The name of the game was psychological warfare. The target was the American people, particularly those residing in or visiting Los Angeles. The goals were at least threefold: demonize the demonstrators long before they ever began assembling on the streets of L.A., intimidate as many of them as possible into not showing up or into leaving early, and justify the use of appalling levels of police state repression.
The plan began at least two years ago as “officers were assigned as early as 1998 to begin plans for crowd control and riot suppression.” (1) The media was an eager participant, running such provocatively headlined articles as “Coroners Office Plans to Be Fully Staffed Through Convention,” as the L.A. Times did on June 23rd. The not so subtle message? Exercising your constitutional right to free speech may very well cost you your life, which seems like a rather strange way to run a ‘democracy.’
Another aspect of the plan apparently involved the staging of a ‘riot’ outside of the Staples Center following the L.A. Laker’s recent championship win, and the subsequent staging of a non-response by the LAPD. That this was a wholly manufactured event should be abundantly clear to anyone critically examining what occurred. The notion that the heavily militarized and ridiculously over-equipped LAPD was unable – or too timid – to respond to this disturbance has no connection to reality.
Without doubt, the purpose of this fiasco was to elicit calls from the media for more decisive action to quell such unrest, and to thereby manufacture the appearance of a public outcry for more aggressive policing (and this from a department that had already given us the hyper-aggressive and feloniously corrupt CRASH units). And this is indeed precisely what happened. Of course, never did the media take notice of the fact that there is a considerable difference between a group of unruly sports fans on a drunken rampage and a group of peacefully and lawfully assembled political protesters. To equate the two – as the press and city officials have done repeatedly – is indicative of the mind-set of the LAPD and its media allies.
Allegedly tarnished and embarrassed by its feeble response to the Laker’s melee – and properly chastised by the media – the department was now determined to respond in force to the slightest provocation – real or imagined. So when it was “faced with large street demonstrations and scattered acts of physical provocation, the LAPD was swift and punishing, a far cry from the department that allowed rambunctious Laker fans to burn cars after the team’s recent championship victory.” (3) Of course, the street demonstrations were actually fairly small, and the vast majority of the provoking was being done by the LAPD.
But never mind that; the department was now able to portray itself as being the whipping-boy no matter what its response. LAPD spokesman David Kalish was quick to do exactly that when he said that the department was in “almost a no-win situation. Some will view it as we waited too long, some will view it as moving too quickly,” (4) which is both a little too predictable and a little too convenient.
We are now expected to feel sorry for the scandal-wracked department. Whether they’re standing-by with their thumbs up their asses while rampaging sports fans fueled by drunken bravado run amok, or whether they’re firing indiscriminately into a caged-in crowd of unarmed demonstrators working peacefully to save the last vestiges of democracy in this country, the beleaguered LAPD just can’t seem to catch a break.
There is actually a strong possibility that the provocation in both cases was instigated by the LAPD itself. As the Times would later report, the department “has a particularly long and pungent history of spying on political dissenters dating to the ‘Red Squad’ of the 1930s that regularly broke up union and leftist meetings, hustling protesters to jail. Then, in the late 1970s and 1980s, it was learned that officers from the department’s Public Disorder Intelligence Division had infiltrated left-wing groups and that others had spied on local politicians and critics of the Police Department.” (5)
And the LAPD spooks were out in force in preparation for the DNC: “The Los Angeles Police Department calls them ‘scouts,’ and they are so good at their job that, during this week’s protests, some were shot at and others were arrested – by their own colleagues … Throughout the week, they have provided a key element in the Police Department’s intelligence-gathering network, as they circulated unnoticed within crowds across the city … the department now uses these officers routinely … Federal and other local agencies also had undercover officers working inside the demonstrations this week.” (5)
Is it really such a stretch to suggest that these agents provocateur were involved with instigating both the Laker’s fiasco and the rock-throwing incident that triggered the LAPD rampage in the protest pit? The L.A. Times reported tellingly that these spook officers were in the thick of all the major confrontations (which weren’t, by the way, very major) that occurred during the week of protests, including being in the line of fire at the now infamous police riot following the Rage Against the Machine concert. And make no mistake about it, a police riot was exactly what it was.
While the local press claimed that what occurred was a “response to a melee at a protest concert,” (6) the truth is that there was no melee until the LAPD created one by opening fire and sending in club-wielding storm troopers. And while theTimes may claim that “a few hundred protesters clashed with an extraordinarily forceful Los Angeles Police Department,” (4) the reality is that but a handful of protesters ‘clashed’ with the police by throwing rocks at them – while the vast majority did nothing more than try to escape the unprovoked police onslaught. (8)
The reality is also that while LAPD mouthpiece Kalish would brazenly state that “Anyone with common sense would have left the area on their own volition when the violence reached such a high level,” (7) more honest voices would report that “a commander at the scene … announced that people would be given a ‘reasonable’ amount of time to exit … Less than a minute after the announcement, rubber bullets started flying,” and “The vast majority of concertgoers tried to follow the order to leave … (but) police had closed off other possible exits.” (8)
And finally, the truth is that while Kalish would also claim that “police were forced to react to the ‘very violent demeanor of the crowd,'” (4) less biased accounts would note that the demeanor of the crowd was in fact overwhelmingly peaceful – even festive – and the police response was “like something out of the Third Reich … Monday’s downtown sweep was overkill by any standard.” (1)
Labeling Monday night’s actions as a police riot should not be interpreted to mean that the response by the LAPD was spontaneous or that the officers were ‘out of control.’ Quite to the contrary, the actions of L.A.’s finest were very carefully planned and executed; it was in fact a very tightly choreographed police riot that followed a time-tested blueprint.
All the basic elements of the plan were in place at least a quarter-century ago, as reported by journalist Peter Watson, who conducted an exhaustive review of the available government research in the area of psychological warfare for his book War on the Mind (Hutchinson, 1978). In the chapter “Psychological Aspects of Population Control,” Watson summarized the pertinent research in the area of crowd control:
“Far more specific studies have been carried out in respect of the behaviour of crowds. One man who has devoted a great deal of energy to these questions is Colonel Rex Applegate … According to Applegate, the most frequent mistake which security forces make is not to use force early enough … Basic psychological riot control measures … should preferably, but not necessarily, be used in the following order:
Show of force: the surprise appearance of a large unit of specially equipped police in full view of the mob can have a huge psychological impact …
Orders to disperse: …They should be clear and fully communicated to the crowd, which usually means a powerful public address system. In large mobs, undercover men in plain clothes should be planted …
Use of formations: this is the point, Applegate says, where psychological force has to be replaced with physical force … The main point in training, however, is to instill into the riot squad the value of acting as a group and the psychological impact which a block of well-armed men in identical uniforms has on mobs. The men should all be trained so that they always occupy the same position in the unit and therefore know exactly where everybody else is … Once movement is underway the squad should not stop … if any single man is attacked his aides should immediately take his place, reinforcing the idea that the mob is dealing with a unit, not with individuals. The forward squads should not weaken themselves by making arrests; this is left to the back-up units in the rear of the patrol. After dispersal, the squads should actively and ‘aggressively’ patrol the area, picking up any individuals left in the vicinity to prevent the mob regrouping …
The use of chemical agents and individual fire: if it is not possible to disperse the mob through the use of formations, then, says Applegate, ‘chemical agents may be called for or selected fire from marksmen’ … What he recommends is for the police to fire into the ground in front of a marauding mob; this reduces the risk of fatalities, he says, and instead the ricochet bullets hit the lower parts of the body, injuring but not killing … Upon first confronting a crowd, he writes, steps should be taken to show them that the police are armed and that their guns are loaded …
The police should never be under too specific instructions as to what they can and can not do; the commander on the ground should have discretion … Local criminals and professional ‘fringe operators,’ says Applegate, will normally join the riots for personal gain. Police intelligence should aim to stop it by routine road blocks and so forth.” (10)
Nowhere will you find a more accurate description of the actions of the LAPD than in those words written more than twenty years ago. The only thing that has changed is that the police now use rubber bullets rather than firing into the ground, and the chemical agents employed today are more sophisticated than in the past. To see just how closely the LAPD adhered to these time-honored psychological warfare techniques, compare the following two passages, the first taken from reporter Charles Rappleye’s account of the events following the Monday night concert, and the other taken from Peter Watson’s book:
“a squad of 20 motorcycle cops pulled up from the rear. As those on foot made their way, the motorcycle officers rode to the front and fanned out across Figueroa from curb to curb. Then, after another pause, all 20 hit their lights and sirens and began a slow advance. The effect was … an unnerving assault of light and sound, the piercing racket echoing off the glass walls of the downtown skyscrapers.” (1)“Not only is very loud noise extremely painful, but when it is pulsed at certain frequencies it can make people sick – even, in some cases, induce epilepsy … in 1973 Allen International publicized a new machine – the ‘photic driver’ – which not only pulsed out sound that could reverberate off buildings, but also pulsed out flashing lights. This too can be reflected from the walls of public buildings, compounding its effect. The noise and light together are reported to have a marked nauseous effect on crowds and the risk of epilepsy is also said to be greater with this machine.” (10)
What then, in the final analysis, are we to make of the LAPD’s behavior during the Monday Night Melee? According to the venerable L.A. Times – the official voice of L.A. as brought to you by the good people at the Chicago Tribune – “many people, including some of (the LAPD’s) most persistent critics, credited it with protecting liberty…” (3) Strangely though, while this article went on at some length, not a single legitimate critic of the department was quoted to support this conclusion. Instead, what was presented were shameless accolades from police-state apologists like Councilwoman Ruth Galanter (“It’s a credit to all of us. It’s a credit to the city”) and the city’s Human Relations Commission chairman, Joe Hicks (“What we saw over the last week or so was the epitome of human relations on the streets of L.A.”). (3)
Elsewhere, a delegate from Michigan, Bill Hanner, was quoted as saying: “I don’t even know what they’re demonstrating about. I don’t think they’re doing a very good job of getting their message out, because we’re very willing to listen.” (9) Hanner apparently never considered that it is extraordinarily difficult to get your message out when you are busy dodging rubber bullets, choking on tear gas, and being ignored and/or denigrated by the media. And it’s doubtful that Hanner – or any of his fellow delegates – bothered to walk over and find out what the demonstrations were about, given that it’s very difficult to listen from inside the confines of the Staples Center.
The verdict, at any rate, is in. The LAPD is now basking in the glow of its self-proclaimed victory, and are not in any mood for naysayers. Spokesman Kalish made this clear when he dismissed criticism of his department with the remark: “It is unfortunate that some politicos have escalated the level of the rhetoric and participated in the dissemination of disinformation.” (7) The shamelessness of the department’s primary disseminator of disinformation apparently knows no bounds.
“As one veteran officer described it, the idea is to control crowds through intimidation. Lethal force is eschewed, but force of any other kind is maximized.” (1)
1. Charles Rappleye “Fear Itself,” L.A. Weekly, August 17, 2000
2. Beth Shuster “Coroners Office Plans to Be Fully Staffed Through Convention,” Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2000
3. Jim Newton “LAPD Ends Week With High Marks,” Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2000
4. Tina Daunt and Carla Rivera “Police Forcefully Break Up Melee After Concert,” Los Angeles Times, August 15, 2000
5. Beth Shuster “Officers Kept Eye on Protests From Within,” Los Angeles Times, August 18, 2000
6. Troy Anderson, Dominic Berbeo, Jason Kandel, and Jordan Smith “LAPD Keeps Tight Rein on New Round of Protests,” Los Angeles Daily News, August 16, 2000
7. Troy Anderson “Senator, ACLU Blast Police,” Los Angeles Daily News, August 16, 2000
8. Howard Blume “L.A.’s Black Eye,” L.A. Weekly, August 17, 2000
9. Scott Martelle and Nicholas Riccardi “95 Arrested as Protesters and Police Make a Day of It,” Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2000
10. Peter Watson War on the Mind: The Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology, Hutchinson, 1978
Postscript: On Thursday, August 24th, with the dust still settling from the DNC protests, forty-one former and current members of the Los Angeles Police Department filed a class action lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against the department seeking $100 million in damages. The officers claim that they were retaliated against with punishment and harassment after reporting acts of egregious police misconduct including fraud, perjury, false arrest, false imprisonment, and assorted civil rights violations. The lawsuit is targeted against the city and the LAPD brass, including Chief Bernard Parks, three captains and two lieutenants. At a news conference announcing the suit, some of the officers reported having received thinly veiled death threats. The attorney for the officers announced that he expects the suit to ultimately include from 300-400 plaintiffs, all with similar complaints. The department has always steadfastly maintained that no ‘code of silence’ exists among its officers, as have departments all across the country. According to an amazing number of its own men, that code of silence not only exists but is enforced with a vengeance. Meanwhile, at least seventy of the department’s men remain under investigation in conjunction with the Rampart scandal.
Charles Rappleye of the L.A. Weekly on what really happened on Monday night: http://www.laweeklydaily.com/ink/00/04/news-rappleye.shtml
Charles Rappleye again, this time on the shameless praise heaped on the LAPD: http://www.laweekly.com/ink/00/40/news-rappleye1.shtml
Howard Blume, also of the L.A. Weekly, on the shooting of civil rights attorney Carol Sobel – right between the eyes: http://www.laweeklydaily.com/ink/00/04/news-blume.shtml
Ben Ehrenreich of the L.A. Weekly catalogues the misdeeds of the LAPD during the DNC: http://www.laweekly.com/ink/00/40/news-ehrenreich.shtml
FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) on the disinformational reports in the mainstream media of the events of Monday night: http://www.fair.org/activism/democratic-convention.html
John Andrews of the World Socialist Web Site on the use of spies by the LAPD: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2000/aug2000/lapd-a24.shtml
John Seeley of the L.A. Weekly on the seemingly deliberate targeting of reporters by the LAPD: http://www.laweekly.com/ink/00/40/news-seeley.shtml
A photographic journey into the epicenter of the police state