Edge of Chaos is a political podcast starring Joe Ryan and Neurotoxin. Its aim is to have a free-flowing discussion of news and current events that also examines the empirical outcomes of public policy, avoiding biases based on ideology and policy intentions. Listener discretion is both advised and encouraged.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ferguson WILL Explode

I don't pretend to know which direction the grand jury will rule regarding Officer Darren Wilson, and I contend that anyone who claims to know is blowing smoke. I also don't pretend to know which way it should rule, as all Joe and I have advocated for here is an objective, impartial investigation that requires Wilson to demonstrate lethal force was justified - amid a belligerent clown choir of pundits from both sides of the issue insisting they know what happened based on a slew of mind-numbing generalizations and stereotypes. But what I can predict, with absolute certainty, is that the grand jury ruling will be followed by days if not weeks of extreme, violent unrest. And I put the odds at about 30% that said violent unrest will not be limited to Ferguson or even to Missouri, but will spread to a number of other cities nationwide. This situation stopped being about Michael Brown within a week of his death.


I've been saying for a couple of years now that the US is a political powder keg just waiting for the right spark. The primary reason for this is the stubbornly stalled economy which is not anywhere near recovering from the collapse of 2008, Obama and his braindead groupies regurgitating the same obsolete and non-representative measures notwithstanding. Lack of financial resources - as a result of unemployment or underemployment, cuts to social safety nets that they were dependent on, and lingering debt from half a decade ago - leaves people with a penchant for civil unrest. As I've discussed in multiple posts and shows, compliance with the law is a function of cost-benefit analysis. The political system frustrates most people in some way, but they comply because generally speaking, taking it on is not worth risking the lives they have. However, when they experience years of economic struggle and insecurity with little hope of regaining stability, the balance in said equation begins to shift; and taking the frustration directly out on the system becomes a palatable option for enough people to overwhelm its resources and threaten it. This effect is especially acute when it involves large proportions of young people struggling for employment; as it leaves them with a lot of spare time and energy to direct toward addressing their political and economic misery.

Then there are more demographic-specific factors. The urban poor have been hit from every angle with cutbacks to the resources they normally rely on - from affordable housing to SNAP to service jobs. The middle class may not have been driven into poverty; but swaths of educated, middle-income earners have been forced into a perpetual focus on immediate survival - something the poor are used to, but this demographic finds unacceptable and will rebel if it does not see a way to remedy. Veterans - of whom we now have many due to over a decade of war - have been marginalized by the horrendous incompetence of the VA and cuts to other public services they utilize. And a number of political minorities - from civil libertarians to evangelicals - have found their ideologies and lifestyles endangered by the ever-growing cancer of Federal overreach, from the NDAA to Obamacare.

Of course most of the demographics involved don't lay this out in such clear-cut terms. In fact, many of them blame each other, particularly the urban poor continuing to hope for government assistance and accusing the far right and libertarians of having sabotaged it, and many in the latter demographic as well as the middle class in general blaming the urban poor and occasionally immigrants for relying on handouts and being drains on the system. But while they remain somewhat divided, all of these elements have a common enemy in our disastrously corrupt and intransigent justice system; which with every passing year becomes more of an unapologetic for-profit industry for private prisons, correctional and law enforcement unions, and defense contractors who now make their money selling military equipment to law enforcement agencies. You want to see a poor, urban liberal, a libertarian, an evangelical, and a disabled veteran get along? Put a cop in full combat gear in front of them.

Why It Hasn't Happened Already

In the past year or so, we have seen at least two manifestations of mass civil disobedience in the US, each of which I thought had the potential to become the spark to light the powder keg. But both fell short.

The first surrounded the government shutdown in late 2013, which involved a slew of blatantly unconstitutional antics by the obscure National Park Police - ranging from attempting to keep veterans from visiting memorials on Veterans Day to ordering people to leave their privately owned homes and businesses that sit on Federal land. These antics were widely and unapologetically nullified. Embarrassing and hilarious images of people walking around in Federal parks despite the barricades circulated on social media, along with stories of residents and business owners daring the National Park Police to arrest them, and the disobedience culminated in a group of veterans and activists dumping 100s of barricades from DC area sites in front of the White House in protest.

The second, of course, was the Bundy Ranch, and there is little need to discuss the details of that incident as we have already done so ad nauseum.

What these incidents had in common with each other that is unlikely to happen in Ferguson is that the government backed off. And while there are status quo apologists that will burst blood vessels in their heads saying I'm wrong - it backed off in both cases because the people making the decisions realized they were outnumbered and overwhelmed, and did not have the resources to win a violent clash. In the case of the shutdown, said decisions were likely made at local command levels. Low-ranking officers who instructed their operatives to shut down Federal sites and evict residents may or may not have been following general guidance from DC, but what they invariably did not have in the bureaucratic chaos of a shutdown is orders on what to do about the widespread disobedience. Contrary to popular conjecture, most law enforcement officers are NOT wanton killers that will engage in violence against civilians at the drop of a hat, and their officers were additionally deterred by the PR threat of engaging in such actions against veterans. Hence, when people laughed and told the NPP where they could stick their shutdown and their barricades, the officers mostly stood around and looked stupid for lack of a better plan.

The Bundy Ranch was far more interesting in that it involved an actual armed standoff with a meticulously organized coalition that had clear objectives and leadership. It's difficult to know the precise size and scope of said coalition, but it obviously involved very diverse elements from libertarian and nationalist militias from all over the Southwest to high-ranking and wealthy officials and organizations within the Mormon Church. Said coalition demonstrated tremendous amounts of discipline and restraint, reportedly expelling several members that behaved in a trigger-happy, provocative fashion toward law enforcement. By the account of one EoC contributor, the two clowns that murdered two Las Vegas police officers several weeks later were present at one point; and were asked firmly to leave for trying to provoke a gunfight. It also helped, of course, that many of the Federal agents involved - from the even more obscure BLM - were from the same small, rural community; and also demonstrated commendable restraint and dedication to resolve the conflict peacefully. Hence, in both cases, the government side of the powder keg acknowledged just how powerful and diverse the opposition it was facing was, and chose to defuse the situation by backing down.

Ferguson Is Disastrously Underestimated

Compare this to Ferguson. I don't know particularly what to attribute this to, but the executive politicians making the decisions for how to deal with the Ferguson unrest - ranging from police chiefs to Governor Jay Nixon to Obama - appear to be engaged in a contest of who can make the dumbest one. Every time the government throws more law enforcement resources at the situation, it escalates further, with more violence and higher numbers of more diverse people on the streets. And yet the executives' response continues to become more belligerent with each step, from the St Louis County PD rolling out in full combat gear and shooting stun grenades into the backyards of random houses in proximity, to Jay Nixon's unconstitutional "pre-emptive" declaration of a State of emergency last week.

It's tempting to formulate very ugly theories about why the government can't respect the Ferguson protesters the way it did the Bundy Ranch militias or the veterans during the shutdown. Is it simply because it's Missouri, and most of the protesters are black and poor, whereas the officials involved are predominantly white and affluent? Is it because the protesters' coalition hasn't demonstrated the same amount of cohesion and restraint; being unable to rein in the small fringe of idiots throwing bricks and setting fires? Is it because the government agencies involved are high-profile ones from all levels, and have a difficult time coordinating any sort of stand-down order, but feel compelled to back each other or even one-up each other? I don't know, and I don't pretend to know.

But what I do know is that the size, diversity, and resolve of the Ferguson coalition are all enough to make the Bundy Ranch one into an historical footnote. And every time executive action tries to stop this coalition via disorganized, haphazard intimidation; the coalition gets bigger, angrier, and more diverse. I believe we have passed the point of no return in terms of avoiding violence when the grand jury ruling is finally announced, I just hope that someone on the government side of the equation has the sense to react in an effective fashion. But judging by the 'competence' in dealing with this situation they have all demonstrated so far, I highly doubt it.


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