The Corner

Law & the Courts

Wisconsin’s Shame: Even Salon Agrees the Raids Were Wrong

I’ve been interested to see how the Left would respond to the revelations of armed pre-dawn raids in Wisconsin’s “John Doe” investigations — raids that featured battering rams, police officers walking into sleeping kids’ rooms, secrecy mandates, and screaming, taunting investigators. After all, the Left has long touted the existence of the investigations themselves as virtual proof that there was something shady about conservative issue advocacy in Wisconsin. But would the Left publicly support even these tactics?

Initially, at least, the answer seems to be no. Writing at Salon, Heather Digby Parton — after some throat-clearing about alleged conservative hypocrisy – gets to the heart of the matter:

Having said that, there is something very disturbing about this tale. It is true that the FBI confiscated people’s home computers and that the subjects of those subpoenas were told to keep their mouths shut because of the nature of the investigation. Authorities have never denied staging early morning raids and storming the houses as if there was a dangerous terrorist inside. It’s pretty clear they did all that. It is hard to see why such tactics would be necessary.

She continues:

Nonetheless, they are right to say there was no reason for a swarm of government agents to show up at a government employee’s house at 6:45 a.m., storm though the house yelling and screaming over a subpoena in a corruption probe. It’s difficult to believe they couldn’t have calmly handed her the subpoena and asked her respectfully to show them where her computers and other materials were. It’s intimidation, pure and simple. And needless to say there’s no reason to go raiding houses like you’re taking Fallujah; in pursuit of small time drug dealers; or those who fail to show up for court appearances.

I rarely say this about anything I read in Salon, but this is exactly right. Further, I’m of course going to agree with her when she later says these tactics are “creepy” when done to those who are not, as she describes, “nice, white conservatives.” However, her allegations of conservative hypocrisy on this point are overblown. After all, numerous writers in National Review have decried the militarization of the police (Kevin Williamson has been particularly strong on this point), and I wrote just days before my piece on Wisconsin that the abuses described in the DOJ’s Ferguson Report reminded me why I became a conservative.

Unless lives are at stake, the police should not storm into anyone’s home. The stories of horrific misjudgments and tragic accidents in “no knock” raids and other home incursions are too numerous to link, and the risks incurred are not only wholly unnecessary, the home raid itself is deeply antithetical to a free people’s liberty and should be undertaken as a last resort, not a first resort.

But returning to Wisconsin, the raids here were in some ways worse even than the abusive raids we so often see in the drug war and other criminal investigations. Here, the DA was often investigating “crimes” that weren’t crimes at all but rather constitutionally protected issue advocacy. Even when the DA was ostensibly investigating actual potential criminal misconduct, his targets were chosen not so much on the basis of actual evidence but rather proximity to the hated Scott Walker. Also, few (if any) victims of unjust police raids are slapped with secrecy orders that prevent them from not only defending themselves publicly but also from sharing the burden of the experience with friends and family.

While Parton calls my original story “melodramatic,” it’s promising that at least one leftist journalist at one leftist publication can see that law enforcement went too far.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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