#Ferguson and the Crisis of Authority

This post was originally published in August, 2014. 

Three days ago the Missouri State Police stepped into the middle of a crisis in the name of peace. As they entered the Ferguson city limits, they all but excused the local police from their duties, and offered what some saw as a concession from the state. Friday night seemed to confirm Capt. Ron Johnson and Governor Jay Nixon’s theory that removing the militarized police from the scene would calm the protesters and usher in a new era of police/protester relations. Then Saturday arrived, and any notion of cooperation was left on the side of the road with empty teargas canisters and rubber bullets.

In hindsight, Nixon and Johnson did what they felt was right based on decades of education, leadership, and experience. Their decision was right in line with established methodology when dealing with civil unrest; provide leadership. In the case of Ferguson, Nixon and Johnson decided the local police were no longer able to provide leadership on the streets, therefore a third party, one that had heretofore not been involved to any measurable degree, could step in and fill the void. Had the Ferguson unrest occurred ten, maybe 15 years ago, they might have succeeded. Today however, civil unrest like the type seen in Ferguson cannot be treated this way. It is a movement bereft of leadership, yet led by thousands. It is the ultimate in organized chaos, and it shatters old hierarchical molds. Welcome to the future.

In his book, “The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium” author Martin Gurri argues new social movements no longer need established hierarchies. In fact, modern movements are quickly eroding the authority of established political and special interest groups. They form and dissolve in an almost unpredictable manner and exist just so long as the desire to revolt continues. New movements, like the one in Ferguson, are not motivated by old enticements, rather they are ideologically motivated. This makes them impossible to prevent, and nearly impossible to slow or hinder. Due to their fluid nature, these movements do not require centralized leadership. This is both their primary strength and their ultimate weakness. They exist, as Gurri stated, in a crisis of authority. The crisis is not so much personal, as most within the group do not care for authoritative figureheads, it is deeply internal and inherent in their structure. Thus, once a movement begins to weaken, it will self-decimate rapidly and life will carry on as usual. That is the risk of leaderless resistances.

So, is Ferguson a leaderless resistance and does it suffer from a crisis of authority? To answer that we need to look at who has tried to steer the movement. We already touched on Capt. Johnson and Gov. Nixon. They failed, as seen in the Governor’s August 17th request for National Guard troops. Others include the Nation of Islam, The New Black Panther Party, Rev. Al Sharpton, the Moorish Temple and many others. Other than a few hours of relative calm, none of these groups can control the movement. During the build-up to the Saturday night teargas deployment, numerous protesters and observers were heard begging the crowd to obey the curfew. They were ignored and the mass moved on until there was gas. They were ignored because they represented and existential element, trying to break into dynamic and take control. They were honestly just as effective as riot officers.

Where do we go from here? In terms of law enforcement, strategies will need to be modified. As I stated earlier, these movements are impossible to predict, therefore impossible to stop. They can however be slowed, and occasionally derailed. The methods for this do not involve teargas, per se, rather an intellectual look at the dynamic and good old fashioned risk analysis. For protesters the leaderless movements mean more teargas, more hacktivism, and an unknown future. If the movement’s message resonates with the citizens and power brokers, then social change may occur. If however the movement is seen as nothing more than rampaging malcontents the message will die as the people turn their backs on your plight.

#Ferguson. (www.upi.com)

Bundy V. #Ferguson; Teargas and Smiles All Around!

This post was originally published in September, 2014. 

Bundy Ranch and Ferguson threw out all notions of what people thought they knew about activism be it left wing, right wing, or race-based. Both incidents were born of the exact same frustration and both suffered from outsiders “hijacking” the movements to serve their own ends. However, while they are similar in some ways, Ferguson and Bunkerville were treated completely different by the media, the public, and more importantly law enforcement. This has led many to question the reason one incurred such a violent response, while the other appeared to be a government in retreat. The answers are much simpler than most people are willing to accept, and they probably are not what most believe.

In order to adequately explain the difference between Ferguson and Bunkerville, it is necessary to briefly review both. In April 2014, a local rancher named Cliven Bundy issued a call for help from his cattle ranch near Bunkerville, Nevada. Bundy was facing the closing days of a decades old dispute with the US government, spearheaded by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM closed several thousand acres of public land, and were preparing to round up Bundy’s trespass cattle, which had roamed on the land for several years despite court orders to cease. Bundy’s call was answered by dozens of “patriots” and a number of citizen militia. The result was hundreds of armed men and women, ready to fight for what they saw as stunning government overreach. After nearly two weeks of escalating rhetoric, the incident ended with the BLM retreating, and the militia declaring victory.

In Ferguson, on August 9th, an officer confronted two African American men who were walking in the middle of the street. Accounts vary as to what happened next, but the consensus is, one of the men, Michael Brown, began to wrestle with the officer as the officer was in his vehicle. Brown fled from the officer, but then turned back to face him. At that point, the officer fired at Brown, killing him. Brown was found to be unarmed. The next night, a candle light vigil for Brown took a turn for the worst as members of the vigil began looting local businesses. By late on August 10th, many businesses were burned and other property destroyed. On-line hacktivists called for a full-scale attack on the City of Ferguson and the police department. The hacktivists took down web sites, and encouraged civil-disobedience on the ground. Dozens were arrested. Police deployed rubber bullets, audio-disruption devises, teargas and riot officers. The unrest ended nearly two weeks after it began. Over 150 people were arrested in the 16 days of rioting.

What is the cause of such a disparity? The answer lies in the inherent nature of social movements. Each movement needs three things; a clear message, a sympathetic public, and the ability to evolve. A clear message is a prerequisite for organization. When organized, activist movements are easier to control because the crowd follows a certain set of rules, established by the leadership. Examples of this include almost all immigration marches, anti-tax rallies, and anti-war protests. While both movements were in response to government oppression, only one had a clear message; Bunkerville.

At Bunkerville, Cliven Bundy and the militia set out to protect Bundy’s trespass cattle and secure the release of the confiscated cows. The message was clear, thus when two of the country’s largest militias arrived, the Oath Keepers and Arizona Praetorian Guard, they were able to quickly establish leadership and control the movement. It is important to note that when BLM Special Agent Dan Love broke the skirmish line and approached the throngs of armed militia, he was able to negotiate with one person. This presence of leadership allowed for the peaceful retreat of the BLM and probably saved the lives of dozens of people.

In Ferguson the message was ambiguous; “Justice for Mike Brown” or “stop police brutality” or “the police are racist” and so on. The lack of a single coherent message led to a lack of leadership and instead, an ochlocracy formed and remained for two weeks. People took to the streets being led by an ideology, fed by anonymous on-line provocateurs. Several people tried to take control of the mob including Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and the Nation of Islam. None of them succeeded because none of them had a clear message. On August 15th, five days after the shooting, Captain Ron Johnson from the Missouri Highway Patrol arrived on scene and attempted a similar move as BLM SA Love. Initially it looked as through Capt. Johnson’s presence and the use of the state police was enough to quell the anger, but this notion faded within 24 hours as the mob continued to riot. In the end, Ferguson calmed simply by virtue of running out of steam. As many movements have witnessed throughout history, anger and resentment only last for so long. Had one, tangible demand emerged early, Ferguson would have never seen the clouds of gas.

The police responded to Bunkerville and Ferguson in the same manner; heavily armed, teargas at the ready, and skirmish lines prepared. Bunkerville’s throngs were placated by their leadership, thus not a single round was fired. In Ferguson, no one was in charge so the crowd surged, challenged the skirmish lines, and incurred the wrath of a modern police force. Police agencies in the US are not accustomed to dealing with leaderless resistance. Their approach in Ferguson was not at all surprising when viewed through the lens of modern police training and common knowledge, both of which state, “look for the leader.” In the end, shouts of racism and intolerance by police in Ferguson hold little water because the movement itself invited the response by failing to organize early. Interestingly, Bunkerville and Ferguson attracted enough people to qualify as a sympathetic public, even if that public was highly niche. Unfortunately neither enjoyed national or global support similar to “Occupy.” Time will tell if Ferguson is able to adapt, but without a defined message this is not likely.

Much more can be said in regards to the Ferguson movement and its face-first collision with the police. The main point however will never change and that is, Ferguson lacked a message, therefore they lacked leadership, and we all saw the results.

Why #ISIS cares about #Ferguson

Standing on the rubble of a bombed-out apartment complex in Gaza seems an odd place to see a sign supporting rioters in Ferguson, Missouri.  Yet, there he stands, a man with a forlorn look, holding a homemade sign declaring Gaza’s support for the movement in Ferguson. The links between Gaza and Ferguson are not obvious to the general public, and require a deep dive into American left ideology. Indeed this is exactly why the links between Gaza and Ferguson should be treated seriously. Anti-establishment ideology is ubiquitous in American activism and research into the solidarity between Gaza and Ferguson opens a Pandora’s box of extremism which ultimately leads to a British Jihadi fighting for ISIS.

In August the terrorist group, the “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine” issued a statement of solidarity with the protestors in Ferguson. The PFLP, amongst other things, stated “…the empire will fall from within.” The phrase is not merely an extremist platitude, it is a philosophy that many activists in the United States either ignorantly follow, or willingly promote. Regardless of where one stands in the activist continuum, they all acknowledge that no external force would ever bring down the United States. But what if a force was able to crumble the system from the inside? Is there a precedent for this? The answers to these questions explain the recent messages from ISIS to Ferguson.

If one looks at the Arab Spring or Euro-Maidan one sees a common theme emerge; when governments fail, extremists thrive. No one can reasonably argue that the Arab-Spring didn’t benefit al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, or even ISIS to a certain degree. Syria is a failed state and is the global training ground for Jihadists from California to Chechnya. In each of these cases, the impetus for unrest came from within but was fueled by outsiders who leveraged the chaos to seize power. Power was found by those who could move swiftly into a deteriorating situation and establish order. Iraq, Syria, and Egypt all stand as a testament that a government can be crumbled from the inside and that extremism is quick to move in and take over.

Returning to Ferguson, is there a foreign influence and does it encourage anti-government sentiment? The answer is a resounding yes. For example there are at least a dozen pro-Palestinian groups on the ground in Ferguson operating, organizing, and encouraging the unrest. Each of the groups have direct links to Gaza and spread their ideology through drawing moral equivalencies between the “oppressive Israeli occupation” and a “racist, militarized police force” in the United States. They all understand that once a person accepts the premise they are being systematically targeted by an oppressive regime, any tactic becomes morally acceptable. Hence, rioting, looting, and even violence are not only suggested, they are encourages. The police in the United States are now seen as a militant arm of a Fascist regime, controlled by anomalous powers and fueled by institutionalized racism.

This is the exact vector four members of ISIS used to inject their support for Ferguson. Their messages, while seemingly short, are firebrands stoking distrust, anger, and extremism. They seem to have watched the influence of the anti-Israel groups and decided they too can capitalize on the dissent. Their messages are an acknowledgment that the plan has worked before, and could work again. The question now becomes will Ferguson act as a rally point for lone wolves or homegrown violent extremists sympathetic to ISIS, al-Qaeda, or PFLP? Time will tell. The “Food Stamp Bomb Plot” foiled last week does not appear to be connected to an international group, but was terror inspired nonetheless. Their amateur attempts may be a “one-off” or may be the beginning of a new wave of insider attacks aimed at undermining the government. Again, time will tell.