Everybody knows the story of the 8 year-old child – Virginia O’Hanlon, of New York City, – who wrote to The Sun, a prominent New York City newspaper, to ask whether Santa Claus was real.

A Sun editor, Francis Church, penned the response. Church had been a war correspondent during the Civil War, and witnessed terrible suffering that not only scarred the body, but pierced the heart of a nation’s soul and conscience. It was not a place where faith and hope were nurtured, and even years later, some at work considered Church somewhat of a cynic. And yet, Francis Church’s reply to his young correspondent began, simply, endearingly, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus …”

Although I still believe in Santa Claus, otherwise I am a “show me” type of skeptic by nature. Something I ask myself from time to time is whether there really is an American “deep state,” which I define as rule without consent of the governed through clandestine yet organized manipulation of the political process and the national security establishment. No so long ago, I thought those who believed in a “deep state” theory probably also thought that we never actually landed on the moon, or that the Earth is flat.

But recent events have me reconsidering, and carefully.

The public persecution of General Michael Flynn, and the baseless Democratic show-trial against Donald Trump, should shock each American regardless of political affiliation. And it’s only a continuation of the “Never Trump” hysteria. It goes all the way back to 2015 when President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden approved using the espionage tools normally reserved to combat our foreign adversaries, to spy upon and destroy its own citizens under the guise of national security.

Former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice’s recently declassified email to herself on Jan. 20, 2017 — President Trump’s inauguration day – reveals clearly that President Obama had detailed knowledge of the FBI’s wiretaps of Flynn's phone calls. Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that President Obama withheld this information from the new administration. Documents also show that FBI officials secretly discussed if their goal was to get General Flynn to lie or fired prior to interviewing him.

You may also have seen MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace interviewing FBI Director James Comey, who gloats over the meeting between his agents and General Flynn. Asked to describe how two FBI agents ended up at the White House to interview Flynn in January 2017, Comey said flatly: “I sent them.”

Per NBC News (May 8, 2017) President Obama warned President Trump against hiring Flynn as his national security adviser. Obama had fired Flynn in 2014 as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), due to “mismanagement and temperament issues.” To the contrary, Flynn believes he was pushed out by the Obama Administration because of his strong and non-politically correct views on radical Islam.

Some see this chain of events and conclude that there was an organized yet clandestine effort by multiple agencies of the U.S. government to remove General Flynn. Why? Possibly because he had stated a desire to streamline and recalibrate the functionalities among multiple U.S. intelligence agencies. Having been there, to challenge the wisdom of Washington insiders and disrupt the status quo just isn’t done within “the beltway.”

In the meantime, we have suffered through three years of nonsense from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, and other leading Democrats. They claimed to possess “irrefutable” evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian agents. The once-classified and now released source documents confirm all along it was a Democratic hoax – a thinly disguised attempt to affect a coup not in some banana republic but here in the U.S.

And does all of this add up to a “deep state?” Recall the definition: “… rule without consent of the governed through clandestine yet organized manipulation of the political process and the national security establishment.” Would this require collusion (o-oh, there’s that word  again) between the political and security actors? You bet it would, and these newly declassified documents spell out, in bold relief, a solid example of a collaborative deep state in action.

So yes, Virginia – in a country built upon individual freedoms and liberty, I fear something dark and sinister resides deep inside our republic that erodes it from within. Of what use is an individual’s God-given free will if his/her choices are made by others, in secret? Accountability is needed badly, with the hope that just consequences for those complicit will follow.

James R. Poplar III, of Quicksburg, proudly served with the U.S. government for over 40 years. He specialized in national security affairs at both Vanderbilt and the National Defense University.