The Idea of a Police State in America - and What Happened Mood:
blue Now Playing: Police State in America - What Happened? Topic: CONSPIRACY
The Idea of America By Jeffrey Tucker
[copied from an email from WhiskeyandGundpowder.com]
There are occasions in American life -- and they come too often these days -- when you want to scream: "what the heck has happened to this country?!" Everyone encounters events that strike a particular nerve, some egregious violations of the norms for a free country that cut very deeply and personally.
We wonder: do we even remember what it means to be free? If not -- and I think not -- The Idea of America: What It Was and How It Was Lost (hardcover and Kindle), a collection of bracing reminders from our past, as edited by William Bonner and Pierre Lemieux, is the essential book of our time.
I'll just mention two outrages that occur first to me. In the last six months, I came back to the country twice from international travel, once by plane and once by car. The car scene shocked me. The lines were ridiculously long and border control agents, clad in dark glasses and boots and wearing enough weaponry to fight an invading army, run up and down the lines with large dogs. Periodically, US border control would throw open doors of cars and vans and let the dogs run through, while the driver sits there poker faced and trying to stay calm and pretending not to object.
When I finally got to the customs window, I was questioned not like a citizen of the country but like a likely terrorist. The agent wanted to know everything about me: home, work, where I had been and why, and whether I will stay somewhere before getting to my destination, family composition, and other matters that just creeped me out. I realized immediately that there was no question he could ask me that I could refuse to answer, and I had to do this politely.
The second time I entered the country was by plane, and there were two full rescans of bags on the way in, in addition to the passport check, and a long round of questioning. There were no running dogs this time; the passengers were the dogs and we were all on the agents' leashes. Whatever they ordered us to do, we did, no matter how irrational. We moved here and there in locked step and total silence. One step out of line and you are guaranteed to be yelled at. At one point, an armed agent began to talk loudly and with a sense of ridicule about the clothes I was wearing, and went out of his way to make sure everyone else heard him. I could do nothing but smile as if I were being complimented by a friend.
Of course these cases are nothing like the reports you hear almost daily about the abuse and outrages from domestic travel, which now routinely requires everyone to submit to digital strip searches. We have come to expect this. We can hardly escape the presence of the police in our lives. I vaguely remember when I was young that I thought of the police as servants of the people. Now their presence strikes fear in the heart, and they are everywhere, always operating under the presumption that they have total power and you and I have absolutely none.
You hear slogans about the "land of the free" and we still sing patriotic songs at the ballpark and even at church on Sunday, and these songs are always about our blessed liberty, the battles of our ancestors against tyranny, the special love of liberty that animates our heritage and national self identity. The contrast with reality grows starker by the day.
And it isn't just about our personal liberty and our freedom to move about with a sense that we are exercising our rights. It hits us in the economic realm, where no goods or services change hands that aren't subject to the total control of the leviathan state. No business is really safe from being bludgeoned by legislatures, regulators, and the tax police, while objecting only makes you more of a target.
Few dare say it publicly: America has become a police state. All the signs are in place, among which is the world's largest prison population. If we are not a police state, one must ask, what are the indicators that will tell us that we've crossed the line? What are signs we haven't yet seen?
We can debate that all day about when, precisely, the descent began but there can be no doubt when the slide into the despotic abyss became precipitous. It was after the terrorists hit on 9/11 in 2001. The terrorists wanted to deliver a blow to freedom. Our national leaders swore the terrorists would never win, and then spent the following ten years delivering relentless and massive blows to liberty as we had known it.
The decline has been fast but not fast enough for people to be as shocked as they should be. Freedom is a state of being that is difficult to recall once it is gone. We adapt to the new reality, the way people adapt to degenerative diseases, grateful for slight respites from pain and completely despairing of ever feeling healthy and well again.
What's more, all the time we spend obeying, complying, and pretending to be malleable in order to stay out of trouble ends up socializing us and even changing our outlook on life. As in the Orwell novel, we have adjusted to government control as the new normal. The loudspeakers blared that all of this is in the interest of our security and well being. These people who are stripping us, robbing us, humiliating us, impoverishing us are doing it all for our own good. We never fully believe it but the message still affects our outlook.
The editors of The Idea of America are urging a serious national self assessment. They argue that freedom is the only theme that fully and truly animates the traditional American spirit. We are not united in religion, race, and creed, but we do have this wonderful history of rebellion against power in favor of human rights and freedom from tyranny. For this reason the book begins with the essential founding documents, which, if taken seriously, make a case for radical freedom not as something granted by government but as something that we possess as a matter of right.
The love of liberty is rooted in our Colonial past, and it is thrilling to see Murray Rothbard's excellent account of the pre-revolutionary past printed here, with followups to make the point by Patrick Henry and Thomas Paine. Lord Acton makes the next appearance with a clarifying essay about the whole point of the American Revolution, which was not independence as such but liberty. He forcefully argues that the right of secession, the right to annul laws, the right to say no to the tyrant, the right to leave the system, constitute great contribution of America to political history. As you read, you wonder where these voices are today, and what would happen to them if they spoke up in modern versions of the same thoughts. These revolutionaries are pushing ideas that the modern regime seeks to bury and even criminalize.
The voice of the new country and its voluntaristic themes is provided by Alexis de Tocqueville, along with the writings of James Madison. As Bonner and Lemieux argue in their own contributions, the idea of anarchism, that is, living without a state, has always been just beneath the surface of American ideology. Here they bring it to the surface with an essay by proto-anarchist J. Hector St. John Crevecoeur, who said of America: "we have no princes for whom we toil, starve, and bleed: we are the most perfect society now existing in the world."
The anarchist strain continues with marvelous writings by Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, Volairine de Cleyre, plus some court decisions reinforcing gun rights. The book ends with another reminder that America is an open society that is welcoming to newcomers. The final choice of Rose Wilder Lane's "Give Me Liberty" is inspired.
The value of this book is dramatically heightened by the additional material from Bonner, whose clear prose and incisive intellect is on display here both in the foreword and the afterword, as well as Lemieux, whose introduction made my blood boil with all his examples of government gone mad in our time. Bonner in particular offers an intriguing possibility that the future of the true America has nothing to do with geography; it exists where the free minds and free hearts exist. The digitization of the world opens up new opportunities for just this.
The contrast is stark: what America was meant to be and what it has become. It is hard to take this kind of careful look. Truly honest appraisals of this sort are rare. Adapting, going along, pretending not to notice are all easier strategies to deal with the grim situation we face. But this is not the way America's founders dealt with their problems. This book might inspire us to think and act more like we should.
We should prepare.
In the words of Thomas Paine:
O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her. -- Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.
[Editor's Note:Idea of America is considered a must read here at Agora Financial. The ideas inside are more powerful than any options, stock or bond tip we could ever pass along.
At less than $25 per copy, the book is well worth the small fee. We're not the only ones who think that way...
"I hope everyone will read this to see why America became a great country -- so we can keep it a great country," says Jim Rogers, best-selling author of Adventure Capitalist.
Edward Crane, president of CATO Institute says, "The Idea of America is a gem!"
"This is a superb book," starts reviewer R. Hall, "and gives very good and varied ideas of America in its founding days. Should be recommended reading for all ages, especially in school."
"This book cannot be recommended too highly," says Amazon.com reviewer P. Anderson.
But to celebrate the holiday, we're not asking you to pay $25 for Idea of America. In fact, we've worked out a special way for you to claim a free e-book copy.
It's an offer we've never done before. And one we may never do again.
So go ahead... before you catch the fireworks this evening, take advantage of our generosity this holiday, right here.]
Military surveillance drones of the kind used to spy on Taliban targets for U.S. forces in Afghanistan are now based in Portland, but U.S. government officials are unclear how or when they might be used over the city or elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest.
An unclassified 2011 U.S. Air Force document revealed Portland’s status as a drone home. Publicintelligence.net first reported on the document last week, followed by Wired.
The Air Force document shows “current and projected” U.S. Defense Department operations involving “remote-piloted aircraft” at two Oregon sites, Arlington and Portland.
It’s already well known that a Boeing subsidiary, Insitu, builds drones in Bingen, Wash., about 70 miles down the Columbia River from its test airfield in Arlington. It is news, however, that Portland is a home to drones, although the specific location where they are stored remains undisclosed by the military.
A spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Commandlisted as the drone operator told WW in an email that the Air Force map contained inaccurate information. “U.S. Special Operations Command does not have nor will it have [a drone] base in Portland,” wrote deputy public affairs officer Ken McGraw.
But U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) confirms the drones are already here.
“Portland is basically a storage area for a few small drones attached to a nearby military group, neither of which are proposed launching sites for drones,” Wyden said in a statement to WW. “However, in the event of a natural disaster or other legitimate need, they could be launched from there, but it is inappropriate to say that they are primarily launch sites.”
The rapidly expanding domestic presence of remote-controlled spy planes—often without public knowledge or debate—is already sparking controversy. “We have a right to be concerned that the military is bringing drones home,” says Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the speech, privacy and technology program of the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C.
This year’s Federal Aviation Administration budget bill requires the agency to speed up plans for civilian drone use in the U.S. The FAA estimates 30,000 civilian law enforcement drones might be flying by 2030.
Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocacy organization, says the FAA bill will make the rollout of drone use less deliberative.
“We have no information on the drones public entities are flying, how many they have and where they’re authorized to fly,” Lynch says. “I think that’s pretty concerning.”
Wyden pushed the FAA bill. In 2009, Wyden backed a $3.2 million earmark for Insitu. Its parent, Boeing, donated $10,000 to Wyden’s campaign fund in 2009 and 2010.
Wyden spokesman Tom Towslee says the senator’s support for domestic drone use is no sign he is weakening his opposition to warrantless wiretapping, cellphone tracking and other surveillance programs that raise civil liberties issues. He calls his boss a “privacy hawk.”
“We’re not going down this road with the idea that this is going to be used to spy on people,” Towslee says. “It’s an economic development issue. It’s a jobs issue.”
The Air Force document indicates Portland could become home to the Raven and the Wasp, two small, hand-launched surveillance drones made by Monrovia, Calif.-based AeroVironment. The Wasp—weighing just under 16 ounces with a 28-inch wingspan—comes loaded with optical and infrared cameras. The larger Raven—with a 54-inch wingspan—has a longer range. Both have been used for reconnaissance and spying in Afghanistan.
The Oregon Army National Guard’s 41st Special Troops Battalion has a drone operator in Pendleton. A spokesperson at the Oregon Military Department didn’t return WW’s call.
In Seattle, the police chief came under fire this year for testing a surveillance drone without approval from the City Council. Houston police also reportedly conducted secret drone tests, and state police in Texas used a Wasp drone during the execution of a search warrant.
The Portland Police Bureau isn’t using drones, but The Rap Sheet, the Portland Police Association’s newsletter, republished an article about building pressure on local police to deploy drones.
An April 2012 Air Force policy directive says domestic drone flights may not target U.S. citizens, but information “incidentally” acquired will be provided to federal or local law enforcement agencies.
John Villasenor, a professor of electrical engineering at UCLA who has written papers on the policy implications of drone use for the Brookings Institution, says drones’ powerful and constant spying capabilities make current laws and precedents on aerial surveillance obsolete.
“Drones are part of this inexorable growth in technologies that are logging almost anything that we do,” Villasenor says. “It’s a sobering time for those of us who came of age in a world where we could move about without necessarily having someone perform surveillance on us.”
In the United States, report your suspicions to law enforcement at 911, Department of Justice at 1-888-428-7581, and the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888. Victims, including undocumented individuals, are eligible for services and immigration assistance.
Be a conscientious consumer. Make socially responsible investments. Let your favorite retailers know that you support their efforts to maintain a slavery free supply chain. Encourage your company or your employer to take steps to investigate and eliminate human trafficking throughout its supply chain and to publish the information for consumer awareness. Refer to the Department of Labor's List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.
Hire trafficking survivors.
Volunteer your professional services to help an anti-trafficking organization that need help from lawyers, doctors, dentists, counselors, translators and interpreters, graphic designers, public relations and media professionals, event planners, and accountants.
Donate funds or needed items to an anti-trafficking organization.
Organize a fundraiser and donate the proceeds to an anti-trafficking organization.
Join or start a grassroots human trafficking coalition.
Encourage your local schools to include modern slavery in their curriculum. As a parent, educator, or school personnel, be aware of how traffickers target school-aged children.
Meet with and write to your local, state and federal government representatives to let them know that you care about combating human trafficking in your community.
Host an awareness event to watch and discuss a recent human trafficking documentary. On a larger scale, host a human trafficking film festival. Several noteworthy films and documentaries have been produced in the last several years that bring attention to the plight of victims worldwide.
Write a letter to the editor for your local paper about human trafficking in your community.
Incorporate human trafficking information into your professional associations’ conferences, trainings, manuals, and other materials as relevant.
STUDENTS: Join or establish a university club to raise awareness about human trafficking throughout the local community and identify victims. Request that human trafficking be an issue included in such university courses as health, migration, human rights, social work, and crime. Increase scholarship about human trafficking by publishing an article, teaching a class, or hosting a symposium.
COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS: ensure that your staff is able to identify and assist trafficked persons.
LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS: join or start a local human trafficking task force.
MENTAL HEALTH OR MEDICAL PROVIDERS: extend low-cost or free services to human trafficking victims assisted by nearby anti-trafficking organizations.
IMMIGRATION ATTORNEYS: learn about and offer to human trafficking victims the immigration benefits for which they are eligible.
EMPLOYMENT LAW ATTORNEYS: look for signs of human trafficking among your clients.
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Individually the poor are not too tempting to thieves, for obvious reasons. Mug a banker and you might score a wallet containing a month’s rent. Mug a janitor and you will be lucky to get away with bus fare to flee the crime scene. But as Business Week helpfully pointed out in 2007, the poor in aggregate provide a juicy target for anyone depraved enough to make a business of stealing from them
The trick is to rob them in ways that are systematic, impersonal, and almost impossible to trace to individual perpetrators. Employers, for example, can simply program their computers to shave a few dollars off each paycheck, or they can require workers to show up 30 minutes or more before the time clock starts ticking.Lenders, including major credit companies as well as payday lenders, have taken over the traditional role of the street-corner loan shark, charging the poor insanely high rates of interest.
When supplemented with late fees (themselves subject to interest), the resulting effective interest rate can be as high as 600% a year, which is perfectly legal in many states.It’s not just the private sector that’s preying on the poor. Local governments are discovering that they can partially make up for declining tax revenues through fines, fees, and other costs imposed on indigent defendants, often for crimes no more dastardly than driving with a suspended license.
And if that seems like an inefficient way to make money, given the high cost of locking people up, a growing number of jurisdictions have taken to charging defendants for their court costs and even the price of occupying a jail cell.The poster case for government persecution of the down-and-out would have to be Edwina Nowlin, a homeless Michigan woman who was jailed in 2009 for failing to pay $104 a month to cover the room-and-board charges for her 16-year-old son’s incarceration. When she received a back paycheck, she thought it would allow her to pay for her son’s jail stay.
Instead, it was confiscated and applied to the cost of her own incarceration.Government Joins the Looters of the PoorYou might think that policymakers would take a keen interest in the amounts that are stolen, coerced, or extorted from the poor, but there are no official efforts to track such figures. Instead, we have to turn to independent investigators, like Kim Bobo, author of Wage Theft in America, who estimates that wage theft nets employers at least $100 billion a year and possibly twice that.
As for the profits extracted by the lending industry, Gary Rivlin, who wrote Broke USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. -- How the Working Poor Became Big Business, says the poor pay an effective surcharge of about $30 billion a year for the financial products they consume and more than twice that if you include subprime credit cards, subprime auto loans, and subprime mortgages.These are not, of course, trivial amounts. They are on the same order of magnitude as major public programs for the poor.
The government distributes about $55 billion a year, for example, through the largest single cash-transfer program for the poor, the Earned Income Tax Credit; at the same time, employers are siphoning off twice that amount, if not more, through wage theft.
And while government generally turns a blind eye to the tens of billions of dollars in exorbitant interest that businesses charge the poor, it is notably chary with public benefits for the poor. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, for example, our sole remaining nationwide welfare program, gets only $26 billion a year in state and federal funds. The impression is left of a public sector that’s gone totally schizoid: on the one hand, offering safety-net programs for the poor; on the other, enabling large-scale private sector theft from the very people it is supposedly trying to help.
At the local level though, government is increasingly opting to join in the looting. In 2009, a year into the Great Recession,
I first started hearing complaints from community organizers about ever more aggressive levels of law enforcement in low-income areas. Flick a cigarette butt and get arrested for littering; empty your pockets for an officer conducting a stop-and-frisk operation and get cuffed for a few flakes of marijuana. Each of these offenses can result, at a minimum, in a three-figure fine.
And the number of possible criminal offenses leading to jail and/or fines has been multiplying recklessly. All across the country -- from California and Texas to Pennsylvania -- counties and municipalities have been toughening laws against truancy and ratcheting up enforcement, sometimes going so far as to handcuff children found on the streets during school hours. In New York City, it’s now a crime to put your feet up on a subway seat, even if the rest of the car is empty, and a South Carolina woman spent six days in jail when she was unable to pay a $480 fine for the crime of having a “messy yard.” Some cities -- most recently, Houston and Philadelphia -- have made it a crime to share food with indigent people in public places.Being poor itself is not yet a crime, but in at least a third of the states, being in debt can now land you in jail. If a creditor like a landlord or credit card company has a court summons issued for you and you fail to show up on your appointed court date, a warrant will be issued for your arrest.
And it is easy enough to miss a court summons, which may have been delivered to the wrong address or, in the case of some bottom-feeding bill collectors, simply tossed in the garbage -- a practice so common that the industry even has a term for it: “sewer service.” In a sequence that National Public Radio reports is “increasingly common,” a person is stopped for some minor traffic offense -- having a noisy muffler, say, or broken brake light -- at which point the officer discovers the warrant and the unwitting offender is whisked off to jail.
Local Governments as Predators
Each of these crimes, neo-crimes, and pseudo-crimes carries financial penalties as well as the threat of jail time, but the amount of money thus extracted from the poor is fiendishly hard to pin down. No central agency tracks law enforcement at the local level, and local records can be almost willfully sketchy.According to one of the few recent nationwide estimates, from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, 10.5 million misdemeanors were committed in 2006. No one would risk estimating the average financial penalty for a misdemeanor, although the experts I interviewed all affirmed that the amount is typically in the “hundreds of dollars.”
If we take an extremely lowball $200 per misdemeanor, and bear in mind that 80%-90% of criminal offenses are committed by people who are officially indigent, then local governments are using law enforcement to extract, or attempt to extract, at least $2 billion a year from the poor.
And that is only a small fraction of what governments would like to collect from the poor. Katherine Beckett, a sociologist at the University of Washington, estimates that “deadbeat dads” (and moms) owe $105 billion in back child-support payments, about half of which is owed to state governments as reimbursement for prior welfare payments made to the children. Yes, parents have a moral obligation to their children, but the great majority of child-support debtors are indigent.
Attempts to collect from the already-poor can be vicious and often, one would think, self-defeating. Most states confiscate the drivers’ licenses of people owing child support, virtually guaranteeing that they will not be able to work. Michigan just started suspending the drivers’ licenses of people who owe money for parking tickets. Las Cruces, New Mexico, just passed a law that punishes people who owe overdue traffic fines by cutting off their water, gas, and sewage.
Once a person falls into the clutches of the criminal justice system, we encounter the kind of slapstick sadism familiar to viewers of Wipeout. Many courts impose fees without any determination of whether the offender is able to pay, and the privilege of having a payment plan will itself cost money.In a study of 15 states, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University found 14 of them contained jurisdictions that charge a lump-sum “poverty penalty” of up to $300 for those who cannot pay their fees and fines, plus late fees and “collection fees” for those who need to pay over time.
If any jail time is imposed, that too may cost money, as the hapless Edwina Nowlin discovered, and the costs of parole and probation are increasingly being passed along to the offender.The predatory activities of local governments give new meaning to that tired phrase “the cycle of poverty.” Poor people are more far more likely than the affluent to get into trouble with the law, either by failing to pay parking fines or by incurring the wrath of a private-sector creditor like a landlord or a hospital.
Once you have been deemed a criminal, you can pretty much kiss your remaining assets goodbye. Not only will you face the aforementioned court costs, but you’ll have a hard time ever finding a job again once you’ve acquired a criminal record. And then of course, the poorer you become, the more likely you are to get in fresh trouble with the law, making this less like a “cycle” and more like the waterslide to hell.
The further you descend, the faster you fall -- until you eventually end up on the streets and get busted for an offense like urinating in public or sleeping on a sidewalk.I could propose all kinds of policies to curb the ongoing predation on the poor. Limits on usury should be reinstated. Theft should be taken seriously even when it’s committed by millionaire employers. No one should be incarcerated for debt or squeezed for money they have no chance of getting their hands on.
These are no-brainers, and should take precedence over any long term talk about generating jobs or strengthening the safety net. Before we can “do something” for the poor, there are some things we need to stop doing to them.
A new trove of heavily redacted documents provided by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) on behalf of filmmaker Michael Moore and the National Lawyers Guild makes it increasingly evident that there was and is a nationally coordinated campaign to disrupt and crush the Occupy Movement.
The new documents, which PCJF National Director Mara Verheyden-Hilliard insists “are likely only a subset of responsive materials,” in the possession of federal law enforcement agencies, only “scratch the surface of a mass intelligence network including Fusion Centers, saturated with 'anti-terrorism' funding, that mobilizes thousands of local and federal officers and agents to investigate and monitor the social justice movement.”
Nonetheless, blacked-out and limited though they are, she says they offer clues to the extent of the government’s concern about and focus on the wave of occupations that spread across the country beginning with last September’s Occupy Wall Street action in New York City.
The latest documents reveal “intense involvement” by the DHS’s so-called National Operations Center (NOC). In its own literature, the DHS describes the NOC as “the primary national-level hub for domestic situational awareness, common operational picture, information fusion, information sharing, communications, and coordination pertaining to the prevention of terrorist attacks and domestic incident management.”
The DHS says that the NOC is “the primary conduit for the White House Situation Room” and that it also “facilitates information sharing and operational coordination with other federal, state, local, tribal, non-governmental operation centers and the private sector.”
A better description for a fascist police state network could not be written.
Portland Homeland Security:
Behind the Crackdown on Occupy, documents show
Remember, this sprawling yet centralized operation -- what Verheyden-Hilliard describes as “a vast, tentacled, national intelligence and domestic spying network that the U.S. government operates against its own people” -- was in this case deployed not against some terrorist organization or even mob or drug cartel, but rather against a loose-knit band of protesters, all conscientiously and publicly committed to nonviolence, who were exercising their Constitutionally-protected right to gather in public places and to speak out against the crimes and abuses of the corporate elite and the politicians who are bought and paid by that elite.
Among the documents obtained by the PCJF in this second batch of responses to its FOIA filing is one Nov. 5, 2011 from the NOC Fusion Center Desk, which collects at the federal level and then distributes the names and contact information of a group of Occupy protesters who were arrested during a demonstration in Dallas, TX against Bank of America, one of the nation’s biggest predatory lenders. Although none of the seven arrested were charged with any serious crime (six were charged with “using the sidewalk!”), their names and contact information were widely disseminated by the DHS.
Fusion Centers, a post-9-11 creation, are a federally-funded joint project of the DHS and the US Justice Department which are designed to share intelligence information among such federal agencies as the DHS, the FBI, the CIA and the US Military, as well as state and local police agencies. By their nature they are designed to circumvent legal constraints on various agencies, for example the ban on CIA domestic spying, or the Posse Comitatus Act, which bars active military activity within the borders of the US. There are currently 72 Fusion Centers around the US.
Another group of documents shows that on November 9, two days after a demonstration by 1000 Occupy activists in Chicago protesting social service cuts in that city, the NOC Fusion Desk relayed a request from Chicago Police asking other local police agencies what kind of tactics they were using against Occupy activists. They specifically requested that information be sought from police departments in New York, Oakland, Atlanta, Washington, D.C. Denver, Boston, Portland OR, and Seattle -- all the scene of major Occupation actions and of violent police repression. Realizing that it would look bad if it assisted in such coordination overtly, higher officials in the DHS ordered the recall of the request but then simply rerouted it through “law enforcement channels,” where presumably it would be harder for anyone to spot a federal role in the coordination of local police responses. In response to that order, the documents show that the duty director of the NOC wrote that he would “reach out” to "LEO LNOs (liaison officer) on the floor" to assist. Verheyden-Hilliard explains that LEO is FBI's nationally integrated law enforcement, intelligence and military network.
On December 12, when Occupy planned anti-war protests at various US ports, Verheyden-Hilliard says the new documents show that the NOC “went into high gear” seeking information from local field offices of the Department of Homeland Security about what actions police in Houston, Portland, Oakland, Seattle, San Diego, and Los Angeles planned to deal with Occupy movement actions.
Another document shows that earlier, in advance of a planned Occupy action at the Oakland, CA port facility on Nov. 2, DHS “went so far as to keep the Pentagon’s Northcom (Northern Command) in the intelligence loop.”
Given the subterfuge revealed in these documents that went into trying to create the illusion that the DHS was and is not coordinating a national campaign of spying, disruption and repression against Occupy activists, it is almost comical to find documents that show the DHS was in “direct communication with the White House” to obtain advance approval of public statements by DHS officials denying any DHS involvement in anti-Occupy actions.
These documents show that both DHS and one of that department’s police arms, the Federal Protective Service (FPS) were in direct contact with Portland, Oregon’s police chief and mayor, discussing how to deal with protesters who were in part on federal property. The coordination between the feds and the local police and political authorities were intense. Yet the approved statement sent to DHS from the White House read:
Any decisions on how to handle specifics (sic) situations are dealt with by local authorities in that location. If a protest area is located on Federal property and has been deemed unsanitary or unsafe by the General Services Administration (GSA) or city officials, and they make a decision to evacuate participants -- the Federal Protective Service (FPS) will work with those officials to develop a plan to ensure the security and safety of everyone involved.
There was, comically, also a White House-approved DHS “background” statement, too! (Typically background statements by federal officials are supposed to be used when they want to tell a journalist the true situation but don’t want to have that statement attributed to them or their department. Having it pre-approved by the White House defeats that purpose and is simply a manipulation of the media.)
The faux “background” information included the following--a flat-out lie:
DHS is not actively coordinating with local law enforcement agencies and/or city governments concerning the evictions of Occupy encampments writ large.
Tellingly, the documents also include a Dec. 5 copy of the “Weekly Informant, ” an intelligence report published by the DHS’s Office for State and Local Law Enforcement. The issue includes an update from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) concerning the activities of the Occupy Movement. PERF, Verheyden-Hilliard notes, is the group that the federal government claims organized a series of multi-city law enforcement calls to coordinate the police response to Occupy, which led immediately to the wave of violent crackdowns. It was at those meetings that police were advised among other things to act at night, to use aggressive tactics and weapons like tasers and pepper spray, and to take steps to remove journalists and cameras from the scene of crackdowns.
The overall sense from these latest documents is that Washington and the DHS, along with the FBI, was the nexus of the crackdown, orchestrating it, encouraging it, and attempting to cover its tracks.
The documents among other things expose the massive hypocrisy of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party, which this election year have tried to co-opt and claim as their own the anti-fat-cat theme of the “We are the 99%”-chanting Occupiers, while actually acting in the interest of Bank of America and its fellow financial sector mega-firms in trying to crush the movement itself.
Dave Lindorff is a founder ofThis Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He lives in Philadelphia.
The Portland Liberation Organizing Council (PLOC) would like to invite all members of the community join us on May 1st, 2012 in the Liberate.MayDay project where a neighborhood will leading a liberatory event.
Liberate.MayDay intends to demonstrate and begin to address the vast contradictions that we face each day – that buildings sit empty while our neighborhoods lack free, accessible indoor spaces, that banks continue tearing people out of their homes while 1 in 7 houses in the country sit vacant, that basic healthcare is unaffordable for many while corporations reap incredible profits from the industry.
We have seen that the systems creating these problems are not capable of providing real solutions. We are done waiting! Solutions come from our minds, our hands, our relationships, and our irrepressible creative capacity to build a community (and a society) that works for us. On May Day PLOC will enact one solution – to reclaim property and put it to use with the community.
Portland needs a space where communities can grow together and nurture a healthy political system — where gardens grow food and sow the seeds of resistance; where classrooms are based on popular education; where there is free space to celebrate and organize. We will no longer stand for developers holding land and buildings hostage for maximum profit. Community control and self-determination are more important than profit and endless growth.
We are inspired by those that took over a church-owned abandoned building in San Francisco in March, by foreclosure defenders in Minneapolis, by the Landless Peasant Movement in Brazil [MST], by the Space Liberated community in Madrid, and many more. We stand on the shoulders of those that take direct action to elevate the rights of people above the right to keep property vacant. These social movements show us that liberation of land and our homes is not only possible, it is happening!
The broad anger against the banks that the Occupy movement has revealed demonstrates a profound willingness among ordinary people to act for our collective well-being regardless of the formalities of the law. The whirlwind of movement in the past year has renewed our belief that when we act together – we are powerful.
This liberatory event will be rooted in a collaborative community effort, building relationships and partnerships that we hope live far beyond May 1st. Supporters are encouraged to come join the reclamation effort with a mind toward the collective rather than the autonomous individual. Alerts will be blasted out over email and social media on the morning of May 1st with a meetup location.
Gather round! Liberate.MayDay!
PLOC is a collaboration of radical organizations who believe that the current economic system and its systems of oppression are fundamental problems that create the disparity of wealth and resources that we see in our neighborhoods today. We work to organize and mobilize to dismantle these exploitative systems while creating alternatives with our communities. Capitalism is not broken, it is built for someone else.
Last week the City of Boston agreed to pay Simon Glik $170,000 in damages and legal fees to settle a civil rights lawsuit stemming from his 2007 felony arrest for videotaping police roughing up a suspect. Prior to the settlement, the First Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that Glik had a "constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public." The Boston Police Department now explicitly instructs its officers not to arrest citizens openly recording them in public.
Slowly but surely the courts are recognizing that recording on-duty police is a protected First Amendment activity. But in the meantime, police around the country continue to intimidate and arrest citizens for doing just that. So if you're an aspiring cop watcher you must be uniquely prepared to deal with hostile cops.
If you choose to record the police you can reduce the risk of terrible legal consequences and video loss by understanding your state's laws and carefully adhering to the following rules.
Rule #1: Know the Law (Wherever You Are)
Conceived at a time when pocket-sized recording devices were available only to James Bond types, most eavesdropping laws were originally intended to protect people against snoops, spies, and peeping Toms. Now with this technology in the hands of average citizens, police and prosecutors are abusing these outdated laws to punish citizens merely attempting to document on-duty police.
The law in 38 states plainly allows citizens to record police, as long as you don't physically interfere with their work. Police might still unfairly harass you, detain you, or confiscate your camera. They might even arrest you for some catchall misdemeanor such as obstruction of justice or disorderly conduct. But you will not be charged for illegally recording police.
Twelve states-California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington-require the consent of all parties for you to record a conversation.
However, all but 2 of these states-Massachusetts and Illinois-have an "expectation of privacy provision" to their all-party laws that courts have ruled does not apply to on-duty police (or anyone in public). In other words, it's technically legal in those 48 states to openly record on-duty police.
Rule #2 Don't Secretly Record Police
In most states it's almost always illegal to record a conversation in which you're not a party and don't have consent to record. Massachusetts is the only state to uphold a conviction for recording on-duty police, but that conviction was for a secret recording where the defendant failed to inform police he was recording. (As in the Glik case, Massachusetts courts have ruled that openly recording police is legal, but secretly recording them isn't.)
Fortunately, judges and juries are soundly rejecting these laws. Illinois, the state with the most notorious anti-recording laws in the land, expressly forbids you from recording on-duty police. Early last month an Illinois judge declared that law unconstitutional, ruling in favor of Chris Drew, a Chicago artist charged with felony eavesdropping for secretly recording his own arrest. Last August a jury acquitted Tiawanda Moore of secretly recording two Chicago Police Internal Affairs investigators who encouraged her to drop a sexual harassment complaint against another officer. (A juror described the case to a reporter as "a waste of time.") In September, an Illinois state judge dropped felony charges against Michael Allison. After running afoul of local zoning ordinances, he faced up to 75 years in prison for secretly recording police and attempting to tape his own trial.
The lesson for you is this: If you want to limit your legal exposure and present a strong legal case, record police openly if possible. But if you videotape on-duty police from a distance, such an announcement might not be possible or appropriate unless police approach you.
Rule #3: Respond to "Shit Cops Say"
When it comes to police encounters, you don't get to choose whom you're dealing with. You might get Officer Friendly, or you might get Officer Psycho. You'll likely get officers between these extremes. But when you "watch the watchmen," you must be ready to think on your feet.
In most circumstances, officers will not immediately bull rush you for filming them. But if they aren't properly trained, they might feel like their authority is being challenged. And all too often police are simply ignorant of the law. Part of your task will be to convince them that you're not a threat while also standing your ground.
"What are you doing?"
Police aren't celebrities, so they're not always used to being photographed in public. So even if you're recording at a safe distance, they might approach and ask what you are doing. Avoid saying things like "I'm recording you to make sure you're doing your job right" or "I don't trust you."
Instead, say something like "Officer, I'm not interfering. I'm asserting my First Amendment rights. You're being documented and recorded offsite."
Saying this while remaining calm and cool will likely put police on their best behavior. They might follow up by asking, "Who do you work for?" You may, for example, tell them you're an independent filmmaker or a citizen journalist with a popular website/blog/YouTube show. Whatever you say, don't lie-but don't let police trick you into thinking that the First Amendment only applies to mainstream media journalists. It doesn't.
But how can you tell if an officer asking for ID has reasonable suspicion? Police need reasonable suspicion to detain you, so one way to tell if they have reasonable suspicion is to determine if you're free to go. You can do this by saying "Officer, are you detaining me, or am I free to go?"
If the officer says you're free to go or you're not being detained, it's your choice whether to stay or go. But if you're detained, you might say something like, "I'm not required to show you ID, but my name is [your full name]." It's up to you if you want to provide your address and date of birth if asked for it, but I'd stop short of giving them your Social Security number.
"Please stop recording me. It's against the law."
Rarely is it advisable to educate officers about the law. But in a tense recording situation where the law is clearly on your side, it might help your case to politely present your knowledge of state law.
For example, if an insecure cop tries to tell you that you're violating his civil liberties, you might respond by saying "Officer, with all due respect, state law only requires permission from one party in a conversation. I don't need your permission to record so long as I'm not interfering with your work."
If you live in one of the 12 all party record states, you might say something like "Officer, I'm familiar with the law, but the courts have ruled that it doesn't apply to recording on-duty police."
If you're approaching the scene of an investigation or an accident, police will likely order you to move back. Depending on the circumstances, you might become involved in an intense negotiation to determine the "appropriate" distance you need to stand back to avoid "interfering" with their work.
If you feel you're already standing at a reasonable distance, you may say something like, "Officer, I have a right to be here. I'm filming for documentation purposes and not interfering with your work." It's then up to you to decide how far back you're willing to stand to avoid arrest.
Rule #4: Don't Share Your Video with Police
If you capture video of police misconduct or brutality, but otherwise avoid being identified yourself, you can anonymously upload it to YouTube. This seems to be the safest legal option. For example, a Massachusetts woman who videotaped a cop beating a motorist with a flashlight posted the video to the Internet. Afterwards, one of the cops caught at the scene filed criminal wiretapping charges against her. (As usual, the charges against her were later dropped.)
On the other hand, an anonymous videographer uploaded footage of an NYPD officer body-slamming a man on a bicycle to YouTube. Although the videographer was never revealed, the video went viral. Consequently, the manufactured assault charges against the bicyclist were dropped, the officer was fired, and the bicyclist eventually sued the city and won a $65,000 settlement.
Rule #5: Prepare to be Arrested
Keene, New Hampshire resident Dave Ridley is the avatar of the new breed of journalist/activist/filmmaker testing the limits of the First Amendment right to record police. Over the past few years he's uploaded the most impressive collection of first-person police encounter videos I've ever seen.
Ridley's calm demeanor and knowledge of the law paid off last August after he was arrested for trespassing at an event featuring Vice President Joe Biden. The arresting officers at his trial claimed he refused to leave when ordered to do so. But the judge acquitted him when his confiscated video proved otherwise.
With respect to the law Ridley declares, "If you're rolling the camera, be very open and upfront about it. And look at it as a potential act of civil disobedience for which you could go to jail." It's indeed disturbing that citizens who are not breaking the law should prepare to be arrested, but in the current legal fog this is sage advice.
"Shut it off, or I'll arrest you."
At this point you are risking arrest in order to test the boundaries of free speech. So if police say they'll arrest you, believe them. You may comply by saying something like "Okay, Officer. But I'm turning the camera off under protest."
If you keep recording, brace yourself for arrest. Try your best not to drop your camera, but do not physically resist. As with any arrest, you have the right to remain silent until you speak with a lawyer. Use it.
Remember that the camera might still be recording. So keep calm and act like you're being judged by a jury of millions of your YouTube peers, because one day you might be.
If you're one of them, you should consider installing a streaming video recording and sharing app such as Qik or Bambuser. Both apps are free and easy to use.
Always Passcode Protect Your Smartphone
The magic of both apps is that they can instantly store your video offsite. This is essential for preserving video in case police illegally destroy or confiscate your camera. But even with these apps installed, you'll want to make sure that your device is always passcode protected. If a cop snatches your camera, this will make it extremely difficult for her to simply delete your videos. (If a cop tries to trick you into revealing your passcode, never, never, never give it up!)
Keep in mind that Qik and Bambuser's offsite upload feature might be slow or nonexistent in places without Wi-Fi or a strong 3G/4G signal. Regardless, your captured video will be saved locally on your device until you've got a good enough signal to upload offsite.
With a little bit of practice you should be able to pull your smartphone from your pocket or purse, turn it on, enter your passcode, open the app, and hit record within 10 seconds. Keep your preferred app easily accessible on your home screen to save precious seconds. But don't try to shave milliseconds off your time by disabling your passcode.
Both apps share an important feature that allows your video to be saved if your phone is turned off-even if you're still recording. So if you anticipate that a cop is about to grab your phone, quickly turn it off. Without your passcode, police won't be able to delete your videos or personal information even if they confiscate or destroy your phone.
With the iPhone 4 and Samsung Galaxy Android devices I tested, when the phone is turned off the Qik app immediately stops recording and uploads the video offsite. But if the phone is turned off while Bambuser records, the recording continues after the screen goes black.
This Bambuser "black out" feature is a double-edged sword. While it could easily trick cops into thinking you're not recording them, using it could push you into more dangerous legal territory. As previously mentioned, courts have shown a willingness to convict citizens for secretly recording police. So if you're somehow caught using this feature it might be easier for a prosecutor to convince a judge or jury that you've broken the law. It's up to you to decide if the increased legal risk is worth the potential to capture incriminating police footage.
Other Recording Options
Cameras lacking offsite recording capability are a less desirable option. As mentioned earlier, if cops delete or destroy your footage-which happens waytoooften-you might lose your only hope of challenging their version of events in court. But if you can hold on to your camera, there are some good options.
Carlos Miller is a Miami-based photojournalism activist and writer of the popular Photography is Not a Crime blog. While he carries a professional-end Canon XA10 in the field, he says "I never leave home without a Flip camera on a belt pouch. It's a very decent camera that's easier to carry around."
The top-of-the-line Flip UltraHD starts at $178, but earlier models are available for $60 on Amazon. All flip models have one-button recording, which allows you to pull it out of your pocket and shoot within seconds. The built-in USB then lets you upload video to YouTube or other sharing sites through your PC.
Small businessman and "radical technology" educator Justin Holmes recommends the Canon S-series line of cameras. In 2008, his camera captured a police encounter he had while rollerblading in Port Dickenson, New York. His footage provides an outstanding real-life example of how a calm camera-toting citizen can intelligently flex their rights.
"I typically carry a Canon S5-IS," Holmes says. "But if I was going to buy one new, I'd go for the SX40-HS. If I were on a budget and buying one used, I'd go for S2-IS or S3-IS." The features he regards as essential include one-touch video, high-quality stereo condenser microphones, fast zoom during video, and 180x270 variable angle LCD. But the last feature he regards as "absolutely essential." With it the user can glance at the viewfinder while the camera is below or above eye level.
Rule #7: Don't Point Your Camera Like a Gun
"When filming police you always want to avoid an aggressive posture," insists Holmes. To do this he keeps his strap-supported camera close to his body at waist level. This way he can hold a conversation while maintaining eye contact with police, quickly glancing at the viewfinder to make sure he's getting a good shot.
Obviously, those recording with a smartphone lack this angled viewfinder. But you can get a satisfactory shot while holding your device at waist level, tilting it upward a few degrees. This posture might feel awkward at first, but it's noticeably less confrontational than holding the camera between you and the officer's face.
Also try to be in control of your camera before an officer approaches. You want to avoid suddenly grasping for it. If a cop thinks you're reaching for a gun, you could get shot.
Becoming a Hero
If you've recently been arrested or charged with a crime after recording police, contact a lawyer with your state's ACLU chapter for advice as soon as possible. (Do not publicly upload your video before then.) You may also contact Flex Your Rights via Facebook or Twitter. We're not a law firm, but we'll do our best to help you.
If your case is strong, the ACLU might offer to take you on as a litigant. If you accept, your brave stand could forever change the way police treat citizens asserting their First Amendment right to record police. This path is not for fools, and it might disrupt your life. But next time you see police in action, don't forget that a powerful tool for truth and justice might literally be in your hands.
Its been two years since Ralph Nader came to Portland, but he made it worth the wait when he held an open to the public book signing at Powell's City of Books yesterday (4/9). Naders new book, Getting Steamed to Overcome Capitalism, mesmorized the audience in the brightly lit Pearl room on the third floor of Powell's. Attendance was enormous with people crowding even the aisles of books to get a glimpse of and hear the man the commonwealth and corporations are secretly afraid of. As I made my way to the media corner, I heard a thunderous deep voice gradually rising as Mr. Nader once again became enraged within himself and moved the book release into lecture mode.
Nader Delivers Powerful Speech @ Book Signing Event In PDX
Ralph Nader comes to Portland! Nader gave a powerful lecture and released his new book "Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism" for a Q & A and signing at Powell's City of Books in downtown Portland. Look for Joe Anybody's video of Naders lecture/symposium at Lewis & Clark College in southwest Portland to follow this event on the same day.
This new book seems to reach into the psyche of the average person who is interested in learning about the shady practices that large Pac-Man corporations are using to exploit the people and hoard so called "capital". Nader emphasised the "fire in your gut" or boiling point analogy after using cold hard facts to astonish his audience and talked numbers in the sense of our government spending excess money on foreign wars not neccessary or worth fighting.
He also spoke about the statistics of those without healthcare and compared the US to other successful coutries which utilize a broad universal healthcare system. Another representative of Occupy Portland (Cameron Whittman) was there and questioned Nader and he responded with positive motivation for the Occupy movement, stressing that Occupy does need some leadership and that we the people can make a difference.
Mr. Nader also held a Q&A about his book and many good questions and comments were offered up. A question by Mobile T, to Nader was on his view of ALEC, and he responded with a firestorm shaming them on everything from corporate manipulation to enactment of bad legislature.
Though the word "Occupy" was never included in the title or context of the book, it's almost as if it was written with the intention of motivating those who are now joining forces as a social movement. Hence Occupy.
Two years ago on this date, Julian Assange was in Iceland readying the release of the shocking material that would catapult his group, WikiLeaks (and himself) to worldwide fame: the "Collateral Murder" video, an aerial view of U.S. Apache helicopters firing on Iraqi civilians and two Reuters journalists in 2007, plus celebratory dialogue from the gunners. It would be the first of four major WikiLeaks releases that year, as it was followed by the Afghanistan and Iraq "war logs" and "Cablegate."
One man has been accused of leaking all of that (and more), and we mark a separate anniversary related to PFC Bradley Manning.
A year ago this month, protests were held here and abroad, calling for Manning's release from semi-solitary confinement, under inhumane conditions, at the Quantico base in Virginia. He had been on a "perosnal injury" watch for months (despite his protests), rarely let out of his cell, forced to sleep without a standard pillow and blanket, and even at times stripped naked at night. Protesters were arrested at the White House -- and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's chief spokesman, P.J. Crowley, had been forced out when he protested these conditions.
All of this would help provoke Manning's transfer to Leavenworth prison in Kansas in April 2011, where he would enjoy more freedom and privacy. But one factor remains: nearly two years after his arrest, in May 2010, he still has not faced his court-martial trial on the 22 charges brought against him -- including "aiding the enemy," which could bring the death sentence (though likely lead to life in prison instead).
This week, a book about this two year period that I've written with Kevin Gosztola has been published: Truth and Consequences: The U.S. vs. Bradley Manning. As we point out near the close of our story: "His court martial was expected to begin this August, even though Manning's defense had been saying the government could hold the trial in May. This means that when Manning goes on trial he will have been in confinement for eight hundred days. "
The book brings this home by tracing Manning's saga from his arrest and brutal incarceration to the present day, with a day-by-day account of the hearings, including testimony by Adrian Lamo. Gosztola, who assisted me on my two previous books on this subject and now writes daily for Firedoglake.com, was one of the very few journalists who attended both of the key court martial hearings for Manning: last December and then just two weeks ago. So the book, in both print and as an e-book, is amazingly up to date.
The book concludes with Gosztola raising questions after the latest hearing in mid-March: "Goal? Aggravate and bother media to the point that they wonder if it is even worth it to cover the proceedings? Lose them somewhere along the way to the actual start of Manning's trial? That way when the date finally comes for the trial the press won't really know the scale of the games played by the government to interfere with the ability of Manning's lawyers to defend him.
"Or, more insidious, prolong the pre-trial. Make the defense choose between a speedy trial or fighting for the right to evidence and potential witnesses to mount a proper defense. It's up to Manning, but at this rate, he could be in pre-trial confinement for almost a thousand days before he finally gets to the first day of his trial."
The new Manning book is just out in both print and e-book. Mitchell's other current book is "Journeys With Beethoven." He has written a dozen previous books and blogs daily at The Nation.
The Illegitimacy of Violence, the Violence of Legitimacy -repost- Now Playing: what is violence - think again its not ... "what they tell you" The Illegitimacy of Violence, the Violence of Legitimacyauthor: Crimethinc http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2012/03/414660.shtml
What is violence? Who gets to define it? Does it have a place in the pursuit of liberation? These age-old questions have returned to the fore during the Occupy movement. But this discussion never takes place on a level playing field; while some delegitimize violence, the language of legitimacy itself paves the way for the authorities to employ it.
The Illegitimacy of Violence, the Violence of Legitimacy
What is violence? Who gets to define it? Does it have a place in the pursuit of liberation? These age-old questions have returned to the fore during the Occupy movement. But this discussion never takes place on a level playing field; while some delegitimize violence, the language of legitimacy itself paves the way for the authorities to employ it.
"Though lines of police on horses, and with dogs, charged the main street outside the police station to push rioters back, there were significant pockets of violence which they could not reach." -The New York Times, on the UK riots of August 2011
During the 2001 FTAA summit in Quebec City, one newspaper famously reported that violence erupted when protesters began throwing tear gas canisters back at the lines of riot police. When the authorities are perceived to have a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, "violence" is often used to denote illegitimate use of force—anything that interrupts or escapes their control. This makes the term something of a floating signifier, since it is also understood to mean "harm or threat that violates consent."
This is further complicated by the ways our society is based on and permeated by harm or threat that violates consent. In this sense, isn't it violent to live on colonized territory, destroying ecosystems through our daily consumption and benefitting from economic relations that are forced on others at gunpoint? Isn't it violent for armed guards to keep food and land, once a commons shared by all, from those who need them? Is it more violent to resist the police who evict people from their homes, or to stand aside while people are made homeless? Is it more violent to throw tear gas canisters back at police, or to denounce those who throw them back as "violent," giving police a free hand to do worse?
In this state of affairs, there is no such thing as nonviolence—the closest we can hope to come is to negate the harm or threat posed by the proponents of top-down violence. And when so many people are invested in the privileges this violence affords them, it's naïve to think that we could defend ourselves and others among the dispossessed without violating the wishes of at least a few bankers and landlords. So instead of asking whether an action is violent, we might do better to ask simply: does it counteract power disparities, or reinforce them?
This is the fundamental anarchist question. We can ask it in every situation; every further question about values, tactics, and strategy proceeds from it. When the question can be framed thus, why would anyone want to drag the debate back to the dichotomy of violence and nonviolence?
The discourse of violence and nonviolence is attractive above all because it offers an easy way to claim the higher moral ground. This makes it seductive both for criticizing the state and for competing against other activists for influence. But in a hierarchical society, gaining the higher ground often reinforces hierarchy itself.
Legitimacy is one of the currencies that are unequally distributed in our society, through which its disparities are maintained. Defining people or actions as violent is a way of excluding them from legitimate discourse, of silencing and shutting out. This parallels and reinforces other forms of marginalization: a wealthy white person can act "nonviolently" in ways that would be seen as violent were a poor person of color to do the same thing. In an unequal society, the defining of "violence" is no more neutral than any other tool.
Defining people or actions as violent also has immediate consequences: it justifies the use of force against them. This has been an essential step in practically every campaign targeting communities of color, protest movements, and others on the wrong side of capitalism. If you've attended enough mobilizations, you know that it's often possible to anticipate exactly how much violence the police will use against a demonstration by the way the story is presented on the news the night before. In this regard, pundits and even rival organizers can participate in policing alongside the police, determining who is a legitimate target by the way they frame the narrative.
On the one-year anniversary of the Egyptian uprising, the military lifted the Emergency Laws—"except in thug-related cases." The popular upheaval of 2011 had forced the authorities to legitimize previously unacceptable forms of resistance, with Obama characterizing as "nonviolent" an uprising in which thousands had fought police and burned down police stations. In order to re-legitimize the legal apparatus of the dictatorship, it was necessary to create a new distinction between violent "thugs" and the rest of the population. Yet the substance of this distinction was never spelled out; in practice, "thug" is simply the word for a person targeted by the Emergency Laws. From the perspective of the authorities, ideally the infliction of violence itself would suffice to brand its victims as violent—i.e., as legitimate targets.
So when a broad enough part of the population engages in resistance, the authorities have to redefine it as nonviolent, even if it would previously have been considered violent. Otherwise, the dichotomy between violence and legitimacy might erode—and without that dichotomy, it would be much harder to justify the use of force against those who threaten the status quo. By the same token, the more ground we cede in what we permit the authorities to define as violent, the more they will sweep into that category, and the greater risk all of us will face. One consequence of the past several decades of self-described nonviolent civil disobedience is that some people regard merely raising one's voice as violent; this makes it possible to portray those who take even the most tentative steps to protect themselves against police violence as violent thugs.
"The individuals who linked arms and actively resisted, that in itself is an act of violence... linking arms in a human chain when ordered to step aside is not a nonviolent protest."
-UC police captain Margo Bennett, quoted in The San Francisco Chronicle, justifying the use of force against students at the University of California at Berkeley
The Master's Tools: Delegitimization, Misrepresentation, and Division Violent repression is only one side of the two-pronged strategy by which social movements are suppressed. For this repression to succeed, movements must be divided into legitimate and illegitimate, and the former convinced to disown the latter—usually in return for privileges or concessions. We can see this process up close in the efforts of professional journalists like Chris Hedges and Rebecca Solnit to demonize rivals in the Occupy movement.
In last year's Throwing Out the Master's Tools and Building a Better House: Thoughts on the Importance of Nonviolence in the Occupy Revolution," Rebecca Solnit mixed together moral and strategic arguments against "violence," hedging her bets with a sort of US exceptionalism: Zapatistas can carry guns and Egyptian rebels set buildings on fire, but let no one so much as burn a trash can in the US. At base, her argument was that only "people power" can achieve revolutionary social change—and that "people power" is necessarily nonviolent.
Solnit should know that the defining of violence isn't neutral: in her article "The Myth of Seattle Violence," she recounted her unsuccessful struggle to get the New York Times to stop representing the demonstrations against the 1999 WTO summit in Seattle as "violent." In consistently emphasizing violence as her central category, Solnit is reinforcing the effectiveness of one of the tools that will inevitably be used against protesters—including her—whenever it serves the interests of the powerful.
Solnit reserves particular ire for those who endorse diversity of tactics as a way to preclude the aforementioned dividing of movements. Several paragraphs of "Throwing Out the Master's Tools" were devoted to denouncing the CrimethInc. "Dear Occupiers" pamphlet: Solnit proclaimed it "a screed in justification of violence," "empty machismo peppered with insults," and stooped to ad hominem attacks on authors about whom she admittedly knew nothing.
As anyone can readily ascertain, the majority of "Dear Occupiers" simply reviews the systemic problems with capitalism; the advocacy of diversity of tactics is limited to a couple subdued paragraphs. Why would an award-winning author represent this as a pro-violence screed?
Perhaps for the same reason that she joins the authorities in delegitimizing violence even when this equips them to delegitimize her own efforts: Solnit's leverage in social movements and her privileges in capitalist society are both staked on the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate. If social movements ever cease to be managed from the top down—if they stop policing themselves—the Hedges and Solnits of the world will be out of a job literally as well as figuratively. That would explain why they perceive their worst enemies to be those who soberly advise against dividing movements into legitimate and illegitimate factions.
It's hard to imagine Solnit would have represented "Dear Occupiers" the way she did if she expected her audience to read it. Given her readership, this is a fairly safe bet—Solnit is often published in the corporate media, while CrimethInc. literature is distributed only through grass-roots networks; in any case, she didn't include a link. Chris Hedges took similar liberties in his notorious "The Cancer in Occupy," a litany of outrageous generalizations about "black bloc anarchists." It seems that both authors' ultimate goal is silencing: Why would you want to hear what those people have to say? They're violent thugs.
The title of Solnit's article is a reference to Audre Lorde's influential text, "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House." Lorde's text was not an endorsement of nonviolence; even Derrick Jensen, whom Hedges quotes approvingly, has debunked such misuse of this quotation. Here, let it suffice to repeat that the most powerful of the master's tools is not violence, but delegitimization and division—as Lorde emphasized in her text. To defend our movements against these, Lorde exhorted us:
"Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark... Only within that interdependency of different strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters."
If we are to survive, that means:
"... learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish... learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."
It is particularly shameless that Solnit would quote Lorde's argument against silencing out of context in order to delegitimize and divide. But perhaps we should not be surprised when successful professionals sell out anonymous poor people: they have to defend their class interests, or else risk joining us. For the mechanisms that raise people to positions of influence within activist hierarchies and liberal media are not neutral, either; they reward docility, often coded as "nonviolence," rendering invisible those whose efforts actually threaten capitalism and hierarchy. The Lure of Legitimacy When we want to be taken seriously, it's tempting to claim legitimacy any way we can. But if we don't want to reinforce the hierarchies of our society, we should be careful not to validate forms of legitimacy that perpetuate them.
It is easy to recognize how this works in some situations: when we evaluate people on the basis of their academic credentials, for example, this prioritizes abstract knowledge over lived experience, centralizing those who can get a fair shot in academia and marginalizing everyone else. In other cases, this occurs more subtly. We emphasize our status as community organizers, implying that those who lack the time or resources for such pursuits are less entitled to speak. We claim credibility as longtime locals, implicitly delegitimizing all who are not—including immigrants who have been forced to move to our neighborhoods because their communities have been wrecked by processes originating in ours. We justify our struggles on the basis of our roles within capitalist society—as students, workers, taxpayers, citizens—not realizing how much harder this can make it for the unemployed, homeless, and excluded to justify theirs.
We're often surprised by the resulting blowback. Politicians discredit our comrades with the very vocabulary we popularized: "Those aren't activists, they're homeless people pretending to be activists." "We're not targeting communities of color, we're protecting them from criminal activity." Yet we prepared the way for this ourselves by affirming language that makes legitimacy conditional.
When we emphasize that our movements are and must be nonviolent, we're doing the same thing. This creates an Other that is outside the protection of whatever legitimacy we win for ourselves—that is, in short, a legitimate target for violence. Anyone who pulls their comrades free from the police rather than waiting passively to be arrested—anyone who makes shields to protect themselves from rubber bullets rather than abandoning the streets to the police—anyone who is charged with assault on an officer for being assaulted by one: all these unfortunates are thrown to the wolves as the violent ones, the bad apples. Those who must wear masks even in legal actions because of their precarious employment or immigration status are denounced as cancer, betrayed in return for a few crumbs of legitimacy from the powers that be. We Good Citizens can afford to be perfectly transparent; we would never commit a crime or harbor a potential criminal in our midst.
And the Othering of violence smooths the way for the violence of Othering. The ones who bear the worst consequences of this are not the middle class brats pilloried in internet flame wars, but the same people on the wrong side of every other dividing line in capitalism: the poor, the marginalized, those who have no credentials, no institutions to stand up for them, no incentive to play the political games that are slanted in favor of the authorities and perhaps also a few jet-setting activists.
Simply delegitimizing violence can't put an end to it. The disparities of this society couldn't be maintained without it, and the desperate will always respond by acting out, especially when they sense that they've been abandoned to their fate. But this kind of delegitimization can create a gulf between the angry and the morally upright, the "irrational" and the rational, the violent and the social. We saw the consequences of this in the UK riots of August 2011, when many of the disenfranchised, despairing of bettering themselves through any legitimate means, hazarded a private war against property, the police, and the rest of society. Some of them had attempted to participate in previous popular movements, only to be stigmatized as hooligans; not surprisingly, their rebellion took an antisocial turn, resulting in five deaths and further alienating them from other sectors of the population.
The responsibility for this tragedy rests not only on the rebels themselves, nor on those who imposed the injustices from which they suffered, but also upon the activists who stigmatized them rather than joining in creating a movement that could channel their anger. If there is no connection between those who intend to transform society and those who suffer most within it, no common cause between the hopeful and the enraged, then when the latter rebel, the former will disown them, and the latter will be crushed along with all hope of real change. No effort to do away with hierarchy can succeed while excluding the disenfranchised, the Others.
What should be our basis for legitimacy, then, if not our commitment to legality, nonviolence, or any other standard that hangs our potential comrades out to dry? How do we explain what we're doing and why we're entitled to do it? We have to mint and circulate a currency of legitimacy that is not controlled by our rulers, that doesn't create Others.
As anarchists, we hold that our desires and well-being and those of our fellow creatures are the only meaningful basis for action. Rather than classifying actions as violent or nonviolent, we focus on whether they extend or curtail freedom. Rather than insisting that we are nonviolent, we emphasize the necessity of interrupting the violence inherent in top-down rule. This might be inconvenient for those accustomed to seeking dialogue with the powerful, but it is unavoidable for everyone who truly wishes to abolish their power. Conclusion: Back to Strategy But how do we interrupt the violence of top-down rule? The partisans of nonviolence frame their argument in strategic as well as moral terms: violence alienates the masses, preventing us from building the "people power" we need to triumph.
There is a kernel of truth at the heart of this. If violence is understood as illegitimate use of force, their argument can be summarized as a tautology: delegitimized action is unpopular.
Indeed, those who take the legitimacy of capitalist society for granted are liable to see anyone who takes material steps to counteract its disparities as violent. The challenge facing us, then, is to legitimize concrete forms of resistance: not on the grounds that they are nonviolent, but on the grounds that they are liberating, that they fulfill real needs and desires.
This is not an easy matter. Even when we passionately believe in what we are doing, if it is not widely recognized as legitimate we tend to sputter when asked to explain ourselves. If only we could stay within the bounds prescribed for us within this system while we go about overthrowing it! The Occupy movement was characterized by attempts to do just that—citizens insisting on their right to occupy public parks on the basis of obscure legal loopholes, making tortuous justifications no more convincing to onlookers than to the authorities. People want to redress the injustices around them, but in a highly regulated and controlled society, there's so little they feel entitled to do.
Solnit may be right that the emphasis on nonviolence was essential to the initial success of Occupy Wall Street: people want some assurance that they're not going to have to leave their comfort zones, and that what they're doing will make sense to everyone else. But it often happens that the preconditions for a movement become limitations that it must transcend: Occupy Oakland remained vibrant after other occupations died down because it embraced a diversity of tactics, not despite this. Likewise, if we really want to transform our society, we can't remain forever within the narrow boundaries of what the authorities deem legitimate: we have to extend the range of what people feel entitled to do.
All the media coverage in the world won't help us if we fail to create a situation in which people feel entitled to defend themselves and each other. Legitimizing resistance, expanding what is acceptable, is not going to be popular at first—it never is, precisely because of the tautology set forth above. It takes consistent effort to shift the discourse: calmly facing outrage and recriminations, humbly emphasizing our own criteria for what is legitimate.
Whether we think this challenge is worthwhile depends on our long-term goals. As David Graeber has pointed out, conflicts over goals often masquerade as moral and strategic differences. Making nonviolence the central tenet of our movement makes good sense if our long-term goal is not to challenge the fundamental structure of our society, but to build a mass movement that can wield legitimacy as defined by the powerful—and that is prepared to police itself accordingly. But if we really want to transform our society, we have to transform the discourse of legitimacy, not just position ourselves well within it as it currently exists. If we focus only on the latter, we will find that terrain slipping constantly from beneath our feet, and that many of those with whom we need to find common cause can never share it with us.
It's important to have strategic debates: shifting away from the discourse of nonviolence doesn't mean we have to endorse every single broken window as a good idea.. But it only obstructs these debates when dogmatists insist that all who do not share their goals and assumptions—not to say their class interests!—have no strategic sense. It's also not strategic to focus on delegitimizing each other's efforts rather than coordinating to act together where we overlap. That's the point of affirming a diversity of tactics: to build a movement that has space for all of us, yet leaves no space for domination and silencing—a "people power" that can both expand and intensify. Further Reading
Debating Tactics: Remember to Ask, "What Works?"
Historicizing "Violence": Thoughts on the Hedges/Graeber Debate
"Those who said that the Egyptian revolution was peaceful did not see the horrors that police visited upon us, nor did they see the resistance and even force that revolutionaries used against the police to defend their tentative occupations and spaces: by the government's own admission, 99 police stations were put to the torch, thousands of police cars were destroyed, and all of the ruling party's offices around Egypt were burned down. Barricades were erected, officers were beaten back and pelted with rocks even as they fired tear gas and live ammunition on us . . . if the state had given up immediately we would have been overjoyed, but as they sought to abuse us, beat us, kill us, we knew that there was no other option than to fight back."
- Solidarity statement from Cairo to Occupy Wall Street, October 24, 2011