Police Brutality in Pittsburgh after the G20 A remarkable article in Harper’s magazine in late 2009 provides a sobering perspective for those of us who are serious about reforming America with the help of radical wisdom.1 What is now under way, states journalist Ando Arike ominously, is “what appears to be the first arms race in which the opponent is the general population.”
To explain the advent of “soft” weapons (today’s nonlethal arsenal that includes energy weapons), Arike briefly cites the lessons learned by ruling elites from the modern history of escalating conflicts between police and demonstrators. Beginning with a number of disturbing street clashes during the civil rights era in the fifties, the problem reached a new level of intensity with the “police riots” at the Democratic Party Convention in Chicago in 1968 and the shootings of students and activists at Kent State and elsewhere in anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. After a hiatus in which each side honed its strategies and tools of confrontation, a major turning point was marked by the fierce and highly successful anti-globalization demonstrations that famously shut down a World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Seattle in 1999.
At each turn, authorities increasingly learned a hard lesson: Cops may have their guns, truncheons, tear gas, water canons, jails, wiretaps, and they may plant spies and clever provocateurs at mass rallies, but dissidents and demonstrators also wield powerful weapons: TV cameras and public opinion—the ability of electronic media to galvanize increased resentment and create a legitimacy crisis for rulers, especially when graphic images of the cruelty of state power flash across television or computer screens.
None of this concern is completely new, of course; controlling volatile mobs has always been of worrisome for elites throughout history, especially since those days in 1792 when overwhelming crowds of enraged Parisians toppled King Louis XVI to initiate the most radical wave of the French Revolution. But Arike explains how far this concern has evolved over two centuries: “The ultimate goal, it seems, is to fight ‘Military Operations on Urban Terrain’ (MOUT), using weapons with a rheostatic [i.e., scalable] capability that, like Star Trek’s ‘phasers,’ will allow military commanders to fine-tune the amount and type of force used in a given situation, and thereby to control opponents’ behavior with scientific precision.”
After their relative success in Seattle, protesters targeted economic summits in rapid succession, swarming meetings of the World Economic Forum, the G8, and other gatherings in a dozen major cities. But without Seattle’s advantage of surprise, they faced increasingly elaborate MOUT tactics. The July 2001 G8 summit in Genoa was a conflagration, with 100,000 protesters confronting 15,000 police and troops on streets locked down under a terrorism red alert, leading to one death and hundreds of injuries in street fighting.
The next big demonstration was planned for the September 2001 World Bank summit in Washington, D.C., but organizers wisely backed away after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
“With the launch of the Global War on Terror, ‘the gloves were off,’ as the White House put it: authorities had free rein to target protesters as potential terrorists,” writes Arike. Domestic “anti-terrorism” legislation would now increasingly target the American population itself, not just the alleged overseas terrorists. This began with the USA Patriot Act, and was extended by the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which grants the president the power to identify American citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants” and detain them indefinitely without charge, as well as permitting secret trials for citizens. Then, in 2007, the White House quietly issued National Security Presidential Directive 51 (NSPD-51), to ensure “continuity of government” in the event of what the directive vaguely calls a “catastrophic emergency.” If the president determines that such an emergency has occurred, he many cancel elections, suspend the Constitution, and declare martial law, all without Congressional review. Note well: President Obama has not rescinded Directive 51.
As deteriorating economic conditions in the United States took a sharp turn for the worse in September 2008, the Army Times reported that the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team was being redeployed from Iraq to the “homeland” with what one colonel called the “first ever nonlethal package that the Army has fielded . . . referring to crowd and traffic control equipment and nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals without killing them.” 2
An “overt” energy weapon called the LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) did get deployed in Pittsburgh during the time of G20 summit on September 24-25th, 2009, as one facet of an incredible show of police brutality. Security forces turned its piercing sound on demonstrators causing widespread outrage—the first time the “sound cannon” had been used publicly.
For a complete review of the new weapons that constitute the new arms race “in which the opponent is the general population,” please see my white paper soon to be posted on the blog.
1. Ando Arike, “The soft-kill solution: New frontiers in pain compliance,” Harper’s Magazine (March 2010) <http://www.harpers.org/subjects/AndoArike>