Friday, May 07, 2010

Agents in our midst

The military at your peace meeting? You look around the room and wonder, which one of you is an agent of the US military sent to gather intelligence on your peace group, and possibly attempt to convince you to commit violence? The scraggly guy--he might be deep undercover. The white-haired grandmother who claims she was active in the 60s (back when lots of police and some military were infiltrating groups and urging them to 'get radical' and start bombing or at least throwing bricks)? Probably the earnest young woman dressed all in black.

"Another lawsuit filed in January by Hildes — and which Honig says is being closely monitored by the ACLU — involves members of an anti-war group in Olympia. They allege that a civilian employee of the Force Protection Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord infiltrated their group. His identity was revealed through a public-disclosure request.

The employee has since been outed as a 'professional informant' on a website. That individual and his civilian boss are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Piek, the base spokesman, said the Army has opened an investigation into those allegations and that he could not discuss them further. He declined to discuss the employee, saying that the man's work was 'sensitive.' A telephone message left at the man's home was not returned Tuesday."
--Mike Carter, 'Activist spied on? Man wins settlement," Seattle Times, 5 May 2010

The courts are making a few rulings on the government's decision that dissent is illegal--protection against which the military arrogates unto itself endlessly. "You should thank me for defending your rights to your idiot opinion" is a common refrain heard by anyone who has the temerity to critique anything the military does.

Indeed, this is the fundamental flaw in the idea that militarism promotes democracy. It is used to crush democracy and to undermine it. No democracy is tolerated within the military--it is pure command and control--and that is part of the rationale for the Posse Comitatus Act. It's a bit like Gene Hackman's ship commander of a thermonuclear missile-carrying submarine in the film Crimson Tide: "We're here to preserve democracy, not practice it."

The lawsuits to defend our peace promotion are a good thing because they go a long way toward uncovering the facts. Again and again they reveal that the ones who advocate violence are quite often infiltrators--agents of the police or military. Why? Two reasons, leading to a third.

First, get a group to commit an act of violence and public sympathy vanishes. The relationship is fairly direct and quite quick. "Oh, they are throwing stones at the military? Well, that is stupid and no better than military violence."

Second, get the group charged with violent crimes and drain their resources as you wreck their reputation. They will be hiring lawyers, serving time and have no real effect on the issue they originally protested.

Finally, as the group realizes they are infiltrated, they develop a security culture that finishes them off. They are suspicious of each other, trying to hedge their communications and they withdraw from new recruits, acting much more in secrecy and with decreasing democracy themselves. They become dysfunctional and marginalized.

How do groups resist this?

Be nonviolent. If you commit to nonviolence they may watch you and even make agent provocateur attempts that will fail and they will lose interest.

Be open. Draw bright lines around personal privacy, but open the group's decisionmaking process to all. This gives the agents a voice, which they may try to abuse, but transparency and nonviolence are natural concomitants and can weather these attempts when maintained.

Be democratic. If one strong personality attempts to rule a group but the group maintains its spirit, tone, and philosophy, the internal strife of a group is limited and within tolerable bounds. If we cannot be democratic we cannot logically advocate for it.

This is not anarchical. Even though I love Dorothy Day, I cannot fully commit to anarchy, and even though she identified as an anarchist, she really wasn't in many ways. Someone fasting in Rome to convince the Catholic bishops of something is buying into their version of command and control and only trying nonviolently to persuade them, not to truly engage in anarchical spirituality.

And Jim Lawson noted well that you cannot just do whatever at a demonstration and expect it to be effective. He advocates a 'fierce discipline.' The way we decide what our spirit and tone will be is democratic and even by consensus quite often, but when we take to the field we need to commit to conduct with Lawsonian ferocity. Indeed, that is how we overcome the agents in our midst. If our discipline is rock solid for nonviolence, they cannot erode it and they will learn that.

Once in a while they learn it so deeply they defect. Jack Ryan was an FBI agent assigned to monitor our various movements and he eventually quit to become a Catholic Worker himself. Bring 'em on.

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