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Lethal Force, Privatized

Private security
Private security in the Wisconsin woods

I follow a lot of environmental news on Twitter and saw this story the other day. A multinational mining company in Wisconsin had been the target of attention by the local community, particularly environmentalists, over a proposed iron mine.

The mining company, GTAC, has an option on the mineral rights of land located in a scenic forest used by hikers and vacationers, a forest which is required by law to be open to the public. According to the local sheriff, however, the company “questions whether the public has the right to access the property if their presence is intended as a protest.”

After two protestors wrestled a cell phone from a GTAC employee who was using it to videotape them while they (quite legally) walked through the woods, the mining company hired a security firm to protect their equipment. It sounds pretty reasonable until we get to the part where the security firm is called Bulletproof Securities. They brought in a force of guards who stalked the woods wearing camouflage, with darkened faces to obscure their features, and carried military weapons. Local residents were alarmed, to say the least.

I wanted to know a little more about a company that was in the business of supplying such a force, so I took a look at the Bulletproof Securities (BPS) website Here is what they have to say about site security, the kind of assignment they were hired for in the woods of Wisconsin.

“BPS operators have a wide array of personal equipment to choose from dependent on the mission at hand. To provide the highest level of security at your facility, our security operators have many weapon systems (lethal and less-lethal), optics, night vision, thermal vision, armor, and lighting options to choose from. … Complacency is no longer an option when a breach can result in excessive amounts of lost time, money and additional liability for your firm … How is BPS better than the local police department? We have superior equipment and vehicles and are not limited to department policies and procedures.”

This militarized security force, claiming to operate outside of bureaucratic supervision and legal constraints, calls to mind the huge firms whose private contractors outnumbered US military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. These contractors prepared food, built facilities, and drove trucks. They also interrogated prisoners, including at Abu Ghraib, and engaged in extrajudicial killings (i.e., murders). The contracting companies operated outside of local jurisdiction and had secret indemnity agreements that protected them from accountability in US courts.

And then I read a police officer’s blog entry about the George Zimmerman verdict in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. He pointed out that Florida’s self-defense laws mean that private citizens can use lethal force based on their own description of their own state of mind. If a police officer had acted as George Zimmerman did, he wrote, their actions would have been subject to intensive review.

A gun is the quintessential dominator tool, made only for overpowering. In each of these three cases, armed persons who are accountable to no democratic authority are wandering around the world living out a paramilitary fantasy with deadly consequences. In Wisconsin they are in service to a private multinational company, in Afghanistan, to the US government, and in Florida, to gun laws written by the NRA.

There is not one bad guy. There are not even a whole lot of bad guys. There is a way of seeing and acting in the world that disregards the will, the feelings, and the very lives of whoever is in the way. A gun is its enforcer.

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About Katherine Power

I didn’t set out to be a terrorist. As a student activist, I moved from protesting the war in Viet Nam to waging guerrilla war to overthrow the government….

Recent and Upcoming Appearances and Publications
1/15/2014 Complexity and Social Change, Occupy Radio
10/31/2013 Surrender, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
10/25/2013 Surrender, Taos Community Theater, Taos, NM

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