In May 2010, George Donnelly attempted to videotape a pamphlet distribution activity in front of a federal courthouse in Allentown, PA. The courthouse security and US Marshals did not like being recorded by cameras they did not control. So in the middle of yelling at pamphleteers and badgering Donnelly with questions, they unexpectedly grabbed his video camera. Donnelly was then tackled and brought into federal custody while the other activists were threatened.
The full story can be found on Donnelly’s blog, Arm Your Mind for Liberty (“United States of America vs George Donnelly: How US Marshals Framed a Peaceful Photographer,” September 22, 2010). I would have said the blog entry is “George Donnelly’s account” of the story, but considering that the federal agents deleted Donnelly’s camera footage and issued contradictory statements, a neutral party would have to consider Donnelly’s account, which includes photographs and recovered audio recordings, as close to the full story as we’ll get.
Yes, federal agents did in fact try to destroy evidence while prosecuting an alleged crime. Why?
State power is an authoritarian concept — orders flow downward and obedience looks upward. The one-way flow of information is part of this exercise of power. The state wants to collect all it can on its subjects, but the powerful will only willingly provide subjects with information they consider harmless.
That is why the slogan of surveillance-state sycophants, “If you don’t have anything to hide, what do you have to worry about?” is meant to apply to the subject and not to the enforcers. State and subject are inherently unequal, and those who represent state power are considered to be above the rest of us. They get to look down on us all, and we only get to see what they are willing to show us.
George Donnelly eventually took a deal and pled guilty to a less serious bogus charge. His story shows how courts are on the side of the enforcers, partners in exercising unjust power. Justice will be found outside of government courts, in the court of public opinion and in the alternatives that are strengthened with each winning of broader support.
In a video about the event, Donnelly says, “Fellow prisoners reported that marshals were promoting me as ‘the next Timothy McVeigh.’” In the minds of federal enforcers, when they attempt to terrorize people into submission to the state, they are just doing their jobs. And any effective opposition they face is put in the same category as murderous terrorism.
But activists were not terrorized into submission. They contacted the authorities to show support for Donnelly, rallied at the Allentown courthouse, helped Donnelly as much as they could, and continued agitating for greater freedom. The feds can use all the labels they want, but they are trying to resist ideas that activists strengthen every day. Liberty is not something gratefully accepted from the government dole; every individual may claim the fullest liberty that does not infringe on the equal liberty of another.