On my desk I have a teargas canister that a policeman fired at me many years ago. It’s there to remind me of several things: that the struggle for liberty is often violent; that 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile (a.k.a. pepper spray) really hurts; and that somebody, somewhere, makes a lot of money selling the tools of repression to government.
A policeman in Cape Town fired that particular canister. But it wasn’t made in South Africa. Combined Tactical Systems, based in Jamestown, Pennsylvania manufactured it. CTS’ 37mm M1A2 teargas rounds were exported to South Africa throughout the 1980s from their factory on banks of the Shenango River.
Since then, CTS and other U.S. manufacturers have continued to make cash hand over fist by meeting the “crowd control” needs of such bastions of democracy as Egypt, Yemen and Sierra Leone … as well as the police force of Ferguson, Missouri.
As the situation in that Midwestern town forces the nation to open its eyes to the militarization of America’s police — something we’ve been writing about for years — there’s one thing almost nobody is talking about …
Although you could be forgiven for thinking so from the way the mainstream media has covered the issue, the process of transforming America’s police from Sheriff Andy Taylor into Robocop didn’t start yesterday. It actually began in earnest in 1990 under the 1033 Program — a little-known part of the so-called War on Drugs. The idea was that if the U.S. wanted its police to act like drug “warriors,” it should equip them accordingly.
Since then, and with a massive boost from the “War on Terror,” billions in taxpayer funds have been spent to transform American police forces into clones of the U.S. occupation forces of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The 1033 Program and related facilities represent massive profits for U.S. defense contractors. As our Middle Eastern wars wind down, they’ve created a $30 billion-a-year domestic market for their MRAP armored troop carriers, night-vision rifle scopes, camouflage fatigues, Humvees and M16 automatic rifles, amongst other things.
This isn’t just cast-off surplus stuff, either. The Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency often simply purchases gear from a defense contractor and transfers it to a local law enforcement agency free of charge. A recent ACLU report says that 36% of equipment transferred under the 1033 program is brand new.
Of course, that’s just the beginning of the gravy train. Advanced weapons need parts and maintenance, thereby creating another potential taxpayer-funded revenue stream for the defense industry. And once police get used to arming themselves like soldiers, they become direct buyers of war-goods, using another system of fat grants from the Department of Homeland Security.
The domestic U.S. market for military gear has gotten so big that it even has its own trade shows. Urban Shield, which originated as a disaster-preparedness exercise, has now become one of the nation’s premiere showcases for purveyors of military gear to domestic police forces.
A recent Urban Shield event in Connecticut was sponsored by Blackhawk Industries, and featured wares from companies like ThunderSledge (breaching tools for smashing open locked or chained doors), Lenco Armored Vehicles (bulletproof trucks) and KDH Defense Systems (body armor).
The Watchmen Bribe Their Own Watchers
In his Satire VI, the Roman poet Juvenal asked, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” — Who’s watching the watchmen? He wrote as the Empire suffered under a series of disastrous emperors foisted on it by the Praetorian Guard, the emperor’s protective service. They routinely bribed the Roman Senate to ensure they remained the de facto rulers of Rome.
The people charged with overseeing America’s own Praetorian Guards sit in Congress and in the 50 statehouses. But as in Juvenal’s time, the Watchmen are running riot because those charged with overseeing them have become corrupt.
As you might imagine, a pork barrel as big as the 1033 Program and the Department of Homeland Security grant system attracts a lot of snouts to the trough. One of the most powerful industries on Capitol Hill is the U.S. defense-industrial sector. It contributes about $25 million to congressmen and senators annually. In addition, it spends over $120 million each year on more than 900 lobbyists. That’s a lot of steak and martini dinners.
Special treatment is given to those with the most responsibility. Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has received more than $1.4 million from the defense sector since 1992. Curiously, 40% of that — $567,000 — came during 2012, as our wars in the Middle East were winding down.
The results of this lobbying largesse aren’t hard to discern. In June, the House voted on legislation that would have blocked the Pentagon from spending resources on military hardware for local police agencies. The bill was defeated 355-62. An analysis of this vote reveals some interesting facts:
- Fifty-nine House members received more than $100,000 from the defense industry from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2013. Of those, only four supported defunding the 1033 Program.
- Representatives voting to continue funding the 1033 Program have received, on average, 73% more money from the defense industry than representatives voting to defund it.
The defense industry also spends on state politics, where law enforcement procurement decisions are made — more than $8 million in campaign contributions has been spent on state elections in the last decade.
“The Greatest Mischief That Can Happen”
That’s what James Madison thought of a “standing army” — a military force that has no particular job to do, and is therefore perpetually in search of one.
America’s domestic police forces have come to resemble the standing armies the Founders feared. Most Americans haven’t really noticed the change in the police forces because they don’t participate in street protests, suffer from armed police raids or seek out information about militarization.
None of us should be surprised. Our government spends more than 20% of its budget on the military — not including what we spend on our imperial wars. The U.S. is the world’s largest manufacturer and consumer of war goods, making up nearly 80% of the global arms market. With that much money involved, corruption seeps into our democratic institutions.
As a result, we now have a government, like the ancient Romans, that can’t be bothered to address our legitimate needs. However, it spares no expense to ensure that it can grind our rights into the dust whenever it chooses.
As we have sown, so do we now reap.
Offshore and Asset Protection Editor
Managing Editor’s Note: Times have changed dramatically. Fewer than 20 years ago, we wouldn’t have hesitated to teach our children to seek out a police officer if they were lost or in trouble. But would you feel safe teaching that now? Click here to share your thoughts with us.
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