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Infiltration, violence and media framing—an example for Occupy

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As if by magic comes this Rick Perlstein piece on cop infiltration. Occupy, take note. It touches three bases I touched on earlier — infiltration, violence and media framing. (This post also concludes my thoughts on Occupy and violence; it makes the rest of my case.)

Perlstein's intro (my emphasis and the usual reparagraphing for our narrow columns):
This past October, at an Occupy encampment in Cleveland, Ohio, "suspicious males with walkie-talkies around their necks" and "scarves or towels around their heads" were heard grumbling at the protesters' unwillingness to act violently.

At meetings a few months later, one of them, a 26-year-old with a black Mohawk known as "Cyco," explained to his anarchist colleagues how "you can make plastic explosives with bleach," and the group of five men fantasized about what they might blow up. Cyco suggested a small bridge. One of the others thought they’d have a better chance of not hurting people if they blew up a cargo ship.

A third, however, argued for a big bridge – "Gotta slow the traffic that's going to make them money" – and won. He then led them to a connection who sold them C-4 explosives for $450.

Then, the night before the May Day Occupy protests, they allegedly put the plan into motion – and just as the would-be terrorists fiddled with the detonator they hoped would blow to smithereens a scenic bridge in Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park traversed by 13,610 vehicles every day, the FBI swooped in to arrest them.

Right in the nick of time, just like in the movies.
Can you smell the setup?
The authorities couldn’t have more effectively made the Occupy movement look like a danger to the republic if they had scripted it. Maybe that's because, more or less, they did.
Note the goal — to make the "Occupy movement look like a danger to the republic." In the battle for hearts and minds of the well-washed undecided middle, violence sways the undecided to the well-washed cops.

First the mechanics, then the why. The mechanics:
The guy who convinced the plotters to blow up a big bridge, led them to the arms merchant, and drove the team to the bomb site was an FBI informant.

The merchant was an FBI agent.

The bomb, of course, was a dud.

And the arrest was part of a pattern of entrapment by federal law enforcement since September 11, 2001, not of terrorist suspects, but of young men [whom] federal agents have had to talk into embracing violence in the first place.

One of the Cleveland arrestees, Connor Stevens, complained to his sister of feeling "very pressured" by the guy who turned out to be an informant and was recorded in 2011 rejecting property destruction: "We're in it for the long haul and those kind of tactics just don't cut it," he said. "And it's actually harder to be non-violent than it is to do stuff like that."

Though when Cleveland's NEWS Channel 5 broadcast that footage, they headlined it "Accused Bomb Plot Suspect Caught on Camera Talking Violence."
And there's your trifecta. The FBI (or NYPD or LAPD or ATF or LSMFT) infiltrates a group; they pressure the group toward violence; and the media frames the bust as "Violent Anarchist Foiled". (The rest of that headline is often: "And Accidently Breaks His Head During Kid-Gloves Arrest".)

By the way, are you noting the press emergence of the term "anarchist"? "Terrorist" is losing its sting.

Perlstein's sums up this part of the story (and his emphasis):
[The feds] are arrogating to themselves a downright Orwellian power – the power to deploy the might of the State to shape a fundamental narrative about which ideas Americans must be most scared of, and which ones they should not fear much at all, independent of the relative objective dangerousness of the people who hold those ideas.
Nice to see someone else capitalize "the State" — it's a dominant player in the drama all by itself, isn't it? After all, who needs national leaders when you have all the money you'll ever need, a hard-baked infrastructure, and institutional momentum? It moves by itself.

There are many more stories in Perlstein's nice piece. Please do read.

Now the why. Why does this matter for Occupy?

I'm looking at the Antiwar Movement of the 1960s and 1970s as a model. That movement reached critical mass — a momentum that could not be stopped or ignored — by absorbing into it masses of the middle-class middle.

Movements like Occupy see the world differently than the apolitical middle-class. The middle class sees the Matrix, the Republican and Democratic self-presentation, the Ozian manipulation, and miss completely the man behind the curtain.

Movements don't reach critical mass until large numbers of those in the see-what-they're-shown center start looking past the curtain, past the Matrix, to what's really going on.

That only happens in a couple of ways. A great national crisis of pain will do it (example, the Great Depression, which radicalized a whole bunch of people against their rulers and manipulators). We didn't get that last time round, the crisis we could have been handed in 2008.

In the 1960s, the compulsory national draft got the attention of a whole generation, in a deeply personal way. Everyone was affected or knew someone who was. And the price of losing that lotto was potential death in a rice paddy. Hard not to care.

In both of the examples above, the movement for change reached critical mass, its members educated themselves, and the nation had no choice but to respond. (Read here about the importance of movement self-education.)

What does Occupy have to do to reach critical mass? It's not certain they will.

But what they must not do, in my humble opinion, is alienate the convincible middle before the middle can be recruited. Allowing the State — through its agents and media partners — to turn people off before Occupy can turn them on could be a death sentence for Occupy.

And with this, I'll rest my case. Occupy. Effectively. Reach critical mass.


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