Resorting to violence is part of human nature. We see it all the time, especially in children. When arguments fail, when hope wanes, the fists come out. Most people are willing to fight long before they are willing to admit that their entire worldview is wrong.

Institutions are no different; they will fight to preserve the way they’ve always done things before they will change, even if their old ways are ass-backwards and likely to lead to ruin.

This desire to fight instead of change is how I understand the Department of Education story that has been blowing up the internet today. Apparently the Department of Education — not the police or the military, but the DOE — got a warrant to send in a SWAT team after a person who was delinquent in paying back their student loans.

A SWAT team, guys — a freaking SWAT team, over some unpaid debts.

UPDATE: Please note the important updates and corrections to this story, after the jump.

Now I ask you, does that sound like the behavior of an institution that is confident about the state of the student loan economy, or does that sound like an organization trying to keep things together by using force and terror?

I guess we should start at the begining. From Reason:

Kenneth Wright does not have a criminal record and he had no reason to believe a S.W.A.T team would be breaking down his door at 6 a.m. on Tuesday.

“I look out of my window and I see 15 police officers,” Wright said.

Wright came downstairs in his boxer shorts as a S.W.A.T team barged through his front door. Wright said an officer grabbed him by the neck and led him outside on his front lawn.

Wright was physically restrained for six hours and had his house tossed — you know, pretty standard operating procedure when the SWAT team is busting down your door. But the person they were looking for wasn’t there. From Gawker:

The SWAT team was just acting on a search warrant from the Department of Education to find Wright’s wife, who’d defaulted on her student loans. But they’re estranged, and she doesn’t live there.

Note to self: tell DOE I’m a girl, list “Anthony Weiner” as my estranged husband, sit back and wait for the fireworks.

Look, I thought you sent in the SWAT team when you are trying to take down a suspected terrorist, or when you’re trying to disarm a bus that can’t go below 55 mph or else everybody is going to die. How does this deadbeat woman require special weapons and tactics? Was she illegally hacking into the Matrix? Was the SWAT team supposed to wait until the Agents showed up? Otherwise, putting this kind of force behind getting one person to pay their loans just doesn’t make sense.

Here’s what the DOE is saying, from An Associate’s Mind:

Wednesday morning, inspector general spokeswoman Gina Burress provided the following statement:

“The Office of Inspector General does not engage in the collection of student loans. Our mission is to conduct criminal investigations related to the programs and operations of the U.S. Department of Education, which include the student financial aid programs. We can confirm that we executed a search warrant at the residence, however our policy is not to discuss details of our on-going work.”

Honestly, I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I find it hard it believe this. This looks like a damn cover story. I can’t help feeling like Kenneth Wright’s wife is an international spy, or an assassin gone rogue, or a freaking extra terrestrial or something, and the government concocted this side show to obscure the fact that they narrowly missed catching a very dangerous person.

Like all conspiracy theorists, I’m looking for the “secret,” because the truth staring me in the face is too horrible to contemplate: that the DOE is so desperate to terrorize people into paying their debts they’ve enlisted the help of one of the greatest paramilitary forces on the planet.

Because if this is what is really happening, that’s the word we’re going to have to use: terrorism. What else are you supposed to call it when an organization uses fear and intimidation to force people to do what the organization wants them to do? Sending in a SWAT teams isn’t reasonable, and it isn’t proportional to the offense committed. The Department of Education is trying to terrorize people by creating the appearance that armed men will show up at your home under the cover of night and “get you” if you fail to pay back your loans in a timely manner. Even if they can’t get you, they’ll get your spouse and your kids. When the normal inducements don’t work, the Department of Education will resort to a show of force. Unbelievable!

What does that tell you about the student loan bubble? Do you think the DOE would resort to these tactics if most people were paying back most of their loans mostly on time? I mean, when somebody steals a car, you send in the police. When you start sending in Jack Bauer on things, you’ve got serious problems.

Of course, if I saw Jack Bauer standing on a subway platform looking concerned and I asked “what’s going on,” would he say “somebody on this platform has a bomb,” or would he say “I’m looking for someone who hasn’t paid their student loans”? I’d expect the latter.

UPDATE (3:35 PM): Thank God. I was hoping there was more to this story, and I was right. Via Reason (via Gawker), here’s a statement from DOE spokesperson Justin Hamilton:

Yesterday, the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General executed a search warrant at a Stockton, Calif., residence with the presence of local law enforcement authorities.

While it was reported in local media that the search was related to a defaulted student loan, that is incorrect. This is related to a criminal investigation. The Inspector General’s Office does not execute search warrants for late loan payments.

Because this is an ongoing criminal investigation, we can’t comment on the specifics of the case. We can say that the OIG’s office conducts about 30-35 search warrants a year on issues such as bribery, fraud, and embezzlement of federal student aid funds.

All further questions on this issue should be directed to the Department of Education’s Inspector General’s Office.

In addition, News10 ABC reports that the warrant was executed primarily by federal agents with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), not local S.W.A.T.

No Really: SWAT Team Raids House at 6 AM and Handcuffs Father of Three Young Kids to Execute a Dept. of Education Search Warrant for Estranged Wife’s Defaulted Student Loans [Reason]
Pay Your Student Loans – Or Else [An Associate's Mind]
When SWAT Teams Attack Over Your Estranged Wife’s Student Debt [Gawker]


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