“Eventually, we’ll have to put an end to this, one way or another.”
Sheriff Kelly Janke of North Dakota’s Nelson County uttered that ominous sentence in mid-September, during what the local media giddily described as a stand-off with local farmer Rodney Brossart and his family. By that time, Sheriff Janke, with the help of the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Air Force, had already run the table where “non-lethal” means of compelling the family to surrender were concerned. This included everything from the Taser used during Brossart’s June 23 arrest to the precedent-setting use of a Predator-B drone
to conduct surveillance of the home several days later to facilitate the arrest
of the farmer’s three sons.
The most recent conflict between Janke’s department and Brossart began when a half-dozen stray cattle wandered onto the family’s farm, which is located near the tiny village of Lakota (roughly 100 miles northwest of Fargo). Brossart, who reportedly believed that the cattle were unclaimed and thus belonged to him under a disputed interpretation of open-range law, refused to turn them over to the Sheriff.
A team of deputies tasered the 55-year-old farmer and took him into custody. His daughter Abby, frantic for the safety of her father, tried to intervene; for “striking” the sanctified personage of a deputy, she was arrested and charged with assault. When Brossart’s wife Susan refused to help the deputies locate what they described as “illegal” firearms, she, too, was arrested and charged with lying to law enforcement officers (who are trained to lie and can do so without legal consequence).
When deputies returned the following day, they were reportedly confronted by Brossart’s three sons – Jacob, Alex, and Thomas — who were allegedly carrying the rifles the police had tried to confiscate the previous day.
This led Sheriff Janke to escalate the confrontation to a full-spectrum military response – including, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, elements “from the state Highway Patrol, a regional SWAT team, a bomb squad, ambulances, and deputy sheriffs from three other counties. He also called in a Predator B drone.” That unmanned aerial vehicle, identical to those used in CIA-directed missions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere, was supplied by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP), an affiliate of the Department of Homeland Security.
“As the unmanned aircraft circled 2 miles overhead the next morning, sophisticated sensors under the nose helped pinpoint the three suspects and showed they were unarmed,” continued the Times. “Police rushed in and made the first known arrests of U.S. citizens with help from a Predator, the spy drone that has helped revolutionize modern warfare.
That was the “one way” Janke had already tried. What, pray tell, would have been the “other” – short of equipping the drone with Hellfire missiles and using it to annihilate the Brossart family as suspected terrorists?
If this had happened, the Brossarts would not be the first Americans to be killed by way of a drone-fired missile. That unwanted distinction is owned by Anwar al-Awlaki and his son, Adbulrahman, who were killed in separate drone strikes in Yemen about three weeks apart. Abdulrahman, a 16-year-old boy who was born in Denver, was murdered while eating dinner with his 17-year-old cousin, who was also killed in the missile strike.
The original story was that Abdulrahman was a “suspected militant,” and thus a “legitimate” target. He was actually a teenage boy frantically trying to find his father, whose name was on a roster of terrorist suspects who had been sentenced to summaryexecution by a secretive executive branch committee that answers to nobody.
As a result of a dispute involving a half-dozen cows, the Brossart family found itself treated as if they were terrorists. The CBP’s drone fleet is described by the agency as a counter-terrorism asset. For the act “brandishing” legally owned rifles in the
presence of armed sheriff’s deputies, the three Brossart sons have been charged
with “terrorizing” law enforcement personnel — fragile, timid creatures that they are. Most significantly, however, the family had been enrolled on a roster of domestic terrorists – one compiled not by the Obama administration, but rather by the quasi-private Stasi calling itself the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
According to the SPLC, Brossart’s family received special attention because Sheriff Janke “knew the Brossarts were followers of another Lakota resident, Roger Elvick, one of the original gurus of the bizarre but remarkably resilient sovereign citizens
movement.” For the past several years, the SPLC has been indoctrinating local law enforcement agencies in the belief that the sovereign citizens movement – and, for that matter, the entire “radical Right,” a label the SPLC applies to anyone more conservative than Hugo Chavez – is an undifferentiated mass of menace and a particular threat to law enforcement. This campaign is perfectly calibrated to play on the fears of police, for whom there is no higher priority than “officer safety.”
Little of consequence would result if the SPLC were simply a private pressure group. However, the organization seamlessly interfaces with a number of government agencies, including the State and Local Anti-Terrorism Training
(SLATT) program, which is funded through the Justice Department’s Bureau of
Justice Assistance. National and regional law enforcement seminars have
been used to cultivate alarm among police officers regarding the supposedly
all-encompassing terrorist threat posed by domestic “extremists.”
During the June confrontation, Sheriff Janke actually took time to respond to an interview request from the SPLC’s Intelligence Report.
“We’re trying to reach out to the family to get them to surrender,” Janke told the publication. “It’s not common for people to brandish weapons against law enforcement, and to have them all be family members is unique. [It tells me] they’re up to something, they’re planning something, they have some different beliefs…. We’re meeting with a team of experts to find out the best possible way to resolve this.”
Janke’s belief that the Brossarts were “planning” something sinister proved to be entirely unfounded. In November, months after the family had refused to attend an August 26 preliminary hearing, Rodney Brossart and his son Jacob – both of whom were unarmed – were arrested while finishing the fall harvest. Alex and Thomas, along with their sister Abby, were arrested “without incident” at the family’s home.
During what the local media – which dutifully regurgitated a porridge of alarmist sound-bites it had been fed by the SPLC – called the “stand-off,” Brossart gave one brief interview in which he insisted that his family were not “violent people.” Janke, on the other hand, did his best to depict the family as a menace to the public.
“We have been able to associate them with an individual that has served time in the State Pen that is giving them advice,” the Sheriff claimed in a September 13 interview, referring to Elvick. By that time, Elvick – who had briefly lived in an apartment in Lakota – had apparently departed for California. But his geographic proximity to the Brossarts was apparently enough for the latter to be “associated” with the ex-convict, and thus tainted as potential domestic terrorists.
This concept of being “associated” with a suspected terrorist is impressively elastic and immensely dangerous. Section 1031 of the proposed National Defense Authorization Act (NADA), which provides for indefinite military detention of suspected terrorists, permits the military to target anyone the Federal government decides is “associated” with an identified terrorist threat.
“Is a terrorist under this law necessarily a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban?” asks the estimable Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone in his analysis of the NADA. “Or is it merely someone who is `engaged in hostilities against the United States’? Here’s where I think we’re in very dangerous territory. We have two very different but similarly large protest movements going on right now in the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement. What if one of them is linked to a violent act? What if a bomb goes off in a police station in Oakland, or an IRS office in Texas? What if the FBI then linked those acts to Occupy or the Tea Party?”
Where Sheriff Janke was concerned, a potential terrorist was anyone he could “associate” with an ex-convict described by the SPLC as a guru of the “sovereign citizens” movement. He also alluded to the “history we’ve had with the family over time” as a cause for concern.
In 1996, Rodney Brossart was charged with violating a state land use ordinance by plowing and seeding a section line on his own property. Although he was found guilty on that charge, the verdict was overturned by the state Supreme Court. This episode was one of several instances in which the Brossarts have come into conflict with the County Sheriff’s Office.
Five years ago, Brossart was charged with disorderly conduct and “Preventing Arrest” after shouting at sheriff’s deputies and “tensing his arm” when one of them laid hands on him to take him into custody. He was acquitted on the first charge, and found guilty of the second. That case was likewise appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Citing facts that were uncontested at trial, a brief filed on Brossart’s behalf notes that he “did not at any time threaten the officers, or become physically aggressive toward them. At worst, he simply did not comply with their unlawful orders when they attempted to arrest him.”
The deputies, on the other hand, employed what can reasonably be described as excessive force by throwing him to the ground and employing “the mandibular angle pressure point technique upon him” – a pain compliance technique in which the thumb is placed at the hinge of the jaw below the right ear.
North Dakota law (Section 12.1-05-07 of the Century Code) recognizes the right of an individual to resist unlawful arrest and excessive force, observes the brief:
“When faced with a man who was not physically aggressive, and was simply verbally loud and angry, and uncooperative, it was unnecessary for both officers to slam him to into the ground, and use the mandibular angle pressure point upon him to effectuate an illegal arrest. Brossart was then within his rights to resist the unlawful and excessive force used in the arrest by the officers.”
Thus the troubled “history” to which Janke refers is one in which a family living on a small farm in rural North Dakota has been repeatedly abused under color of official “authority,” and have chosen to pursue their grievances through the courts, rather than through armed violence. They have endured years of what they regard as harassment and surveillance by law enforcement personnel: During the “standoff” this fall, one Lakota resident told a local television station that “when Rodney Brossart used to attend school board meetings there was always a police officer present.” As a result, the family decided to home-school the younger children.
The Brossarts may well be eccentric or even misguided. They might be regarded by some as poor neighbors. But only those with a unique gift for dishonesty – and a large measure of cravenness – could depict them as a Predator-worthy menace. The SPLC is amply endowed with the former, and Sheriff Janke’s department apparently boasts a large measure of the latter.
As a result, we’ve seen the first test run of the vertically integrated Homeland Security State, in which your friendly local sheriff or police chief, using hit lists compiled by the SPLC, can call in the drones to help round up anybody he considers to be potentially troublesome.