45. In what has to be one of the most notable quotes of the Eldorado fiasco, the Schleicher County Sheriff said, “This is the United States…. We’re not going to violate their civil rights until we get an outcry.”
Here’s a little more context for the quote, as reported by the Tucson Citizen:
I have no regrets because we never received any outcry, a complaint. There was no evidence of illegal activity nor an offense in plain view. You can always suspect something, but until you get something that puts you on that property, there’s not a whole lot you can do…. But there again, this is the United States. We are going to respect them. We’re not going to violate their civil rights until we get an outcry.
If he had said, “We’re not going to move against the FLDS until we have evidence” or “We’re not going to ask for a search warrant until we have a credible complaint,” I would have been right with him. Or even if he had said, “You cannot go in and bust in someone’s house if there’s not probable cause to do so,” as the Texas attorney general said, I can still see the imprint of the constitution in such a statement. But, if you take the Sheriff’s quote literally, he’s essentially saying that after there’s an outcry or a complaint, it’s OK to violate civil rights. I can only hope that comment didn’t come out the way he intended.
The sheriff’s statement, even in the form it came out, is not as scary as some of the comments about his statement. I have found multiple posts on the internet by people complaining that the sheriff felt constrained to wait for an outcry. These sentiments remind me of Lincoln’s great speech at the Young Men’s Lyceum in which he addressed the subject of “the perpetuation of our political institutions”.
When men take it in their heads today to hang gamblers or burn murderers, they should recollect that in the confusion usually attending such transactions they will be as likely to hang or burn someone who is neither a gambler nor a murderer as one who is, and that, acting upon the example they set, the mob of tomorrow may, and probably will, hang or burn some of them by the very same mistake. And not only so; the innocent, those who have ever set their faces against violations of law in every shape, alike with the guilty fall victims to the ravages of mob law; and thus it goes up, step by step, till all the walls erected for the defense of the persons and property of individuals are trodden down and disregarded.
But all this, even, is not the full extent of the evil. By such examples, by instances of the perpetrators of such acts going unpunished, the lawless in spirit are encouraged to become lawless in practice; and having been used to no restraint but dread of punishment, they thus become absolutely unrestrained. Having ever regarded government as their deadliest bane, they make a jubilee of the suspension of its operations, and pray for nothing so much as its total annihilation.
While, on the other hand, good men, men who love tranquility, who desire to abide by the laws and enjoy their benefits, who would gladly spill their blood in the defense of their country, seeing their property destroyed, their families insulted, and their lives endangered, their persons injured, and seeing nothing in prospect that forebodes a change for the better, become tired of and disgusted with a government that offers them no protection, and are not much averse to a change in which they imagine they have nothing to lose. Thus, then, by the operation of this mobocratic spirit which all must admit is now abroad in the land, the strongest bulwark of any government, and particularly of those constituted like ours, may effectually be broken down and destroyed-I mean the attachment of the people….
I know the American people are much attached to their government; I know they would suffer much for its sake; I know they would endure evils long and patiently before they would ever think of exchanging it for another-yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come.
Yes, those who don’t want the government to wait for an outcry are justified in expecting that the FLDS honor the laws, but we must also insist that the government honor its own laws. Otherwise, if it becomes popular for the government to move against unpopular groups without being restrained by law or constitution, we will be reduced to government-sponsored mobocracy, which – as Lincoln reminded us – in only a step away from anarchy.