Saturday, March 21, 2009

When Horse Theft is State Sanctioned

This article was originally published at on March 15th, 2009

The day after the Liberty Forum ended, as I was still driving home from that magnificent event, I heard the news that Brian Travis´ property in Candia, New Hampshire had been raided by area police, a couple of veterinarians and a representative of the SPCA. The alleged purpose of this raid was for the protection of the horses on the property. The authorities had accused the property owner of neglect. I was both saddened and shocked by the news and proceeded to find out as much as I could about the event.

For the record, I admit that I am a little biased toward Mr. Travis. Though I have never met the man personally, I have listened to him on several occasions speak of his adventures on the radio program "Free Talk Live" as he traveled across the country from Colorado to New Hampshire in search of a better life more closely akin to the principles we hold dear, those of non initiation of force and that in order to live in liberty you must allow others to do the same. He came across as an honest, caring, principled individual with a genuine concern for all mankind, not just those close to him. I find it hard to believe that such a man could or would neglect animals he was obliged to care for, especially valuable animals such as those that were kidna--, errr, confiscated from him.

Still, I feel a certain obligation to remain as objective as possible when writing about events and concerns such as this. This can be quite difficult to do at times. I felt the need to distance myself and try to remain objective in this case and so I began reading articles, blogs and the comments of those biased toward Brian Travis and those biased toward the agencies and people involved in the raid. I have to say that it was a real eye opener to read through some of these posts. An occurrence such as this can really bring out the raw emotion in some people. Some comments become very vitriolic and spiteful. There seems to be some real hatred out there against Free State Project members and this issue apparently brought it out. There appears to be at least a few natives of New Hampshire who harbor and nourish a likely unhealthy resentment toward those who believe that the answers to today´s societal and economic ills lay in less government regulation and more individual and personal responsibility. This aspect was a little unnerving in the middle of what could otherwise be a challenging and useful debate.

Much of the expressed concern, however, was for the welfare of the horses. This is understandable. As humans, we have a basic understanding that it is wrong to steal someone else´s property, but we can justify doing so if we feel the reasons for our actions are honorable. People who love animals in general and horses in particular in this case can certainly justify emancipating a helpless equine from the clutches of a cruel, uncaring owner. For this reason, for a moment or so as I was reading through some blog posts, I was a bit torn. It seems that many people in the area where this event occurred believe that the horses were, in fact, neglected. They reasoned that the SPCA and the veterinarians wouldn´t raid the man´s farm unless this was true. For a fleeting moment, I found myself wondering about this point.

Indeed, we as a society wish to believe the best in people. We want to believe that anyone in which the public places its trust has only the best intentions at heart. We´d especially like to believe this coming from people entrusted with the protection of animals who have no voice and cannot directly speak to us and report their own abuse. I would like to believe this too. I would like to believe that there are only good, honorable and trustworthy people working for organizations like the SPCA. So for a moment I was inclined to wonder if perhaps my perceptions of the people involved were wrong and these horses were indeed in danger. After all, I am only looking at this situation from afar and have not had direct contact with any of the players involved with this drama.

Then I saw something that changed my perception entirely. It was this documentary posted on Youtube from ABC´s 20/20 which exposed the abuse perpetrated by some in charge of local SPCAs. It points out that some people will allow their positions of power to go to their heads. The second half in particular shows just how corrupt one man can become when granted such all encompassing power, how he either knowingly lies and cheats for personal and professional profit, or he is so delusional and self righteous that he thinks himself some sort of messiah to the animals who can make no mistakes and do no wrong. My guess is the former.

Those who believe that the welfare of animals is important should consider that likely animals who are not in reality abused have established some sort of rapport with their owners. For them to be taken away from the environment they have grown accustomed to will likely cause undo emotional stress. Who will be held accountable if that is indeed the case? In this particular case, no one, as all those involved have immunity in the eyes of the law. It is sad to think that such criminal activity can be sanctioned by those entrusted to adjudicate and no one will ever answer to the victims of such crimes.

There are some deeper issues of principle at stake here as well. One of those issues is a basic principle of our culture, that a man is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. This is a rule of law that at one time we as a society took great pride in promoting. It is also a rule of law that seems to have become a quaint memory in recent decades. More and more often I see and hear of people who find themselves fighting to prove their innocence. More and more often I see and hear of injustices perpetrated onto the citizenry because of the presumption of guilt by the very system that is supposed to protect the individual from such actions. It is more than simply tragic, it is an abomination to a society that is supposed to cherish and honor the concepts of freedom and liberty.

Brian Travis now finds himself in the awkward position of having to hire a lawyer and fight to regain possession of his pets utilizing the very system that allowed them to be stolen from him in the first place. Can there be more of a conflict of interest? It is as inherent in the system that it should try to protect itself as it is in nature that an organism would engage in self defense when threatened or attacked. Even if he eventually proves that he is innocent of neglecting his animals and shows that not producing the proper paperwork was an honest mistake and oversight on his part, he will have been punished. He will have spent thousands of dollars in fees and precious hours of his time battling an injustice. If actions such as these are to be taken in a free society, if we are to allow people like Steve Sprowl and Dave Garcia (from the 20/20 documentary "Cruelty to Owners") carte blanche to raid people´s farms and businesses, then those people and anyone who helps them should be held personally responsible when mistakes are made and accusations are disproved. This should also be done within a system that minimizes conflicts of interest that could arise between any of the parties involved. In this way, we can be more certain that political considerations or the promise of financial gain are less likely to be at the heart of such actions. In this way, we can be more certain that men wielding power will not attempt such actions as a result of a vendetta against another individual.

I have no reason to doubt Brian Travis when he states he believes this action was taken as a result of an incident that happened on his property and involved Steve Sprowl in November of 2008. I have no reason to doubt that this action occurred because Mr. Travis and his family refused to submit to the demands of a man who is perhaps corrupted by the heady influence of power. In fact, due to the secretive nature of the government position as events continue to unfold, I have reason to suspect that it is Mr. Travis who speaks truthfully and the government bureaucrats who are being less than honest.

Ironically, Mr. Travis moved to New Hampshire to help fight against the very injustices he now finds himself experiencing. He believes there is a better way for society to accomplish its aims rather than simply appointing such people to positions of power and hoping they always do the right thing. Likely it is, at least in part, his libertarian philosophy – that one should never initiate force against another and that in order to live as a free human being one must grant others the same dignity – that helped create the situation he now finds himself in.

It is the people who still believe in the cult of the state who help maintain the illusion of legitimacy these tyrants hold over the populace. It is the people who believe that those in power are just in their actions, or at least their intentions are just, who prop these petty tyrants up and help prevent innovative, real, transparent solutions from being enacted. Until and unless we can hold these individuals responsible for unjust actions and demand they personally compensate those they´ve wronged we will find abuses of power taking place. Until and unless we honor the principles of individual freedoms and liberties upon which our western culture is based we will continue our downward slide toward an authoritarian, collectivist system of society that destroys the human spirit of all those involved with it.

Here are the links to the 20/20 documentary "Cruelty to Owners:"
Part 1 of 20/20 documentary "Cruelty to Owners."
Part 2 of 20/20 documentary "Cruelty to Owners."

It is my hope you will take the time to watch both parts.

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