The Konformist

May 2000

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Jim Redden


Wazzup, Elian!

The dramatic photos of a heavily-armed INS agent grabbing a terrified Elian Gonzalez shocked the world. The pictures show the agent in full SWAT gear pointing a submachine gun at Gonzalez and Donato Dalrymple, one of two fishermen who pulled the six-year-old Cuban from the ocean five months earlier. The images flashed around the globe by CNN, Fox and other news networks set of a storm of controversy, led by the media itself. News reporters and anchors challenged Clinton Administration officials about the use of force. Appearing that evening on MSNBC, political talk show host Chris Matthews proclaimed that the photos proved the "black helicopter crowd" might be right when they warned that America was turning into a police state.

Where have Matthews and his media cohorts been for the past 30 years?

Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have been arming themselves to the teeth since the late 1960s. Law enforcement agencies routinely assault peoples' homes in this country, smashing in doors, pointing guns at terrified residents and snatching terrified children away from their parents. Virtually every police department in the country now has a Special Weapons And Tactics unit, complete with fully-automatic weapons, body armor and military vehicles. The media has not only reported on this development, it has celebrated the trend with literally thousands of stories, specials and documentaries about the new face of law enforcement.

The only real news about the April 22 raid was that nobody was killed or wounded. Hundreds of people have been injured or worse during such assaults, including completely innocent homeowners, senior citizens and even priests. In one of the most infamous cases, a small army of Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies broke into the home of California millionaire Donald P. Scott on October 1992. An informant had told the sheriff's department that Scott was growing more than 3,000 marijuana plants. Awakened by the intruders and thinking he was being robbed, Scott walked out of his bedroom with a pistol in his hand. He was shot and killed. No drugs were ever found on his property.

The militarization of domestic law enforcement agencies began shortly after the race riots which rocked America's inner cities from 1965 to 1968. Beat officers equipped with six-shot revolvers were unable to stop the lootings, arsons, and mob beatings that spread from coast to coast. Congress demanded that something be done to help the police. President Lyndon Johnson responded by creating the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, a federal agency designed to provide money and military-style weaponry, communications equipment and special training to police forces across the country. As Christian Parenti wrote in his 1999 book Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis, "Thus Johnson laid the initial groundwork for the tremendous combination of police power, surveillance and incarceration that today so dominates domestic policy."

Every President since Johnson has increased the amount of military equipment available to domestic law enforcement agencies. When Richard Nixon announced his War on Crime, he meant it. Before too long, such metropolitan agencies as the Los Angeles Police Departments created the first SWAT unit. Other cities quickly followed suit.

The federal government has also increased the number and firepower of its own SWAT units. At least 10 federal agencies currently have their own paramilitary teams, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Customs Services, the State Department, the U.S. Marshals Service and even the Department of Energy. And, of course, the INS, which staged the controversial Miami raid.

The line between military and civilian law enforcement blurred even further during the War on Drugs. In 1981, Congress passed the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Officials Act, which authorizes the military to "assist" civilian police in enforcing of drug laws. In 1989, President George Bush created six regional Joint Task Forces within the Department of Defense to coordinate military and civilian police agencies in the drug war. Congress specifically exempted these programs from the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which prohibits the military from engaging in domestic law enforcement operations.

Instead of criticizing these development, the establishment media supported them by creating the Crack Cocaine Panic of the 1980's which provided the excuse for law enforcement agencies to buy more and bigger guns. Exploiting Hollywood images of black drug gangs armed with Uzi's and AK-47's, federal, state and local police agencies bought armored vehicles and fully-automatic machine guns for their officers. As Newhouse News Service writer Jim Nisbitt put it in the Portland Oregonian on September 12, 1999, the number of SWAT teams increased dramatically as police agencies tried to "close a perceived firepower gap with heavily armed drug dealers. The public's fear of crime came into play, creating an atmosphere for the approval of tougher tactics."

By the time Bill Clinton took office in 1993, the federal government thought nothing of using para-military combat units against redneck loners in Idaho or unconventional churches in Texas. In 1994, the Pentagon and the U.S. Department of Justice signed a formal memorandum of understanding allowing the Department of Defense to transfer military technology to state and local law enforcement agencies. Previously, these kinds of direct transfers were only made to friendly foreign governments.

In recent years, Navy SEALs and Army Rangers have begun training local SWAT units. The U.S. Marshals Service has acted as a liaison between the police departments and military trainers. The federal government's Advanced Research Projects Agency has supervised a Joint Program Steering Group for Operations Other than War/Law Enforcement searches out civilian law enforcement applications for military technology. And the United States Army Aviation & Troop Command (ATCOM) has sold surplus OH6-A helicopters to state and local governments for use in drug law enforcement. Police agencies have also bought surplus machine guns and armored vehicles from the military at discount prices.

A September 1999 study by the libertarian-oriented Cato Institute documented the federally-funded militarization of state and local police forces. Titled "Warrior Cops, The Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in American Police Departments," the study found, "Over the past 20 years Congress has encouraged the U.S. military to supply intelligence, equipment and training to civilian police. That encouragement has spawned a culture of paramilitarism in American law enforcement."

According to the Cato Institute, between 1995 and 1997 alone, the Department of Defense gave over 1 million pieces of military equipment to police forces across the country. The newest items included grenade launchers, armored personnel carriers, M-16 rifles, automatic weapons with laser sights, laser surveillance equipment, wireless electric stun projectiles, pyrotechnic devices such as flash bang and smoke grenades, and kevlar body armor. The study cites a 1997 survey by Peter Kraska and Victor Kappeler at Eastern Kentucky University which found that nearly 90 percent of police departments in towns with populations over 50,000 maintain SWAT teams. The university study also found that 70 percent of police departments in towns under 50,000 also have them.

This equipment has not gone unused. Although originally created to deal with hostage rescue missions and other extraordinary situations, SWAT teams are now routinely dispatched for everything from drug raids to bomb scares. When Kraska and Kappeler asked police if they used SWAT teams for routine neighborhood patrols, a total of 107 responded yes. Sixty-one percent of those surveyed thought it was a good idea, and 63 said SWAT teams "play an important role in community policing strategies."

Not surprisingly, the proliferation of military-style equipment has led to an increase in police shootings, with innocent civilians occasionally caught in the cross hairs. "The more a police officer thinks of himself as a soldier, the more likely he views the citizen as the enemy," James Fyfe, a criminal justice professor at Temple University and a former New York City policeman, told Jim Nesbitt of the Newhouse News Service.

Exact figures of police killings are hard to come by. Although the federal government has been legally required to collect national data on police use of excessive force since 1994, Congress has failed to provide the money for it to do so. But a number of private organizations, including the National Lawyers Guild, the Anthony Baez Foundations and the October 22nd Coalition, have conducted their own studies. According to the Spring/Summer 1999 issue of Covert Action Quarterly, these studies show that police killings are up across America. "In 1990, 62 people died at the hands of the police, while in the first nine months of 1998 the number had grown to 205, an annual increase of more than 230 percent," journalist Frank Morales reported in an article titled "The Militarization of the Police."

But these developments are minor compared to what's happening under the latest domestic war - the War on Terrorism. In the name of fighting political radicals, Clinton has allowed the Pentagon to train domestic law enforcement agencies and accompany them on their missions, forever erasing the difference between military and police operations. "The tragedy at Waco by no means is the first or only example of violations of Posse Comitatus, but it does underscore the volatile cocktail that can result from mixing special-operations troops and civilian law enforcement," Kelly Patricia O'Meara wrote in the October 15, 1999 issue of Insight Magazine.

More than that, the military has also been conducting massive, live-fire training exercises in major American cities for years. Known as Military Operations in Urban Terrain, or MOUT, these exercises have been staged in dozens of cities across the country, including Pittsburgh, Houston, Chicago and Charlotte, North Carolina, where residents blasted awake in the middle of the night by hundreds of military troops dropping from helicopters hovering above the streets, firing machine guns and throwing flash-bang and smoke grenades.

Then, on October 7 of last year, top military officials and their civilian superiors announced changes in the Pentagon's command structure designed to give the military a supporting role in responding to domestic terrorist attacks or natural disasters. The new structure renames the U.S. Atlantic Command as the U.S. Joint Forces Command, and authorizes it to assign military troops to work with federal law enforcement agencies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. According to the October 8 issue of USA Today, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen brushed aside concerns about federal troops operating at home. The military must "deal with the threats we are most likely to face," Cohen said. "The American people should not be concerned about it. They should welcome it."

Aside from a handful of civil libertarians, virtually no one has spoke up to oppose these developments. That's largely because the Clinton Administration had waged a savvy propaganda campaign to scare the public into believing that terrorists are poised to kill millions of American citizens - a campaign embraced and promoted by the establishment press. Congress has gone along by passing such Draconian measures as the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. Among other things, the act provided $468 million for counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence programs. The FBI used much of this money to set up task forces in many major American cities, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco and Washington DC. The task forces recruit local police officers to work directly with the FBI, gathering and reporting intelligence on "suspected terrorist activities" to federal officials.

In September 1999, a federal advisory panel called the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century released a report titled New World Coming: American Security in the 21st Century. Appointed by Clinton, the panel was headed by former U.S. Senators Gary Hart and Warren B. Rudman and staffed by business, academic and former military leaders. The panel concluded that "America will become increasingly vulnerable to hostile attack on our homeland, and our military superiority will not entirely protect us" over the next quarter century. The report predicted widespread deaths, saying, "States, terrorists, and other disaffected groups will acquire weapons of mass destruction and mass disruption, and some will use them. Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers."

According to the panel, this threat will force people to expand their "concept of national security" while testing their individual political values - in other words, trading civilian law enforcement agencies for a militarized police state.

That's what the world saw in Miami why the INS agent waved his submachine gun in Elian Gonzalez's face. The real question is, why is the establishment press acting so surprised? As Clark Stooksbury wrote in the April 2000 issue of Liberty magazine shortly before the raid, "On a positive note, Janet Reno intervened in the Elian Gonzalez case several weeks ago, and as of press time, she has not killed him."


To see the Elian - Budweiser Beer spoof the AP tried to suppress:

Wazzup, Elian!

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