It should be uncontroversial that when circumstances allow, every citizen has a duty to arrest a man committing a felony in his presence. A citizen is a man who participates in the operations of the state, a man conferred special privileges and who is given a role in governing, a role which includes the most necessary task in any state: meting out the violence necessary to keep civil order. A man who is given the privilege to carry his sword in public has a duty to wield it for the public good. This is the difference between a republic and a state run by thieves.
In our American system, the rights of citizenship are conferred on most everyone. That most men are unworthy of full citizenship was a fact conceded in more honest ages by even the most stalwart of democrats. An optimistic assessment of universal citizenship is that men as a whole might strive to make themselves worthy of their duties rather than grow indolent in their rights. This was the old vision of citizenship.
Travis and Gregory McMichaels are citizens of this old type, and now that they have been convicted of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, they are victims of that old citizenship. The father and son are working class men who elected to serve their country in law enforcement and the military. Both men tried to protect their neighborhood from a spell of crime by approaching the criminal Arbery after Gregory McMichaels had seen him in still shots from a video committing a burglary; both attempted to place Arbury under citizen’s arrest when it became clear Arbery was the burglar on the video and he attempted to flee. At some point Arbery became aggressive and charged Travis McMichaels, and in return Travis shot the burglar with a shotgun he had brought along in case Arbery got aggressive. The legal question reduces to this: If the McMichaels’ attempt at a citizen’s arrest was legal, then Travis’s shooting was legitimate self-defense; if not, then Arbery was validly resisting assault and kidnapping, and Travis’s claim of self-defense could not prevail.
But focusing on statutory details distorts the true conflict of the case, which is one of citizenship, of rights old and new. The Southern people have always been more mindful of the duties of citizenship than their Yankee counterparts because they live amongst a people given the rights of citizenship and wholly unsuited to its duties. This was the practical effect but also the clear intent of the 14th and 15th Amendments, which conferred the rights of citizenship on an illiterate, propertyless class of people for whom participation in civil affairs was completely alien. No one seriously thought this new class of citizens was equal to the old, and no one had good grounds to complain when in 1877 the experiment was aborted.
The citizen’s arrest statute in George dated from around the time of this experiment. That it was ratified in 1863 is irrelevant. All 49 other states have a similar law, because it arises out of common law (the common-law rule was actually more severe; it affirmatively required private persons to arrest a man who committed a felony in his presence). The citizen’s arrest law is an affirmation of the Natural law, that even when the government is absent or hostile, a man still retains the right to defend life, liberty, and property. The law of self-defense is everywhere regarded as a natural right. The right of citizen’s arrest is less universal and more constrained, but operates on the same principles. A felon is a man whose judgment and will are corrupt. A good society not only holds these men up to higher scrutiny, but hangs them. A man who cannot defend his or a neighbor’s property against a felon is in only a slightly better position to the man who cannot raise his fist against an assailant.
In the 1950s and 60s, the Federal Government once again sought to pervert the rights of citizenship with the intent of harrying the South. This time that special race of people had done a good deal to make themselves worthy of the rights and duties of the old citizenship. But instead of offering a shot at the old kind of citizenship, the Federal Government created a kind of super-citizenship. These super-citizens would now have a right to public housing, free food, and hiring preferences, to name just a few. These new explicit rights created various penumbras around them; one was forced to acknowledge the unproven utility of these new rights, and the dignity and worth of these new citizens was to be presumed, no matter their behavior suggesting otherwise. This new super-citizenship, with all its new rights conferred, imposed no new duties but for one: that all would have to acknowledge that all rights, even the most ancient and basic, came not from Nature or God but from the government, and had application only through government apparachiks.
This is how the McMichaels came to find themselves convicted of murder, and imminently to be sentenced to death behind bars. They were the old citizens, and they strove to be worthy of the duties of citizenship placed upon them. But Ahmaud Arbury was a super-citizen. Unbeknownst to the McMichaels, he had the right to commit statutory burglary on camera; he had a right not to talk to anyone about his brazen crime, and had a right to flee rather than be confronted with the crime. Most importantly, he had a right to murder anyone who denied him these aforesaid rights. This is but a sample of the bundle of rights conferred upon a super-citizen. And these are the things the jury had to believe in order to find the McMichaels guilty. The McMichaels’ right to pursue a peaceful life in their own neighborhood ranked below the criminal’s right to be unhassled over his crimes.
Inside and outside the courtroom, the super-citizenship has absolutely trumped the old. Georgia’s Republican governor proudly struck down his state’s citizen’s arrest statute, and exhorted the legislatures of the 49 other states to do the same. This incontinent and effeminate move arises from the same idiotic refrain that arose in the Rittenhouse trial, that lethal force should not be used in the defense of property. Neither the McMichaels nor Rittenhouse used a firearm for anything but self-defense. More importantly, erasing the right of citizen’s arrest does little to recalibrate the rights of person and property, and much to violate fundamental notions of justice which resulted in the citizen’s arrest law itself. It means that if the McMichaels had found proof of an assault, a rape, even a murder, that their attempt to apprehend the perpetrator could have justly and legally ended with the villain blowing Travis McMichael’s head off. This is a barbaric outcome, one which vitiates the very idea of true justice. But it is a necessary conclusion in a world where the right to citizen’s arrest does not exist or more precisely, in a world where the right to citizen’s arrest has been ground into obsolescence by the right of felons to commit property crimes with relative impunity.
Following the Rittenhouse acquittal, the right to self-defense stumbles along–so long as you can capture your pedophile assailant attacking you on camera. The fallout of the McMichaels trial will be worse than a Rittenhouse conviction would have been. The Arbery defendants are currently facing Federal hate crimes charges for the Arbery killing; why the Federal Government should have jurisdiction over what is clearly a state law matter can be determined ex post facto. Even usually-protected state actors are feeling the vice tighten. The initial two prosecutors in the McMichaels case both elected not to press charges; the first is now being charged criminally for “violation of oath of public officer” and “obstruction and hindering a law enforcement officer.” Her crime per the indictment is that she failed “to treat Ahmaud Arbery and his family fairly and with dignity” – dignity is one of the most cherished rights of the super-citizen, after all, which things like statute and case law cannot justly impede. This trash indictment is a clear attack on prosecutorial discretion, but even more it is a sign that public officials who seek to implement the old law, in letter or in spirit, can and will be crushed.
One of the painful aspects of the recent self-defense cases is the humanity of the defendants. Both Rittenhouse and Travis McMichaels expressed remorse for the lives they had justly taken. They understood that even when acting within the law, that they had committed the horrible act of casting another soul off the earth. The roots of this remorse are clear: the old citizen knew that his rights, just like that soul he had taken, came from Nature’s God. The super-citizen can muster up no such sympathy; they froth at the mouth and smile about every one of their victims they can watch die behind bars. Their victims are not really people, because for the super-citizen, selfhood and identity are as artificial to him as the rights doled out from above. This transcends any particular racial animus. Modern justice means that the rights of white citizens rank below those of black criminals, it is true. But the powers that be can always find a new breed of super-citizen when the time comes. The present battle is between black and white, but the war is about where we derive our rights and through what means, by private citizens or by state police, these rights can be lawfully effected. The remnants of the old citizenry believe in a Law of Nature written on men’s hearts, and that this law still has jurisdiction over our nation. But as the government usurps the latter, it is no surprise men lose connection with the Law of Nature, or their hearts.