A former Marine involuntarily detained for psychiatric evaluation for posting strident anti-government messages on Facebook has received an outpouring of support from people who say authorities are trampling on his First Amendment rights.
Brandon J. Raub, 26, has been in custody since FBI, Secret Service agents and police in Virginia’s Chesterfield County questioned him Thursday evening about what they said were ominous posts talking about a coming revolution. In one message earlier this month according to authorities, Raub wrote: “Sharpen my axe; I’m here to sever heads.”
Police — acting under a state law that allows emergency, temporary psychiatric commitments upon the recommendation of a mental health professional — took Raub to the John Randolph Medical Center in Hopewell. He was not charged with any crime.
The scariest part: you’re not entitled to the sorts of protections you think you’re entitled to when detained, because you’re not being charged in criminal court:
Raub’s supporters characterized the detention as an arrest, complaining he was handcuffed and whisked away in a police cruiser without being served a warrant or read his rights. But authorities say it wasn’t an arrest because Raub doesn’t face criminal charges.
I haven’t seen the messages that led to the commitment, but it doesn’t take a genius to see the potential for abuse here. When the government has the ability to throw you in custody because you have made “ominous posts talking about a coming revolution,” there is something really wrong going on. Plenty of tea party activists speak of the possibility of an upcoming civil war, or the need for revolution. Perhaps some of these calls are literal, but far more often they are metaphorical: designed to convey the need for a complete upheaval of a corrupt government, root and branch.
As for committing someone because they wrote: “Sharpen my axe; I’m here to sever heads” — well, one wonders if we are going to throw bloggers in custody because they adopt as their slogan Mencken’s phrase:
Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.
If government can do that, then Obama may call the men with the tight white coats to arrange a spot in the loony bin for that Ace of Spades guy. (Not only is Ace clearly dangerous, but he’s making good points about Obama in a funny and convincing way. We can let him go after the election.)
Is it evidence of your dangerousness when you talk about your Second Amendment rights? Perhaps the government will consider you dangerous if you quote Jefferson, saying: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
Do you want to give government the power to make these decisions?
Now, I can understand why government might legitimately want this power. After all, we have seen shootings where the perpetrators were showing signs of bizarre behavior beforehand. And Pete Earley’s book Crazy persuasively makes the case for loosening standards for involuntary commitment, in situations where a family and long-time doctors know that a relative is mentally ill, but the illness prevents the patient from seeking the help he needs.
But there is a difference between allowing loved ones and long-time doctors to make the case that a mentally ill man can benefit from an involuntary commitment, and allowing the government to make a long-distance diagnosis based on comments on the Internet.
Now, in most cases government employees are simply trying to prevent tragedies and protect the public. But the potential for real abuse is there. Let me give you a real-life example of government using this power for ill. The program This American Life had a segment about a Serpico-style police whistleblower who recorded everything at his job:
For 17 months, New York police officer Adrian Schoolcraft recorded himself and his fellow officers on the job, including their supervisors ordering them to do all sorts of things that police aren’t supposed to do. For example, downgrading real crimes into lesser ones, so they wouldn’t show up in the crime statistics and make their precinct look bad.
The segment, which you can listen to here, ended with an encounter in which a very high-ranking official from NYPD showed up at Schoolcraft’s home with a team of police officers, to involuntarily commit Schoolcraft because (they said) he had left work that day without permission. (He says he told supervisors he felt ill.) They seized Schoolcraft’s recording device, which (in addition to discrediting Schoolcraft) was the real reason for the commitment. But unknown to the officers, Schoolcraft had another recorder running on the shelf. You can listen to that encounter at the link.
Wouldn’t Obama love to have the ability to declare the Fast and Furious whistleblowers crazy and toss them in a sanitarium?
Interestingly, the first segment of that show details a Raub-like episode in which a loudmouth gets a visit from police and a criminal charge after he quotes Tyler Durden on Facebook after a nasty encounter with an Apple employee. The whole episode is worth your time.
If the government can twist your words because it doesn’t like your message, and involuntarily commit you by convincing a single judge you are dangerous, then all of our liberties are at risk.