The Government's War on Bumper Stickers
Watch out, your bumper sticker may cost you a traffic ticket!
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
The FreeRupublic.com forum in March 27 reported that police officers are looking out for "extremist" bumper stickers. The December 1999 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin has provided guidelines to the police when they conduct a traffic stop. The bulletin tells the police that suspected members of extremist groups may reveal their affiliations by the vehicles they drive.
An obvious clue to the driver's viewpoint is the bumper stickers on the car. Vehicles with "antigovernment" sentiments allegedly fit the profile of an "extremist." A "pro-gun" message can brand one as a "right-wing extremist." The absence of any license plate or a home-made one will brand the driver as a member of a "sovereign citizen" group.
The article cites the "Militia Watchdog" website maintained by the research director for the Justice Department's State and Local Anti-Terrorist Training program. SLATT received a $2 million government grant in 1999 to train law enforcement personae on "extremist activity."
Those extremist groups known to commit violence or who threaten to do so do indeed need to be monitored, for the protection of society. But an individual car or driver who has a pro-gun message on his car bumper, or disparages government power, is not a threat just from showing the message. When the police stop this car for a traffic violation, the bumper sticker should be irrelevant.
What is the point and purpose of the FBI guidelines on these bumper messages? Are the police supposed to stop cars with these stickers more often? Are they supposed to be stricter about writing tickets for those cars? Are they supposed to act in a hostile manner? Are they to take the suspect out and frisk him?
Some anarchist and libertarian slogans could be interpreted as anti-government. Examples include "There's no government like no government," "Taxation is theft," "Government is the problem, not the solution," and "Taxes are revolting. Why aren't you?"
Very few who hold these sentiments wish to do anything violent. The FBI and police guidelines fingering such slogans violate freedom of speech; we would expect that from the Soviet KGB, not from public servants in a free society.
Suppose you favor a tax reform to eliminate taxes on wages and shift taxation to land rent. You figure a way to give people the message would be to put a bumper sticker on the back of your car that says "Tax Land, Not Labor." That can sound extreme to a police officer who knows nothing about the concept of land rent.
A religious slogan could also be interpreted as extreme. Indeed, an extremely anti-government slogan is inscribed in every US coin. USA coins say "LIBERTY" and "In God We Trust." What does it mean to say "in God we trust"? It implies that we should place our trust only in almighty God, not on any fallible human government. Is that not anti-government? But the government itself puts it on all the coins!
And what does "LIBERTY" mean? It means freedom from the arbitrary rule of government officials. But liberty does not mean doing away with governance. This shows the ambiguity in the term "anti- government". It's a weasel word that can mean either opposition to any imposed government or only opposition to government tyranny. Most so-called "anti-government" sentiments are the latter.
But if you put the slogan "Trust God, Not Government" on a bumper sticker, you now run the risk of alerting the police to pull you over and give you a ticket. If he sees ten cars speeding, and one has such a sticker, he will select that one for the ticket. We no longer have free bumper-sticker speech - it costs us heavy fines and penalties to express ourselves on the road.
Wait a minute. I have a solution. Put a large photo of a coin on your bumper, magnifying the words "LIBERTY" and "In God We Trust". Make it clear that this is from a US government coin. Let's see how the police react to that one.
-- Fred Foldvary
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Copyright 2000 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.