutely not. I then asked if I could call the owner of the company.

At this point I was forcibly made to lay face down on the floor. My arms were bent behind me while an agent placed handcuffs on my wrists and made me lay face down. He stood over me and said I was under arrest for obstruction of justice. Other agents then rounded up all of the other employees. They closed and locked the store without giving any reason for their actions.

All this time an agent dressed in combat fatigues stood over me. I asked if all this force was really necessary. He told me to shut up. After approximately thirty minutes of lying on the floor, an agent lifted me up. While still handcuffed, he made me walk in front of the other employees, who were forced to sit side by side on the floor along a fence in the back of the store. They were told not to say a word. I was instructed to sit quietly with them.

After another twenty-five to thirty minutes, I asked if it would be possible to allow the employees to stand up and move around a bit. The floor was hard and I could see that many of the younger employees were frightened. My request was ignored. It was only after an employee (in her early 60's) threatened to urinate on the floor that the employees were allowed to use the bathroom. We were forced to stay this way until the seizure of the cats was completed. (Approximately two hours.)

My handcuffs were removed (which had caused my wrists to swell and become blue from being too tight) and I and the other employees returned to our work stations. At approximately 12:40 PM we were allowed to reopen the store. Our store had been closed for a little over two hours.

The gestapo tactics of the DOI in doing their "job" was an upsetting experience to myself and my fellow employees. To expose sixteen and seventeen year old children to their screaming and terrorist actions is criminal. To make a senior citizen literally beg to use the bathroom is a disgrace. To force the unauthorized closure of a business during its normal hours (a business I might add that had been licensed and paying taxes for over fifty years) is incomprehensible. To forbid the use of telephones or video equipment to notify and record the actions during this raid is plainly un-American. We were not allowed to even answer the phone, which was ringing constantly.

Finally, the abuse and embarrassment of being man-handled, handcuffed and displayed in front of my workers like a trussed up trophy is a memory I cannot erase, even to this day. For the record, I was not arrested, and if I were, no Miranda rights had been read to me. When I asked the agent afterwards why I was handcuffed, he told me it was to restrain me and to protect his agents from me. There were approximately five agents in the store when I was handcuffed. I am forty-six years old, five foot seven inches tall and weigh 150 lbs. Hardly what I would call a threat!

I wish to reiterate that at no time did I or any employee of the store refuse, hinder, or jeopardize the DOI from doing their job. We even offered to help transfer the cats to portable kennels to prevent the agents from shooting them with tranquilizer darts.

I am not an owner or an officer of (the store). I feel that my rights and the rights of my fellow employees were violated by this "tough-guy" image that the DOI feels they must demonstrate. These "GI-Joe" wannabes must really be desperate if they have to take out their frustrations (be they physical or mental) or defenseless people. These are not drug dealers, murderers, or robbers. These are hard working, tax-paying people trying to earn a day's wages. Where is our justice?"

Where indeed, is this gentleman's justice. There has been none forthcoming.

This gentleman and his employees were certainly abused, as you have read in his own words. As were the animals. What possible reason would there be for these macho men to insist on darting tame animals, when they surely are aware of the risks inherent in shooting any animal with a tranquilizer gun.

(I must also note, as an aside, that the animals were transported to a newly opened cat facility at the Kansas City Zoo - - - a facility that hadn't been open when the FWS agents had initially become aware of the cats' presence in the Chicago area months before. How convenient.)

It is hard for me to comprehend the mentality of people like this, who would deliberately put animals at risk. Why do this, if not for their own sport or enjoyment? Is it OK to kill things, or put them at risk for no imaginable reason?

These cats would have been destroyed had it not been for the kindness of the animal rental business owner. So for his trouble, FWS could have killed them anyway in their irresponsible darting of the animals. Luckily, they didn't. But I must also point out that the Service seized 240 parrots in the Pare case reported elsewhere in this issue; only 140 of those birds survived Service custody, hardly a model of animal husbandry expertise.

Had Pare experienced like mortality, he would not have needed Fish and Wildlife to put him out of business. He'd have done it himself. But at any rate, seemingly to justify their existence, a victim has been targeted, and made to face the full force and wrath of the federal government. And now the Service has been 'vindicated,' in their minds at least, by the guilty plea to charges of illegally transporting the cats from out of state that was signed by the owner of the pet store.

I guess the system worked for them- - - they got a conviction. But as we've already noted, this gentleman had nothing whatsoever to do with the transport of the leopards. He had merely held them for his brother, in his licensed facility. The Service was determined to see blood, regardless of guilt or innocence, regardless of the facts, regardless of morality, regardless of concern for either man or beast. Truth was once again the victim of an agency that has long since eliminated any need for truth in its prosecutions.

So a guiltless man was railroaded by federal bullies to sign a plea rather than to risk a long prison sentence or bankrupting fines. An innocent man pleading guilty to a crime? Unusual? No. I fully understand how it happens, and will write about it in another column, with concrete examples, of course. But the cases we have already discussed here illustrate perfectly why we should fear the ever-increasing militarization of our federal regulatory agencies. [current note: and local Animal Control Officers!!!]

Let me quote once again from the statement given me by the pet store manager who experienced the FWS raid: "For the past twenty-five years I have been employed with (the store). During this time I have experienced blizzards, fires, and floods. I have been the victim of two violent robberies. I have been assaulted in the store by drunks and have been stabbed by a shoplifter.

None of these experiences can compare with the fear, humiliation and embarrassment that occurred on Saturday, April 30th, 1994 when members of the Department of the Interior visited (the store)." Could the man who saw a federal agent hold a shotgun to the head of his innocent child feel any differently?

We may still live in the land of the free, but that land is becoming home to altogether too many fatigue-clad, gun-toting, bullying cowards. And they are not the right wing militias.

As Pogo said, we have met the enemy, and he is us. He is our own government, that government that will allow the abuse of its own citizens, and do nothing. Congress should be ashamed.

And as to us, with regard to those elected officials that do nothing to stem this abuse, it's time to clean house. If we don't, we can no longer expect to live in the land of the free, and we'll deserve what we get.   Regards, Judy