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Friday, March 25, 2011

A Victim of the State

Bernard von NotHaus and the Liberty Dollar.

Sometimes we don’t see the trees for the forest.

Advocates of liberty focus on the big picture: war, inflation, taxation, government spending and borrowing, drug prohibition, economic restrictions, privilege, the erosion of civil liberties, limits on immigration, and more. Sometimes the flesh-and-blood victims of government get lost in the theoretical discussion.

But victims abound. One of the latest is Bernard von NotHaus.

One week ago today a North Carolina federal jury convicted von NotHaus of something the government considers a threat to our very society: “making coins resembling and similar to United States coins; of issuing, passing, selling, and possessing Liberty Dollar coins; of issuing and passing Liberty Dollar coins intended for use as current money; and of conspiracy against the United States.” (See FBI release; emphasis added.) His trial followed a 2007 FBI and Secret Service raid at his offices and his indictment in 2009.

Conspiracy against the United States?

Here’s what the bureau says he did:

According to the evidence introduced during the trial, von NotHaus was the founder of an organization called the National Organization for the Repeal of the Federal Reserve and Internal Revenue Code, commonly known as NORFED and also known as Liberty Services.

Von NotHaus designed the Liberty Dollar currency in 1998 and the Liberty coins were marked with the dollar sign ($); the words dollar, USA, Liberty, Trust in God (instead of In God We Trust); and other features associated with legitimate U.S. coinage. Since 1998, NORFED has been issuing, disseminating, and placing into circulation the Liberty Dollar in all its forms throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. NORFED’s purpose was to mix Liberty Dollars into the current money of the United States. NORFED intended for the Liberty Dollar to be used as current money in order to limit reliance on, and to compete with, United States currency.

These are crimes in “the land of the theoretically free” (H. L. Mencken’s term)?

Von NotHaus, who is 67, faces up to 25 years in prison and fines up to $500,000. “In addition, the United States is seeking the forfeiture of approximately 16,000 pounds of Liberty Dollar coins and precious metals, currently valued at nearly $7 million,” the FBI says. The forfeiture trial is in progress. Von NotHaus is free pending sentencing.

Redeemable in Silver

Was von NotHaus a counterfeiter? No. He did not fool people into thinking Liberty Dollars were government coins or Federal Reserve Notes. On the contrary, his coins were made of silver and his notes stated they were redeemable in silver. Did he force anyone to accept the Liberty Dollar? Of course not. (Lawrence H. White explained the Liberty Dollar in his July 2000 Freeman article “A Competitor for the Fed?”)

So what law did von NotHaus run afoul of? The FBI explains:

Article I, section 8, clause 5 of the United States Constitution delegates to Congress the power to coin money and to regulate the value thereof. This power was delegated to Congress in order to establish and preserve a uniform standard of value and to insure a singular monetary system for all purchases and debts in the United States, public and private. Along with the power to coin money, Congress has the concurrent power to restrain the circulation of money which is not issued under its own authority in order to protect and preserve the constitutional currency for the benefit of all citizens of the nation. It is a violation of federal law for individuals, such as von NotHaus, or organizations, such as NORFED, to create private coin or currency systems to compete with the official coinage and currency of the United States.

Aside: Congress has done a heck of a job preserving a uniform standard of value, hasn’t it? Under the Federal Reserve System it created in 1913, the dollar has lost about 95 percent of its value. Talk about a conspiracy against the United States!

No Exclusivity

I’m no expert in the law governing money, but I detect a faulty premise. Although the Constitution authorizes Congress to coin and regulate money, does it delegate exclusive power to do so? I don’t see that in the text. So where did Congress get the authority to “restrain the circulation of money which is not issued under its own authority”? Sounds like a power grab reminiscent of the crackdown on Lysander Spooner when he not only dared to compete with the government’s postal service, but to do it better! (Darn, the Antifederalists warned that the Necessary and Proper Clause was a blank check that would haunt us. Right again!)

At worst von NotHaus committed a victimless crime in violation of a mere statute that conflicts with the natural law regarding life, liberty, and property. Let us not forget: lex injusta non est lexan unjust law is not a law. Or as Spooner wrote in his 1886 “A Letter to Grover Cleveland”:

If [legislative edicts] forbid any man to do anything, which justice could permit him to do, they are criminal invasions of his natural and rightful liberty. In whatever light, therefore, they are viewed, they are utterly destitute of everything like authority or obligation. They are all necessarily either the impudent, fraudulent, and criminal usurpations of tyrants, robbers, and murderers, or the senseless work of ignorant or thoughtless men, who do not know, or certainly do not realize, what they are doing….

Simply put, Bernard von NotHaus is a victim of State oppression. One hopes his conviction is overturned and he remains a free man. I for one feel safer with him doing what he does than with Ben Bernanke doing what he does.

  • Sheldon Richman is the former editor of The Freeman and a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. He is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America's Families and thousands of articles.