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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Police State and Prisons
The Anarchist Case against the Domain Awareness Center
"Repression is not simply something that is dished out only against revolutionaries or activists. From ICE deportations, raids on public housing in West Oakland, a massive network of informants in Muslim communities, to gang injunctions that help facilitate gentrification, repression by the State is as much a means of counter-insurgency as it is a way to uphold the white supremacist nature of modern American capitalism. It is a project that attempts to keep resistance from brewing to begin with as well as being a conscious waging of social war against communities that could or have represented a threat to the power structure."
“The fact that this society is divided into classes with opposing interests means that it is always at risk of tearing itself apart. The government is there to make sure that doesn’t happen. Whether the government is a dictatorship or a democracy, it holds all the guns and will use them against its own population to make sure that we keep going to work.” – Work, Community, Politics, War
The project of the Domain Awareness Center (DAC) is as simple as it is ominous; a completely surveilled city and population. It is a sign of what is coming – for all of us. If constructed, it will act as a center for collecting and correlating electronic information across Oakland on people that live there. It will record and document where people travel via their car license plates, facial recognition technology, listening devices, as well as filter and monitor social media in one central location. It is no wonder that Oakland has been chosen to be the testing ground for such a project as Oakland is racially diverse, has extreme pockets of poverty, and in the past several years has seen mass riots, strikes, and occupations erupt. We have seen a variety of social struggles and spaces come and flourish. Government surveillance and repression, from the COINTELPRO program that targeted groups like the Black Panther Party to the bombing of Earth First! activist Judi Bari, is nothing new. And, as we will show, it is something that is continuing and will proliferate with or without the DAC.
But repression is not simply something that is dished out only against revolutionaries or activists. From ICE deportations, raids on public housing in West Oakland, a massive network of informants in Muslim communities, to gang injunctions that help facilitate gentrification, repression by the State is as much a means of counter-insurgency as it is a way to uphold the white supremacist nature of modern American capitalism. It is a project that attempts to keep resistance from brewing to begin with as well as being a conscious waging of social war against communities that could or have represented a threat to the power structure.
Against a backdrop of almost daily revelations of spying by the federal government in which the emails, text messages, social media, and phone calls of millions of Americans are being logged and cross-referenced by the State, many people simply fade into a state of shock or indifference. Like climate change or a variety of other seemingly catastrophic problems brought on by capitalism, many people believe that they can do nothing. Others simply continue to place their faith in the democratic process and on “holding the politicians accountable.” While the mounting pressure against the DAC has expanded the debate on the nature of surveillance and State spying in our society, if we continue to allow it to be locked within such a framework of ‘political checks and balances’ that in reality are simply non-existent, we run the risk of losing sight of the true role of surveillance in society. Surveillance is not caused by a lack of government oversight; surveillance is about social control and managing dissent. It is no surprise then that in leaked emails many officials speak nothing of stopping crime and everything about the DAC monitoring and containing protest. For anarchists, at the heart of the struggle against surveillance lies a struggle against the State itself.
With or without the DAC, surveillance and government spying against radicals as well as the poor and working population will continue and grow stronger and more expansive, especially as new technologies come online. As the economic, social, and ecological crisis deepens, the State will continue to care less about maintaining the veneer of democracy and care more about maintaining their power over society for fear of it breaking down.
The DAC has come to Oakland because of the continued power of social struggles and individuals to disrupt capitalist society and a growing desire to confront the power of the State in everyday life. From BART strikers costing the bosses millions of dollars a day, to youth of color rioting against another racist murder in the downtown, more and more the State sees the entire population as potential insurgents. Let us not lose sight of why the DAC has come and why it wishes to contain that power, for it is the only thing which can ultimately overthrow such a system.
Police and federal agencies have many tools at their disposal for disrupting religious groups, revolutionary movements, and conducting surveillance. They make extensive use of technology including wiretaps, the ability to read emails, and GPS tracking. They also have an extensive network of informants and embedded police agents in a variety of struggles and political groups. Since the birth of the Occupy Movement, the State has targeted revolutionary groups with a new-found zeal as well as expanding previous networks such as those among Muslim Americans.
As the Lighthouse Mosque of Oakland wrote in a recent piece against the DAC, “From Oakland to New York City the Muslim community has been spied on whole scale, we have had infiltrators and informants in our mosques, we have been singled out at political protests and we have even had people in our community entrapped by the FBI.” The Mosque goes on to mention, “…[O]ur members have been racially, religiously, and politically profiled and targeted during protests, such as the case of the Trayvon 2 and Harun Arsalai, who was pulled out of a crowded street at Occupy Oakland when he was wearing a headband with Arabic writing on it.” According to a recent Mother Jones article, “Ever since 9/11, counter-terrorism has been the FBI’s No. 1 priority, consuming the lion’s share of its budget—$3.3 billion, compared to $2.6 billion for organized crime—and much of the attention of field agents and a massive, nationwide network of informants. After years of emphasizing informant recruiting as a key task for its agents, the bureau now maintains a roster of 15,000 spies—many of them tasked…with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United States. In addition, for every informant officially listed in the bureau’s records, there are as many as three unofficial ones, according to one former high-level FBI official, known in bureau parlance as “hip pockets.””
The State targets perceived as well as potential threats, in the form of individuals, groups, as well as whole communities as means of derailing potential insurgency against it. As the anarchist magazine A Murder of Crows wrote, “Because of democratic baggage, repression is often understood as simply an anomalous and outrageous violation of rights. What people fail to comprehend is that repression is part of the standard operating procedure of any class society. There are those that rule and those who are ruled, and to maintain this divide, a combination of coercion and accommodation is necessary.” Furthermore, many Leftists and activists overlook the political nature of repression of the general population. And, with America being a settler state and capitalism here extremely racialized, repression in particular is aimed at communities of color.
Many have turned a blind eye or refused to acknowledge the political ramifications of ICE raids, police attacks on public housing projects, check points, gang injunctions, and mass scale incarceration as the State has been perfecting its apparatus of oppression. As the author of ‘…And Now They’re Coming for You,’ wrote: “Perhaps we didn’t understand how similar our struggles are. Maybe believing this made it easier for us to ignore their persecution, perhaps it gave us an easier justification for our inability to act than to admit that we were afraid. It is now apparent that we ignored their struggle at our own peril. The controlled management units, the sensory deprivation, the enhanced interrogation techniques, the indefinite detention, all the tools of the wars against populations abroad are coming home. You watched as they tortured Muslims in Iraq, detained Mexicans in Arizona, incarcerated blacks in Oakland, and as you watched you thought to yourself this is fucked up. But you said nothing as they were thrown to the lions. And now they are coming for you.”
For revolutionaries that fought and died during the COINTELPRO era of the 60s and 70s as well as the Muslim people who now face years in prison or worse, the repression that has been dished out against anarchists, squatters, and those with the Occupy Movement cannot be compared because it is nowhere near on the same level. However, we can begin to see that police and federal agents are taking notice of growing revolutionary currents and targeting them for disruption and harassment. For instance, in the past several months local police departments have used the FireWorks website as a tool and a pretext to shut down two bay area anarchist events. Several weeks ago, police arrived at a squat in Oakland with a letter that demanded that the event planned for the night be shut down. They stated that they heard about the event through FireWorks and they would arrest people if the event was not canceled. Several months before, police sent another letter to a landlord of a space in Emeryville that included a copy of an event description directly from the FireWorks website, and stated that the event did not have the proper permits and needed to be canceled. Either directed by those higher up to target these events or on their own volition, it is clear that police are watching anarchists much more closely.
In October of 2013, a person was fired from their work after police (who tracked the individual through their car license plate) sent their employer pictures of them wearing a mask while protesting against the Urban Shield Conference. Not surprising, Urban Shield trains police departments in “domestic terrorism” situations. Last year police trained with fake protesters holding banners reading, “We Are the 99%” and the anarchist circle A symbol. Is it any surprise that now they carry these tactics forward?
In San Francisco, police have stated that they will begin to treat anarchist protesters much more like gang members, after the arrests of anti-capitalist and anti-colonial protesters (named the ACAC 19) on Columbus Day weekend in 2012. Following the pre-May Day riot on Valencia Street in the Mission District in 2012, police received large amounts of pressure from local elites to clamp down on militants in the city. In the early summer of 2013, the hammer continued to fall. A house squatted by youths, the SF Commune, was raided by police with automatic weapons and even an armed remote controlled unit. Shortly after, some of the same youths were with friends at SF State and were violently beaten and arrested on campus by some of the same officers, leading to a series of demonstrations and marches. Around the same time, an anti-gentrification block party in the Mission District was surrounded by police while other officers stood guard around an anarchist space that was being evicted down the street.
It is no surprise that San Francisco is home to a fusion center – a central hub of information collection and diffusion used by both federal and local police authorities. But we should also keep in mind that none of these things are new. SWAT team raids grew out of attacks on the Black Panther Party, and are again being used against anarchists and squatters. As Occupy raised the threat of massive takeovers of public space, the police in the city respond by taking off the gloves.
In Oakland, as across the country, local police and federal agents worked hard to disrupt, infiltrate, and destroy the growing Occupy Movement – a project that we can only imagine has continued into the present day. According to Naomi Wolf at The Guardian, released documents “…shows a terrifying network of coordinated DHS, FBI, police, regional fusion center[s], and private-sector activity so completely merged into one another…And it reveals this merged entity to have one centrally planned, locally executed mission. The documents, in short, show the cops and DHS working for and with banks to target, arrest, and politically disable…American citizens…[B]anks sat down with FBI officials to pool information about OWS protesters harvested by private security; plans to crush Occupy events, planned for a month down the road, were made by the FBI – and offered to the representatives of the same organizations that the protests would target; and even threats of the assassination of OWS leaders by sniper fire…”
In Oakland, we still do not know much about the level of infiltration of the Occupy Movement because the FBI refuses to release the information. According to the ACLU who has requested documents about FBI monitoring of the movement in Oakland, the FBI refuses because it wants to protect confidential informants. What we do know, according to documents that have been released by the FBI is that it was chiefly concerned about disruptions to the Oakland Airport and the Port of Oakland. And, it is the Port of Oakland to where the idea of the DAC was born – and where it may first find its home.
In regards to informants within social struggles, again from ‘…And Now They’re Coming for You’ wrote: “The current wave of struggle in the Bay began three and a half years ago, and almost immediately evidence of informants was apparent. At the height of the Oscar Grant movement we learned that the FBI expressed a great deal of interest in the anarchist tendency in the Bay. It was uncovered that someone was feeding information about anarchist participation in the uprising to law enforcement. It was suspected that this source was close to or within the anarchist movement.” We can be sure that there are informants among us, trading money for information and also attempting to entrap people in various crimes.
The DAC must be stopped, but not simply because it is based on the violation of the rights of Americans, or that is does nothing to stop crime, or that its stated basis for existence is the monitoring of political activity – but because it is the continuation of the project of control and domination. The reason that we must oppose the DAC is the same reason we must destroy the State.
From a Struggle against Surveillance to a Struggle against the State
It is clear that the pressure put on the city council has managed to shift the local dialog around the DAC from one of indifference to generalized anger against surveillance. But many contend that what is needed to win, i.e. defeat the DAC, is simply to “hold politicians accountable.” The problem with such a strategy is that it won’t work. Counter-insurgency as well as the build-up of surveillance technologies has been something that has been growing in the US since the 1970s as a response to mass unrest. It is an intrinsic part of the State. As class struggle has declined, (as thus channeled into “democratic” means), so has the State been free to evolve without direct opposition. Again from A Murder of Crows, “…following the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s, the state switched to a strategy of permanent repression, or…counter-insurgency. Learning from their past failures, the police developed a preemptive model of repression which sought to prevent insurgency before it happened.” The militarization and growth of surveillance technology is not caused by a lack of democratic accountability but by the desire of the State to contain the population. This drive will not be defeated without destroying the State. The answer to repression is quite simply – more resistance.
Even if the DAC is defeated in the halls of the Oakland City Council, or more realistically it is simply set up first at the Port, (before expanding out from there later), many of the things that it would have carried out will continue to proliferate within American society. As we now know, government monitoring of electronic communication and social media is widespread. Fusion centers across the US coordinate between federal officers and local police departments. Informants exist throughout the country in a variety of social settings. More public and private places come under the watch of surveillance cameras every day. And of course, all of these technologies are at the finger tips of every FBI agent, police officer, and DHS bureaucrat.
The struggle against the DAC is important, make no mistake. It is an opportunity to create dialog and action around a very real and visible aspect of American repression with everyday people. But the quality of that dialog and action is also important. We must fight against the DAC with the understanding that even if it is defeated many it’s most egregious aspects are already spreading across the social terrain. Instead of seeing our project to be one of educating and holding politicians “accountable,” we should see our role as making the situation ungovernable. We will not allow those in power to build the DAC. We will physically organize among each other to remove surveillance technologies from our neighborhoods, workplaces, and very lives. And, we will also give material support to communities, groups, and individuals facing repression from the State. This means picketing a workplace to get a comrade their job back, raising funds to fund lawyers and showing up in court to support the Trayvon 2, and organizing against police terror, gang injunctions, ICE raids, and prisons where we live.
In many ways, a city council meeting is a microcosm of the larger society. The vast majority of us sit below. We who work, who are policed, who are watched, or are talked down to and given orders. Watching us with guns and batons in hand, are the police, shooting us a first with their video cameras and later with the tasers and guns if needed. Giving them orders and directing them are the city council members who claim they “represent” us. But our real power lies in being able to organize ourselves together, horizontally, not upwards in a hierarchy. Our power lies in our ability to refuse our roles as citizens and workers; to strike and to disobey. The power of authority – the State, comes from the top of the hierarchy and is the amount of violence it can wield against us. The power of anarchy – an organized base with no hierarchy, comes instead from the ability of those below to topple those above.
It is not coincidence that the social struggles and movements which have frightened the State so much, from the dual power of the community programs of the Black Panther Party to the communal solidarity of the Occupy Oakland camp which also led to a reduction in crime – are all part of the reason that the DAC is coming to Oakland. The DAC has nothing to do with keeping us safe. It has nothing to do with making us free. Thus, our response to the DAC should not be to look within the State structure for reform and “accountability.” Instead, we need to push our subversive and revolutionary associations which have scared the State so much to their logical conclusion: social revolution.
We do a disservice to the Ohlone people on whose land we stand, to those who were assassinated and murdered under COINTELPRO, and all our comrades and all those locked in prison, jail, facing deportation, or in detention facilities by pretending that this government can ever be “accountable.” It will never be and it never has. At its core, the struggle around the DAC shows a powerful elite that is afraid. Despite their vast armies, their squadrons of police, all their technology, and massive amounts of wealth, they also know that their empire is built upon a shoddy foundation. They may have forced tens of thousands into ghettos and thrown millions more into prisons, but these people may also link up,organize, and fight back. They may force millions of people to get up and go to work each day to make them rich, but at any time these people may instead strike and walk off the job. They may force all of us to reproduce this society day after day, but at any point we may instead tear up the concrete and rediscover our relationship with the land. They are afraid – of what we may become together. The growth of the surveillance State is only a testament to that fear.