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Susan Bruce: Tanks for the Memories

By Susan Bruce

Last year it was Keene. This year it's Concord, trying to get a grant for over $250,000 from the Department of Homeland Security to buy a LENCO BearCat G3, an armored police vehicle (often called a "tank"). The BearCat could be used in the case of terrorist activity, including chemical weapons and gases, as well as weapons.

LENCO is, thanks to the Department of Homeland Security, the leading purveyor of armored vehicles in the U.S. The huge grants given out by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to buy these vehicles have put LENCO firmly on the world map as a contractor. Defense contractors that have been scoring big taxpayer dollars from the Pentagon are now trying to move into the lucrative market of arming police forces. We've seen an increase in the militarization of the police since 9/11. Vast sums of "homeland security" money have gone to potential terrorist targets like Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

Keene received a grant for $285,933 to purchase the BearCat. Keene has a population of about 23,000. It's not exactly a hotbed of criminal activity. There have been about two murders in the last decade. Why did the police need a $300,000 armored vehicle? They didn't. But they could have one, and that's the difference. The money is there, and police love shiny new toys more than just about anything. That's why the war on drugs is still being funded, not because it's a success, but because police departments rely on the funds they get to perpetuate it.

The increasing militarization of police should be of concern to us all. When the Boston PD broke up the Boston Occupy encampment, they had a sound cannon with them. The LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) can produce sounds that induce pain, and can result in permanent auditory damage. The LRAD is commonly known as a sound cannon. They've been used by the U.S. military against Somali pirates. U.S. police departments have used them to attack non-violent protestors. The sound cannon brought to the Boston Occupy encampment wasn't used on the unarmed, nonviolent protestors. Not that day, anyhow. In 2011, an LRAD was used when the Oakland police busted up the Oakland Occupy encampment. One was used against Occupy Wall Street protestors. An LRAD was used during a NATO march in Chicago in 2012. A portable LRAD was used on nonviolent protestors this year in the capitol building in Madison, Wisc. Police across the country are responding with increasing violence to non-violent protests.

The widespread use of the oxymoronically named Free Speech Zones during the Bush administration was the first sign that our constitutional rights to peaceably assemble were under attack. Anti-war protestors were put in these zones, to keep them from getting media attention. Political protestors were kept out of the view of the media and visiting dignitaries. The Bushistas were desperate to sanitize the media viewpoint for their protection.

The ginning up of fear around terrorism has been steady and constant since 9/11. That manipulation translates into the bulk of our tax dollars being spent on defense and homeland security. It's also worth pointing out that the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security are the only cabinet-level agencies that cannot pass an audit. We the people have no way of knowing where our money is going, or what it's being used to do in our name.

Meanwhile, we're being told that we have to cut food stamps and Social Security because "we're broke." Yet we aren't too broke to buy tanks for small town police departments. Funny how we never hear the conservatives who cry about food stamps saying a word about shoveling money at defense contractors. We can afford weapons. We just can't afford poor people. A mindset that only serves to increase the population of impoverished US citizens.

Does the Concord PD need a BearCat? About as much as Keene did. The grant will cover the price of the vehicle, but the Concord taxpayers will be the ones paying for the care and feeding of the tank. A friend in Keene tells me that the Keene Bearcat has never been out. Various suggestions have been made at city council meetings about what to do with it, including using it as a planter in Central Square. Given the trouble that the meter readers in Keene are having with harassment by the Free Keene branch of the Free State Project, perhaps the meter readers could use while they work.

That leads us to the second part of the story. Chief Duval of the Concord PD cited groups like Sovereign Citizens, N.H. Occupy, and the Free State Project as potential agents of domestic terrorism. The Sovereign Citizens movement does have a history of racism and violence. Occupy does not. Occupy was/is a very intentionally non-violent movement. Occupy N.H. fell apart because it was co-opted by members of the Free State Project, people who insisted on wearing guns to meetings and events. There were peaceful Occupiers who were uncomfortable with this, but the FSP'ers weren't willing to leave their strap-ons at home, because FREEDUMB. They have the "right" and that's all that matters. Their rights always trump those of others. The group splintered into the guns and gun nots and that was the end of that. Citing Occupy as a group with domestic terrorist potential is completely wrongheaded. If Chief Duval can come up with an act of violence perpetuated by a N.H. Occupy group, I'd be interested to hear about it.

Of course, the same is true of the Free State Project. They haven't engaged in any acts of domestic terrorism, either. They are an armed group of insurgents moving in with the intention of taking over our state — but so far they haven't hurt anyone. They openly disdain our laws and our courts, and they harass the police whenever possible, but again, so far they haven't hurt anyone. By naming them on the grant application, Chief Duval has given them the greatest gift possible — the opportunity to do what they love best: crying victim. The story of the tank is now all about the Free Staters. The wasteful use of our tax dollars, the outrageous amounts of money DHS appears to have to give away, the skewed priorities that this spending reveals are all going to be obscured by the ceaseless whining of the FSP.

BearCat fever hasn't spread to the North Country yet. Who will be the first? Chatham? Albany? I'm pinning my hopes on Hart's Location.

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