Thank you, Mr. Bin Laden. That will be $5.

Sometimes when I lie awake in bed, when the covers feel too hot, when I could use the loving touch of a diabolical revolutionary, I think of Osama Bin Laden. I like to picture him eating a bowl of Froot Loops or mowing my lawn. Or, if I’m feeling especially saucy, I like to imagine him in line at the South Carolina Secretary of State’s office, his Subversive Agent Registration form filled out in duplicate, and his $5 check in hand.

Oh, it’s law alright, and America’s revolutionary wanna-bes are pissed about it. Chapter 29, Section 23 of the South Carolina code requires anyone who intends to overthrow the American government to file a form and register with the state for $5. The Subversive Agent form is among the funnier government documents currently available, the nationwide vitriol notwithstanding.

A Twitter friend sent me the link a few days ago to a blog that was reporting South Carolina had a brand new law requiring subversives to register with the state.

“Funny,” I thought, “because I sort of thought that kind of thing would be newsworthy. And I read the news.”

I twiddled my thumbs for a bit and thought about what Bin Laden would look like with a mohawk and a pair of Crocs. According to The Raw Story, the law was “passed last year” and is “now officially on the books.” And I missed it? Really? Because, South Carolina asking revolutionaries to register is the type of thing that would have the anti-gay lynch mobs taking a break from their planning meetings to protest their right to overthrow the government without interference from the government.

So, I did what I do. I started researching.

There was nothing in the local newspaper archives about the “new law,” nor anything in The State, the newspaper of record in South Carolina. So, I did the best online search I could do in the state archives. While I couldn’t find the date the law passed, I did discover this little nugget that indicates the law has been on the books for at least 16 years (and I would guess much longer). Back in 1994, a few lawmakers worked to get the law repealed. The repeal bill was passed out of committee, moved onto the floor, and then sent back to the committee (presumably because once the law was on the books, you’re not going to find a lawmaker who is willing to vote for allowing anti-gubmint forces to go unchecked). I e-mailed the Secretary of State’s office, but they are probably too busy dealing with the hours-long line of people registering their intentions to oust the government from Washington. Nonetheless, it’s fair to assume somebody is very confused about the newness of this particular piece of legislation.

This kind of law is no new idea. In fact, one great inspiration for South Carolina’s law could be the McCarran Internal Security Act, a federal law that at one time required communists to register with the Attorney General of the United States. Much of that law ended up either being repealed or declared unconstitutional.

Nevertheless, South Carolina’s law remains intact to stoke the ire of people who believe the gubmint should stay right the hell out of their anti-gubmint activities. Within a day, The Raw Story blog post had spread through the Digg world, had hundreds of comments, and spawned a dozen or so copies on content-farms and quasi-revolutionary sites (my favorite comment on one of those true American sites was somebody who couldn’t figure out if he should be outraged or applauding…”is this good or bad?” he wrote).

I think I may have gotten to the bottom of the tardy outrage. Will Folks, the political consultant and one-time spokesman for South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, is the the type of guy who actively seeks out rabble to rouse. He runs the website FITSNews and apparently the other day was a little short on rabble. So, he wrote up a little piece about the admittedly ridiculous law. That was all it took for somebody else to misinterpret the newness of the law. A few days later, there is a lot of outrage that is decades too late.

It all begs the question whether there was any outrage back when the law was passed. That’s something anyone who is angry about this old law should consider. I have no way of knowing whether this law was passed to battle Communism or Al-Qaeda. Regardless, anyone flipping out about the Subversives Registration Act in South Carolina might do well to remember that when you pass laws that affect the liberties of people with whom you disagree (Commies, anti-war sympathizers, Michael Bolton), those laws can be around for a long time. Or, if you prefer something along the slippery slope, if it’s okay to illegally wiretap the terrorists, it may someday be okay to illegally wiretap Glenn Beck.

In the meantime, South Carolina’s law books remain the same as they ever have–ridiculous, antiquated, and superfluous–and when Osama comes to trim my hedges, I’ll have to make sure he files with the state.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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7 Responses

  1. katitude says:

    what an oxymoron, a registered subversive.

  2. Dean says:

    Seems I remember someone ( CA or maybe even fed govt) has a law on books for drugs – have to buy a tax stamp or something. One of those things of legislators passing laws to look busy that years later look asinine.

  3. Chilly says:

    Iowa has a tax stamp law. It makes for easy conviction. If you’re caught with illegal drugs you are immediately guilty of not having a drug tax stamp.

    Do you have to be a South Carolina citizen to register? Or can any band of looneys wander in on a random Friday in March and register?

  4. The Wife says:

    I’m with Kat – if you are a subversive, do you classify yourself as such and think the law applies to you? Or do you just see yourself as “Joe with an opinion and an agenda.” And if you are a subversive, aren’t you, by definition, being secretive, and not really prone to make your intentions known? Particularly to the government you might be working against?

    And $5? Who thought that would be a sufficient revenue generator, yet not so much as to encourage non-compliance?

    I bet they had some kind of study commissioned.

  5. Alsatia says:

    “I have no way of knowing whether this law was passed to battle Communism or Al-Qaeda.”

    Just checked the SC Code of Law & this particular law appears to have been enacted in 1951 and has not been updated since 1962. (Only the print version includes the history of each part of the Code, unfortunately. Not sure if this is true of every state, but it’s why we keep subscribing to the print copy here at the public library where I work.)

    It looks like the law does indeed date from the era of similar Federal legislation aimed at hunting down Communists. It’s just one of those laws that, since no one enforces it, the Legislature can’t be bothered to take it off the books. There is a limit to stupidity, even here in SC!!

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