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The State Protects Itself While Crime against Ordinary People Surges

Photo by Campbell Jensen / Unsplash

By Ryan McMaken, the Mises Institute | August 18, 2023

In all the media and regime frenzy over the Janaury 6 riots and the Pentagon Leaker in recent months, it is interesting to examine the contrast between how the regime treats "crimes" against its own interests, and real crime committed against ordinary private citizens. 

Witness, for example, how the Biden administration and corporate media have treated the January 6 riot as if it were some kind of military coup, demanding that draconian sentences be handed down even to small-time vandals and trespassers. Regime paranoia has led the Justice Department to ask for a 30-year sentence for Enrique Tarrio, a man who was convicted of the non-crime of "seditious conspiracy" even though he wasn't even in Washington on January 6. In recent months, Jacob Chansley, the "QAnon Shaman," received a sentence of three-and-a-half years, even though prosecutors admit he did nothing violent. Riley Williams was given three years for simply trespassing in Nancy Pelosi's office. Members of the Capitol Police force have been lionized in the media as great protectors of "sacred" government buildings, and any threat to the property or persons of Washington politicians has been equated with an assault on "democracy." 

Yet, had these supposed insurrectionists inflicted these same actions against an ordinary private individual, there's a good chance the perpetrators would not even be arrested, let alone given years of prison time. Consider, for example, the mobs that ransack private businesses in American cities, stealing tens of thousands of dollars of merchandise while police and prosecutors consider it all to be low priority.  Violent crime and property crime surge in many areas of the United States, with violent crime rising 30 percent in New York City in 2022. Unsolved murders in the US are at a record high. Meanwhile, progressives and social democrats are looking for ways to reduce criminal penalties against violent criminals. Police departments often devote only tiny portions of their budgets to homicide investigations, and if your property is stolen, odds are good you can forget about ever seeing it again. 

The situation is quite different when it comes to protecting the state, its agents, and its property from any threat. During urban riots, such as those which occurred in Ferguson, Missouri and Minneapolis, Minnesota, the police went to great lengths to protect themselves and government property. If you were just a private shopkeeper or ordinary citizen, however, you were on your own. At the Uvalde School shooting in 2022, hundreds of law enforcement officers from all levels of government chose to protect themselves rather than the children who were being murdered inside. When Uvalde parents demanded the police act, the police attacked the parents. 

We find similar phenomena at the federal level. There are, of course, special federal laws against violence perpetrated against federal employees. Ordinary taxpayers receive no such consideration. Note how federal agencies move to arm themselves to the teeth while also seeking to disarm the private-sector. Federal agents will spare no expense finding someone who put his feet up on Nancy Pelosi's desk, but it's another matter entirely when we're talking about serious violent crime against regular people.  Federal agents, of course, allowed 9/11 to occur right under their noses, they refused to investigate known rapist Larry Nasser, and shrugged off reports about the man who would end up slaughtering children at a high school in Parkland, Florida. Contrast this with how long the federal government has been conniving to get revenge on Julian Assange for merely telling the truth about US war crimes.  

Naturally, law enforcement officers rarely face any sanctions for their failures to bother themselves with private property, life, or limb. The federal courts have made it clear that law enforcement officers are not obligated to actually protect the public. In other words, the taxpayers must always pay taxes to hold up their end of the imagined "social contract" or face fines and imprisonment. But the other side of that "contract," the state, has no legal obligation to make good on its end. This, of course, is not how real contracts work. 

The state's fastidious devotion to protecting itself, compared to its casual concern for the safety of mere taxpayers, illustrates an important principle of state behavior. In his essay The Anatomy of the State, Murray Rothbard notes 

We may test the hypothesis that the State is largely interested in protecting itself rather than its subjects by asking: which category of crimes does the State pursue and punish most intensely—those against private citizens or those against itself? The gravest crimes in the State's lexicon are almost invariably not invasions of private person or property, but dangers to its own contentment, for example, treason, desertion of a soldier to the enemy, failure to register for the draft, subversion and subversive conspiracy, assassination of rulers and such economic crimes against the State as counterfeiting its money or evasion of its income tax. Or compare the degree of zeal devoted to pursuing the man who assaults a policeman, with the attention that the State pays to the assault of an ordinary citizen. Yet, curiously, the State's openly assigned priority to its own defense against the public strikes few people as inconsistent with its presumed raison d'etre.

This double standard has been repeatedly on display in recent years as the regime has increasingly been consumed with paranoia over threats to itself—propagandistically termed "threats to democracy"—while attention given to real crime against private citizens is apparently not a priority at all. 

Ryan McMaken is executive editor at the Mises Institute. Ryan has a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's degree in public policy and international relations from the University of Colorado.

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