Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 739, September 29, 2013

Make no mistake: the only reason that
they want to take your guns is so they
can do things to you that they can't
do if you keep your guns.

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The License Plate War
(a work of fiction)

by Paul Bonneau

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Edward Snowden died. The Russian media declared it a case of food poisoning.

Predictably, the mad dogs of American government and the media (but I repeat myself) competed with each other in howling about how much this fate had been deserved. Obama hinted that it was more than just an accidental event. Putin made no official comment, but there were rumors that the head of the modern-day KGB equivalent received a royal ass-chewing for letting an American hit team get to Snowden.

Old John read story after story on the Internet, most of it raw speculation. Then he sat back and thought a while. It was hard to get up interest about anything any more, since he had learned of his advanced cancer; but this one certainly got to him. Here the slimy stinking NSA was vacuuming up every bit of data on every person in the country, and the one man who had the guts to object, had just been martyred; and now the baboons were chest-thumping about it (not that they had much chest to thump). Was there nothing to do about that? He went out for a walk.

Going along, staring without seeing, he finally noticed he was staring at the license plate on the back of a car. He'd always thought of license plates as badges of slavery. It was also one of the earliest examples of monitoring citizens in the country. "The mother of NSA snooping and tracking," he thought.

He pulled a multi-tool out of his pocket, unscrewed the plate, bent it in half, and threw it in a nearby trash barrel.

John felt good. "One more person not being tracked." He smiled, and went back home.

That night John walked out and collected 12 license plates, and brought them home. He defaced them with a grinder. With an exacto knife he created a stencil that said simply "SNOWDEN". He spray-painted the plates black, then with the stencil painted "SNOWDEN" in white on all of them.

Next night John went for another walk. He found other cars, swapped their plates for the "SNOWDEN" plates, and took the new plates home. He didn't worry about being caught because he also had his gun and wasn't about to let anyone arrest him. Funny how facing death changes one's priorities and fears... However he did take care not to leave fingerprints—he didn't want his crusade to end too early.

After a couple more nights of this, he found his enterprise had made the local news. The common taters (as he thought of them) made a few sneers and jokes about the nutcase doing it, but they clearly liked putting the story out there.

Now he had to be more careful; but he kept at it. The following news stories had comments from police spokesmen saying this is serious business, and that they would find the perpetrator, but one could not miss the amusement showing in his eyes as he said it. It became a big joke. Nobody really cared about this "crime".

The "victims" secretly treasured their "SNOWDEN" plates (which initially sold for high prices on ebay) and became a temporary center of attention among their friends, for being so victimized. After a while it seemed like some of them were doing it to their own cars; John heard reports in the news from parts of town he was not operating in, and the estimated numbers went up faster than he could put the plates out there. Even a cop car was hit, but not by him.

The head of the state DMV was interviewed. After a grave condemnation of the "license plate terrorist or terrorists", he announced a new policy of DMV, that if you were left with only one plate (because the other had been stolen), it was acceptable for the victim to move that plate to the rear of the car, and there would be no prosecutions for missing the front plate as long as the "terror" continued. Of course the people with sports cars and other people who cared about the looks of their cars, immediately removed the ugly front plates from their own cars and either tossed them or turned them into "SNOWDEN" plates to hang on the wall at their workplaces. Other more prudent people took them off the front for a spare in case their rear plate was stolen by the license plate terrorists. Within a few weeks only a minority of cars in the city had front plates, and people who still drove like that were thought to be wimps and bootlickers.

The head of DMV also said that it was required to get replacement plates, but since this was putting a severe pressure on plate production, they were reviewing this policy. Long lines (even longer than usual) were forming at DMV offices. People were getting mad, and berating the DMV agents, who then passed the complaints upstream.

Cops first started ticketing plate violations, but soon letters to the editor and even pickets in front of police stations put a stop to most of that. It didn't hurt that the mayor was pulled over for a plate violation. The dash-cam video of the contact made the rounds of the department, where the mayor was clearly heard stating to the officer, "Don't you know who I am?" and "Those laws are for other people, not for the mayor, you idiot!" It finally ended up on youtube and got a million hits in short order.

The most serious problem, though, was that people were having fun. Many took their plates on and off, depending on where they were driving or how courageous they felt. It became quite a thing among teenage boys to get their hands on a cop's license plate, that they could use to upstage their rivals in front of the girls. They often paid their younger siblings to actually do the deed, since there was less risk to small kids of legal repercussions. Small gangs of kids appeared running up and down the street, usually with a few plates in hand. For every adult cursing their impertinence, there were two egging them on.

Someone started producing "SNOWDEN" bumperstickers (white on black, in a "stencil" font). These were originally intended for, well, bumpers—that is, for people a bit too timid to deface their own license plates. Some enterprising kids did quite well selling them door-to-door. But these stickers took on a more sinister character, when they started appearing ON license plates. When pulled over, the victim merely said, "Damn those kids!" Most cops just told the victim to get them off, and the victim agreed to do it—someday.

This generated a huge increase in production of defaced plates, since the labor and risk went almost to zero. A heck of a lot faster than spray-painting a stencil, but John was a bit old-fashioned in that way.

These bumperstickers were also showing up in other places. Lamp posts, garbage cans, cop car windows, inside of police station restrooms, and so forth. The most famous was the one that got photographed on the front door of city hall.

The city passed an ordinance banning possession of plates not registered to the individual in question; they let their moral indignation get the better of them, and added draconian penalties for this crime. This was yet another occasion for hooting and laughing among the people. A few were actually caught, but all opted for jury trials, and no jury would convict them. Virtually everyone on the juries were angry at NSA snooping and about Snowden's assassination.

Finally old John was caught at it. A cop tried to take him down but got a bullet in his groin for his trouble, permanently disabling him at least where reproduction and urination were concerned. His consolation was an early and expensive (to the taxpayers) retirement, along with frequent visits to the shrink. John was of course shot down, but strangely, his corpse was smiling. It took considerable effort to pry the gun from his dead hands. A warrant was issued for searching his home, where 147 license plates were found under his bed. These were duly returned to the victims of these thefts, and shortly thereafter ended up in dumpsters, for the most part.

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