6 Creepy New Weapons the Police and Military Use To Subdue Unarmed People
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This article has been updated.
The US is at the forefront of an international arms development effort that includes a remarkable assortment of technologies, which look and sound like they belong in a Hollywood science fiction thriller. From microwave energy blasters and blinding laser beams, to chemical agents and deafening sonic blasters, these weapons are at the cutting edge of crowd control.
The Pentagon's approved term for these weapons is "non-lethal" or "less-lethal" and they are intended for use against the unarmed . Designed to "control crowds, clear streets, subdue and restrain individuals and secure borders," they are the 21st century's version of the police baton, pepper spray and tear gas. As journalist Ando Arike puts it, "The result is what appears to be the first arms race in which the opponent is the general population."
The demand for non-lethal weapons (NLW) is rooted in the rise of television. In the 1960s and '70s the medium let everyday Americans witness the violent tactics used to suppress the civil rights and anti-war movements.
Today’s rapid advancements in media and telecommunications technologies allow people to record and publicize images and video of undue force more than ever before. Authorities are well aware of how images of violence play out publicly. In 1997, a joint report from the Pentagon and the Justice Department warned:
"A further consideration that affects how the military and law enforcement apply force is the greater presence of members of the media or other civilians who are observing, if not recording, the situation. Even the lawful application of force can be misrepresented to or misunderstood by the public. More than ever, the police and the military must be highly discreet when applying force."
The global economic collapse coupled with the unpredictable and increasingly catastrophic consequences of climate change and resource scarcity, along with a new era of austerity defined by rising unemployment and glaring inequality have already led to massive protests in Spain, Greece, Egypt, and even Madison, Wisconsin. From the progressive era to the Great Depression to the civil rights movement, Americans have a rich history of taking to the streets to demand greater equality.
Meanwhile, tens of millions of dollars have been invested in the research and development of more "media-friendly" weapons for everyday policing and crowd control. This has lead to a trade-in of old school weapons for more exotic and controversial technologies. The following are six of the most outrageous "non-lethal" weapons that will define the future of crowd control.
1. The Invisible Pain Ray: The 'Holy Grail of Crowd Control'
It sounds like a weapon out of Star Wars. The Active Denial System, or ADS, works like an open-air microwave oven, projecting a focused beam of electromagnetic radiation to heat the skin of its targets to 130 degrees. This creates an intolerable burning sensation forcing those in its path to instinctively flee (a response the Air Force dubs the " goodbye effect").
The Pentagon's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program (JNLWP) says, "This capability will add to the ability to stop, deter and turn back an advancing adversary, providing an alternative to lethal force." Although ADS is described as non-lethal, a 2008 report by physicist and less-lethal weapons expert Dr. Jürgen Altmann suggests otherwise:
" ... the ADS provides the technical possibility to produce burns of second and third degree. Because the beam of diameter 2 m and above is wider than human size, such burns would occur over considerable parts of the body, up to 50% of its surface. Second- and third-degree burns covering more than 20% of the body surface are potentially life-threatening – due to toxic tissue-decay products and increased sensitivity to infection – and require intensive care in a specialized unit. Without a technical device that reliably prevents re-triggering on the same target subject, the ADS has a potential to produce permanent injury or death. "