Calling Shotgun on Spy Drones

Now here is the kind of hunting I can get behind.

A little town called Deer Trail, Colorado, is considering passing an ordinance that would offer a $100 bounty for shooting down a government spy drone. I love it. They even specify that the drone must be shot down with “a 12-gauge shotgun.” For pretty much the first time ever, I actually find myself appreciating the stereotypical American “shotguns solve everything” frame of mind. When reporters asked the town’s residents whether they had considered the legality of such a measure, one resident responded: “Is it illegal? Of course it is. But it’s also illegal to spy on American citizens.” That’s a damn good point.

The NSA, our most prolific spying agency, claims that their spying is legal, authorized by section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. However, according to the precedent set by FISA courts, that is actually not the case: section 215 can only be used to authorize spying on specific individuals under targeted investigation for specific crimes. Even according to the Republican representative who wrote the freakin’ PATRIOT Act in the first place, Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the blanket spying is illegal. In fact, Sensenbrenner is so furious about the NSA’s interpretation of his law that he is threatening to repeal his own bill if the NSA continues its shady practices. “You have to change how you operate section 215,” he warned the NSA, “otherwise you’re not going to have it anymore.”

Seriously, though, is anyone out there comfortable with robot spyplanes buzzing around over our heads? I’m certainly not. And neither are the folks in Deer Trail. I love that resident’s response in the previous paragraph. It reminds me of Roald Dahl’s excellent little story The Magic Finger. The American government seems to think that they can get away with whatever they want, because they aren’t above the law; they are the law!  In other words, “we allow ourselves.” Well, the town of Deer Trail is saying, two can play that game.

There’s something else this story reminds me of: the 1984 film Red Dawn. This film, written to evoke support for the plight of the mujahideen fighting to liberate Afghanistan from Soviet occupation, uses a simple but highly persuasive rhetorical device: “Well, what would you do if the Soviets invaded your country? Wouldn’t you join in the guerrilla warfare against them? Wouldn’t any red-blooded ‘Murrican?” It was a good point. (Though the American government should probably be kicking themselves for giving those freedom fighters all those funds and weapons, since some of them went on to found a little group known as al-Qaeda.)

But here’s why I love what’s happening in Deer Trail. Imagine how that small, gun-loving, deeply conservative town would react if the drones flying over their heads were dropping bombs. On weddings. On funerals. On any males age 18 and up who own firearms, which I’m guessing, in a town like this, is all of them. And then on the ambulances and medics that respond to the crisis. Well, that’s exactly what the U.S. government is doing all over rural Pakistan. Seriously. And we wonder why there are more and more people willing to join up with anti-American terrorist movements? We wonder why there is such rage and hatred directed at the West? Well, how would you feel about a government that did this to you? This town is basically threatening armed retaliation against drones when 1) they haven’t actually ever seen any over their town, and 2) even if there are drones over their town, those drones aren’t even armed. So what do you think the reaction would be if government drones started bombing that town? Well, what would your reaction be? Given how outraged these folks already are over the unarmed domestic drones, perhaps some of the folks on the conservative side might want to rethink their approval of the American drone programs abroad, too.

Now, I’m going to make it clear: I doubt that this ordinance will pass, or have any effect even if it does. But the spirit behind it made me smile. We have to stop the US government’s drone programs, both at home and abroad. Whether the drones are murdering civilians or just spying on innocent citizens, they are never a force for good. They should be left on the scrap heap of history.

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