Monday, February 6, 2012

Myth and Fact - Anti-Hoarding Laws and Your Constitutional Right To Property During a Disaster

Ned Barnett

Like many of you, I have heard and read speculation and rumors about government laws, regulations or plans to confiscate food and other survival supplies accumulated by those Americans who are concerned with their – and their families’ – long-term survival. There are many Americans who, for a variety of reasons ranging from religious to practical, have stored bulk quantities of food, drinking water and other survival supplies against the collapse of society or our economy, and as more people begin to prepare for disaster, the fears surrounding potential forced confiscation increase as well.

Recently, I decided to check this rumor out, beginning with (a great source for debunking rumors) then, when I could find nothing about the confiscation of hoarded food, I moved on to Google for a few key-word searches.

While I couldn’t find any law specifically stating that it was illegal for free Americans to stockpile or hoard foodstuffs or other emergency supplies, I did discover a long-standing Presidential executive order which – while not making hoarding illegal – makes provisions for confiscating and redistributing such supplies. Executive Order 10998, Assigning Emergency Preparedness Functions to the Secretary of Agriculture, was signed by President John F. Kennedy in 1962. This Cold War initiative was an End-Of-The-World-As-We-Know-It civil defense measure (it even references: “before and after attack), empowers the Secretary of Agriculture – in time of national emergency – to seize civilian and individual stockpiles of food and related agricultural supplies (including fertilizer) for the public good, and specifically for equitable distribution to individuals and organizations which have a governmental priority for such supplies.

The operative paragraph in this Executive Order – the one that not only allows for, but makes a virtue of, the confiscation of civilian food supplies – states:

Section 3 (c) Priorities and allocations. Develop priorities, allocations and distribution control systems and related plans to insure that available food resources are properly apportioned among and distributed to civilian, military and foreign claimants in an emergency ...

Note that this clause permits the government to not only seize private stocks of food supplies, but to allocate them not only to other Americans, but to “foreign claimants” … which, to my mind, merely adds insult to injury. At the time it was written, America’s national security was closely tied to that of our allies, including NATO, and it seems clear that this provision was intended to ensure that America would – as it was in World Wars I and II, a source of food (as well as military supplies) for our allies. In today’s post-Cold War world, citizens may be forgiven for seeing this provision in a more sinister light, but if you want to understand its real intent, keep in mind when this order was written.

I have no doubt that this Presidential Executive Order completely disregards the 4th Amendment, which reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

However, I’m equally certain that the government will define the Executive Order’s mandate to acquire food supplies for equitable food seizure and redistribution to constitute “reasonable searches and seizures” (rather than the prohibited “unreasonable searches and seizures”) and, therefore, not subject to the 4th Amendment. That would be sophistry, but the government (regardless of President or Party), has long proven its ability to dodge the Constitution for the “higher good.”

Beyond that, there is a case that can be made – at least from the government’s perspective – that the government exists to protect and serve all the people (not just those wise enough to plan ahead). Despite the constitution, few in 1962 – facing the potential of a nuclear war between super-powers – would have looked askance at a government intent on preserving supplies and distributing them to ensure the survival of those among the populace who first survive a nuclear exchange. While times have changed, and the end-of-society threats are far different than they were in 1962, there is a case that can be made that government has the primary responsibility of preserving the lives of all surviving citizens.

I personally stand firmly on the side of the Constitution and the importance of property rights, but I cannot ignore the fact that people of good will might believe otherwise, and would contend (with Abraham Lincoln) that the Constitution is not a suicide pact.

However, regardless of where you stand on this issue, one thing is clear: In a time of national disaster, the Constitution will be among the first casualties.

In times of crisis, there is one overriding rule here: “Might makes Right.”

Picture this scenario. Fearing societal break-down, either from economics (think Weimar Republic) or a collapse of the grid – or because your religion mandates that you take such preparations – you have prudently stocked up. This means you legally purchased or grew foodstuffs, then packaged them and stored them – along with pure drinking water and other supplies your family will need to survive a collapse. Then, police officers or Federal officials with badges and guns show up to demand your food stocks, to be reallocated and distributed for the greater common good.

In that scenario, what will you do? If they are ready to shoot, will you – the free individual with the stockpile – be ready and willing shoot a police officer, who may also be your neighbor? After all, police officers are supposed to be “good guys,” and who among us is really ready to become “cop killers?” But even if you are ready to defend your legally-purchased (or grown) property, you could easily find yourself to be out-manned and out-gunned (think Waco or Ruby Ridge).

In either case, in a time of crisis (and at least in practical terms) the Constitution doesn’t matter. Unless you are ready and able to stop them, they will confiscate your private property, under the terms of this Executive Order, then allocate your property to others (civilian, military or foreign) who did not prepare for disaster, but who find a way of making a claim to your property for their use.

What do I mean, “the Constitution doesn’t matter?” I mean that, at the moment that the police arrive, the Constitution will not protect you from having your lawful property seized “for the public good.” Even if you could take to court the police who confiscated your property (or the authorities who ordered the police to seize your property) – even if you could take them to court and win – it would take you years in the courts and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars to overturn the police action which deprived you of your property. By that time, either the food will be long-gone or the emergency that you’d stocked up for would have long past. And that assumes that you and your family – without the food and other survival supplies you’d legally acquired in case of emergency – will even survive the disaster.

Do you think it can’t happen? Can you remember the immediate aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans? As local authorities struggled with a disaster, the magnitude of which was clearly beyond their ability to cope, they ordered the police to go door-to-door and confiscate legally-owned firearms. They defiled their citizens’ 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable search-and-seizure, and in the process, they stripped those citizens of their 2nd Amendment rights to keep and bear arms. These outrageous actions, challenged by the NRA and local citizens, were finally overturned in Federal court. The tens of thousands of honest and law-abiding citizens so deprived of their 4th and 2nd Amendment rights finally got their confiscated guns back, but all of this reinstatement of their Constitutional Rights transpired only years after the post-Katrina crisis had passed. In the mean time, those citizens lost their right and their ability to defend themselves in a time of crisis.

As with the citizens in New Orleans, if disaster strikes and the government elects to put this Executive Order into force, your rights will only matter if you can enforce them. Just as the New Orleans gun owners’ only real hope was to hide their guns so effectively that the door-to-door police searchers (who apparently knew who had registered firearms) couldn’t find them. And I’m guessing that trained police officers are better at finding hidden guns than are the honest homeowners at hiding them.

In the event of a national disaster so extensive that the police or deputized Federal officials will come looking for your emergency food supplies, their job will be easier – and your job will be more difficult. Hiding a pistol is (relatively) child’s play compared to hiding a year’s worth of food and pure drinking water sufficient to support you and your family for an indefinite period of time.

If/when you are ready and able to stockpile food in bulk quantities, you’ll also have to find a way of securing those supplies at least against casual police search. A sufficiently detailed search will almost always defeat the clever homeowner, unless the food is stored off-site. Because metropolitan areas will be both unsurvivable and indefensible – issues for another blog – it makes sense to have an End-Of-The-Word-As-We-Know-It escape location, and stockpile your survival food and water there. Pending my blogs on the subject of urban survival, trust me when I say that cities won’t be survivable for very long even with stockpiles, and free citizens would be wise to be far more afraid of their neighbors than of the local police.

But here is the bottom line. While it may be unconstitutional (I’d bet my life on that), it will nonetheless be “legal” for police, acting under the color of Executive Order 10998, to confiscate hoarded or stockpiled foodstuffs, as well as agricultural fertilizer and very likely pure water. At that point, you will have to make a few key decisions:

a. Should you try to defend your constitutional rights and your property against duly authorized law enforcement officials

b. Will
you have the physical ability to defend those rights and your property against lawful-but-unconstitutional seizure?

c. Are
you prepared to become a “cop-killer” if it comes to that?

Those are serious questions, and many survival advocates – who see the benefits of storing away long-term food and other supplies against the potential of a societal collapse – may not have considered the moral and ethical decisions that will have to be made if they are to defend their property, not against roving bands of domestic terrorists, but against duly-authorized and deputized law enforcement officers.

The full text for Presidential Executive Order 10998, Assigning Emergency Preparedness Functions to the Secretary of Agriculture, can be found here:

A review of Presidential Executive Orders relating to FEMA and to societal disasters can be found at this site – this site provides summaries of the Executive Orders – to learn more, search out each of these EOs, read the text and draw your own conclusions:

Finally, as my father taught me many years ago, when teaching me how to play poker, “Trust your old man … but cut the cards.” Which means, don’t take anything at face value. Go to the source, read for yourself, and draw your own conclusions based on the facts. There is a great deal of solid information out there regarding surviving a potential societal collapse – but there is also a great deal of weak information and intentional mis-information. As the X-Files’ Fox Mulder often said, “Trust No One!”

No comments:

Post a Comment