One of the oft-repeated fallacies in both criminal and homeland security work is the notion that everyplace is exactly the same and suseptible to the same threats. For example, a bomb goes off in Kabul and people will begin saying things like ‘It’s not a matter of if that happens here…but when.’ (Cue ominous music) and begin asking for even more ridiculous products that detail the TTPs 1 of a particular threat regardless of their applicability or practicality. A group of insurgents in a nation dress in burqas to bypass security and then launch an attack using automatic weapons, RPGs and explosives? Quick! Get a product out telling everyone to be wary of this tactic. Never mind that a clan of burqa wearing people can’t walk to their mailbox without having the whole neighborhood get their phones and dial 9-1-and holding their finger over the final 1 at the slightest sign of trouble. Never mind that Western culture has a different conception of how women can be treated and so are unlikely to be waived through a checkpoint (especially dressed in a burqa). Overlook the fact that an RPG is a bit harder to acquire here than it might be in Helmand province (as are automatic weapons 2).
The same thing happens across the board with assessments of threats. When talking about the threat form animal or ecological extremists, prepare yourself to hear about a string of events that span continents and decades. The underlying assumption (never articulated or examined lest the whole assessment fall apart under its own weight of ridiculousness) is that if it has happened anywhere it will happen everywhere. Someone in favor of animal rights in California must be exactly like the person in Switzerland who threw a Molotov cocktail at a pharmaceutical executive 3
This is sloppy, psuedo-analysis and it is pervasive.
Instead, analysis should strive to identify the similarities and differences between threats (or perspective threats) in order to more accurately identify them. I did some work, years ago, for my graduate degree on animal rights activists and it became clear that there were some very distinct geographic and temporal differences within the movement. All of which have generally been ignored by both legislators and enforcement bodies. That, in turn, has (IMO) lead to ham fisted responses that accomplish little. Some of this we can chalk up to the same pathologies I spoken about before at length and so won’t repeat them here. One that I don’t think I’ve mentioned (much) before is the desire to hop on the bandwagon. Like hemlines, music and Star Trek with the public, the government goes through phases of hysteria and what was out of fasion becomes new again. And when the weather vane of funding points in one direction it’s a mad dash for everyone to rush headlong to where the arrow is pointing. When it was street gangs, every department began reporting increasing numbers of gangs. Then it was eco/animal rights activists and the FBI declared they were the biggest domestic terrorist threat in the nation. Then, we had homegrown violent extremists for awhile and now cyberwar is the flavor of the month. When word of these new fashions come down from on high, every agency scrambles to find something connected to it in their jurisdiction so as to access the federal teat of
milk and honey free money.
But, that’s not the point of this post.
The NY Times does a nice job of putting some context to one of the geographical niches of radicalism in the United States. Oakland, California has history of leftist radicalism that stretches back decades and was the scene or some of the most contentious moments of the Occupy movement. If you cared about evaluating the likelihood of the protests that were seen in Oakland in other jurisdictions, this piece would be a good place to start.
It’s a long article that deserves your time and derives its value from reading it in its entirety so I won’t quote from it here. However, after reading this article I’d recommend thinking about the amount of variability (even within the state of California) and the amount of context needed to understand and explain Oakland. And be wary the next time you read an article that zips across time and space like Doctor Who without at least a nod to what makes the points of comparison similar or different.
- tactics, techniques and procedures ↩
- note: I didn’t say ‘hard to acquire’…just harder ↩
- It’s worthwhile to note that this is a one-way only street. Make the charge that the abuses of power by a handful of law enforcement officers means that all are dangerous and you’ll not be invited to the Christmas party this year. Make the same case about an group not favored by the existing power structure and your career is cleared for take off. ↩