On crowd control, post-2008 election

Day two of NaBloPoMo: Erik rifles through his anxiety-clotted thought processes for a topic for today’s post, realizing that the US Presidential Election is but a little more than 36 hours away and that everyone is sick unto death of hearing about this or that pet issue but that he has been fairly quiet through the whole campaign, posting only several PSA’s on LiveJournal for the benefit of whoever could find them useful.

I had thought about going into the subject of Palin’s relationship to the Dominionist ideals of the Assembly of God denomination and its spin-off churches but you know? I really do not want to go there right now. At this point, other people have said it as well as I could: Palin’s association with End Times fanatics should be clear to anyone who can read by now.

But I still have my paranoia hat on. I think I mentioned yesterday that I do not watch or read major news outlets if I can help it. Sometimes I read the New York Times, but for the most part, the rest of the mainstream media is so unreliably sensationalistic that they are completely incapable of delivering any substantial information. The reason I do not pay attention to them is because I find using mainstream media to follow current events to be extremely anxiety-provoking and depressing, partially because I am susceptible to appeals to pathos and to apocalyptic rhetoric, having been exposed to fundamentalist preachers, parents, and Sunday School teachers for the better part–or “worst part,” to be more psychologically accurate–of my formative years. One of these days I will tell you about the extremely tenacious PTSD that I began to develop by the time I was in elementary school, in response to the spiritual barnstorming I experienced all while growing up.

In the meantime, though: I do glean a fair amount of information about what is going on from various friends and carefully chosen sources on the internet. So I found this one piece of news entirely by accident, as it arose in the comment threads to a post that bore little relation to the comment itself: the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade has been deployed in the US since October 1st, according to the armytimes.com website.

Now, I am not a law scholar, but I have been told that this sort of thing was illegal until very recently. Google “posse comitatus” for more information on what used to be “strict prohibitions on military involvement in domestic law enforcement,” which were loosened considerably in the little-publicized John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007, signed by our favorite president of all time, George W Bush. Read about it, think about it, and then take a look at at the armytimes.com article.

This new mission marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to NorthCom, a joint command established in 2002 to provide command and control for federal homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities.

ArmyTimes paints a fairly benign picture–mostly. The headline says the Brigade is deployed to “help people at home”; but somewhat troubling is exactly what they might be helping with. The article emphasizes “response” to disasters as the Brigade’s main mission. With some added detail: “They may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological [attack],” etc etc.

Interesting choice of priorities in that statement; nevermind how one might imagine that military troops would work to restore order in case of natural disasters like Hurricanes Katrina or Rita, a job for which a combat team seems a sobering pick, but not unsurprising these days. Using combat troops for civil unrest or “crowd control”–especially “crowd control”–seems something akin to declaring martial law. Does it not? What, exactly, are the military and the administration expecting to happen in the near future? And what will be the nature of the military response?

The following passage lends both clarity and confusion to this question:

The 1st BCT’s soldiers also will learn how to use “the first ever nonlethal package that the Army has fielded,” 1st BCT commander Col. Roger Cloutier said, referring to crowd and traffic control equipment and nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals without killing them.

The package is for use only in war-zone operations, not for any domestic purpose.

“It’s a new modular package of nonlethal capabilities that they’re fielding. They’ve been using pieces of it in Iraq, but this is the first time that these modules were consolidated and this package fielded, and because of this mission we’re undertaking we were the first to get it.”

The package includes equipment to stand up a hasty road block; spike strips for slowing, stopping or controlling traffic; shields and batons; and, beanbag bullets.

“I was the first guy in the brigade to get Tasered,” said Cloutier, describing the experience as “your worst muscle cramp ever — times 10 throughout your whole body.

“I’m not a small guy, I weigh 230 pounds … it put me on my knees in seconds.”

Subduing unruly individuals. Like whom? And with what, exactly? The “package” contents list does not include Tasers, but we are given a description of what it feels like to be “shot”/shocked with one. And the one line disclaimer, that the package is for use only in war-zone operations, seems somehow incredible. And I do not think that is simply my paranoia or PTSD talking–why would such a long passage about this package appear in a short article about the deployment of the Brigade within the US if it were an entirely different topic from that deployment?

Forgive me for being somewhat skeptical. And a little perturbed: more than one person has told me that they will be out on the streets if the McCain/Palin ticket manages to steal this election. I know I will be. In the original comment thread where I caught wind of this news, one respondent noted that a single brigade for the entire country seems inadequate, in case of widespread disturbances, and that is true. But how long would it take to mobilize more units in addition to this one, and what excuse would the current administration need?

I will not venture answers to these questions, because I do not know what they are. But I think that it is important that we be aware of what is happening around us, which is why I still go information seeking even though the mainstream media makes me twitch so hard that they are more than useless to me.

Of course, no one you know will actually ever experience whatever it means to have the military “restore normalcy”:

“I can’t think of a more noble mission than this,” said Cloutier, who took command in July. “We’ve been all over the world during this time of conflict, but now our mission is to take care of citizens at home … and depending on where an event occurred, you’re going home to take care of your home town, your loved ones.”

Yeah. They certainly would not taser crowd-control real Americans. Would they?

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