Friday, November 25, 2016

Protest (II)

Unicorn Riot has obtained a federal training manual, Field Force Operations, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP). The federal government uses this document to train local law enforcement in techniques for quelling protests. It was acquired during our reporting on direct actions against the Dakota Access Pipeline when we filed a records request to the North Dakota Department of Corrections.
(From here)

This is a great find, and I encourage anyone planning protests in the U.S. to read it. If I have the energy I may do a series on it here. A few initial things to note:

* Why FEMA? You think of FEMA and you think of planning responses for natural disasters, mostly. But FEMA is part of Homeland Security now, and this training manual segues easily from methods for handling riots (arguably a kind of disaster) to methods for getting rid of nonviolent protestors who are blocking something. Essentially, riots and nonviolent planned protest are treated as two points along a kind of continuum of similar types of events, which allows for justification of a continuum of the same techniques used to suppress both.

* The three types of protestors. The Unicorn Riot article mentions this, but I'll repeat it: the document models all protestors as belonging to one of three basic types: everyday citizens, professional protestors, and anarchists. That says a whole lot about both the police and the left in the U.S. First, there may be "professional protestors" -- it's a big country -- but I've never met one. I've met a lot of committed activists, but "professional" implies protest for pay, and more than that, hiring yourself out for any kind of protest whose organizers will pay you. I think that this is projection on the part of the security services, who imagine that people have to be paid to do something they believe in just as they are. Second, given the numerically low number of anarchists, it's revealing that the police encounter them as a distinct category and don't have one for any other part of the left.

* The war-propaganda element. There are items scattered throughout the document that attempt to immunize the trainee against natural human feeling in favor of "professionalism" or "controlling the situation". According to the document, people screaming in pain may not really be hurt, they may just be trying to fool you into letting them go. If they say something like "We're peaceful protestors, why are you doing this?" they're just trying to make you feel bad. If protestor medics come in and try to gain access to protestors who they say need help, those medics may just be trying to disrupt your operations and are subject to arrest. Every natural reaction that people might have to police using violence against them is pre-explained as potentially part of a protestor plan. Needless to say, this is a very dangerous way to train police if the purpose of the training is to do anything but defend property (but of course see the NoDAPL protests for an illustration of what the real purpose of this training is).

* Maybe I missed out on the really well planned protests, but the document assumes that some protests are planned out to a level that seems greater than any actual protest that I've been to. What they seem to have done is taken all of the best planned out elements of any protest that ever happened and merged them into one big potential protest plan. If actual protests were this well organized, protestors would be in great shape. But they generally aren't, and as a result police are largely planning for the wrong thing (if we were going to take the goals of the document seriously) or using these imaginary superprotestors as an excuse for their own increasingly militarized operations (and see above).

Edited to add: the UK is even further along.

ETA (2): "Some protesters will attempt to design fictitious media credentials to gain access to events or special consideration by law enforcement." Unless you work for the NYT or Washington Post, I'm guessing that your press pass is going to be a "fictitious media credential".

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