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March 11, 2024

House Committee Tackles Federal Government Weaponization

By Larry Keane

The U.S. House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government asked pointed questions to several Biden administration officials to get answers to why the federal government is working against the American people instead of for them.

The Hearing on the Weaponization of the Federal Government delved into questions of why the federal government spied, and lied, about the lawful purchases by Americans by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The U.S. Treasury admitted that it collected information on Americans’ purchases of firearms and ammunition, shopping at several sporting retailers, including Cabelas, and even tracked people using search terms that include “Bible.”

The admission came by letter to U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) just one day after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen refused to answer questions from Congress if the surveillance occurred. The letter would appear to implicate the federal government with violating Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights protecting against illegal search and seizure, as the activity was conducted without a warrant.

Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) laid out in his opening statement the grave concerns Congress has with this intrusive and potentially illegal search and seizure of Americans’ private financial data.

“Big government was colluding with big tech to censor Americans. That’s the first thing we learned,” Chairman Jordan explained. “But now, it’s big government colluding with big banks and big business to spy on everything Americans buy, every place they go, everything they do. Big government wants your financial data because it’s full of sensitive information about you.”

He continued, “And… and if you’re a gun owner, look out. You’re going to the top of the list. For simply exercising your Second Amendment right, you’re on the FBI’s target list. Never forget, the federal government got this information without any process. No warrant and frankly, no notification.”

The further the committee was able to dig into information provided by FBI whistleblowers, the more concerning the allegations became.

“Since then, we’ve learned that the financial surveillance was broader and there was actually a specific objective,” Chairman Jordan said. “The federal government is building profiles on the American people. And the profile isn’t based on criminal conduct. It’s based on political beliefs and if you’ve got the wrong political beliefs, well, you’re a potentially violent domestic extremist.”

“It’s Appalling…”

Rep. Greg Stuebe (R-Fla.) was outraged that Americans are being targeted for government spying because they lawfully exercise their Second Amendment rights.

“In the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) at the U.S. Department of Treasury told major banks to be on the lookout for customers using credit and debit cards for the purchase of legal firearms,” Rep. Steube said. “As a gun owner and a strong proponent of our Second Amendment rights, it’s appalling that a federal agency would ask private companies to spy on their customers conducting perfectly legal business transactions. It’s not like there’s a suspicion of criminality going on. These are just typical purchases of firearms.”

Rep. Steube added, “President Obama once infamously remarked that many conservative Americans cling to guns or religion and given FinCEN’s actions, it seems that President Biden’s administration shares the same hostility for millions of Americans like me who proudly cling to our First and Second amendment rights.”

Jeremy Tedesco, Senior Counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom testified that banks are using vague rules and excuses to “de-bank” those who hold political views that are out-of-step with those in the banking bureaucracies. That also involves the federal government and big banks colluding to ostracize those with undesirable political views.

“Yeah, I mean, this is a huge part of the problem is our clients, you know, to a, to a person anytime they go to the bank, once they get debanked, it’s always under some vague policy. The only thing the bank will say is high risk, or business type, or risk tolerance.” Tedesco explained. “Every time they go back and ask for an answer a specific reason, the bank just stonewalls them, and so they can’t get access to information.”

Why We Need ‘Protecting Privacy in Purchases Act’

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) put to rest accusations that the federal government and big banks colluding is a hoax. She pointed to the creation of the Merchant Category Code (MCC) specific for firearm-retailers to track purchases.

“In 2022, gun-ban activist Amalgamated Bank and far-left politicians pushed for the creation of an unconstitutional Merchant Category Code to be assigned to firearms retailers to identify, ‘suspect purchases’ and report purchasing patterns to law enforcement a clear unconstitutional infringement on Second Amendment rights and a clear back door to a gun registry. In fact, failed New York Attorney General Tish James specifically mentioned the importance of labeling gun and ammunition sales as a way to indicate an imminent crime,” Rep. Stefanik explained. “Since then, some states have banned the code, while states like California have mandated it to surveil Americans purchases. This is why I introduced the Protecting Privacy and Purchases Act with Congressman Barr and Hudson to put a stop to this code and protect law abiding Americans from this infringing unconstitutional overreach.”

“This code and if we were to do similar codes for other sensitive issues, risks, creating a raft of false positives where individuals who are potentially engaging in Second Amendment activity, because it’s important to know that the MCC doesn’t tell you what people buy, it just tells you where they buy it, right, will it be reported to the government as potentially suspicious for no real basis, or at least not a basis that is likely to be reasonable. And that’s going to create a database that is available, that could be searched later,” testified Brian Knight, Senior Research Fellow and Director of Innovation and Governance, Mercatus Center. “One of the dangerous things about this financial databases that are these financial records is that they’re retrospective. And if perhaps, just as bad, is that there’s precious little reason to believe it would be effective at stated goal for host reasons I can get into if you want.”

Knight testified that advocates of requiring the MCC claim it could stop crimes from being committed in as little as 12 days from the purchase of a firearm to the commission of a crime. That’s not realistic, given the overwhelming numbers of purchases at firearm retailers authorities would have to search. Another concern is that this eventually leads to a national firearm registry, which is forbidden by law.

“I believe some of its supporters view it as a backdoor to discourage firearms purchases,” Knight added.

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Tags: FinCEN Government Weaponization Merchant Category Code Treasury

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