A century ago, the Federal government established armories throughout the country ostensibly for the purpose of “national security”, although it’s not abundantly clear what the real threat was at that time. These armories were probably most-often used to supply federal troops and private security brought in to put down popular movements like strikes and shutdowns. This was essentially a civil war, although it is never mentioned as such.
Today, we have the Department of Homeland Security doling out billions of dollars (a nice interactive map, here) to Everytown, USA, in order to supply them with battlefield-grade arms and armor, to fight hypothetical bogeymen and non-existent threats.
Just your ordinary small town police force, nothing to see here
Authorities in Fargo, ND (which has averaged 2 homicides per year over the last 5 years) spent $8 million buying state-of-the-art military grade weapons like the assault rifles which now come standard in every squad car, and the “$256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret”.
Sadly, rather than being some unfortunate exception, Fargo is just another example in the trend to militarize local police departments (via Daily Beast).
- In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff’s department owns a $300,000 pilotless surveillance drone, like those used to hunt down al Qaeda terrorists in the remote tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
- In Augusta, Maine, with fewer than 20,000 people and where an officer hasn’t died from gunfire in the line of duty in more than 125 years, police bought eight $1,500 tactical vests.
- Police in Des Moines, Iowa, bought two $180,000 bomb-disarming robots
- An Arizona sheriff is now the proud owner of a surplus Army tank.
To understand this trend, you have to understand a little bit about government appropriations. Generally the money is on the table and you have to use it or lose it. The logic is almost always that if you don’t spend the money, if you don’t pretend you need it, then you can get by with less, so they cut your budget. And government agencies are always in the business of preserving their power, whether it is just looking out for No. 1, or something more Machiavellian like amassing your own little fiefdom or mercenary force, the incentive structure in government always works the same way. Use it or lose it.
Also, follow the money:
One beneficiary of Homeland’s largesse are military contractors, who have found a new market for their wares
Warfare is big business and government contracts are essentially guaranteed profit. So the companies involved in this business can afford to spend lots of money (given to them in fulfillment of government contracts) lobbying the government to give them even more budget for larger contracts next year. It is a sick cycle that shows no signs of abating any time soon.
The article highlights some moral hazard of the hyper-militarization, which I would liken to “Field of Dreams”. If you build it, they will come. Well, if you give it to them, they will find a way to use it.
“With local law enforcement, their mission is to solve crimes after they’ve happened, and to ensure that people’s constitutional rights are protected in the process,” says Jesselyn McCurdy, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “The military obviously has a mission where they are fighting an enemy. When you use military tactics in the context of law enforcement, the missions don’t match, and that’s when you see trouble with the overmilitarization of police.”
When the only tool you have is a hammer, sooner or later, everything starts to look like a nail. When you arm officers to the teeth, when you train them for war, when you hire a disproportionate amount of ex-soldiers, and when you bombard their psyche with warrior mentality training it is not really a surprise when they start putting that training in to practice, no matter if its warranted or not. Over the last decade we’ve seen an increasing number of SWAT teams raiding teenage rave parties or serving routine drug warrants on non-violent offenders, creating volatility and chaos where there would never have been any had the police taken a more conventional approach and we are even seeing incidents of police tasering and pepper-spraying children.
Riot police attacking protestors
What will be the longer-term ramifications of increased militarization, especially in light of NDAA and the PATRIOT Act? I fear that these weapons will one day be turned on the people of this country. I fear that it is a matter of “when”, not “if”. We’re already seeing some of it in the deplorable way that local cops have handled several situations in the Occupy Movement, still in its infancy.
As government institutions always seek to preserve and expand their power even at the expense of their constituents’ liberties and livelihoods, there doesn’t need to be any evil villain, plotting and scheming, no Illuminati/New World Order tin-foil hat bullshit. All of the pieces are already falling in to place, the product of human action, not of human design. In other words, it doesn’t matter if they’re explicitly preparing for a civil war, everything they’re doing is inadvertently preparing for one, anyways.
A century ago, the Federal government’s armories were turned against its citizens, used to put down popular movements and general strikes.
Today, they’re shipping the munitions directly to what will eventually be the front lines.