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Transcript of militarized police forum

In light of recent Bush administration efforts to expand the domestic role of the military, "Declassified Radio" is re-releasing the transcript of a past program on the military's growing influence on domestic policing.

This program, initially released in October of 2001, includes material from a September 25, 2001 symposium on militarized policing held at Judson Church in New York City. Speakers included Paul Richmond of the National Lawyer's Guild, "Covert Action Quarterly" writer Frank Morales, and Sam Smith, editor of the "Progressive Review".


SAM SMITH: Justice Douglas said that, "As night fall does not come at once, neither does oppression. There is a twighlight, when everything is seemingly unchanged ..."

NARRATOR: You are listening to "Declassified", an ongoing interview and documentary series dealing with America's national security establishment. In this episode, "Declassified" examines the military's influence on domestic policing.


NARRATOR: Within recent years, the formerly bright line separating U.S. military operations from domestic police work has become increasingly blurred. In numerous law enforcement actions during the last decade, including Waco, the Seattle WTO protests, and the Drug War, tactics once reserved for foreign military operations have been performed on US soil.

The United States and other democratic societies have traditionally recognized a separation of the roles and jurisdictions of their police and military forces. The Civil-War era Posse Commitatus Act, which provided much of the legal foundation for military-police separation in America, was substantially eroded by executive orders and congressional actions of the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations. These changes opened the way for military integration into civilian law enforcement.

During the 1990s, the Pentagon began supplying both military training and surplus military hardware to domestic law enforcement agencies. Paramilitary SWAT teams, utilizing urban combat tactics, sub-machine guns, and armored personnel carriers, now exist in 90% of American cities with a population of 50,000 or more. Military units have also become directly involved in domestic policing in recent years. National Guard units have accompanied both state and local police on drug raids, and the Army's Delta Force unit provided assistance to law enforcement agencies both at Waco, and during the 1999 WTO protests.

In the wake of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, new calls have been made to involve the military in domestic affairs, and to further eliminate the traditional fire walls that have separated law enforcement and military jurisdictions. While law enforcement and military officials argue the need for aggressive security measures to meet unprecedented threats, many civil libertarians warn that the continued militarizing of domestic law enforcement could fundamentally change the nature of American society.

This episode of "Declassified" presents excerpts of speeches on the topic of militarized policing, presented at a September 25th, 2001 symposium in New York City.

PAUL RICHMOND: What we're basically looking at now, is a very quick and sudden move toward militarization of the domestic law enforcement ...

NARRATOR: Paul Richmond is a writer, video producer, and community activist. He played a key role in organizing the National Lawyer's Guild Legal Observers, as well as the original Independent Media Center. Paul Richmond:

PAUL RICHMOND: Domestically, and even in fairly recent history, the military has been used against the domestic population fairly extensively. You have things like the use of the armed forces against the strikers in Ludlow in 1914, where they turned machine guns on a relatively ... on a group of strikers, as well as their women and children, and massacred a fairly large group of people. You have the Bonus Marchers ... that's an event that's been kind of lost to a lot of people's histories ... that was in the 1930s ... and a group of World War I veterans, during the time of the Depression, had been promised a bonus ... it was still a few years coming, but they were starving, and they were losing their homes, and they were losing their families, and so they marched on Washington en masse, and after camping out in Washington for a few months, some relatively obscure local commanders named MacArthur, Patton, and Eisenhower came at them. And they used tanks, and they used machine guns, and they used horses, and they used different forms of chemical agents, and lethal force against these people. And those were veterans in the 1930s.

Things such as what happened in the '60s ... the military level use of force that was used against groups like the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement. The use of force that was used against groups like MOVE in Philadelphia, where they coincidentally ended up bombing ... somewhere in the neighborhood of - I think it was 60 residences - that were neighboring their target. Uh, Waco ... but what really kind of crystalized a lot of it for me, was when I was in Seattle and saw what took place during the World Trade Organization. And what happened during that event, was that you had the same chemical agents that were used on the Vietcong, used not just on the people in the streets, but used against entire neighborhoods ... basically against the most densely populated urban neighborhood that existed on the West Coast, north of San Francisco. You had somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 people exposed to the same chemical agents that had been used against the Vietcong.

And our government is one that is basically run by a very few large corporations, that have done things like that to Third World nations for a very long time. But I think what was being said, and what kind of came clear to me during the WTO, was that with the shrinking of the middle class, which we've all witnessed, and which has been written about by some very ... really conservative journalists. People like Bartlett and Steele, who wrote about it for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and then for Time Magazine ... hardly bastions of radical cookery ... but very, supposedly, mainstream organizations, wrote about this complete erosion of the middle class. And with the erosion of the middle class, I think what they've been saying is "Those of you who are now members of the lower class ...", which is what most of us are becoming, "are going to be treated more and more like the Third World".

It's something I'd been witnessing for a while, and I first kind of came in real contact with this during the late 1980s. I'd moved to northern California, and was in Humbolt County, an area that was called the Emerald Triangle. And while there, I experienced what was going on with the War On Drugs. And what was going on through the War On Drugs, was that you had members of the National Guard coming by, doing house to house searches in the more rural areas ... helicopters flying over people's lands ... not something that happened very occasionally, but something that happened very routinely, and was part of the thing ... part of the main course of the way things were going. And I got to talk with some of the people there, and learn how they were routinely held at gunpoint, and they'd have their possessions smashed, and their dogs shot in front of their families, and ... the picture people have of drug dealers, or of people growing drugs is ... you know, you have the "Miami Vice" picture that was going out at the time. This was in the mid-eighties, late eighties. And pictures of these desperadoes ... but what was going on ... the people who I saw who were the growers ... were largely timber workers who didn't have anything left to cut ... farm people who didn't have anything left that was profitable to grow ... basically people who were being squeezed off their land, and had nothing ... no other way, basically, to hold onto it. People whose orientation was anything but similar to the people who were actually using the pot they were growing.

Well, anyway, I'll kind of flash forward a little bit. The basis of our economy since the Depression has been the military-industrial complex. The only thing that got us out of the Great Depression was World War II. With the end of the Cold War, which became the center-piece of our economy, there became a strong push to see what are other ways that we can integrate this military. And we've ben seeing the complete eradication of the distinction between the police and the military ...

FRANK MORALES: It seems to me that the whole issue of the militarization of the police, is directly linked to police-military plans to suppress dissent.

NARRATOR: Frank Morales is a regular contributor to "Covert Action Quarterly", who has written about less-lethal weaponry, and the Pentagon's plans for domestic military operations. Frank Morales:

FRANK MORALES: The formation of SWAT, which grew out of the California Specialized Training Institute in the late 1960s, based in San Luis Obispo, California ... headed up by Louis Guiafrida, retired general, who later became head of FEMA. The California Specialized Training Institute offered courses in "civil disorder management" early on. It was also the central locale for the training of Special Weapons And Tactics units. So it seems to me the whole issue of ... along with these other factors, transfer of military technology to law enforcement and economic factors and so on ... but I'm focusing on issues of social control ... the question of the militarization of the police ... the "policeization" of the military, because it's kind of a dialectic, both here and internationally ... has much to do with this issue of, putting it in the phraseology of the Pentagon, "civil disturbance suppression." And I think it behooves us these days, particularly in the last five, six, seven years, when people have once again began to take to the streets and dissent, that we look at the question of the role of the police, its militarization, its training by outfits like Firearms Training Systems, for instance, who here in New York City train the NYPD, and also train the Marines ... and various other law enforcement and military personnel around the world.

Under the heading of "civil disturbance planning", the U.S. military is training troops and police to suppress democratic opposition in America. The master plan, Department of Defense civil disturbance plan 55-2, is code-named "Operation Garden Plot". Don't ask me where they came up with the name. It appears in numerous military documents, various law enforcement documents ... because this plan ... when I say a "plan", I'm talking about a roughly 200 page document that has gotten out to various police, National Guard, military personnel around the country. This is designed for domestic use. Originating in 1968 ... about the same time as CSDI was training SWAT, and offering courses on civil disorder management ... the plan has been updated over the past three decades, most recently after 1992 Los Angeles, which was dubbed by the military, which was very active during that period, as an "Operation Other Than War". The euphemism "Operation Other Than War" is meant to define the intervention of the military into domestic situations, particularly against protesters ... but "short of war", which is another phraseology that's used. All making the point that what we're talking about here is a collapsing of the distinction between the traditional role of the military, particularly within America.

Current US military preparations for suppressing civil disturbance, including the training of National Guard troops and police, are part of a long history of American internal security measures, dating back to the first American Revolution. Generally these measures have sought to thwart the aims of social justice movements, embodying the concept that within the civilian body politic lurks an enemy that one day the military might have to fight, or will at least be ordered to fight. I say, "at least be ordered to fight", because there is a sizable opposition within the military now ... sizable ... there is some opposition within the military, based on various papers that have been written, particularly one that deals with a fictionalized coup, military coup, which won the first prize at the War College. It was written by a retired Brigadier General, which fictionalizes a military coup in 2012 based on actual historical citations dating back to 1992. It's a very interesting paper, and it's engendered much controversy within the military on the question of military coup. The point of the coup being that certain military segments felt it was not proper for the military to be involved in law enforcement activities ... circumventing the dictates of the Posse Commitatus Act, which some of you may know is an 1878 criminal statute which outlaw the use of the military in law enforcement ...

SAM SMITH: How did we get into this mess? That's the question I want to discuss. It's the question that's been bothering me most of my lifetime ...

NARRATOR: Sam Smith is a journalist, author, and social critic who writes and edits the "Progressive Review". Sam Smith:

SAM SMITH: When I was young, I was actually a federal police officer. I was in the Coast Guard. One of the things we were taught, was they gave us a manual called the Coast Guardsman's manual, and in the front was something that today we would call a mission statement, but in fact, what it was, was the address by the then-Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, to the first group of revenue marine officers, the predecessors of the Coast Guard. And I just want to read you a few sentences of what we were taught 170 years later that we were meant to do:

"These officers will bear in mind that their countrymen are free men and as such are impatient of everything that bears the least mark of domineering spirit. They will therefore refrain with the most guarded circumspection from whatever has the semblance of haughtiness, rudeness or insult. If obstacles occur they will remember they are under the particular protection of the laws and they can meet with nothing disagreeable in the execution of their duty which these will not severely reprehend."

As it turned out, before I left, they republished the Coast Guard's manual, and that statement had disappeared. We were in the midst of the Vietnam War.

I think there are a bunch of things that have happened to us, and I'll go through them point by point. The first point is that democracy doesn't have tenure. It has to be taught to each generation. You can't teach democracy or the Constitution the day after something like the attack on the World Trade Center. It has to be done in elementary and junior high school, and it has to be taken as much a natural part of education as math or English. If instead you teach kids "driver ed" or DARE what you end up with is children who can drive defensively on the street, but not through the rest of their lives.

Second, there's an entropy that occurs in all societies unless people consciously work against it. Thomas Jefferson saw it coming and warned that, quote, "It will not be necessary to resort every moment to the people for support. They will be forgotten, therefore, and their rights disregarded. They will forget themselves save in the sole faculty of making money and will never think of uniting to effect a due respect for their rights; the shackles therefore will be made heavier and heavier 'til our rights shall revive or expire in convulsion."

Thirdly, changes such as we are now experiencing with the militarization of the police and everything else, they don't hold press conferences. Justice Douglas said that "As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. There is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged."

In another time, in another country, a professor described what it was like: "To live in the process," he said, "is absolutely not to notice it. Please try to believe me, unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness and acuity than most of us ever had the occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained, or, on occasion, regretted. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion is worse than the last but only a little worse. You wait for the next, and the next. You wait for one shocking occasion thinking that others, when such a shock occurs, will join you in resisting somehow. Suddenly it all comes down all at once. You see what you are, what you have done or more accurately what you haven't done, for that was all that was required of most of us, that we did nothing. You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when if one had stood others would have stood, perhaps, but no on stood. A small matter ... a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair." This description of Nazism from Milton Mayer's remarkable book, They Thought They Were Free, hits uncomfortably close to home.

Fourthly, if the media won't stand outside the system as it certainly doesn't today ... it instead serves as an infomercial for the steady deterioration of our constitutional rights and for catastrophe. Let me give you an example. Five years ago I wrote a piece on the militarization of the police, and one of the people who got interested in it was a black columnist at the Washington Post named Cortland Maloy. He wrote a column about it and it appeared in the Post on the front section of the metro section. One week later, the Washington Post ran a front page Style section article with a one-foot-high photograph of General Patton, with a whole bunch of other generals alongside, and this was a lead article in the style section; it was on the subject of why generals were good for society. This was a foretaste of the pro-war, pro-authoritarian media coverage that we have seen since the World Trade Center attack.

Fifth point. The established left was far too passive as all this was going on. Part of it was an unwillingness to take on the drug war. This was I think one of the great progressive failures of our time. Part of it was that the issue was not on the approved list of progressive concerns. Part of it was misplaced loyalty to Bill Clinton who never met a civil liberty worth defending, and who issued executive orders that attempted to redefine the constitution on such issues as the tenth amendment. He also submitted legislation that would have allowed the military to provide technical assistance to civilian law enforcement, a term that Clinton himself defined as including "conducting searches taking evidence, disarming and disabling individuals." So awful was this measure that it was opposed by Casper Weinberger and Sam Nunn.

Sixth point: One of the reasons I fear that liberals deserted the civil liberties issue was one of class. The drug war was after all something that happened to poor folk and not to pot and coke using stockbrokers and professors. Authoritarian governments tend to be kind to the economically powerful, and they in return applaud the order that has been achieved.

Point seven. Washington and other power centers of this country are dominated by what, in some Latin American countries, is called the culture of impunity. In such places it has led to death squads and to the live bodies of dissidents being thrown out of military helicopters, to routine false imprisonment, and to baroque financial fraud. The difference between a culture of impunity and corruption, is that in a culture of impunity, corruption becomes the culture. We're not there yet, but we're certainly moving in the same direction.

Point eight. It's well past time to talk about fascism. We have been taught the dangerous idea that Anti-Semitism is the prime and adequate warning of fascism. I want to remind you that in both Brave New World and 1984 the people in power, the inner party, had neither gender nor ethnic discrimination. What we refuse to face about fascism is its deep relationship to what we so highly honor in this country: technocratic efficiency. As John Ralston Saul put it, "The Holocaust was a result of a perfectly rational argument, given what reasoning had become, that was self-justifying and hermetically sealed. There is nothing surprising about the fact that the meeting called to decide on the final solution was a gathering mainly of senior ministerial representatives ... they were technocrats. Nor is it surprising that the Wansee conference lasted only an hour, one meeting among many for those present, and turned entirely on the modalities for administering the solutions. The massacre was indeed managed. Even well managed. It had the clean efficiency of a Harvard case study."

Some of the most important lessons of the Holocaust are simply missed. Among these, as Richard Rubenstein has pointed out, was that "It could only have been carried out by an advanced political community with a highly trained, tightly disciplined police and civil service bureaucracy."

Point nine. We are talking about something that is not occurring as a result of recent disaster, but which as been in the works for a long time and I think you've gotten a little sense of that. I would just like to read an excerpt from that article that, I think it was Frank, mentioned in Parameters about the coup of 2012: "America had become exasperated with democracy. We were disillusioned with the apparent inability of elected government to solve the nation's dilemmas. We were looking for someone or something that would produce workable answers. The one institution in which people retained faith was the military."

"The military, strangely, is the one government institution that has been assigned legitimacy to act on its notion of the collective good." That's what a liberal journalist was writing in 1991. A Washington Post columnist wrote a column praising an army advocate, this sort of thing: Steven Rosenfeld described U.S. Army Major Ralph Peters this way: "At home, use of the military appears inevitable to him though not yet to an American consensus, at least on our borders and in some urban environments. He deplores our military's reluctance to join the War On Drugs which he attributes to a fear of failure. He would dutifully prepare for the traditional military missions plus the new one of missile defense. But he would be ready to engage with drugs and crimes, terrorism, peace keeping, illegal immigration, disease control, resource protection, evacuation of endangered citizens

What Dunlap described and Peters advocated was not a bold military stroke against a civilian government, but simply a coup by attrition. Yesterday I heard now Colonel Peters being fawnily interviewed by Dianne Reem on NPR

Final point, what we fear has largely happened. We need to change our verbs from "protect and save" to "restore and re-create." We are no longer talking of future danger; we are talking about transformation of American politics over the past twenty years from a constitutional government to one no longer interested in even making the fight, and in which the military and a small group of authoritarian leaders are rapidly taking control. We can talk about laws and constitutional protections, but the nature of freedom was given its post-modern meaning some years ago by none other than the current mayor of this city. He said, "Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do."

We are talking about a government, about corporations, about police, about a media who have turned their backs on constitutional government on the false and cynical grounds that they are protecting us and our liberties. As that officer said about a Vietnam village, "They must now destroy the country in order to save it." And as Judge Leonard Hand once noted, "Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women. When it dies, there is no constitution, no laws, no court that can save it." 


NARRATOR: You have been listening to "Declassified", an ongoing interview and documentary series dealing with America's national security establishment. Copies and transcripts of this program are available at www.declassifiedradio.com. That's www.declassifiedradio.com. Please refer to "Police Symposium" when ordering this episode.

homepage: homepage: http://www.declassifiedradio.com

Declassified Radio audio link 29.Jul.2002 22:10


Wow, excellent post.

Thanks for the link too, never heard of Declassified Radio before.

"You can currently listen to Declassified in the RealAudio format. More options for listening and downloading will be available soon."


Hope they get more material on there soon