09/05/12 – John Whitehead – The Scott Horton Show

by | Sep 5, 2012 | Interviews | 3 comments

John Whitehead, lawyer and founder of The Rutherford Institute, discusses his client Brandon Raub’s forced incarceration in a psychiatric ward for posting political opinions and song lyrics on Facebook; the low standard of proof needed to lock someone up in a mental institution; why veterans are being specially targeted by law enforcement; questionable practices at the VA; and why our court system is about maintaining order, not upholding justice.



SCOTT HORTON: All right, y’all. Welcome back. I’m Scott Horton. My website is scotthorton.org. I keep all of my interview archives there. And our next guest on the show today is John Whitehead from the Rutherford Institute, and he’s an attorney. He’s written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. He’s the founder of the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties and human rights organization. Welcome to the show. How’s it going?

JOHN WHITEHEAD: Hey, thanks. How’s it going with yourself?

SH: I’m doing real good. I appreciate you joining us here. There is a very important case, I think probably many people have heard of it, the case of Brandon Raub (“Rowb”) – am I saying his name right?

JW: Raub (“Rob”), Brandon Raub.

SH: Okay, Raub. And he’s your client?

JW: Like Rob, Rob Roy.

SH: He’s your client, correct?

JW: That’s correct.

SH: And you guys are suing who all and for what?

JW: Well, we’re getting ready – we’re deciding that now. I mean, it seems like we’re probably going to be suing all the federal authorities, but we don’t know who all they are, by the way. When the police and the federal agents showed up, some said they were from the Secret Service. We’re doing research. We’re looking at the Veterans Hospital as a possible defendant in a lawsuit. So we’re looking at, basically it’s going to be state and federal officials that were connected to this so-called civil commitment of Brandon Raub.

SH: Right. Now, I think the reason that you’re so involved in this, and got so involved in this, is pretty apparent in a few of your media appearances. You think that the government’s abduction of this young man was somehow a kind of earth-shattering, precedent-setting move, and you want to move to set a precedent in the courts that, oh no you don’t, right now – is that correct?

JW: Well, under civil commitment statutes – they’re all across the country; all fifty states have them. Just in Virginia alone last year over 20,000 people were civilly committed, which means that the majority of them, some kind of authority such as police showed up, took them away from their home and put them in a mental institution.

It’s an epidemic problem. We had a writer from Los Angeles call and say that 80,000 people alone in Los Angeles County last year were civilly committed. It’s a huge problem.

Veterans groups across the country have called me and say they believe veterans are being targeted. And I think that’s pretty obvious, because most of the cases I see are with the veterans or somebody connected with the armed forces.

So I think before you show up and take somebody away, you at least need to have clear evidence that they’re a threat. They didn’t have it in the Brandon Raub case. And if we hadn’t got involved, he would still be in the mental hospital.

SH: Okay, so when you talk about all these standards, or all these different, you know, statutes throughout the union here, they all have some kind of standard, right, that there must be – a judge has to agree that there’s a threat to someone else, or before he’s going to commit suicide, or some kind of thing, right? They can’t just nab you over, say, for example, political speech.

JW: Yeah, they can nab you over political speech. That’s what happened to Brandon Raub. It’s, it’s – all it takes is, well, here they have a community standards board. All it takes is some board members who think that you’re a danger. So if someone on that board did not like you, for example, and got a few other board members to agree, they could lock you away for a long time. Yes.

[crosstalk, inaudible]

SH: …the statutes are not…

JW: It isn’t a judge, by the way. In Virginia it’s a lawyer that works with the government. It’s basically rubber stamp. The – I mean, the people at the hearing for Brandon Raub, the lawyer that showed up, called a special justice, had trouble hearing what Brandon Raub was saying. He was aged, and he brought his own homemade tape recorder. So it’s not very well done. These are basically rubberstamp procedures.

SH: It’s like an Article Two court, in a sense. Like, within the executive –

JW: Yeah, well, it’s worse than that. In an Article Two court you probably get more due process, which means a fair hearing, so.

SH: That’s like a traffic ticket, right? [crosstalk] You don’t get any kind of –

JW: They assume, no they assume that you’re crazy when you get there.


SH: So you’re telling me –

JW: No, you don’t really –

SH: – is that –

JW: [inaudible]

SH: – this is all really a major scandalous crisis all across the country right now, how easy it is for people to be committed.

JW: Yes.

SH: In this case it just really sticks out like a sore thumb because the guy was complaining about politics on his Facebook page is what got him that.

JW: Yep. I did an interview with him – people can go and see it. I mean, he’s a very lucid, very intelligent young man. He’s 26 years old, a decorated Marine. If they go to rutherford.org, Rutherford dot o-r-g, you can actually see the interview I did with him on camera, and you’ll see he’s – he’s as sane as anybody I’ve ever talked to. So, he just got caught up in this. But I’m afraid, with the hundreds of thousands of people that are going in these mental institutions across the country – the veterans groups, as I said, call me on the phone, a lot of them, presidents and lawyers of veterans groups, and say they’re really concerned, what could they do, you know? And so what we’re doing is looking at the legislation, at least in Virginia, and hopefully can build in better safeguards so that – there’s got to be some kind of threshold here. I mean, he didn’t threaten anybody specifically. He just – he was quoting song lyrics from a group called Swollen Members, it’s a rap group out of Canada, that got him in trouble.

SH: (laughs) Yeah, you’d think these cops would have learned by now to google it and check, you know?

JW: Well, you know, what cops do – yeah, they do. And they don’t, that’s what – you just said something important. They don’t google. If they would have checked, they’d have saw this man didn’t even have a permit for a firearm. He doesn’t even own a weapon. I mean, so – (laughs)

SH: Is it clear whether the cops were just trolling around his Facebook page, or did someone turn him in?

JW: He doesn’t think that that’s what happened. He said when he got to the police station, somebody said, “Do you have any friends that might be concerned?” So they were trying to give him name– he said he gave them some names, and at his hearing those are the same names they gave back. I think – I don’t know if someone might have complained, but what it was, they were doing a private Facebook game. It was his brother, his sister and him, and they were quoting song lyrics and saying goofy things, probably had a couple beers, and somehow the government got into that, you know? And the Facebook, by the way – and these large corporations are notorious for giving information over to the government. They got into his private account and read what he said and came and got him. And this is the weird thing. At his hearing, some of the statements that they said he said, were actually said by his brother. They didn’t even have their facts straight.

SH: Hmm.

JW: But you know, you have the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, all these people show up at his door and take him away. They handcuffed him. You can actually see the film of the handcuffing at his arrest on our website. It’s – if this can happen in America, I got a lot of good friends are saying now, “Is this really America anymore?” We see these things happening.

SH: Well, but, so I’m trying to – you know, just a speculation here, trying to fill in the gaps, but it seems like what happened here, right, was the cops had a conversation which said, “Well, we can’t really arrest him for anything, because he didn’t do anything illegal that we can charge him with, right?” He didn’t make a terroristic threat directed at anyone specific, like you said, it was just lyrics. Like this, “Well, we can’t really call him a material witness,” because, I don’t know, maybe the judge in their neighborhood doesn’t like that kind of thing, the abuse of the material witness thing. “So what can we do? Well, we’ll we turn him over to the mental hospital. Well let’s do that.” They decided that, and they’re basically looking for a way, fishing for a way to have an excuse to take him away, rather than enforcing the law, which is actually their charge.

JW: Yeah, it was the thing. As soon as we got the case, we called the FBI and we called the police and said, “What are you charging him with?” Their response was, “Nothing. He didn’t commit a crime. (laughs) But they handcuffed him, put him in a police car. They wouldn’t let him put his clothes on. He asked. You’ll see it on camera. He says, “Can I get my shirt?” He was in his shorts. They said no. And they shove him – and one of the police officers actually shoved him into a fence. This is a decorated Marine, twice overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq, served his country well, a combat engineer. This is how we treat him. This is America. So it’s pretty scary –

SH: Well, yeah, and they go from our idols to something very scary, right? Because in truth they’ve all been betrayed and they’ve all been sent on these no-win wars and they come home to an economy that’s destroyed because all the money was spent on the wars, and so the government, they have all these FBI and Homeland Security reports, “Be on the lookout for the next McVeigh, the next disgruntled veteran, who, actually, we taught him how to fight.” So they’re constantly on their toes for that kind of thing.

JW: Yeah, I think you’re right about that. Again, it’s like I say, the veterans groups are greatly concerned and – I mean, right now, I think, just because of this case, we’ve had at least 300 calls from vets saying this happened to them, where they were taken away, you know? And just for kind of crazy things. But – [crosstalk]

SH: Right, and he has the resources to represent them all.

JW: That’s it. Very few people won’t even get near these cases. In fact, his mother, Kathleen Thomas, she was very good. She got on Facebook and the internet when he was arrested and taken away and started screaming about it. And someone called us and I called her and talked to her. But the thing she said to me when I called her and said we may want to help, she says, “Thank God. I’ve called everybody. No one wants to help.” And so we got involved. We got him out in a week. We found a judge who had some good common sense and got him out. But like I say, if we hadn’t gotten involved, he would still be there. [crosstalk, inaudible]

SH: And that’s just really lucky for him that his mom thought, “I have to make a news story out of this immediately or it’s going to get away from us.” [crosstalk] That was really bright of her to do that.

JW: Yeah. And I think that’s what we do today. You know, although the government’s watching the internet, and you know the massive scrutiny, see downloads, a billion point six pieces they say at least from the internet everyday, watching people. This is the national security – it goes in electronic files. The internet’s the last hope we have getting news out there. So if you see this happening to a neighbor or a friend, I tell people and your listeners should do as well, scream about it on the internet, alert us, alert groups like us, and otherwise, like I say, well, a reporter called me from the county that Brandon Raub was taken away and he said, “John, you realize there were twenty other cases just in this county alone in August.” So this is happening a lot. And I don’t know where all these people are going, so. We’re researching it now, trying to figure out what’s happening, but. If we have that many crazy people in the United States, we’re (laughs) we’re really in deep doo-doo, that’s all I can say.

SH: Well, I mean, this is actually a great way for the military to get out of treating soldiers.

JW: Yeah.

SH: They say, “Well you have a personality disorder, and if you do, well it must be congenital, or you must have” – I think that’s the right use of that word – “you must have always been like this. Which means you deceived us when you said you were sane when you joined the Marine Corps in the first place, so now, out on your ass and no healthcare for you.”

JW: Yes.

SH: Joshua Kors has written a great series about this for The Nation, and it’s a widespread thing. “Whatever’s wrong with you, you have a personality disorder,” which of course everybody’s got one of those.

JW: Yes, that’s true. The thing is, a lot of the veterans groups that work with the VA are really disgruntled about the VA. They say that they can’t get help for the vets. I have wives of veterans call me saying, “My husband is fighting just to get basic benefits from the Veterans Administration.”

SH: Yeah, and then think of that, they use, “Well, no, we accuse you of being mentally ill,” as their excuse to not really treat you, but then they can turn right around and use that as any excuse to kidnap you. And – [crosstalk]

JW: That’s basically it.

SH: [inaudible] “– you’re not guilty of anything, but we’re going to hold you.”

JW: The word is kidnap. Yeah. And, like I said, he had a very brief hearing and they sent him away, 3½ hours away from his lawyers, his mom, to lower Virginia, southern Virginia, away. And again, we had to – and when we got him out, we just had the court order, and we took the court order to the VA Hospital and said “Release this man.” The response from the Veterans Administration Hospital was, “There’s no one here by that name.” They actually told us that.

SH: What, are you kidding me?

JW: We, we happened to have a veteran who was in the hospital who had called us. He went up and got him out of the psych ward with the court order. But they wouldn’t even release him. They were saying that he wasn’t there, although he was sitting in a room waiting to leave.

SH: Wow.

JW: So that’s what it’s like.

SH: Well now – [crosstalk]

JW: And you know I have a lot – a lot of good veterans that I work with that work with the VA, and they’re shocked at the poor treatment, and that, you know, just trying to get in the doors of the VA sometimes, you know. Pretty tough. That’s how we treat our veterans. And you’re right. We send them all to those crazy wars overseas. They come back. We pigeonhole them. We make them look crazy. And then, and when they treatment, they can’t get it. So.

SH: Well, they’re dying now from more suicides than IEDs in Afghanistan.

JW: That’s true.

SH: That’s how bad it is.

JW: That’s true. And we’re not treating them, yeah.

SH: Hey, and there are still tens of thousands, 80,000 something, soldiers in Afghanistan out there playing the IED lottery, so that’s a lot. You know, it’s not like that war is almost over or anything.

JW: No, it’s going to be going on for a long time. I think that major reform obviously needs to occur. But I think we have to watch these civil commitment statutes, because anybody – I mean, me or you. It depends on, if the government doesn’t like you. I mean, to be honest with you, if someone came in my– if you came in my office today and talked to me, and I called the – and I know FBI agents. I could call an FBI agent and say, “He looked like he had a gun in his pocket and he was saying crazy things like he wanted to kill someone.” They would pick you up and you would be put in a mental institution. That’s all it would take.

SH: Wow.

JW: So it’s, there’s not a lot of safeguards. So what we’re going to try to do in our case, when we sue the government, is force them to put safeguards in these civil commitment laws, because they shouldn’t be arriving at your door kidnapping you when you’ve not committed a crime. And you go into a procedure where it’s basically rubber stamp, you just pass through and you’re in the mental institution.

And, like I said, if Brandon’s mom hadn’t a got on the internet, he’d still be there, there’s no doubt. And he knows that.

In fact, the last day he was in the institution, about 30 minutes before we got the court order releasing him, he called me and said, “I’m pretty scared.” I said, “What’s up?” He said a psychiatrist had actually come into his room and slid a chair up to him and said, “I’m going to brainwash you. I’m going to force meds on you.” He said, “What do I do?” And I said, “Hey. You have to have a court order in Virginia to force someone to take medication. So you tell the guy he’s violating the law and the Constitution.” Which he did. Thank God, 30 minutes later we got him out. But I guarantee, in a lot of those cases, the people will take the medications and they’re gone. They’re just in the hospital for a long time. [crosstalk, inaudible]

SH: Yeah, they’re just tranquilized so that it doesn’t even occur to them to call a lawyer.

JW: They don’t have a lawyer. That’s the point.

SH: Yeah.

JW: They get a court-appointed lawyer who shows up at their hearing, maybe raise a few issues, and off they go. I mean, it’s just very much rubber stamp. And I’m getting that from other veterans across the country who have been committed. They say their hearing was just, no one seemed to be listening to what they were saying. They were just told, “Okay, we’re sending you off,” and that was it. And the legal system pushes it through.

I’ve been practicing constitutional law for like 35 years, and I’ll tell you, one thing people have to realize, in America, that we have very few courts of justice. We have courts of order. And they’re there to keep order of the judges, most of them. Not give you justice. They don’t want to take a chance of allowing anybody out that may be a bit dangerous, so the easy thing is to do is to slide everybody into either a jail cell or a prison or a mental institution. [crosstalk]

SH: Well, one thing [inaudible] have to do –

JW: You realize America has the highest incarceration rate in the world of any civilized country.

SH: Yeah.

JW: We have more people in prisons and mental institutions than any country in the world.

SH: One thing about judges, though, is if you can, you know, get them in the right circumstance, they like to grandstand, you know, like on a case like this where it’s already gotten out of their control. And, you know, so I wonder if, you know, say for example at y’all’s last hearing, did the judge act like he was outraged at all by what the government had done here? Because that’s really, you know, when you want your precedent set on some more safeguards here, something like that, it’s really going to come down to whether the judge likes you. Isn’t it?

JW: Well, too. Another thing you’re seeing is press. There was a lot of press here. Brandon Raub got a lot of favorable press. Judges read newspapers and they watch TV. We were all over the news for a week and a half. That affects it. Plus, he said here, and he looked at the record, the government had not proven their case. That was the key. And that’s why he got out. So. And here’s the – I’ll go back and say it again. If most people in these cases I think would have lawyers, they’d either have a very short time in a mental institution or they’d be out like Brandon Raub. So, most of them don’t even have lawyers, that’s the point, who make appeals. They’re just stuck there. So this is what’s happened to the country. So it’s a very, very dangerous trend. I mean, I’ve said this on camera. This is the first case I’ve handled in my 35-year history that’s given me the creeps. They can come to your house, kidnap you, and you disappear. In the United States.

SH: Well, you know, Thomas Szasz, the great libertarian kind of anti-psychiatry activist and author, he likes to point out that really psychiatry was invented by the state in order to have an excuse to imprison their critics. That’s really where it all comes from in the first place is, “Hey, this is the consensus, and if you’re outside the consensus, especially if you’re, say, hopping mad about the consensus, then there’s something wrong with you.” [crosstalk, inaudible]

JW: Well, too, but you know Brandon Raub –

SH: – define what that is.

JW: Brandon’s very open with his views, Brandon Raub. He’s a 9/11 truther, and I have – you know, people I talk to, a lot of people think that anybody believes that is crazy. So you’re facing that right off the bat. So, it’s – see the First Amendment [crosstalk] is there to protect people who have strong –

SH: They’re going to have lock up a huge percentage of the population. I don’t think that’s crazy, I just think it’s – [crosstalk] not quite right. (laughs)

JW: No, I agree with you. But, you know, you can have – the First Amendment protects people who have extreme viewpoints. That’s the purpose of the First Amendment. And, because you have a strong viewpoint doesn’t mean you’re crazy, or I’d say 80% of the clients that I represent are crazy. And I don’t think they are. [crosstalk] They just have strong viewpoints.

SH: Sure, well, I mean, and there’s different uses of the word “crazy,” too. I mean, you could say “This is crazy, that’s crazy, and I went skateboarding with my friend and he ollied over this thing, it was crazy.” But then there’s, when you really need it is when you’re arguing in court and when it counts is whether someone gets their rights taken away from them or not. You know?

JW: Yep. So, again, it comes down to definitions, and like I say, there are s– I know of some good psychiatrists and I know bad psychiatrists, why we call ones that think everybody’s crazy. So, once you get in that, you’re lost. [crosstalk] And that’s what happened to Brandon Raub.

SH: Well, that’s the thing, is on that, the standard form. There is no checkbox for sane. Everybody’s – [crosstalk]

JW: I agree with that.

SH: – a little bit of a narcissist, right? Something.

JW: Well, you know, I have a psychologist friend. He said, “John, you suffer from one of the big psychological diseases, ODD.” And I said, “What’s ODD?” He said, “Oppositional Defiant Disorder.”

SH: Right!

JW: People who defy authority. Well I said that the Founding Fathers were crazy. And he says, “You’re right.” (laughs)

SH: Yeah. No. I have been recently diagnosed with that very same condition. For some reason, I’m not ashamed and I’m not seeking medical attention. But maybe [crosstalk]

JW: Well, you know, Mar– Martin Luther King – Martin Luther King had it and a lot of other folks had it.

SH: Right. Yeah. Well, he was a notorious troublemaker.

JW: Yep.

SH: All right. Hey, listen, we got to go. Thank you so much for your time, John, I really appreciate it, and good luck to you and your client there.

JW: Thank you sir.

SH: All right, everybody. That is John Whitehead from the Rutherford Institute. That’s rutherford.org. Check out his piece on lewrockwell.com today about Minority Report and the Department of Pre-Crime.


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