The Military and Political Protests

The Military and Political Protests

Photo: National Guard troops respond to a protest in Washington, D.C. | Victoria Pickering via Flickr Creative Commons

In April 2014, the U.S. military issued protocols for the control of civil disturbances and crowd control. The protocols for controlling and repressing civil disturbances in the United States included (1) crowd dynamics; (2) behavior theories; (3) crowd types; and, (4) “a graduated response matrix.” And who are protocols directed at? Well the document’s targets are “anarchists, anti-globalization groups, and anti-free enterprise groups.” In other words, anyone who has concerns about or objections to the current state of social, political and economic life in the U.S. are legitimate targets.

The first concern of the military is how to get around the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which prohibits the use of the US military for police actions on American soil. But according to the document, the Posse Comitatus Act does not apply. The Army suggests that in “exceptional” conditions, the military can conduct unrestrained operations within the United States. In these “emergency extraordinary circumstances,” including “unlawful obstruction,” the military, according to the protocols, is empowered to carry out “activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances” without any civilian authorization.

The Army’s plans center on “organized protests” because, we are told, of the threat posed by “centralized planning” and the use of “modern technologies that allow for rapid information dissemination.” The particular civil dangers that the documents analyze are a series of 2011 labor union protests in Wisconsin: “Labor unions played a large role in the 2011 Wisconsin protests that included passing on information and transporting participants.” This is an interesting choice. The Army focuses on legal demonstrations by legally recognized and legally protected organizations.

The protocols discuss at some length:

  • Non-lethal weapons;
  • “Pain compliance” measures;
  • Lethal overwatch teams (snipers); and,
  • Deployment of aircraft.

The Army details plans for the deployment of “overwatch” sniper teams to intimidate crowds and “pick off suspected leaders and organizers.” It also advocates the use of MWD teams (Military Working Dogs) as a particularly useful “intimidation measure.” It suggests that military dogs will “produce a profound psychological effect on the crowd.”

All of this is dictated by the Army’s integrated Graduated Response Matrix (GRM). The GRM prescribes escalating tactics to target protests including:

  • Exploit the psychological effect of shows of force;
  • Escalate the Military Information Support Operations (MISO) message via loudspeakers and handbills—MISO is a more recently adopted military term for psychological operations (PSYOPS);
  • Demonstrate sniper precision strike capability;
  • Use riot control ammunition: tear gas, pepper spray, smoke bombs, stun grenades, rubber munitions, acoustic weapons, electro-muscular disruption weapons;
  • Move through the crowd using riot control formations and movement techniques;
  • Target leaders and “troublemakers” with sniper fire;
  • Escalate from single shot small caliber fire to automatic large caliber;
  • Close air support and indirect fire (artillery, mortars).

Of course, the Army says “negotiated management of crowds… is the preferred method especially if the demonstration or protest leaders are available and willing to participate.” But the document goes on to say that “coercion dispersal” of crowds may become necessary.

Much of this is not new. The military, often the National Guard, was frequently used against strikers in the mining, steel and railroad industries in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In Hazelton, PA nineteen unarmed miners were shot down in 1897’s Latimer massacre. In 1927 six miners and their wives were murdered by the National Guard during Colorado’s Columbine Mine massacre. There were many other examples as well. Troops and militarized police were used against anti-war protestors at Kent State and Jackson State in 1970 with deadly results.

As in the past none of this occurs outside of the realities of economic crises. The fear that unemployment and growing surplus labor populations will lead to disorder and protest as well as an obsession with the protection of property and privilege are almost guaranteed to produce a draconian response. The military’s plan for suppressing dissent is a direct response to the decline of the American empire. Amidst the plethora of swirling contradictions of late capitalism so eloquently articulated by David Harvey, a militaristically imposed order is the violent and desperate response of the state.

To say that all of this is troubling is an almost ridiculous understatement. The Constitution allows for and advocates free speech, the right of assembly and the right of the people to petition their government. These rights however, are increasingly being eroded as the military, with the backing of the state, construct more and more scenarios that provide the “exigent circumstances” that justify the exercise of unnecessary military power. When we reflect on the militarization of American policing, the forced occupation of inner-city colonies, and recent events in Louisville and beyond, the introduction of these policies not only to reduce our Constitutional rights to mere symbols but also play an instrumental part of a broader shift towards an American police state.

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