Political scientist Hannah Arendt once called the often brutal and inhumane callousness of the bureaucratic state a “tyranny without a tyrant.”
One Virginia couple recently learned just how accurate that phrase is.
Doug Nelson, a 73-year-old postal worker and Vietnam veteran, and his wife, Nancy, were carjacked at gunpoint over six months ago, according to WJLA-TV.
Though they did get their car back, the faceless cruelty of big brother was just about to begin.
As it turns out, the criminals who stole the Nelsons’ vehicle racked up more than $2,000 in traffic fines by speeding at over 70 mph in 30 mph zones.
No police officer needed to see the violations occur in order to issue the traffic tickets.
Rather, six separate, mindless and money-generating camera systems installed by the D.C. government caught the vehicle on their screens and issued tickets to the vehicle’s owners: the Nelsons.
Nancy Nelson thought it would be simple to show the local government, the District of Columbia, that the tickets and camera footage corresponded to the time the car had been stolen, as corroborated by police reports. So she mailed in the tickets with a note and evidence of what had happened.
That’s when the nightmare really began, according to WJLA.
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The ticket came back with instructions that the Nelsons still needed to pay the fines.
The couple proceeded to send in the police report, which documented the car had been stolen before a speed camera took the first picture, but they were rejected a second time.
They then went in for a face-to-face meeting with the hearings officer and were told their request could not be accommodated until their vehicle’s tag number was placed on the police report.
They went to the police station and were told it was not possible to put a tag number on the police report but that it was “in the system.”
“I’m in tears about all of this stuff,” Nancy said, “because it’s $2,000 worth of tickets that’s not even our fault.”
“I called my council member, I called the mayor’s office, and they told me (to) hold on, and I never heard back from them either,” Nancy said.
After all of this, D.C. closed the Nelsons’ case, stating they would have to pay the tickets because the couple did not know they needed to file an additional document requesting that the case remain open.
They were told there was an appeals process to reopen the case, but in order to appeal, they would have to pay the tickets and the fines for late payment, totaling more than $5,000, according to WJLA.
One of the worst parts of the situation?
With outstanding tickets on their record, the Nelsons were rejected by the DMV in their attempts to acquire new tags for their license plates, meaning they could not legally drive until they paid for the crimes of the people who had violently stolen their vehicle.
Finally, after six months of being forced to endure inhumane bureaucracy and having their rights stripped, the Nelsons might get a break.
When informed by WJLA that the news outlet would run a report on the story, the D.C. DMV issued a statement saying it had decided to dismiss the tickets, penalties and fines.
Despite the announcement, however, the Nelsons still had not received verification of that statement.
Crime is a blight on any community, but too often in this country the government is no better.
The Nelsons looked down the barrel of a gun and might have avoided catastrophic violence only narrowly.
In an abomination, they then were forced to suffer without their vehicle and were told to pay for the crimes of their attackers by a faceless, wholly unaccountable government designed to do nothing but extract wealth from the community.
In hearing such a story, what else can one do but reflect on the foreboding words of Arendt, who predicted the real predations of the big-brother state 51 years ago.
“In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one could argue, to whom one could present grievances, on whom the pressures of power could be exerted, Arendt wrote in the book On Violence.
“Bureaucracy is the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act; for the rule by Nobody is not no-rule, and where all are equally powerless, we have a tyranny without a tyrant.”
The Nelsons were taken advantage of by a faceless, mindless and moralless labyrinth of technology and rules, overseen only tangentially by technocrats wholly immune from being held accountable for any suffering they may cause.
The Nelsons deserved better from their government. Americans deserve better.
Alas, bureaucracy is incapable of offering anything better.