Jarrin Jackson and How to Square Being a Constitutionalist and an Authoritarian

Every day it seems like we get a new example of the conservative descent into authoritarian madness. Today’s lesson comes to us from an Oklahoma congressional race.

Jarrin Jackson, a former Captian in the US Army, is campaigning to become the representative of Oklahoma’s second district (he also charmingly described himself as a “millennial who is not a rainbow jihadist”). Jackson, 30, is running on his military record, commitment to “conservative ideals,” and his opponent’s lack of ideological purity.

That opponent is fellow Republican, Markwayne Mullin. Mullin is a run-of-the-mill Republican. Originally elected as a successful small business owner and political outsider, he has more or less voted in lockstep with the conservative mainstream, as the Heritage Foundation (who grade him at 62%– where the average House GOP member is a 64%) points out, except on issues such as Native American rights (he is a member of the Cherokee nation), agriculture (he votes in favor of subsidies as they are important to the economy of his region), and transit (again, a form of federal spending that brings money and opportunity to his region) as well as a handful of establishment compromises with Democrats in order to keep the government from completely breaking down. Of course, in the topsy-turvy world of anti-establishment conservatives, this makes Mullin an apostate. Can you believe the gall this man has to vote his own way on a few issues personally important to him or his constituents? Or to actually work together with the other party that represents roughly half of the nation and their desires? He has some nerve!

In order to run to Mullin’s right without explicitly rejecting all the pork that his district loves Jackson has to get creative. Perhaps a quick glance at his issues page will shed light on his strategy. Nope. Just boilerplate conservative positions (Repeal Obamacare and Dodd-Frank; simplify and broaden the tax code; vague desires to eliminate government spending– without mentioning specific areas; opt-outs for SS; free market capitalism). Most of these are positions Mullin holds, though he has voted “against” them on occasion (large compromises where other losses were at stake– the sort of nuance that partisan hacks and the general public often have no time for these days). Others, like his student loan debt swap with other Federal benefits or consequences for legislators missing deadlines are simply not feasible. Nor does he have a real plan– he seems to expect some policy wonk to just come along and write them for him. Jarrin Jackson, the crowd-sourced legislator!

His real difference seems to be in national security and defense (and as much in attitude than in substance). Mullin has little to say on those issues, which is not surprising for a congressman. Members of the House typically are more concerned with domestic issues of importance to the constituents they are elected to represent. Jackson waves his bloody shirt frequently and flagrantly. Nearly every page of his website will remind you that he served in active combat duty in Afganistan. Jackson defines himself by his service. In his own words, this identity is rooted in honor, duty, and accountability. You see, the “voters deserve to know what their leaders are made of; what’s in their heads and hearts.” According to Jackson, slick campaign ads and materials don’t do this…

Live fire can. Excusing themselves from live scrutiny is cheating the voters.

For Jackson, the number one issue that Americans must deal with is Islamic terrorism. Our Constitutional protections for religion embolden our enemies. You see, in the age of social media, we are under special threat.

If flashmobs can be generated by social media, so can enemy force structures.  Cybermaster locations are irrelevant.  They can be next door or across the globe.  Couple this with ideology birthed in religion, and two distinctions that make new thinking about war critical become clear.

One, the force structures our enemy manifests is not overseas in the form of standing armies.  They are here in the U.S.  They consist of fighters embedded within our civilian population.

Jackson sees himself as an expert who understands this. Simple civilians and out-of-touch politicians don’t get how the threat can be anywhere. I’m being glib, but Jackson’s absurd notion that he has special insight here deserves to be poked fun at. Is there anyone unaware that terrorist can be anywhere and that technology makes it easier for them to coordinate and recruit? And be real– the vast majority of the threat IS overseas.

He continues on to explain what this means for policymakers:

Two, the jihadist ideology, being rooted in religion, uses our intuitive value for religious freedom against us.  It isn’t that we’re too dumb to discern ideologies that suck.  Trees are known by their fruit.  It’s that more and more of our leaders, having risen through political kabuki, are more suited for stroking factional sensitivities than those whose ideology is to kill us.  Any ideology that calls for killing others to advance religious beliefs should not be pampered.  It should be defeated.

We have defeated ideologies before.  British imperialism, Nazi fascism, Soviet communism.  We can defeat Islamic jihadism.

The first step in waging war is identifying the enemy.  The enemy is Islamic jihadism, a strain of religious thought that wants to usher in apocalypse through terrestrial conquest.  ISIS is one face of that ideology.  Al Qaeda is another.  We, through Congress after debate, should declare war on ISIS, Al Qaeda, and any other like-minded group that threatens our existence.

This confusing mess underscores how ill-prepared Jackson is to be a policymaker (or even a serious critic of policy). One, we don’t simply have an “intuitive value” for religious freedom. That is codified in our Constitution. Religious freedom is the law of the land.

Two, saying that Islam is known by the fruits of terrorism is no more true than me saying that Christianity is known by the fruits racial terrorism, white supremacy, and intra-factional violence. While both are real, neither comes close to describing the faiths and their respective adherents accurately or fully.

Three, the United States is already committed to fighting global terrorism, which is the euphemism we use for “Islamic jihadism” on a regular basis. According to the Washington Post, we have killed over 30000 Islamic terrorists during the Obama administration alone (figures as of December 2015), with nearly 23000 of those killed being members of ISIS. Which part of this is ignoring who the enemy is and refusing to fight it? Jackson is the one engaging in “political kabuki” here. He is trotting out the old conservative trope that liberals are soft on terrorism because they are too squeamish to call it what it is: Islamic jihadism! Are we not currently fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda? What specific fights does Jackson want to pick that we are not currently engaged in? He doesn’t say.

Four, Jackson’s use of history here is appalling. Not only did we not defeat British imperialism as an ideology, we became the standard bearers for it when they collapsed after World War II. And I imagine that British and Soviets soldiers would like to have a word with him over who defeated Nazi fascism in the 1940s. And if we defeated Soviet communism (a real question given Putin’s iron grip in Russia today) we didn’t do so through open declarations of war or saber-rattling– it was a triumph of our economic worldview, not our martial prowess.

What Jackson advocates for next is something out of an Orwellian nightmare. While prefacing it with the need to constrain the military under the law of Posse Comitatus, Jackson says:

Once war is declared and military action within our borders is so constrained, we can then fight wherever we need to fight.  Note the importance of first declaring war though.  Once war is declared, the laws of treason become more relevant.  Enemy not killed can be processed through civilian courts like they are now, or through military courts where the rules are quite different and justice is much swifter.

This does get complicated and it does require balancing, but no less than our failing effort ongoing now.  The point is the battlefield is within our gates whether we like it or not.  Our military is not allowed to fight, our law enforcement is not equipped to fight, and our political leaders mostly lack the acuity or will to fight.

He is advocating for letting loose the military on US soil. Not in response to any particular acts, but to root out the threats he knows are all around us. The CIA, FBI, state and local law enforcement are powerless to stop terrorism! The legal system is too slow to bring justice. Only by having the military take over the fight against terrorism on our soil can we ever truly win (ignoring those other historical examples of where we “defeated” ideologies that had many domestic supporters among them without using our military aggressively against them).

What point is there in winning if we give away everything that was great about our nation– our commitment to rule of law and individual freedom– to do so?

During an interview with radio host Steve Deace, Jackson doubled-down on his militarized security state dreams when explaining how his experience in the military informs his views on the US-Mexico border:

“The first go-around, I was a platoon leader just a few miles away from the Pakistan border. And really, what we were doing was shore up a porous border kind of like, imagine our southern border, except for we were allowed to shoot ‘em.”

Rightwing “news” sites quickly jumped on this quote as an example of someone who “gets it” with regard to our border security. The Blaze referred to Jackson as “a strident supporter of the Second Amendment and a staunch opponent of illegal immigration” in their praise-filled article about his remarks. You can almost hear the glee with which they await complaints that will show (again!) how wimpy liberal and non-authoritarian critics are. You may also note the interesting juxtaposition of being an originalist with regards to the 2nd Amendment (this is generous– it is not really that clear that the Founders intended it to mean what current “supporters” of the 2nd Amendment say) but ignoring the Constitution when it comes to issues of terrorism or immigration.

It would be easy to chalk this up to a simple joke or misstatement if you never read any of his posts or didn’t bother to listen to the entire interview. He repeatedly expresses displeasure with the rules of engagement and civilian control of the military. His outrage over being forced to transition control over to local Afghan forces instead of being able to unilaterally use force is undeniable. Jackson believes in using uncompromising force against anyone he suspects of violating the rules. He is, without a doubt, an authoritarian.

His obvious desire to use the military to fight terror at home and to secure the border is blatantly unconstitutional. The 5th Amendment to the US Constitution provides that no one may be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. Declaring war against non-state actors as a way to institute a sort of martial law is not a power enumerated by the Constitution. And god willing, no such amendment will ever be devised. No matter how scary things are, you do not get to go around shooting people at the border because you suspect that they are committing a crime. Hell, you don’t get to shoot them if you know they are committing a crime, unless they pose a direct threat to you or others. Same with Muslims (or people you think are Muslim or associate with Muslims). We don’t get to pick and choose which parts of the Constitution we follow. And no one who cares about freedom or democracy would ever espouse these positions.

Still doubting that this vet could have such anti-democratic, pro-authoritarian views? Check out some of his letters from the front. Like this one on why he loves America.

That is the essence of tyranny, and the very reason why other American ideals we fiercely protect exist. Like freedoms of assembly, speech, and self-defense. They exist to make sure that no one we ever assign power to wields that power in ways that override our collective will. I love that. I have seen brute power used just because someone wanted to and no one could stop them. In fact, I have been that guy. History is stained by tyrants who started out as benevolent, only to end up corrupted.

I don’t know Jarrin Jackson. Given his record of service and commitments, I have few doubts that he has honorable intentions. His letters from the front are interesting, and show a man struggling to come to terms with thoughts about his nation, freedom, and the ease with which man can descend into violence and tyranny. Those letters show a thoughtful and introspective man who would make a fine leader in government.

But his comments in this campaign have also illustrated that the dangerous tyrannical streak he saw in himself on the front has not passed. He views disagreement and conflict in stark zero-sum terms that should be met with aggression, regardless of the rules. Whether he is simply not far enough from his service experience, is being egged on by the Trump-filled madness of the new GOP, or is simply an authoritarian tyrant in his bones is unclear. But we know he has seen it in himself and that it prompted this warning:

We acknowledged this in 1776. Certain truths are self-evident, as are certain rights unalienable. Government derives its power from the consent of the governed, not the other way around.

Voters should heed his warning. Until he is able to curb his authoritarian worldview and his disregard for the Constitution under which we give our consent to be governed, Jarrin Jackson is unfit to serve as your representative.

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