Why You Shouldn't Trust Right-Wingers' Sudden Concern About the Police
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
One of the most misunderstood elements of American politics has to be the fact that legislative coalitions are very different from voting coalitions. The most obvious case in point is the erroneous assumption that the coalition that often forms around civil liberties, featuring elements of the most ideologically committed members of the left and the right, means that these groups are in agreement as to the goals they wish to obtain. It’s not essential that everyone who signs on to a bill is doing so for the same reason, but it’s vitally important that people not misinterpret the joint action as a sign that we are entering a moment of bipartisan kumbaya that will heal the nation’s wounds and bring us together once and for all.
In the wake of Michael Brown’s death and all that’s followed, we are seeing this play out in what Jim Newell accurately described as a potential coalition of right and left on the demilitarization of the police. In this case it’s the hardcore wingnuts at the Gun Owners of America joining in with the ACLU to demand an end to the Pentagon program that encourages police departments to buy surplus military equipment at bargain basement prices both of whom have endorsed a bill by Democratic congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia to do just that. But it’s important that we distinguish that the liberty concerns which drive this particular joint endorsement are coming from the same place or seek the same end.
Gun Owners of America president Larry Pratt is not concerned about the police harassing and shooting young African American men or using military tactics and equipment against peaceful protesters exercising their rights under the constitution. He has never before expressed any concern for these issues in the past. What he is worried about is something else entirely. Just a few weeks ago he appeared on Alex Jones’ conspiracy show and articulated exactly what it is he fears the most. Right Wing Watch captured the moment:
Jones asked Pratt about a Washington Times report about a 2010 Pentagon directive — an update to a series of similar directives crafted under previous administrations — outlining how and when the military can use force to quell domestic unrest “in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the president is impossible.”
Jones, of course, read this to mean that it is “official and has been confirmed” that the military is “training with tanks, armored vehicles, drones” to “take on the American people, mainly the Tea Party.”
“Well, he’s certainly not thinking that Muslims are a threat,” responded Pratt, “so he’s turning to his political opponents, declaring that they’re the enemy and ignoring the fact that Muslims from time to time have a tendency to go ‘boom.’”
Pratt then cited the 2009 DHS report to claim that the Obama administration has “fingered veterans as potential terrorists, people who believe in the Second Amendment, who are pro-life, who want to work for limited government.”
“I guess the idea of limited government really would terrorize a socialist,” he said, adding, “The enemy is freedom and they really are doing what they can to extinguish it.”
It is fair to assume that the ACLU is worried about something else entirely. In fact, we know they are:
Our neighborhoods are not warzones, and police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. And yet, every year, billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment flows from the federal government to state and local police departments. Departments use these wartime weapons in everyday policing, especially to fight the wasteful and failed drug war, which has unfairly targeted people of color.