‘Patriot’ Groups See Defense Act as Prelude to Dictatorship

The passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2012, signed into law on Dec. 31, has ignited a firestorm of Internet criticism, ranging from legitimate worries about the act’s constitutionality to conspiracy theories suggesting the federal government is bent on rounding up Americans as part of a “New World Order” dictatorship.

The NDAA is the federal law that authorizes funding for the Defense Department each year. What started the backlash to the 2012 edition are provisions regarding military detention of terrorists or suspected terrorists that many interpret as a license for American military forces to imprison citizens indefinitely and with impunity.

Antigovernment “Patriot” organizations like the John Birch Society and the Tenth Amendment Center are involved in the blowback, as are conspiracy-minded websites like Alex Jones’ Infowars, all warning darkly of a police state. Similar fears have animated the Patriot movement for at least 20 years now.

It’s not just the political far right the provisions have fired up, however. The act was condemned by liberal organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which said in December that it “is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations,” meaning that the government can detain people far from scenes or periods of combat. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, added, “President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in U.S. law.”

After an outcry – and Obama’s initial refusal to sign the act – language was added that explicitly exempts American citizens and resident aliens from indefinite military imprisonment. When Obama finally did sign it, he included a signing statement promising that his administration would not authorize “the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.”

But that hasn’t appeased many on either side of the political spectrum. The ACLU noted in February that the NDAA would still authorize the “worldwide and indefinite military detention” of non-citizens “captured far from any battlefield.” Though the ACLU doesn’t believe that the NDAA authorizes domestic military detention, “many in Congress think that it should be used in exactly this way.”

One writer at IntelHub, a conspiracist site, claimed in February that the continuing economic crisis was manufactured by the government and set the stage for passage of the NDAA. For its part, the Tenth Amendment Center held a conference call in March with journalists and sympathetic legislators, both Democratic and Republican, about the issue. Several states have passed or are considering passing anti-NDAA laws or resolutions.