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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Defining “Terrorism” Down

Can a silver coin undermine a nation?

In this politicized age, government officials are constantly expanding the meaning of “terrorism.” Once upon a time a “terrorist” was someone who killed or attempted to kill unarmed civilians in a surprise attack that was meant to make a political statement or to undermine a political regime.

That was then. Today, according to a federal prosecutor, a “terrorist” can be someone who privately creates and circulates a silver coin adorned with the dollar sign and denominated in dollar amounts but has a metallic value far above its face value. In fact, the coin in question was similar to the silver dollars that once circulated regularly in this country but have since disappeared. The prosecutor, Anne Tompkins, declared:

Attempts to undermine the legitimate currency of this country are simply a unique form of domestic terrorism. While these forms of anti-government activities do not involve violence, they are every bit as insidious and represent a clear and present danger to the economic stability of this country. We are determined to meet these threats through infiltration, disruption, and dismantling of organizations which seek to challenge the legitimacy of our democratic form of government.

This dastardly act of “terrorism” was committed by 67-year-old Bernard von NotHaus, who recently was convicted in federal court in North Carolina by a jury that deliberated for under two hours. He faces the rest of his life in prison for minting and circulating the Liberty Dollar. The Asheville Citizen notes: “The government also is seeking the forfeiture of about 16,000 pounds of Liberty Dollar coins and precious metals valued at nearly $7 million.”

It is sheer nonsense that von NotHaus engaged in behavior that is a “clear and present danger to the economic stability of this country.” But that’s a good description of Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve.

As one who remembers when the Johnson administration announced in 1965 that it no longer would make silver dimes, quarters, half-dollars, and dollars (replacing them with the infamous “sandwich” coins), I can say the charge that creating a silver coin undermines the U.S. economy is a howler. From QE1 and QE2 (quantitative easing) to the Fed’s inflation targets, if anyone has broken the very spirit of the act that will send Bernard von NotHaus to prison, it is Bernanke.

If von NotHaus did anything, he exposed the sorry fact that the U.S. government’s currency is hopelessly debased. If that is terrorism, then anyone who openly criticizes the monetary system is a terrorist. One wonders if prosecutors like Tompkins think the next level of terrorism prosecution is to go after those critics.

  • Dr. William Anderson is Professor of Economics at Frostburg State University. He holds a Ph.D in Economics from Auburn University. He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.