Opinion: Tyranny Will Only Triumph if We Allow It To

Republicans on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee revealed the most recent example of the dangers of big government last week when they announced the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had enlisted the financial service industry to spy on Americans following the January 6, 2021, protest at the U.S. Capitol.

The bureau asked banks to flag legal purchases of weapons from sporting goods and gun stores and even the purchase of religious reading materials and texts like the Bible. 

Banks were also advised to flag any accounts that used keywords like “MAGA” or “Trump.” One bank that complied was the financial giant Bank of America (BoA).

The House Judiciary Republicans posted on X: “Shop at Bass Pro Shop recently? How about Cabela’s? Bought a Bible?”

“If so, the federal government may be coming after YOU,” they said. A news release followed the post.

“This kind of pervasive financial surveillance, carried out in coordination with and at the request of federal law enforcement, into Americans’ private transactions is alarming and raises serious concerns about the FBI’s respect for fundamental civil liberties,” said the committee.

What is especially atrocious is that the FBI, acting through the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), requested the information without producing a search warrant — and banks never requested one.

Had FinCEN or the FBI requested a warrant, it is unimaginable that any court would have granted it.

The Constitution’s Fourth Amendment guarantees “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

The Supreme Court held in Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967), that warrantless searches — searches conducted without the prior approval of a magistrate or judge — are considered unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment and subject to only specific well-established exceptions, including a search incident to a lawful arrest.

Republican Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio serves as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and on its Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.

Jordan blasted the FBI’s “sweeping characterization of political beliefs and constitutionally protected speech as indicators of domestic violent extremism.”

Combined with FinCEN’s collusion with banks without a warrant, he said, “raises serious doubts about FinCEN’s respect for fundamental civil liberties.”

However, it isn’t just the federal government that is at fault. The willingness of the banks to comply without question with the Fed’s request is also just as troubling.

It is fair to assume their first loyalty would be directed toward their customers — but it doesn’t appear to be.

An increasing number of merchants are making it easy for authorities by insisting all purchases be made through payments that can be traced and tracked — such as a credit or debit card.

StudyFinds observed that the “no cash accepted” policies that are starting to crop up at stores make life difficult for the estimated six million Americans who don’t have a bank account.

However, they can make it more difficult for those who use plastic regularly.

Both the card purchases and cardholders’ movements can be tracked — only if allowed by the financial institutions.

Banks must learn to say no in this era of massive government marked by a confusing mix of bureaucratic agencies.

There would be minimal need for a Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government if it wasn’t for an unwieldy, powerful public sector, aided by a compliant private sector.

“When the people fear the government, there is tyranny,” said early 20th-century anti-socialist politician and writer John Basil Barnhill.

However, “when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”

The government can only be weaponized against the people if the people allow it. We must stop permitting it — in this case, beginning with the financial services industry.

Then, and only then, can America return to being the “shining city on a hill” President Ronald Reagan described.