Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly has heard all of that criticism from Americans who are upset at the way his employees treat them and other people, and he has a response for all of you ingrates: Shut up.
If you've ever dealt with surly Transportation Security Administration (TSA) staff who treat you as though you work for them and not the other way around, such behavior goes all the way to the top. In a wide-ranging speech designed to reinforce President Donald Trump's attitude that America is under siege, Kelly spoke told an audience at George Washington University and pretty much told them that without the aggressive approaches of the DHS we'd all be murdered by drug cartels and terrorist groups. So can it with the criticism.
The whole speech is watchable here at C-Span for the so-inclined. His speech was essentially a combination of every single post-9/11 security state speech combined with every single '80s and '90s drug warrior panic speech. The media responses are highlighting his defensiveness to criticism. Via The Hill:
Personnel are "often ridiculed and insulted by public officials, and frequently convicted in the court of public opinion on unfounded allegations testified to by street lawyers and spokespersons," Kelly said.
"If lawmakers do not like the laws they've passed and we are charged to enforce — then they should have the courage and skill to change the laws. Otherwise they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines," Kelly said, to a burst of applause in the auditorium.
These comments came toward the end of his prepared speech, so it's useful to provide some context with the other things he talked about. He described the way Americans are treated by TSA when we travel as "a little bit of an inconvenience." He was not being sarcastic. He still believes that marijuana is a "gateway drug" and said so. He added that DHS will continue to force federal law on marijuana as long as it's against federal law, regardless of whatever the states may want. So keep that in mind if you're thinking of bringing some on a flight to anywhere. He also, incidentally, made a big deal that DHS employees swear an oath to defend the Constitution, which is notable inasmuch as there is no sign that the DHS has any respect for the Fourth Amendment whatsoever when it comes to searching Americans anywhere near the nation's borders.
Even further, a good chunk of his speech was full of fearmongering about drug cartels and recent increases in drug-related deaths to emphasize the rhetoric that our nation is under attack. He says at one point more people are dying from drugs than died during World War I, but his idea of dealing with increasing drug deaths is a "comprehensive plan to reduce drug demand." The problem is us, not them, you see. They have to figure out how to stop us from wanting to use drugs.
Kelly has a very typical cognitive dissonance issue we see a lot with law-and-order types. He insists that his people are enforcing the law, true enough. But his comments also make it very, very clear that he supports the drug war, though he does acknowledge at some point that America "can't arrest our way" out of the drug problem.
But who are the biggest opponents to changes in drug laws to maybe stop arresting people? Time and time again it's law enforcement lobbyists, whether we're talking about police, prosecutors, or prison representatives, who oppose any and all attempts to scale back their authorities to arrest and imprison people. The same folks who say "We're just enforcing the law" will fight tooth-and-nail any effort to crank back those laws. There's a tremendous amount of grant money and funding involved in "enforcing the law." They have strong incentives not to permit changes.
Similarly, Kelly therefore has every incentive to exaggerate the threats America faces, because his budgets depend on it, and President Trump is looking to spend, spend, spend on DHS and border security. In his speech he tries to suggest that DHS's budget has been cut to the bone. Though DHS's discretionary budget was cut during the sequester in 2008, DHS budgets and spending have been inching upward year after year (Check out this chart and read the text below to see which DHS agencies have been seeing the biggest boosts).
Kelly and his agents have every reason in the world to scare Americans into total compliance, every reason to insist that the drug war and terrorism is a constant threat, and every reason to suspect every traveler coming into the country could be a threat, and every reason to treat us as though we citizens are merely subjects of government authority. This also means that many of the domestic terror threats he mentions having prevented in his speech were frequently the result of undercover FBI stings that frequently are encouraging people to act out so that they can bust them, and it's not clear (and will never be clear) how many of these men would have actually done anything had undercover agents not been helping them along.
And the security theater driving the TSA's searches has long been exposed as ineffective, insulting, and incomprehensible. Their failures in catching actual threats compared to the inane overreactions they have to perfectly harmless objects are well known, and the result has been to actually dumb down procedures and make searches even more invasive rather than more effective.
Hey, Kelly, want to know why people hate you and your employees? Watch this video from ReasonTV. This is what you're telling Americans and lawmakers they should support:
Photo Credit: Lenin Nolly/NOTIMEX/Newscom