Social Crisis in America – From the Ferguson Riots to the Bundy Ranch Standoff
The American/Israeli Law Enforcement Relationship
The scenes in Ferguson, Missouri this week were eerily reminiscent of those in Gaza and West Bank -Palestine in the past few weeks. Armed soldier-police faced African-American protesters, while residents of Gaza were twittering advice to the residents of Ferguson on how to survive tear gas attacks by the police.
Actually, there shouldn’t be any surprise since the Assistant Police Chief of the Ferguson Police Department, Joseph Mokwa, travelled to Israel in February 2008 to learn police tactics from the Israeli police and army. The program is called the Law Enforcement Exchange Program (LEEP) and is sponsored by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) a Jewish think tank. Mokwa had been Chief of Police for St. Louis, but had to resign over a controversy concerning his daughter and other police officers using impounded cars for their own personal use.
Although the program is supposed to teach American police officers about terrorist related issues like bomb disposal and border security, the training covers much more. A JINSA article on the first LEEP trip to Israel notes, “The Americans observed methods and techniques used by Israeli police forces in preventing and reacting to suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism including bomb disposal, forensics, crowd control, and coordination with the media and the public.” In addition, YAMAM, which is involved in carrying out raids and operations in Gaza, is involved in the program
Since the program started in 2002, over 100 American police officers have undergone training in Israel. An additional 11,000 have been trained in LEEP conferences held in the US.
The Jewish Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has a similar program. In 2011, then St. Louis County Police Department chief Timothy Fitch attended the ADL’s National Counter-Terrorism Seminar, an annual week-long Israeli training camp where US law enforcement executives “study first hand Israel’s tactics and strategies” directly from “senior commanders in the Israel National Police, experts from Israel’s intelligence and security services, and the Israel Defense Forces,” according to the ADL’s website. Interestingly enough, it was the St. Louis Police Department’s heavy handed military response that caused the governor of Missouri to transfer responsibility for the protests to the Missouri Highway Patrol.
This isn’t the only Israeli influence. Former Israeli military officers are frequently brought in to help in airport and shopping mall security.
How is it that the Israeli police and military have gained so much influence in America’s law enforcement community?
The transformation began after September 11, when American law enforcement officers began to look to the Israelis for counter-terrorism expertise. JINSA and the ADL used this need as an opportunity to ingratiate themselves to the US law enforcement community through free trips to Israel and free conferences here in the US.
Along with the Israeli counter-terrorist training came the Israeli attitude towards law enforcement – the idea that the police aren’t part of the community, but more of an occupying force designed to maintain control at any cost. This attitude is reinforced in many cities like Ferguson, where the community is predominantly black, but the police force is overwhelmingly white.
The more aggressive Israeli attitude towards law enforcement is also seen in the growing number of police brutality incidents in the United States and the growing distrust of the police by the public. A poll taken August 11 – 14 by the Huffington Post and YouGov showed that nearly half of Americans (45%) did not trust the police, while 37% did trust them. The poll also found that 43 percent think police violence with the use of lethal force happens too often in the US, while 32 percent disagreed with the statement.
The Fraying Social Fabric of America
The tarnished reputation of the police isn’t the only problem. Americans as a whole are distrustful of government as a whole. A CNN poll taken two weeks ago showed that only 13% of Americans trust the federal government to do what is right at least most of the time, the lowest figure recorded in more than 55 years of reporting. Ten percent of Americans say they never trust the government to do what is right, the highest number ever recorded. A vast majority — 76 percent — say they can only trust government some of the time, the second-highest figure ever recorded.
That distrust also is escalating into fear of the government. A Rasmussen Poll in April showed 37% of likely U.S. voters now fear the federal government, while 54% consider the federal government today a threat to individual liberty rather than a protector. Two-out-of-three voters (67%) view the federal government today as a special interest group that looks out primarily for its own interests.
Add to this high unemployment, a slow economy, the shrinking middle class, and a feeling that America is being ruled by an elite instead of democracy and it’s easy to see the potential for unrest – especially if the government is seen as an enemy. There is also the Black Community’s concern about the police. The FBI stated that over a seven-year period that ended in 2012, a white policeman killed a black person on average of twice a week. USA Today reported that an average of 400 police killings a year was reported, with 96 percent of them involving a black person as the victim.
Given all of this, it’s not a surprise that confrontations between the government and US citizens have escalated in the last few months – confrontations that have involved groups with widely differing political views, ethnic city and section of the country. While the Ferguson rioters are predominately black, politically liberal, and urban; the Bundy protestors in Nevada in April were predominantly white, politically conservative, and rural. In the confrontation in Murrieta, California, the protestors who were blocking the movement of illegal immigrants was more ethnically diverse, with blacks and Hispanics joining white protestors. In both the Ferguson and Bundy confrontations, the government officers were fully militarized.
Another factor is the number of people on both sides of the political spectrum that are eager for a violent incident that could lead to revolution. While there are reports that black militants and Communists were encouraging events in Ferguson, right wing militias were ready for a violent confrontation at the Bundy Ranch.
Given the voters current distrust of the government, the increasing frequency of confrontations that could spiral out of control and take on a national scope, there is a serious likelihood that America could be facing major civil unrest in the near future. The only question, given the wide ethnic, geographical, and political nature of those upset with events, is when, where, and with whom the confrontation will take place.
The current concern is Ferguson, which has simmered for over a week and a half. Although it looked like the violence was tapering down a week ago, the protests and occasionally riots have continued as agitators have come from the outside to spur on the anger. Fortunately for the authorities, the rioting has remained localized and it hasn’t spread to other urban centers with large black populations like Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and New York. If that were to happen, however, law enforcement might be pushed to breaking.
Widespread rioting might then spread across ethnic or political groups. Radical Hispanics might decide to take advantage of the violence or militia groups might carry out operations to cause disruptions. This would force Obama to mobilize the National Guard in order to help the police. He could even declare martial law in parts of the US (Ferguson is currently under a state of emergency), although the political cost would be high and it would likely inflame passions even more.
The martial law concept in the US is closely tied with the right of habeas corpus, which is in essence the right to a hearing on lawful imprisonment, which means the courts have a say in who is imprisoned. The ability to suspend habeas corpus is granted under Article 1, Section 9 of the US Constitution, which states, “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” The suspension of habeas corpus would mean anyone could be arrested and detained even if they haven’t broken a law.
Obama administration is wishing that tempers wane or a rainstorm hits Ferguson and forces the rioters indoors for a few days, so they can calm down before any of this happens. However, that doesn’t mean that the US has dodged a bullet. Violence could easily breakout elsewhere.
There are several potential tinderboxes; inner city riots, immigration protests, and land disagreements with the BLM in the West. There are also several potential” instigators” like the New Black Panthers, anarchists, and several militia groups. Each poses different threats, goals, and levels of violence.
Radical black militants are found predominantly in the inner city. They are lightly armed and more enthusiastic. There are reports coming out of New Jersey that they may be targeting the police. However, they are more likely to take advantage of a race riot to cause trouble than actually create a confrontation.
There are also anarchist groups like Anonymous at Ferguson, but these mainly white leftists specialize in creating their own events like the Occupy movement, and demonstrations and civil disobedience at major leadership meetings like the G8 meetings and national conventions. They tend to be more technically savvy and rely more on technological asymmetric warfare rather than using firepower. Last week they executed a cyber attack on the Ferguson government website.
The militias generally are right wing and have more firepower. They also have more members who were in the US military, which means they are more tactically savvy. In fact, according to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, it was a militia leader and Iraqi veteran who placed militia snipers at the Bundy Ranch confrontation. Their tactically superior position above the federal agents forced the government agents to withdraw and leave the cattle in the hands of the Bundys.
There is some concern that the militias may try to take advantage of a civil disturbance. In fact, some in the government think that it was the militias that targeted parts of the US electrical grid in California last year. The attack, which is still being investigated by the FBI was reportedly well planned and expertly executed.
All of these groups (and others) have proven to be mobile and willing to travel to hot spots. Black militants and anarchists have travelled to Ferguson recently and militias have gone to the Bundy Ranch and are currently operating on the US/Mexico border.
Ironically, even though these extremist groups have different ethnic and political backgrounds, it’s likely that they may find it in their best interest to support each other in furtherance of their differing political agendas. Black militants would probably find little resistance and even some support from militias who also wish civil unrest.
This is not to say the US government isn’t prepared for such civil unrest. In April of this year, the US Army published, U.S. Army Techniques Publication 3-39.33: Civil Disturbances. It details preparations for “full scale riots” within the United States during which troops may be forced to engage in a “lethal response” to deal with unruly crowds of demonstrators. The training manual outlines scenarios under which, “Civil unrest may range from simple, nonviolent protests that address specific issues, to events that turn into full-scale riots.” Although it mentions the Constitutional rights of American citizens it goes on to stress that such protections are null and void under a state of emergency.
Although the US is relatively stable and the riots in Ferguson are impacting a very small part of the nation, it remains a flashpoint. And, it’s important to realize that civil unrest can spread quickly. Who would have realized that the Soviet Union would have broken up a year before, or the impact of the so called “Arab Spring”. Even Yugoslavia, which was a calm tourist destination once, quickly descended into civil unrest in the 1990s. With that in mind, future rioting on a larger scale or confrontations between people and the government out west are real, serious threats to the social fabric of the US.
The Way Forward in Iraq
By James Jay Carafano and Steven P. Bucci
August 15, 2014
Issue Brief #4262
The situation in Iraq remains grave. Spiraling violence, political instability, and a humanitarian crisis caused by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) could impact U.S. vital interests. The Obama Administration has an obligation to take responsible action. Congress should insist the President take immediate, suitable, and appropriate measures to safeguard American interests. Further, President Obama was right when he said, “I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks. This is going to be a long-term project.” Therefore, Congress needs to look to the long term, ensuring that the instruments of national power are sufficient to stem the rise of a new global transnational terrorist threat and spreading war in the Middle East, which could lead to greater and even more dangerous and destructive conflict.
The Struggle for the Levant: Geopolitical Battles and the Quest for Stability
By Aram Nerguizian
Center for Strategic and International Studies
August 19, 2014
The United States and its allies compete with Iran in a steadily more unsettled and uncertain Levant and Middle East. The political upheavals in the Middle East, economic and demographic pressures, sectarian struggles and extremism, ethnic and tribal conflicts and tensions all combine to produce complex patterns of competition. The civil war in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza, and the internal upheavals in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon all interact and affect the competition between the US and Iran. The Burke Chair is circulating a review draft on US and Iranian strategic competition in the Levant. This study shows that the United States faced an increasing level of instability across the Levant, which in turn affected every key aspect of US competition with Iran in the broader Middle East and North Africa. It asks how do the US and Iran compete in the Levant, where do they compete, and what are the forces and constraints that shaped this contest in the past, present, and possibly in the future?
Iraq: The Economic and Governance Sides of the Crisis
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
August 18, 2014
There is no question that the Islamic State is the most immediate aspect of the Iraq crisis. It needs to be checked, its gains need to be reversed, and it needs to be driven out of Iraq if possible. But – and it is a critical but – Iraq requires far more. It is going to require fundamental political and economic reforms to achieve any meaningful form of unity and stability and to overcome its sectarian and ethnic divisions. The last three years have effectively made Iraq a failed state. Prime Minister Maliki did not simply fail by becoming corrupt, authoritarian, and sectarian. He and those around him failed at every level.
The Iranian Sea-Air-Missile Threat to Gulf Shipping
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
August 14, 2014
The build-up of Iran’s naval, air, and missile capability is steadily increasing Iran’s ability to pose a wide range of threats to maritime traffic throughout and outside of the Gulf. One potential target of this threat is the steady increase of bulk cargo shipments into the Gulf, Arabian Sea/Gulf of Oman, and Red Seas – shipments that are of growing strategic importance to the Gulf states. However, it is the danger Iran poses to Gulf energy exports that poses the most critical threat to the economies and stability of the other Gulf states, and is the key threat to both international maritime security and the global economy. There is no question that the secure flow of maritime traffic from the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz into the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman, and beyond is critical to the global economy and every developed nation.
How Egypt Prolonged the Gaza War
By Michele Dunne and Nathan J. Brown
August 18, 2014
As negotiations on a lasting cease-fire in Gaza grind on in Cairo, it’s not only the animosity between Israel and Hamas that is complicating the talks — it’s also Egypt’s role as mediator. Egypt’s internal politics — far more fraught and violent than they were during Hosni Mubarak’s era — have intruded on the attempts to reach an agreement, as the military-dominated government in Cairo attempts to use the talks as part of its war against the Muslim Brotherhood. This subtle shift — from mediator with interests, to interested party that also mediates — has led to a longer and bloodier Gaza war than might otherwise have been the case. And while a strong Egypt-Israel alliance was supposed to cut Hamas down to size, this strategy has also backfired on the diplomatic front. However much it has bloodied Hamas — and particularly the population of Gaza — the war has actually led to a breaking of international taboos on dealing with Hamas, a former pariah.
What Can Iraq’s Fight Over the Mosul Dam Tell Us About Water Security?
By Cameron Harrington and Schuyler Null
August 20, 2014
The fight for control over “the most dangerous dam in the world” is raging. Since its capture by Islamic State (IS) militants on August 7 and subsequent attempts by Iraqi government and Kurdish forces to take it back, Iraq’s Mosul Dam has been one of the central components of the government’s surprising and rapid collapse in the country’s northern and western provinces. In fact, one might see the capture of the Mosul Dam as the moment IS ascended from a dangerous insurgent group to an existential threat to Iraq as a state.
Rocket Fire on Israeli Gas Platforms Could Escalate Gaza Fighting
By Simon Henderson
August 20, 2014
Earlier today, Hamas claimed to have fired two rockets at an Israeli natural gas installation located about nineteen miles off the coast of Gaza. The Israeli military neither confirmed nor denied the claim, merely saying that its offshore gas platforms have not been struck. There are two gas platforms off the coast of southern Israel, both reachable by fire from Gaza. The main one is the production platform for the Tamar field, Israel’s largest producing gas reserve. Tamar fuels an increasing proportion of the country’s electricity — by 2015 the figure is forecast to be as high as 50 percent. Although the Tamar field itself lies fifty miles offshore from the northern port city of Haifa, it has to be pumped along nearly 100 miles of subsea pipe to a platform off the southern city of Ashkelon for initial cleaning. It is then piped ashore for further treatment at a special plant in Ashdod before entering the gas grid. A mile away from the Tamar production platform, in waters similarly around 800 feet deep, stands the Mari-B platform, which served a similar purpose for the now-depleted Mari-B and Noa gas fields. It is unclear which platform the Hamas rockets were targeting, or indeed whether they were fired at all.
Next Steps in Iraq
By Kenneth M. Pollack
August 18, 2014
Now is not the time to break out the old “Mission Accomplished” banners. Nuri al-Maliki’s decision to withdraw his candidacy for a third-term as prime minister was an important step forward for Iraq. But it was a necessary, not a sufficient condition for progress. It means that Maliki is no longer an impediment to reforming Iraqi political system to bring the Sunnis, disaffected Shi’a and potentially the Kurds back into Iraq’s political process. Still, those reforms will require a great deal of work.
Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor
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