In mid-August 2009, the Pentagon approached Congress requesting that they grant the Secretary of Defense the authority to post approximately 400,000 military personnel throughout the United States. In conflict with the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, established to limit the Federal government’s ability to use the military for domestic law enforcement, the move is seen by many as another disconcerting measure on the part of the government to effect a change in which the implementation of martial law becomes a matter of course, rather than a worst case scenario.
The dismantling of Posse Comitatus was accelerated by President Bush when he signed the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 5122) in 2006, which significantly expanded the President’s power to declare martial law. Concern arose when it became clear that the type of incident required for the authorisation of the deployment of military personnel on US soil was analysed – appropriate circumstances for such action was previously defined only as an emergency involving “a use or threatened use of a weapon of mass destruction”. Now, however, in an ambiguous shift in definition, the President is able to determine what an “emergency” or “major disaster” is, and NorthCom’s Congressional fact sheet cites plenty of possibilities, including “hurricanes, tornadoes, storms, fires, floods, or explosions”. Already the American public are being acclimatized to the presence of troops, with soldiers performing duties such as manning checkpoints to “observe” the sobriety of drivers and maintaining a presence at stadiums holding large sporting events. Full deployment, it seems, is simply a matter of discretion for the President, based on the occurence of an event defined by vague parameters.
Regardless of the implementation of such a far reaching plan – and equally disturbing – is the increasing militarisation of the American police force. Civilian police departments throughout the United States have been equipped with ostensibly military-style hardware, uniforms and heavy equipment. Much of this is surplus military equipment, passed on as a consequence of acts passed in the late 1980s, and includes fully-automatic weapons, armoured personnel vehicles, tanks, helicopters, airplanes and more. This militarisation occurred in part as a response to upgrades in weaponry on the part of criminals, who moved from 17 round Beretta pistols to TEC-9 and Ingram MAC-10 machine guns, prompting an urban arms race between gangs and the police in which innocent bystanders were frequently the victims. In addition to old equipment being handed down from the military, new, experimental crowd control devices, such as the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) high frequency sound beam cannons, deployed on the streets of New York during the Democratic National Convention in 2007, and high power microwave directed energy weapons, believed to have been field tested in Iraq, are amongst just some of the so-called cutting edge technology at the disposal of the American police.
Concurrent with this process of militarisation has been the increase in police brutality. From the Kent State massacre in 1970 to the brutal assault against Rodney King in 1991, which precipitated the Los Angeles riots, the American police are widely known to exhibit a propensity for violence unmatched in the Western world. Today, the situation is far worse, and what’s more, considerably underreported. Deaths as a consequence of the use of Tazers are commonplace, while the use of SWAT teams – originally intended for high risk raids – number in the hundreds of incidents per week. Criminologist Peter Kraska from the University of Eastern Kentucky estimates a 1,500% increase in the use of SWAT teams between the 1980s and the 2000s. The results are predictable and distressing – mistakes are frequently made, innocent people are killed and few convictions secured. The brutal actions of these paramilitary forces aside, violence from the police is universal and institutionalised, with a culture of impunity for offending officers. This violence is predominantly but not exclusively aimed at non-whites, especially African Americans and Latinos – the racist manifestation of American capitalism bearing down on minorities irrespective of whether or not they have committed a crime. And as more and more soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan – where the civilian population they deal with has been intentionally dehumanised by the military – end up joining the police force, it’s hardly surprising that, not only has police brutality continued its sharp increase, but the brutality itself has become almost normalised, both institutionally and in the eyes of the public.
While it is impossible to generalize about the reaction to such disturbing trends in politics and policing from a public so culturally, socially and economically diverse, nevertheless the sales of weapons, ammunitions and storable food over the past year suggest that some Americans at least are preparing for the worst. These moves, which were formerly the preserve of right wing patriot movements and militias, are now spreading across the social spectrum, spurred on by a combination of factors, from concerns that Obama would change gun laws to prevent citizens from owning weapons, to fears that an economic meltdown will trigger a crime wave and a repressive reaction from the state (few have forgotten the response of the National Guard to Hurricane Katrina, during the aftermath of which gun confiscation – carried out in conjunction with private military contractors such as Blackwater – was their top priority). Whatever the reason, the American people have never been so well armed as they are today.
Any number of events could be used as a pretext to trigger martial law. In addition to the numerous incidents now defined as an “emergency” or “major disaster” by NorthCom, martial law could be declared in response to a total collapse of the economy, to deal with the subsequent breakdown in law and order. A worthless currency coupled with bank closures would create mass panic – banks runs and rioting would break out across the country. After all, the US national debt is already past $11 trillion and looks set to more than double in the next ten years. It is telling that, when the banks demanded the $700 billion bailout in autumn 2008, Congress were threatened with martial law if they did not comply. Senator James Inhofe later revealed that Henry Paulson, Secretary of the Treasury and former CEO of Goldman Sachs (a fact which screams “conflict of interest”) was behind the threat. Ironically, the bailouts themselves could be the trigger for such a collapse. Gerald Celente the CEO of Trends Research Institute, the most highly respected trend forecaster in the United States, has forecast that a major issue is the “bailout bubble”, far large than the dot com bubble or the housing bubble which preceded it, being made up of $12.8 trillion. With the bursting of this bubble, Celente predicts “fascism light” followed by war. He stated “this bubble will be the last one. After the final blowout of the bailout bubble, we are concerned that the government will take the nation into war. This is a historical precedent that’s been done over and over again. So, it’s not the dollar that will survive. We may not even survive. Look at the German mess after WWI. It gave rise to Fascism and WWII. The next war will be fought with weapons of mass destruction.”
In August of 2009, Georgia Congressman Paul Broun warned that the Obama administration was planning to use a pandemic or a natural disaster to implement martial law, stating: “They’re trying to develop an environment where they can take over.” It’s tempting to view such proclamations as political posturing (Broun is, after all, a Republican) but in view of the relevant facts it’s perhaps equally unwise to take lightly. The government have been talking up a possible mass flu pandemic in the winter, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have been conducting large scale exercises over the summer, including a National Level Exercise in coordination with foreign troops. Couple this with talk of mass vaccinations and Broun’s statement could be seen as more prophetic than paranoid. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has already confirmed that individual states will decide whether or not these vaccinations are mandatory, and the International Swine Flu Conference schedule includes discussion of mass quarantines, transforming schools into shelters and “mass fatality management”. Is this simply as case of preparing for all eventualities? FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security evidently think so: hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of contracts were handed out under the Bush administration for the construction of large internment and detention camps (there are an estimated 800 of these camps throughout the US) and inside sources allege that these agencies have been preparing mass graves, while the military has conducted drills for administering vaccinations and dealing with potential unrest.
Some believe the trigger could be another false flag terror attack, or even the assassination of President Obama. The James von Brunn attack on the Holocaust museum has been jumped upon by many in the mainstream press as a sign of the resurgence of white supremacists and right wing militias, and Homeland Security have warned in a leaked document that such extremists are recruiting veterans returning from Iraq. The National Guard are preparing, too – for instance, in the summer of 2009, Missouri’s National Guard were trained to kill “militia insurgents” as part of the battalion’s annual training exercise, while in Maine they conducted a “riot scenario” exercise at a local High School.
Alarmist as all this may sound, the extensive planning on the part of the Federal government, alphabet agencies and the military is reason enough for Americans to be concerned, to say the least. For many, it’s not so much a case of “if” martial law will be declared, but “when”.
(image by AS)