The Occupy Crackdowns: Why Naomi Wolf Got It Wrong

27 Nov

On Friday, Naomi Wolf made the attention-grabbing accusation in the Guardian that federal officials were involved in, indeed ordered, the violent crackdowns against Occupy Wall Street protesters that we’ve been seeing across the country these past few weeks.

Congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS [Department of Homeland Security] to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.

The next day, Joshua Holland debunked Wolf’s claims on Alternet.

I don’t have anything to add to Holland’s excellent critique. Wolf gets her facts wrong, and he shows it.

To my mind, though, the problem is bigger than that:  The reason Wolf gets her facts wrong is that she’s got her theory wrong. And though many were quick to jump off her conspiracy bandwagon once Holland pointed out its flaws, I suspect that one of the reasons they were so quick to jump on it in the first place is that they subscribe to her theory.

Like many critics of state coercion in America, Wolf seems to assume that political repression requires or entails national coordination and centralized direction from the feds. But as I argued in this piece in the Boston Review in 2005, and in a much longer piece in the Missouri Law Review [pdf], that notion gets it wrong.

From the battles over abolition to the labor wars at the turn of the last century to the Red Squads of the twentieth-century police departments to the struggles over Jim Crow, state repression in America has often been decentralized, displaying that very same can-do spirit of local initiative that has been celebrated by everyone from Alexis de Tocqueville to Robert Putnam. Though Tocqueville and Putnam were talking of course about things like creating churches and buildings roads, the fact is: if the locals can build a church or a road on their own, they can also get rid of dissenters on their own, too, no?

Even where there has been coordination and direction from above, as in the epic cases of the Red Scare, McCarthyism, COINTELPRO, or now the War on Terror, what’s been most striking is how local police and officials have managed to manipulate that federal involvement to their own ends. As I wrote in the Boston Review:

What history demonstrates is that police officers often use their powers, with or without federal prompting, as instruments of larger political purpose. The danger of cooperation between federal agencies and local police is not that the former will conscript the latter into repressive programs the latter would not otherwise pursue, but that it allows the police to apply the legitimizing gloss of national security to their own pet projects of repression. During the McCarthy era, for example, southern politicians and law-enforcement officers used the language of anti-communism to outlaw the NAACP and to arrest and indict civil-rights leaders for sedition. In the Denver case already mentioned, the police used the rubric of domestic security to keep track of not only the groups cited above but also a local organization working against police brutality in the city. This past summer, during the Republican Party convention in New York City, the NYPD preemptively arrested more than 1,500 protesters—some of them obstreperous, virtually all of them nonviolent—as well as innocent bystanders. How did the mayor justify the arrest and prolonged detainment of these individuals? By drawing parallels, according to The New York Times, “between verbally abusive demonstrators and the Sept. 11 terrorists.”

… if all politics is local in the United States, as Tip O’Neill reminded us, it stands to reason that a good deal of the political repression is as well.

It’s not surprising that faced with the crackdown of OWS protests, Wolf would immediately turn to a theory of national, centralized repression. It’s part of our national DNA, on the left and the right, to assume that tyranny works that way. We’ve inherited a theory that holds, in the words of the Yale constitutional law scholar Akhil Reed Amar, that “liberty and localism work together.” Nothing, as Holland so ably if inadvertently demonstrates in his demolition of Wolf, could be further from the truth.

Update (11/29, 11 am)

This post has been getting a lot of attention, both support and push-back. There’s much interesting discussion in the comments thread here (see below).  It’s gotten warm endorsements from Lawyers, Guns, and Money and The Economist, which ran two blog posts, one of them from Will Wilkinson, with whom we’ve tangled and talked before. The Guardian did a round-up of responses to the Wolf piece, and included it there.  3 Quarks Daily picked it up.  And Al Jazeera English ran a longer version of it.  And if you’re on Twitter, there’s a lot of back and forth there as well.

44 Responses to “The Occupy Crackdowns: Why Naomi Wolf Got It Wrong”

  1. Timothy Shortell November 28, 2011 at 12:58 am #

    I don’t think it matters whether or not federal agencies authorized or ordered the crackdown on the Occupy sites. It is a reminder that elected officials of both parties have too much to lose to support major change to the system. Everyone involved in the 99% movement needs to be aware that we will have to change the political process, not just the outcomes of particular elections, if we hope to fix the fundamental problem. Both Republicans and Democrats, from the local level on up, stand in the way of true democratic social change.

    • Corey Robin November 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

      I agree with that Tim, and if that were what Wolf were saying, there’d be little to argue about. But she takes an altogether sensible position and twists it into a pretzel of kookiness. That doesn’t serve our interests. In addition, getting clear on how power works, particularly repression, is important for any movement hoping to alter the relations of power.

      • Timothy Shortell November 29, 2011 at 1:22 am #

        Point taken. I am always surprised that so many people think that the only way power can operate is by conspiracy. The truth is, in a sense, much simpler. I make this a point to discuss when I teach stratification. The capitalist class doesn’t need secret meetings to talk about how to screw the 99%.

        The mayors’ phone call is disturbing, but it is important not to get the facts wrong. The problem here isn’t who gave the orders. It is precisely that no orders needed to be given.

  2. Ranjit Suresh November 28, 2011 at 2:03 am #

    Corey, you describe in the book how the diffusion of authority, separation of powers, and intense localism of the American state apparatus makes it difficult for the left to resist it. Given this observation, it makes sense to call attention to the national dimension of the suppression of the Occupy movement because it makes raising the consciousness of the working class that much easier.

    Having said that, I think your thesis concerning the local and intimate nature of elite rule stands regardless of whatever facts emerge about the eviction of Occupation protests across the country.

    • Corey Robin November 28, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

      If by “the national dimension of the suppression” you mean the fact that it’s happening in multiple places and on multiple fronts, I agree. But if you mean what Wolf means, then I disagree. She’s not just calling attention to the national dimensions, so defined; she’s got a particular account of how it all works that it is factually addled, to put it politely.

  3. Deb November 28, 2011 at 9:18 am #

    You might find this interview of Leo Panitch useful in visualizing the whole-part relationships that also partly define the role of local governments to Federal government (esp. minutes 18-30). On the rare occasion when the part has shown signs of independence, it is called out and browbeaten into joining the national mainstream quickly (as happened to “Berserkeley” or the wider Bay Area after 9/11 after Barbara Lee refused to “get on with the program”).

    • Corey Robin November 28, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

      Thanks for that link, Deb. Look forward to it. It’s true if by independence you mean challenging social hierarchies and power relations.

      • Deb November 28, 2011 at 11:21 pm #

        Yes, that’s also the sense that Panitch uses “independence” in even though his model is the international stage. I found it useful also in the “generative” sense that you detected in Karl Mannheim’s paper of Conservatism, in that these ideas are also applicable to the Federal/State/Local relationship—as Panitch also mentions, pointing at Civil War as the ultimate denouement when the part started getting too eccentric to remain within orbit of the center. The idea of an “informal Empire” is the key here in which expectations are set at the Metropolitan center and others—be they client nation-states or federal states—interpret these expectations and carry them out with varying degrees of ideological conformity and efficiency. This can work both ways within a narrow compass with, say, ideologically out of temper states or cities (e.g. San Francisco or Berkeley) acting in a relatively relaxed manner and ideologically more hide-bound places (e.g. parts of Arizona) adding their own vindictive touch when it comes to dealing with recalcitrant elements. This fragmentation suits the powers that be fine as it then becomes a shell game to identify who is the acting power when some particular crackdown occurs.

  4. Chas November 28, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    So then why are the Occupiers recapitulating the same logic of decentered organization used by their police overlords? It seems the Occupiers, afraid of the “inherent violence” in a centralized, top-down hierarchy, are buying into the same logic as Wolf, and ironically organizing themselves in a similar way as the local police.

    • Corey Robin November 28, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

      That’s what I’ve been droning on about for weeks! Finally someone has listened to me!

    • rosmar November 28, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

      But maybe, in responding to a (mostly) decentered threat, one can be most effective if one is also decentered but ready to act in coalition when necessary? Is there a reason to believe that a centralized response would be more effective?

    • joe from Lowell November 28, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

      So then why are the Occupiers recapitulating the same logic of decentered organization used by their police overlords?

      Perhaps because they’re Americans, and de Tocqueville was right.

  5. joe from Lowell November 28, 2011 at 2:31 pm #

    Great piece.

    I’m also reminded of Joe Arapio and the supporters of the Arizona immigration law insisting that they were merely enforcing federal law, despite going well beyond what the feds intended or were willing to countenance.

  6. Donald Pruden a/k/a The Enemy Combatant November 28, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

    I think the reason that Ms. Wolf, whose work I generally respect and who gives a good accounting of recent history as regards the tendency of international capital to take anti-democratic advantage of large-scale disasters, reads the events the way she does in the present case may be due to other nations’ quick turn to a national response to protests: call out the military to repress popular dissent. The US does not tend to repess protests in this fashion; this is a job for local cops and the National Guard. She may believe that she is seeing a model that is used abroad being quietly applied in the US. Her error is given away in her untrue claim of DHS’s accountability to a Nassau County, New York, congressman. I’m sure Representative King might wish for this, given his anti-Muslim proclivities. For a much more accurate and very vivid portrayal of how localized repression is deployed against progressive national movments in the US with the historically general absence of direct federal influence, I recommend “NIXONLAND”, by Rick Pearlstein.

    • Prof. VitaleAlex Vitale November 29, 2011 at 6:15 am #

      i think the international comparison is important and part of Wolfe’s theoretical error. The US is somewhat unique in how decentralized it is in terms of both policing and politics. In much of Europe you’re dealing with national police forces and national political parties that have real influence over local mayors. neither of which is true in the US. Local police will take resources from the center and at times advice and even some cordination, but they are generally loath to give up any real autonomy. And, as Corey pionts out, they are quite capable of coming up with their own hairbrained initiatives based on primarily very local politics. Much of what drove the Oakland crackdown was pressure from local business improvement associations that had little to do with national politics.

      Another element of Wolfe’s error is the left’s exageration of their importance. a kind of wishful paranoia. If only OWS were about to bring Wall St.and the government to its knees, at which point serious repression could be expected. Mostly what we’ve seen is the product of a rather banal erosion of first amendment rights over several decades coming up against an outburst of defiant protest. I’m not sure there’s much that;s really new here in terms of repression. what;s new is the resistance to it, which is pretty exciting. Ongoing mass defiance of all these petty rules and regulations is how you advance the right to assembly and build populist political power.

      • Donald Pruden a/k/a The Enemy Combatant November 30, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

        Prof. Viatale, thank you very much for the critical acknowledgment. I came to that particular consideration by noting the rather striking similarity in response to protest by so many of the other nations around the globe. My documentary evidence is the hours and hours of news footage showing protesters in other nations almost always being set upon by national troops. Local police and other armed uniformed personnel are often merely assistive or so intertwined with the national military that it is often difficult to distinguish them.

        Political regionalism is a strong cultural factor in the US, along with the fact that the US may be the only nation — or, one of only a very few — that has (for an easy example) a “Posse Comitatus Act” that legally forbids the deployment of the military against the domestic population. As well, I would offer the speculation that such regionalism is rooted as much in local racism as it is in institutional jealousy by local authorities. These, I suggest, are at least some of the lingering aftereffects of the American Civil War.

        And – we have not even touched on that other Civil War hangover, the aggressive assertion of “States Rights”. Wolf’s suspect claim that DHS is more than merely consulting with local police departments and the mayors who run them should be considered in light of Republican officials openly flirting with secession with no reply from the current administration which would be legally obligated to put down such if it were ever acted upon in reality, and was not just mere rhetoric for Tea Party consumption. If DHS ever had a cause for a national federal response, and a quite vigorous one at that, this might qualify.

    • emmryssEmmryss November 30, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

      I think your first sentence mistakes Naomi Wolf for Naomi Klein (who writes of shock therapy and disaster capitalism).

      • Donald Pruden a/k/a The Enemy Combatant November 30, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

        Oops! Thanks for sharp-eyed catch! I mixed up my Naomis — I did indeed read Ms. Wolf’s book citing evidence of a national fascist project in a democracy, “The End of America” as well as Ms. Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine”. Both are excellent books. It is the American Ms. Wolf (and not the Canadian Ms. Klein) that I meant to suggest sees the DHS in the thrall of money-grubbing congresspersons pushing a federal response to protest. I am also gratified to be able to gloat (*smile**wink*) that your eagle eye gives better support to my thesis about Ms. Wolf seeing a national “hand” behind local repression.

  7. Evan Rowe November 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    Well, it isn’t as if the left is anywhere near ready to do any national organizing anyways. The libertarian end of the left is way more popular these days than the statist end of the left… I think we are going to need to try to win locally. I know that’s anathema to the older school of the left that would prefer something else. Maybe that can change over the next couple years, but for right now, I see the battlefield as a big zone defensive scheme, and we all need to challenge local elites.

  8. JW Mason November 28, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

    You’re clearly right about this particular case, and lots of similar ones.

    So ok, let’s agree that repression in the United States is often carried out in a local, decentralized way. Why does that imply a criticism of the decentralized nature of OWS? Suppose, counterfactually, that the crackdowns really had been coordinated by DHS. Would you then turn around and say, “it’s a good thing OWS doesn’t have any centralized leadership”? I assume not, and why would you? the two questions are just orthogonal.

    And of course, it’s not hard to find examples of progressive coalitions that have been successful at the local or state level only to be defeated at the federal level. Many blue states would certainly have much better policy on health care, labor, immigration etc. if there were more delegation of federal authority. Let’s not replace a simple-minded local good, central bad story — which you are absolutely right to criticize! — with its equally simple minded opposite.

    • Corey Robin November 28, 2011 at 8:10 pm #

      Josh, I think the logic goes something like this. One of the things one often hears on the left is that we don’t want to empower a national centralized state to do the good things we all (or at least most of us) want that state to do b/c such a state is repressive, coercive, etc. One also hears that we don’t want a movement to prepared to contest for state power at that level b/c not only would such a state either be repressive or invite repression but b/c such a movement would itself mimic the authoritarian, undemocratic, repressive ways of the national state. If you can establish that such a concern, though real in other historical and political contexts, is for the most part a bit misplaced in the US, you can take out one of the props for the decentralized politics argument you often hear on the left.

      As for your other point re simple-minded national good, local bad — I’d like to think that you, as a reader of my blog, know that I have an analysis about power in America and its relationship to state decentralization and private modes of authority (something I’ve talked about in many posts over the summer and fall) — and that that analysis doesn’t come from a simple inversion of the dominant narrative. You may disagree with that analysis, but that’s a different issue.

      • ted brodek November 30, 2011 at 9:57 am #

        To go a bit backwards in history: the fundamental reason police power, a defining monopoly of the state, is so divided in the US is based on our origins as a slave society that, following the civil war, became an avowedly white supremacist society. The need to control in one way or another a racial minority (=threat) to that white rule also explains the “right to bear arms” amendment (which clearly did not then apply to blacks). Living in Atlanta, the “black Mecca,” I am all too aware of the ongoing supremacist rule here in all major policies (including the design of rapid transit). The same applies to the preferential recruitment of rural white evangelicals into all components of the “special forces” in the military who wil, of course, eventually come home to roost.

  9. Brad November 28, 2011 at 8:00 pm #

    What about repression of local business activity, repression of public safety and sanitation, and repression of ordinary citizens from being able to enjoy their public spaces?

    Maintenance of law and order does not equal repression my friend, at least not in this case – Our Constitution grants the people a right to petition their government and assemble… peacefully and in respect of public safety. There comes a point when the minorities’ desire to be heard, begins to infringe on the rights of everyone else.

  10. jill cohn November 28, 2011 at 11:58 pm #

    Oakland Mayor, Jean Quan, volunteered she’d been on a conference call with Homeland Security involving 18 mayors of large US cities before oking OPD to get physical with the OO. Do you think that was a figment of Wolf’s imagination?

  11. Donald Pruden a/k/a The Enemy Combatant November 29, 2011 at 10:42 am #

    “What about repression of local business activity, repression of public safety and sanitation, and repression of ordinary citizens from being able to enjoy their public spaces?

    “Maintenance of law and order does not equal repression my friend, at least not in this case – Our Constitution grants the people a right to petition their government and assemble… peacefully and in respect of public safety. There comes a point when the minorities’ desire to be heard, begins to infringe on the rights of everyone else.”

    Brad, let’s get right to your point — you are trying to suggest that public protest is a form of “repression”. That is your word. From the Freedom Riders to anti-war marchers, your own understanding of “repression” is a full one hundred and eighty degrees the opposite of actual, historical, repression.

    I will make the ill-mannered statement: If your perception of “repression” were the general understanding of that term, my mother would still be picking cotton in Mississippi and never would have been permitted to attend college. I, like she, would never have been able to vote. I would never have been able to attend graduate school in an elite university in New York State. Instead I would, right now, be picking cotton by her side – assuming she lived so long.

    I beg the for both the forgiveness and the forbearance of the good readers of this site, but “Brad” clearly would not know “repression” if it were thrown around his neck in the middle of a forest in the dark of night by dirty hands, or was seen burning in his front yard, or heard cursing in his *&%king face from behind a white hood. The “repressions” that he lists are the very reasons I am a (somewhat) free AMERICAN! Every right I still enjoy was earned for me by Americans fighting other Americans on American soil. Every. Single. Right. Some were earned by interfering with business activities (Woolworth’s), by occupying public spaces (Edmund Pettis Bridge).

    The Constitution says nothing about the legality of the acts connected to the places here parenthetically referenced. Protest is supposed to interfere with business as usual. It is not supposed to be convenient. And sometimes it will be messy – like getting hosed by the fire department, say. Or, getting pepper sprayed. Law and order and the right to protest only work in s society where the former protects the latter, and is not at odds with it. History, however, pits them as opposites because law and order is deployed to stop the advance of democracy and its grievances with concentrated power. And preserving the convenience of the one percent “majority” is only an excuse to tyrannize the disempowered ninety-nine percent “minority”.

  12. Taryn Hart November 29, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    I think most women (though apparently not Wolf) intuitively know this. I live in Montana – I don’t want my reproductive rights determined locally. I’m not a racially minority, but I’m thinking they’re not keen on local determination either (see federal anti-lynching laws, Civil Rights Act, etc.).

    I think OWS has churned up a romanticized notion of localism and de-centralization that is a fairy tale and completely belied by history.

    • Matt Rogers (@mrraven) December 9, 2011 at 1:00 am #

      Local government may act coercively on a local level, but the large Federal imperialist nation state kills hundreds of thousands abroad to maintain hegemony (see Chomsky for details) and to supply resources to crony capitalist corporations. The Federal nation state also jails millions for non violent crimes like drug crimes. While some of Ms. Wolfe’s accusation may be over broad, I think she and the Occupy movement is wise to be suspicious of concentrated state power. I also think there is something to Ms. Wolfe’s dread of PERF being involved with local law enforcement:

      “Some of the police chiefs who have taken part in JINSA’s LEEP program have done so under the auspices of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a private non-governmental group with close ties to the Department of Homeland Security. Chuck Wexler, the executive director of PERF, was so enthusiastic about the program that by 2005 he had begun organizing trips to Israel sponsored by PERF, bringing numerous high-level American police officials to receive instruction from their Israeli counterparts.

      PERF gained notoriety when Wexler confirmed that his group coordinated police raids in 16 cities across America against “Occupy” protest encampments. As many as 40 cities have sought PERF advice on suppressing the “Occupy” movement and other mass protest activities. Wexler did not respond to my requests for an interview.”

      http://exiledonline.com/max-blumenthal-how-israeli-occupation-forces-bahraini-monarchy-guards-trained-u-s-police-for-coordinated-crackdown-on-occupy-protests/

  13. Bill Barnes December 2, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

    Have you seen Naomi Wolf’s recent response?

    Holland’s conclusion that I have no evidence of DHS or federal coordination with municipal police on protest surveillance and management also flies in the face of reporting that goes back nearly a decade, documenting in detail the creation by DHS of “security zones” that do just this. It also neglects to address a series of press conferences in which Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has confirmed to the New York Times and others close DHS-NYPD cooperation in the creation of DHS-managed surveillance zones where public protest is federally tracked. A 2009 study by Jeremy Nemeth, PhD, in the publication Cityfutures, details DHS coordination with municipal leaders and police forces in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, that turned whole sections of these cities into DHS-managed “security zones” (see maps in the link below).

    In “The Closed City: Downtown Security Zones and the Loss of Public Space” (pdf), published before the Occupy movement came to be, Dr Nemeth and his team confirmed in detail how the embedded partnership between DHS and municipalities in controlling public space in “security zones”, such as that around Zuccotti Park, would be used by municipalities to crack down on public assembly and dissent and to federally compile detailed surveillance of protesters. He wrote:

    “I demonstrate how the post-9/11 security apparatus operating in US cities challenges physical, social and representational ‘rights to the city’ by limiting access to physical space, sorting and segregating users while reducing opportunities for social learning and active engagement, and carrying with it a broader anti-terrorism rhetoric that is employed at will to restrict political expression, assembly and a spirit of civic representation. The results of this study and the omnipresence of security zones should encourage planners and policy makers to consider them a new and increasingly pernicious land use type.”

    Nemeth is not a polemicist; he is an urban design critic. But he points out how DHS has “militarised” – his word – the “downtown security zone” of the financial district, where the Zuccotti Park clearances took place. He also notes that Civic Center in NYC, as well as areas in the other two cities, have become DHS “security zones” in which the very fabric of urban design is directed by DHS guidelines, in close collaboration with municipalities and municipal police, to contain an extensive system of surveillance and data retrieval about citizens, geared to manage and surveil public assembly.

    Dr Nemeth cites the DHS term “Downtown Security Zones” in his title. The day after the clearing of Zuccotti Park, I was observing the protest site, which was ringed with unmarked white vans, which is no evidence, of course, of anything. But I also witnessed a white vehicle parked – illegally, suggesting that NYPD was leaving it alone – on the northwest edge of the square, on East side of the street, at about 11.30am. It was identified with blue lettering as “Downtown Security”. There is no business in New York City listed under that name. There is, though, a region of lower Manhattan, in which Zuccotti Park lies, as you can see on the maps in the Nemeth article, that Homeland Security has repeatedly, publicly and legally identified as the DHS “Downtown Security Zone”. There are other DHS “security zones” as well).

    Is this sighting proof of DHS surveillance of the protests that day, over and above the DHS surveillance of public protest that Nemeth documents, that has been coordinated since 2002? No. Does it merit further investigation? I believe so.

    Mr Holland also seems unaware of the billions that DHS has pumped into domestic police forces, integrated in such a way that it is naïve, in a sense, for him and for me to even be debating whether federal forces “coordinate” with municipal ones because now they are often financially merged into one entity. The amount of money flowing from DHS to NYPD is stunning, as El Diario reports:

    “The New York City Police Department plans to spend about $24m in federal homeland security grants to pay for overtime. The NYPD budget lists an estimated $180m in counter-terrorism and intelligence spending for the upcoming year, with one half covered with federal grants. […] A study by the academic journal Environment and Planning estimated that nearly 40% of public space in downtown Manhattan is a ‘security zone’.”

    In other words, this 2011 report indicates that DHS is paying NYPD three and a half times NYPD’s overtime budget annually: $180m of DHS money is spent on “intelligence gathering”; so $90m of NYPD’s budget, in one year alone, is from DHS. Thus, Holland and I are foolish to debate over whether there is “coordination” between NYPD and DHS. If you look at the numbers, financially, NYPD is, to some extent, DHS. Look at the Nemeth maps: geopolitically, lower Manhattan is, within certain boundaries, the province of DHS. This is true of Zuccotti Park, where NYPD received $25m to surveil and track license plates.

    So Holland’s criticism that it is invention on my part to reference federal and municipal coordination in protest crackdowns on dissent is not only oblivious to the funding and geopolitical jurisdictional issues cited above, but is also seriously ahistorical. Tom Hayden’s piece in the Nation is far more accurate, in that he chides me, on his part, for not going far enough in reminding readers of how common such federal-municipal coordination has been in suppressing US dissent and that such crackdowns are old news:

    “Since the 1999 Seattle protests, the involvement of the FBI with local police has followed a repeated pattern. First, an FBI counter-terrorism task force warns local officials, media and the public that thousands of masked “anarchists” will be invading their cities to break the law, fight the police, break windows and destroy property. They then advise that all protests be literally fenced into protest cages. To sweeten the coordination, tens of thousands of federal dollars are offered to local police forces for “security” [acquisition of the latest in gas grenades, launchers, surveillance cameras, even paper shredders in one case]. Young people and their convergence centers are targeted for prior detention, with the assistance of informants and provocateurs.

    “The list of cities where this has occurred is a long one, starting with Seattle: Los Angeles (2000 convention), Washington DC (2000, 2002), Genoa (2001), Quebec City (2001), Oakland (2003), Miami (2003), New York (2004, 2008), Minneapolis-St Paul (2008), Denver/Boulder (2008), to list only the most dramatic and recent.”

    Hayden is exactly right in looking at the economic “sweetener” for this federal-municipal crackdown on dissent. DnaInfo.com, Manhattan local news, reported that for the proposed Chinatown DHS armed “security zone”, suggested when it seemed as if terrorist trials would be held in NYC, “The city has estimated that the security measures will cost $215m in the first year and $200m the following year – a chunk of the costs will go to officers working overtime during the trials. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senator Charles Schumer and several local politicians are calling for the federal government to cover the city’s costs during the pending trials.”

    These collaborations are so lucrative that yet another DHS security zone was proposed – the midtown security zone: 34th to 59th – as The New York Times reported:

    “The Police Department has requested $21m in federal grant money to pay for the first phase, said Mr. Kelly, who added that the cost could reach $58m. He conceded, under questioning from Peter F Vallone Jr, the committee chairman, that the plan was dependent on federal funds.”

    Given these numbers, it is absurd to ask where, in Manhattan at least, municipal police are collaborating with DHS in managing public assembly. It is more reasonable to ask, where is it not? But why stop with Midtown? The new World Trade Center area will be yet another new “security zone” – with plans to give Ray Kelly jurisdiction, and with an extraordinary number of police – 600 NYPD cops, a veritable battalion – at the World Trade Center unit.

    Mr Holland further objects, for instance, to the fact that I wrote that lobbyists were vying for an $850,000 contract to undermine Occupy. The “smear” proposal is written to the American Banking Association by former employees of House speaker John Boehner (Republican, Ohio). In other words, it was written by sophisticated and connected political insiders. “The proposal was written on the letterhead of the lobbying firm Clark Lytle Geduldig & Cranford and addressed to one of CLGC’s clients, the American Bankers Association,” as “Up with Chris Hayes” reported:

    “CLGC’s memo (pdf) proposes that the ABA pay CLGC $850,000 to conduct ‘opposition research’ on Occupy Wall Street in order to construct ‘negative narratives’ about the protests and allied politicians. The memo also asserts that Democratic victories in 2012 would be detrimental for Wall Street and targets specific races in which it says Wall Street would benefit by electing Republicans instead […] Two of the memo’s authors, partners Sam Geduldig and Jay Cranford, previously worked for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Geduldig joined CLGC before Boehner became speaker; Cranford joined CLGC this year after serving as the speaker’s assistant for policy. A third partner, Steve Clark, is reportedly ‘tight’ with Boehner, according to a story by Roll Call that CLGC features on its website.

    “Jeff Sigmund, an ABA spokesperson, confirmed that the association got the memo. ‘Our Government Relations staff did receive the proposal – it was unsolicited and we chose not to act on it in any way,’ he said in a statement to ‘Up’.”

    Holland is journalistically careless here: he writes, about my concern about this memo, in concert with similar TV soundbites, being possible evidence of high-level message efforts:

    “This is just sad. The memo Hayes unearthed was drafted on 24 November, more than a week after the evictions of camps in Zuccotti Park, Oakland, Denver, Salt Lake City and Portland. There was no ‘message coordination’ of any kind – it was a proposal that was reportedly rejected. It wasn’t produced by or sent to any organ of government – it was a memo by scummy lobbyists looking for a pay-check from the banking lobby.”

    First, I was referring to the “message coordination” that I was witnessing as rightwing commentators on television shows were using similar soundbites, as well as to the memo in question. Second, Holland’s conclusion that “there was no ‘message coordination’ of any kind” – a summary for which he offers no additional evidence – and his assumption that, because a self-interested ABA spokesperson said the memo was rejected, therefore it was rejected – is jaw-droppingly credulous. Holland also argues that since the proposal was made a week after the Occupy clearances, it is irrelevant; this also seems to me specious reasoning, as the Occupy movement’s impact, as the proposal itself notes in the goals for the future that it identifies, is directed at the future.

    Sophisticated political insiders would not, in my view, put an unsolicited proposal of this kind in writing to the ABA, since doing so could burn the recipient: it could be leaked – as, indeed, it was. The fact that such a proposal was put in writing – with a dollar amount specified – suggests strongly to me that not-in-writing discussions (which is how business is done at that level) preceded it along the decision-making chain. But neither Holland nor I can be sure of our conflicting conclusions until there is more investigation.

    Holland also complains that AlterNet was not my source for the PERF (a policing organisation) mention in a separate blogpost about the NYPD police. But Holland seems to be complaining about my having mischaracterised an AlterNet story, which I, in fact, never saw: rather, my source for the blogpost was this; and indeed, AlterNet was the source link for it. AlterNet, in turn, cited the San Francisco Bay Guardian as its source. So, while AlterNet editor Don Hazen did email me to tell me that AlterNet was not the source of my PERF blog mention, and I promised to check on it, I did not immediately change the citation – since, in fact, the other AlterNet piece, which does warn about the influence of PERF, was my source.

    Critics generally have attacked my argument as a “conspiracy theory” – that I am referring to a “shadowy elite” that wishes to suppress dissent. I am doing no such thing. I am referring to the elite in the light of day. There is nothing mysterious, opaque or even new about the nature of the self-interest I am describing; nor is my argument new. I first made the case that a small group of military contractors benefited financially from a hyped “war on terror” and the suppression of liberties in the US, in 2007, in my book The End of America, and backed it up with hundreds of footnotes: the argument, which spent five months on the New York Times bestseller list, has never been debunked. My recent blog merely updates the argument to address the “cui bono?” post Citizens United, in suppressing dissent – a “cui bono?” that may well now include Congress itself.

    What evidence do I have that congresspeople overseeing and funding DHS would be influenced by the wishes of their colleagues regarding their own financial benefits and freedom from oversight of their own financial transactions? I am frankly astounded that critics would find this assertion surprising; but less surprised that many of these critics are writing from outside the Beltway. I have not just covered politics as a journalist, but also participated in it as a political consultant, both formal and informal, to two presidential campaigns. (For Gore 2000, I was a formal campaign adviser: contrary to RNC mythology, my brief was not “wardrobe”, but rather policy on women’s issues, and messaging. I was also married to a Clinton speechwriter, and observed the message decision-making process from the perspective of a spouse.) As a professional courtesy, and also because I signed a nondisclosure agreement, I have not previously written about my campaign experience. But the general lessons I learned from it about how the system works on the Hill are disclosable.

    Holland thinks it risible that I am certain that congresspeople overseeing an executive branch agency would affect it, and be affected by their own colleagues’ interests. But Holland is mistaken when he objects to my analysis, saying:

    “DHS is a cabinet-level executive branch agency. It does not ‘report’ to Homeland Security Chair Peter King in some kind of chain-of-command – in fact, it doesn’t ‘report’ to Congress at all except for a handful of official reports required by law. King can hold hearings and call DHS officials to testify before his committee, but he has nothing to do with the day-to-day operations of the agency.”

    This is entirely misleading since congressional subcommittees don’t just hold hearings, they also draft legislation: “Subcommittees hold hearings, take testimony, and prepare the initial draft of legislation before submitting the bill for approval, revision, or rejection by the full committee.” Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security website itself, as you can see in the link, proudly shows day-to-day and, indeed, hour-by-hour congressional involvement with DHS intelligence reports, messaging and draft legislation.

    Holland may find it hard to believe, but from the experience of 14 months I spent in total as a formal and informal political adviser, it is unquestionable to me that Representative Peter King and others on the subcommittee overseeing DHS would be influenced by their own, and by their colleagues’, wishes for avoiding the financial transparency posed by OWS demands. It is also obvious to me that the White House would be influenced by Congress’ wishes on these issues, even though DHS is, indeed, part of the executive branch. This network of influence is simply how the system works.

    I saw firsthand, day after day, how, for a president or a vice president or members of their senior staff or campaign staff, every idea about policy, governing or even messaging is filtered through this decision-making tree:

    1) How does it poll?
    2) How do the polls play out geographically?
    3) What does this do for individual, high net-worth donors?
    4) What does this do for this candidate’s special interests?
    But always, No 5 is part of every decision:
    5) How does this proposed idea, policy, decision or message affect the interlocking network around the leader that is made up of individual congresspeople’s own electoral needs; their own individual, high net-worth donor networks; their own special interest networks; their own financially-benefiting, revolving-door, former aides’ networks; and their own, or their relatives’ own, future work as lobbyists? (A distant, final “6″ in the decision-making equation is some faint, remembered, youthfully idealistic impulse to good governance, or to actual problem-solving, which can be called upon if issues one through five have been addressed). Every decision, whether or not it is made in the formal organisational chart that my critics are pointing to, is filtered through a calculus of future reprisals, or future alliance-related benefits, from other members of Congress, both inside and outside the leader’s own political party.

    Calculations of how individual congresspeople around the leader in question would react to any given decision or even phrase in a speech, were constant, inexorable and a continually shifting form of chess. If money were not part of the equation, there would be nothing wrong with this consideration on the part of every leader of how individual congresspeople will react to a decision. The chess of influence on the Hill is how our system was originally set up to work. The corrupting element is the money now involved.

    Can I offer formal documentation that this is how business is also done in relation to congressional decision-making about DHS, and then about DHS’s own decision-making? Um – duh! – no. Obviously, I have no such documentation of this role of congressional self-interest. These favors and calculations are not generally put in writing; nor are they presented to journalists in press releases. But is it crazy to address this role of influence and expectation on those on the DHS subcommittee, or for that matter on any subcommittee? As anyone who has actually worked on the Hill knows, it would be crazy not to.

    I wrote in the Guardian piece that a possible congressional motivator for cracking down on OWS is that when the people of OWS get their hands on the books, a great deal of fraud is likely to be exposed. Some critics called this wild speculation. One of the issues that came up often in my informal survey of OWS is the goal of auditing the Federal Reserve. An audit has revealed $16tn in unaccountable disbursements. Another point to consider in terms of the potential threat posed to Congress by OWS demands about Glass-Steagall is that nine of the 12 members of the congressional supercommittee had voted to repeal that legislation (for Senate, see here; for House of Representatives, see here).

    Are these facts themselves evidence that Congress may be motivated by benefitting from a crackdown against the potential financial transparency demanded by OWS? No. Do they bear additional investigation? Assuredly.

    Because of a miscommunication on my part in the editing process, there are, indeed, two errors in my posted Guardian piece: “kale derivatives”, ridiculously enough, was a typo: it should have read “fake derivatives”. And I wrote that the Committee to Protect Journalists had issued a FOIA requests. This is incorrect. It was the National Lawyers’ Guild, among others. I have corrected accordingly.

    But as far as my central argument goes, I stand my ground. I have here presented additional evidence that NYPD and federal authorities coordinate efforts in the surveillance and arrests of OWS supporters. I have presented what appears to be DHS’s own non-denial, as of this writing, of potential lower level staff involvement. The oversight role of DHS by specific congressmen, as specified clearly on DHS’s own website, is clear. I argue still that congressmen and women have a confirmed financial interest in the status quo, which individual Occupy members’ first 100 answers to me about their agenda would directly threaten.

    The headline of my piece – which writers do not select – is “The Shocking Truth Behind the Crackdown at Occupy”. What I believe I wrote, rather, is an account of some shocking confirmed truths – and a call to raise some additional questions. I am glad to have corrected the errors in the posted piece, as well as added additional information about the sources of my confirmed evidence of federal/municipal coordination. But would I put that same essential call out to the public again, about the potential interests at stake that may be influencing the violence of the crackdown? Absolutely.

    My analysis about the various forms of collaboration between DHS and local law enforcement is “on firm footing”, confirms Verheyden-Hilliard, “and the record will speak for itself as it comes out. The whole last decade has been about the integration of law enforcement on a vertical level.”

    There is a house on fire, and it is ours.

  14. Gene January 2, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    Well, lookie here. Looks like Naomi Wolf may have been correct after all. http://lewrockwell.com/orig11/wolf-n9.1.1.html

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Problem With Wolf’s Anti-Federal Festish : Lawyers, Guns & Money - November 28, 2011

    [...] Robin has more, and it’s crucial reading: Like many critics of state coercion in America, Wolf seems to [...]

  2. Naomi Wolf: reception, responses, critics | Matt Seaton - ScrollPost.com - November 28, 2011

    [...] – unrelated claims that simply do not follow one another.”Blogger and academic Corey Robin followed up, to observe:“From the battles over abolition to the labor wars at the turn of the last century to the Red [...]

  3. Conspiracy theories – FIND PUZZLE - November 28, 2011

    [...] Holland’s debunking, Corey Robin, a highbrow of domestic scholarship during Brooklyn College, makes a glorious point that a decentralised focus of coercive management has a storied history: From a battles over [...]

  4. Links 11/29/11 | Mike the Mad Biologist - November 29, 2011

    [...] Contrarianism An Open Letter to Those Worried About a Secular War on Christmas Why Students Cheat The Occupy Crackdowns: Why Naomi Wolf Got It Wrong Skilled Jobs Go Begging? Not Quite. Citibank’s management should have been fired [...]

  5. Like the Occupy movement itself, the crackdown isn’t organized…and that’s the whole point. - Kevin Marshall's America | Kevin Marshall's America - November 30, 2011

    [...] Political scientist and author Corey Robin put it best: Like many critics of state coercion in America, Wolf seems to assume that political repression requires or entails national coordination and centralized direction from the feds. But as I argued in this piece in the Boston Review in 2005, and in a much longer piece in the Missouri Law Review [pdf], that notion gets it wrong. [...]

  6. Racism and American Libertarian Thought « Marxist Marginalia - December 19, 2011

    [...] neighborhoods, that is, to “community standards.”‘  Of course, as Corey Robin has argued, such private and local forms of authority have historically been the most important sources [...]

  7. Fight Club, or That’s the Year That Was « Corey Robin - December 26, 2011

    [...] with bloggers like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Adam Serwer, on the one end, as well as writers like Naomi Wolf, on the other, about the nature of the American state, the sources of its coerciveness, its [...]

  8. Check out BC pol sci prof Corey Robin’s blog | Brooklyn College MA in Political Science and International Affairs - December 29, 2011

    [...] with bloggers like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Adam Serwer, on the one end, as well as writers like Naomi Wolf, on the other, about the nature of the American state, the sources of its coerciveness, its [...]

  9. Ron Paul has two problems: one is his, the other is ours. « Corey Robin - January 3, 2012

    [...] I’ve argued repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere, the path forward for the left lies in the alliance between active [...]

  10. Corey Robin, on Ron Paul: “Would that we had someone on our side who could make the case against an American empire, or American supremacy, in such a pungent way.” | Exopermaculture - January 4, 2012

    [...] As I’ve argued repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere, the path forward for the left lies in the alliance between active social movements on the ground and a strong national state.  There is simply no other way, at least not that I  am aware of, to break the back of the private autocracies that oppress us all. [...]

  11. OUPblog » Blog Archive » Ron Paul has two problems - January 26, 2012

    [...] I’ve argued repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere, the path forward for the left lies in the alliance between active [...]

  12. Crackdown on Occupy Probably Not Organized by the Obama Administration « Corey Robin - August 15, 2012

    [...] allegation was always a mosh pit of roving verbs and changing charges—by the feds. I took the opposite position, pointing out that political repression in the US tends to be decentralized and [...]

  13. newsrackblog.com » Blog Archive » The FBI and Occupy: sometimes it ain’t paranoia - December 30, 2012

    [...] many progressive commentators joined Holland in minimizing the federal role in the crackdowns.  First relying on Holland’s rebuttal, and later focusing on reports from Portland exonerating the [...]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,633 other followers