Raid on Stanley Raises Questions
by Ari Armstrong, June 16, 2004
I dislike Rick Stanley. Severely. He's a loopy conspiracy-theory nut, he's irresponsible with his claims and his actions, he's mean and deceitful, and he promotes a bizarre right-wing pseudo-Christian and vaguely apocalyptical religion. He's a weird guy, he's done more harm than good for liberty, and I think he's a complete idiot. Yet the strange ones are most at risk from overzealous state action, and they're the least sympathetic to the media and the public. Thus, the rights of the oddballs are precisely those with which we must be most concerned. Liberty always is eroded at the margins. If we do not stand up against over-aggressive state power when directed against those we dislike, we will be unable to stop that power when directed against our friends or ourselves.
On Wednesday, June 9, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, consisting of the FBI, IRS, and other law enforcement agencies, raided Stanley's home and business, Stanley Fastener & Shop Supply, in an industrial section of Denver near Monaco and 39th.
Karen Abbott reviewed the story the next day in the Rocky Mountain News. She noted the Task Force seized "materials said to be related to taxes and possible anti-government activity." Automatically we should be suspicious. What is "anti-government activity?" I don't know whether that phrase came from Abbott or a government official. But it's nonsense. If law officials have evidence of violence or intent to commit violence, then that's the allegation they should make, not some vague reference to "anti-government activity," a phrase more appropriate to Stalinism or a novel by Kafka or Orwell.
Let's cut to the chase. Rick Stanley is not a terrorist. He is, instead, a tax resister. This is no secret -- he announced to the world via his web page that he no longer pays the income tax. He sent letters to the IRS to that effect. It's no surprise that the IRS has taken an interest in him. But why is he being raided by the Joint Terrorism Task Force? Aren't those agents busy enough with real terrorist threats? Apparently not. Apparently, they would rather scratch a pain in the government's ass than actually spend their resources keeping Americans safe from terrorist attacks.
Abbott correctly reviews, "A Denver jury convicted [Stanley] in 2002 of a misdemeanor of carrying a loaded Beretta .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun in his holster at a downtown Denver park during a December 2001 rally celebrating the Bill of Rights." Then, "Stanley was arrested again in Thornton in September 2002 for carrying a loaded revolver on his hip at the city's Harvestfest celebration in a municipal park." He was again convicted. However, Abbot failed to point out that the ordinances under which Stanley was convicted have since been "preempted" by state law. (Abbot also failed to point out that Stanley quit the Libertarian Party following his 2002 campaign for U.S. Senate on the LP ticket, though she did point out the board censured him for unrelated matters.)
Abbott describes the most serious charge against Stanley: "Stanley allegedly threatened the judge with a treason charge and a 'warrant' from the Mutual Defense Pact Militia, a Stanley-organized group that pledges to help fellow members defend their persons and property."
This is not some hidden secret: Stanley's letter to the judge is posted at his web page. It states:
Rick Stanley demands that Judge Donald W. Marshall, Jr., overturn this conviction of Stanley on constitutional grounds. Failure to do so will result in a treason charge against Donald W. Marshall, Jr. for failure to uphold the oath of office to defend the Constitutions, which this court has on record, and Donald W. Marshall, Jr., swore to, as a "condition" of his office. This treason charge, will result in a Mutual Defense Pact Militia warrant for Donald W. Marshall, Jr.'s arrest if the following conditions are not met:
Since the new charges, Stanley has qualified his statement to the judge. His web page states, "After serving notice to two Adams County judges that his rights were being violated by the jail time, Stanley was arrested for 'Influencing a Public Official', because he had filed a pleading to the Courts citing the unconstitutional actions of the judges, advising them that they could be arrested for this illegal action." The web page also claims, however, "there was no threat made." Specifically, "An arrest warrant by the militia was a ceremonial gesture because the militia has no enforcement of warrants at this time." The web page also references "Stanley's First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievance," and it claims "symbolic speech is once again persecuted by the government powers..."
Colorado statute 18-8-306 states, "Any person who attempts to influence any public servant by means of deceit or by threat of violence or economic reprisal against any person or property, with the intent thereby to alter or affect the public servant's decision, vote, opinion, or action concerning any matter which is to be considered or performed by him or the agency or body of which he is a member, commits a class 4 felony." And statute 18-1.3-401 defines the penalties for a class 4 felony as 2-6 years in prison and a $2,000 to $500,000 fine. Because Stanley sent letters to two judges, he was charged with two counts. Stanley's web page states, "Stanley is charged with a potential 12 to 32 year prison sentence, for the two felony charges of 'Influencing a Public Official'..." Michael Cacioppo of Speakout! Vail claims Stanley "faces 16 years in prison on each charge, which will be heard in a trial in Thornton beginning June 21st." I'm not sure where Stanley or Cacioppo got his numbers, but by my reading of the statutes, if Stanley is convicted he faces up to 12 years in prison, plus status as a felon for the rest of his life.
We can argue about the meaning, appropriateness, and legality of Stanley's letters to the judges, along with the proposed sanctions. Personally, I think it's obvious that Stanley is a crackpot, and equally obvious that he poses no threat to the public or any particular individual.
To be sure, Stanley has made other troublesome comments. For example, in a July 10, 2003, "Special Edition Militia Alert," Stanley wrote: "[I]t seems that Denver wants me out of their hair in the worst way, and what they quite possibly believe this to be the easiest way. Send in the swat team, take Stanley out very quietly with a bullet, and if that doesn't work, burn him out... If this particular Militia Action takes place they will already have fired upon me and the Defense will have already started... I will be well armed. Lots of weapons (all legal, all defensive, lots of ammo). I will have some surprises for the good thugs who are besieging me. I will use everything at my command, and I will have high ground with tremendous firepower. Helicopters will be destroyed if used against me, as will tanks. I plan on throwing paper airplanes at them and they will go home. Just havin a little fun. I have alternative plans. I hope all of you will come prepared with force of arms, bottles, cloth, gasoline, etc all the fun things you will need to defend. Once attacked I will be shooting everything in sight that is attacking me. You should use the same tactic." Thankfully, the police have taken care to avoid a violent confrontation.
Despite Stanley's looney commentary, though, I have seen nothing to justify the intervention of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Instead, I get the uneasy feeling that Boys with Toys are having a bit too much fun.
As Trent Seibert reviews in the June 14 Denver Post, "In a recent move considered either proactive or intrusive depending on one's viewpoint, [Mike] Zinna's office was raided by officers of the FBI's joint terrorism task force. He was being investigated because of a mushroom-cloud cartoon he put up on his political website, Jeffcoexposed.com." How was it anything other than completely obvious that Zinna was making a political statement, not planning to nuc Jefferson County's facilities? Where did the common sense go? Why are tax dollars being wasted for this? (Interestingly, Zinna comments about the Stanley raid and even provides pictures of it.) Sure, if a person commits or specifically plans acts of violence, go after that person. But don't target free speech, and don't pretend alleged common criminal behavior is "terrorism."
The most plausible explanation is these agents enjoy going on raids, even when the raids are unnecessary and abusive.
Early in the morning on June 12, I witnessed the Arvada police arrest a man who, I was told, was wanted on a warrant. I overheard one officer say the man had violated parole originating in property crimes. Apparently, the police found the man after he injected drugs in front of the wheel of his car in a private parking lot. As far as I could tell, the police did things right. They never became abusive, they made sure the guy was checked out by medical staff, and they were cool to a pregnant woman who apparently was a friend of the man arrested. The officers were generally polite to me, and a supervisor even stopped to ask if I had any questions. Still, it was peculiar to witness a couple beefed-up officers strutting around in their black T-shirts near their giant military-style SUV worth probably half of what my condo cost. Again, I got the feeling that they were enjoying the militaristic trappings of their job a bit too much. (I don't know whether officers outside the Arvada PD participated.)
The details of the raid on Stanley's place are worth noting. In a letter to Cacioppo's publication, Stanley wrote, "My wife and I, my daughter and granddaughter, my home, my business, were raided yesterday by about 50 or so individuals from the IRS-CID, FBI, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Jeffco and Denver Swat teams, US Marshals, Thornton Police, etc. They stole my wife's .38 pistol that was in her office desk drawer and it was not on the listing of items seized. They took 21 pages of things, roughly 10 items per page for 210 items. Cleaned out checks from customers, all files, all computers cleaned out from hard drives, bills that I owe, customer unpaid files, all letters to the IRS from the past 4 years, the list is long. They are trying to break me, prevent me from having the ability to have the cash to defend myself in court, etc." In a follow-up article on June 12, Abbott describes, "[Stanley] said he was lured away to a Perkins restaurant Wednesday morning by someone pretending to be a potential customer. But when Stanley drove into the Perkins parking lot, he was surrounded by law enforcement officers... There [back at his business], he said, officers with guns had herded his wife, a secretary, a driver, the Stanley's daughter and their 3-year-old granddaughter into his office. He said agents took customers' payment checks to the business, his wife's pistol," and paperwork.
The primary responsibility for abusive and overzealous law enforcement rests with legislators. The drug war, disarmament laws, the income tax, and now questionable expansions of police power to supposedly target "terrorists" have started us down the path to a police state. It's perfectly predictable that giving men badges, big guns, and open-ended legislative mandates will lead to abuses of power. The greater the power of the state, the greater the power of the police, and the more the police must use force to keep the citizenry in line. The solution is to demand that government return to its proper sphere of protecting individual rights. At least we must insist that the Joint Terrorism Task Force spend its resources to go after people who are, in fact, terrorists, and not those who annoy government officials.