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Pushing PANDA

PANDA is People Against the National Defense Authorization Act


They're called the "laws of war."

Buried deep within the 1,000 pages that make up the National Defense Authorization Act is Subtitle D-Counterterrorism, containing a number of provisions which, among other things, allow the U.S. government to "use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the authorization of military force," including detention without trial and trial by "an alternative court or competent tribunal having lawful jurisdiction."

While much of the public would link such broad authorization to the federal government in dealing with al-Qaeda, the Taliban or other forces hostile to the United States, a growing number of communities, including some in Idaho, are drawing their own line in the sand against the NDAA.

"Under the NDAA, it says that anyone can be indefinitely detained, without charge or trial," Jason Casella, a 30-year-old Gem County farmer told Boise Weekly. "So, that means no matter what you may feel strongly about, even education, health care, the Second Amendment, genetically modified foods, you could be indefinitely detained."

Casella calls himself a "political atheist."

"Honestly, I don't believe in either major political party," he said. "Right now, I'm working on PANDA and helping others do what I've been doing."

He's not alone. PANDA is People Against the NDAA, an organization founded by Ohio college students in 2012 and which has grown like wildfire in pushing anti-NDAA legislation in more than 20 states.

"Emmett became the first city to pass an anti-NDAA resolution in Idaho; that was just before last Christmas. And then Gem County became the first county in the entire nation to block the NDAA," said Casella. "And then came the city council in Middleton."

And there's more to come.

"I can tell you that more than 15 Idaho cities and counties are working on their own resolutions as we speak," said Casella. "But I would rather not tell you who they are just yet. I don't want to give those in power the chance to head us off."

Simply put, the boilerplate resolution being put before Idaho cities and counties states, "It is unconstitutional, and therefore unlawful for any person to a) arrest or capture any person in (place your city's name here) with the intent of detention under the law of war or b) actually subject a person in (city's name) to disposition under the law of war or c) subject any person to targeted killing in (city's name)."

"And what's so amazing that it took the Middleton City Council only one meeting to unanimously approve that resolution," said Casella. "In Emmett, it took us four meetings and in Gem County, it took three meetings."

A statewide effort was attempted in February by Emmett Republican Sen. Steven Thayn, who attempted to push through a bill that declared Idaho would "not be a battlefield during times of war." But when Thayn unveiled his proposal in front of the Senate State Affairs Committee, even fellow Republican Sen. Bart Davis said, "I don't see that this is something likely to be enforceable as a matter of law."

And Boise Democratic Sen. Elliot Werk questioned if the proposal was a solution searching for a problem.

"I haven't seen indefinite detention or concentration camps showing up in Idaho yet," said Werk.

Ultimately, Thayn's bill died when it wasn't granted a full committee hearing. He conceded that he hadn't asked the Idaho Attorney General's office on the constitutionality of the proposal.

"Honestly, I would rather that this not get passed right now at the state level," Casella told BW. "Getting people motivated at the local level is the most effective way to go with this."

Even though Casella is the PANDA Idaho campaign coordinator, he pushes back against the label of "organization."

"I call it a movement, not an organization," he said. "There are people all over the country doing this."

In fact, Casella says PANDA is about to launch a "Take Back" concert tour, featuring 30 artists and speakers, including Southern rock band Saving Abel; controversial citizen journalist Luke Rudkowski, of; political rockers The Ameros; and libertarian singer-songwriter Jordan Page.

"I know they're trying to lock in Rage Against the Machine, too," said Casella.

But of a more immediate concern, Casella says he spends a good amount of time pointing Idahoans to Panda's "take back" online packets. Featuring "three steps to take back your town"--No. 1: passing a resolution, No. 2 pushing law enforcement to back the resolution and No. 3: create a citizen team "to watch the watchers."

"You can put as much or as little time as you want on this," he said.

Clearly, more than a few advocates are spending a good deal of time on PANDA, and they may be coming to your town next.