Al-Qaida, the Klan and property activists?

A Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s training manual (“Terrorism & Security Awareness Orientation for State Employees”) has labeled “property rights activists” as terrorists.

The manual contains a list of “Terrorist Organizations,” and includes Hamas, al-Qaida, and Hezbollah; street gangs; racist, separatist, and hate groups; and, shockingly, “property rights activists.” They were listed as terrorists because they “undermine confidence in the government” and “influence government or social policy.”

After members of the public became aware of the manual and a legal organization sent a letter to the governor, Virginia replaced “property rights activists” with “property rights extremists: anti-eminent domain.” So, Virginia’s current manual still lists citizens who oppose the government’s use of eminent domain as terrorists.

While the use of eminent domain in accordance with constitutional standards is appropriate, the manual’s characterization of “property right extremists” is especially concerning given the government’s ever-increasing use of eminent domain to take property from one person only to give it to another–what some call legalized theft. Many law-abiding citizens oppose the government’s overly expansive use of eminent domain; they should not be considered terrorists for their opposition to such policies or for their support of private property.

As former United States Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, himself a Virginian, warned almost 40 years ago: “History abundantly documents the tendency of government–however benevolent and benign its motives–to view with suspicion those who most fervently dispute its policies.”

Regardless of the state’s motives, the manual is indicative of the state’s hostile attitude toward property owners. This should not be surprising because private property divides power, empowers the individual, and provides a sphere of protection in which individuals can act without government interference.

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