An article I wrote was published in the most recent issue of the New Hampshire Free Press. The original article can be found here. Here is the text of it:
Law Enforcement and Aggression
Wed, 07/02/2008 - 19:05 — katkanning
By Varrin Swearingen
During my tenure as President of the Free State Project, I engaged in many of the expected interactions with volunteers, prospective participants, and the media. What I didn't expect was lunch with U.S. Marshal Monier, the head U.S. Marshal in New Hampshire ... at his request.
There was quite a controversy surrounding the Ed and Elaine Brown tax evasion case. During the course of that, some New Hampshire newspapers reported, in a very misleading fashion, that Free State Project participants were being investigated for their involvement in that case. Though I wasn't amused by that reporting, I found it ironic that neither the U.S. Marshals nor any newspaper called me, the President of the FSP, to discuss the issue.
Because of the reports, though, I decided to undertake my own investigation. I called Mr. Monier's office to ask what exactly he told the media. Much to my surprise, he was not only very happy to talk to me, but he repeatedly reassured me that they were not investigating anyone based on their participation in the FSP. He indicated that the newspapers pressed him to say that he was investigating FSP participants and he refused. While I presumed that to be the case, I was glad to hear him confirm my suspicion. He seemed as irritated at the slanted reporting as I was.
More surprising, after our conversation, he emailed to invite me to lunch. Having had a generally positive interaction on the phone, I decided to take him up on the offer. We met for lunch in Concord and spent over an hour discussing a wide variety of issues.
I suppose I didn't know exactly what to expect, but he didn't strike me as an unreasonable person. In fact, he came across as intelligent, professional, and generally good-natured. Even so, I did suspect that, if I pressed the issue, he would affirm his duty to enforce the law, even if the law wasn't just. I pressed, and, in the end, he met my expectations.
What struck me, though, was his willingness to engage in constructive dialog on law enforcement discretion and the justice of the law. While he didn't come right out and say he believed some laws were unjust, it was clear that he doesn't necessarily agree with all of them (though tax laws weren't among those he objected to). Even after what was likely his first exposure to the Zero Aggression Principle, he stuck to his, ahh, guns. Maybe a seed was planted.
More telling, though, was the fact that he met me for lunch at all. I'm not sure what he intended to reveal by his invitation, but I believe it indicated at least two important things with respect to the FSP. First, I believe it indicates he views FSP participants as generally credible, not simply a bunch of nutjobs. Second, I believe it indicates he views FSP participants as at least potentially influential, not hopelessly marginal. The content of our conversations seemed to confirm those hunches, too.
Law enforcement isn't the group who fashions laws into instruments of aggression, but their work is sometimes the law's tool of aggression. I suspect it's far easier to be in that role in the absence of this kind of constructive dialog. While I believe the law should be changed so as to be just, it's at least conceivable that positive interactions with law enforcement might help persuade them to refocus their efforts away from enforcing unjust laws and towards combating truly criminal behavior.