The Master's Tools
Warfare and Insurgent Possibility
The following collection of essays began their current evolution around 2005, when some anarchists began a concentrated study of police tactics, largely born out of necessity in the moment, but becoming over time a focus for some of us. The first of the following texts, A Primer On Police Crowd-Control Tactics and Frameworks was released in 2007, in the lead-up to the October Rebellion demonstrations in Washington DC. It has been updated numerous times over the years, appearing under a variety of titles depending on the context of its distribution, which almost always occurred person-to-person at gatherings and workshops. At the time that these initial writings were being done anarchist praxis and direct action still operated under the assumption of the primacy of mass street actions. As the summit era ended, the understanding of street actions became more nuanced and these studies on tactics moved beyond looking at crowd control and police procedure into discussions and research projects about policing on a broad and theoretical level, attempting to construct ways to understand particular police operations in particular moments in the most nuanced way possible, to find a way out of the tactical impasse that seemed to have gripped the scene after 2010 (a situation not helped by the problematic tactical assumptions and police collaboration that saturated much of Occupy).
When people started moving away from the assumption of street actions, and beyond mass movements (and their imposed, policed pacifism), they began to focus on isolated acts of property destruction, and approached property destruction as a primary objective, in isolation of the tactical effectiveness of these actions in reference to broader tactical dynamics. Combined with a mentality centered on affectivity, the subjective desires that lead to action and the affective benefits of action led to a form of analysis completely separating the dynamics of the action from the terrain of the action, and totally eviscerating any ability to even begin to discuss effectiveness. Oddly enough, even though this approach to action began its trajectory with a rejection of pacifism, these people came to replicate the exact same structure; their actions became isolated from their dynamics and context and became nothing but the manifestation of some concept, some ethical or subjective imperative. Far from a conscious engagement with insurgency, action became reduced to some odd politics of complaint, directly replicating activist complaint, but through the medium of broken glass. This question is dealt with in the second essay, “Beyond Property Destruction,” which was released in the summer of 2012 around the Radical Convergence in Philadelphia.
All of this is an attempt to push tactical discourses and narratives into a discourse of effectiveness, and this necessarily means a fundamental shift away from activism and into a mentality grounded in insurgency, a tactical, immediate, and material confrontation with the state, or its material possibility, the police. But, to begin to engage with the materiality of police and policing we need to shift away from a tendency in radical thought to analyze police based on a sociological-historical framework, in which spatially and temporally disparate moments are brought together into a single narrative of the police as such. When this occurs we obscure the particular dynamics of police actions in a particular time and space, and fail to have the discussion of what insurgency and effective action could look like in that terrain. What is Policing?, a new essay that appears at the end of this collection, engages this question through a broader discussion of insurgency and tactical fluidity, the necessity of thinking of police as a mobile logistics of force attempting to occupy all possible space, which necessarily fails, leaving gaps in coverage and conflict in its wake; this conflict and these gaps and the very impossibility of total policing, and thus the very possibility of insurgency.
Following the main body of the text there are also three appendices that build off some of the narratives presented in the main text. We Give A Shit! is an analysis of the actions that occurred during the Pittsburgh G20 demonstrations, and an analysis of how police logistics were almost stretched to the point of rupture. This piece began as an internal document to a single cluster, as a working paper contributing to a series of wider analyses. “Tactical Terrain Analysis: A How-To Guide” discusses ways to framework a nu- anced analysis of the terrain structured through action and policing, and aims to provide some tools and present some methods that have been used in this sort of analysis in the past. The final appendix is an introductory reading list for those who want to move on in this sort of analysis, which I fully encourage. No single text could possibly fully discuss the nuance and conflict of tactical terrain and how to understand it: this text is best approached as one of innumerable possible narratives. The more we engage in this sort of analysis, the more eyes and ears we bring to it, the more detailed our analysis can be and the more effective our actions can be. But, it is not just a conceptual shift that must occur, away from hypothetical discussions of theory and into a focus on the materiality of conflict and insurgency, but also a tactical shift, away from the politics of complaint, even if that complaint is amplified through breaking stuff, and into a more focused discourse based in effectiveness and the immediacy of insurgency.
Once again, many of us are finding ourselves in the midst of a tactical impasse. Following the final gasps of the summit era, and the failures of Occupy, there is a question of where to go next, but on many levels this is the wrong question to ask, or rather the wrong plane to engage the question on. In attempting to depart from the narratives that have been developed to discuss tactics within radical scenes there is a tendency to reduce the question of the tactical dynamics that we face to simple dichotomies and singular scenarios which can have simple and clear answers, but if we can learn anything about warfare, it is anything but singular and simple. The following essays trace a possible line of flight out of this impasse, and a move from a traditional approach to tactics that we often find within radical scenes to a fundamentally different way of attempting to understand the immediacy and materiality of conflict and warfare itself. Specifically, the following essays are centered around an attempt to address two fundamental problems in current tactical discourse that prevent us from engaging in tactical discourse, with an eye toward the immediacy of struggle and the effectiveness of action.
The first tendency in current tactical discourse that we see is to focus all discussions of tactics around a separation between violence and nonviolence, in which the action becomes an isolated site for the expression of some magnitude of conceptual content; the action becomes analyzed through conceptual content, rather than effectiveness. As we see in Gelderloos and others, whether of a pacifist or insurgent tendency, it’s common to attempt to essen- tialize tactical discourse, to speak of immediate and material conflict not as a particular dynamic that can be engaged on the levels of its particularities, but rather as an attempt to manifest some transcendental conceptual approach. In pacifist discourse this appears as an odd sort of ethical discourse, in which the action and its dynamics are reduced to an isolated action that becomes a manifestation of a certain quantity of ethical content, ie whether or not the action is more or less ethical. In the rejection of this tendency, political violence also ends up becoming a mantra of sorts, and the rejection of nonviolence became a tactical essentialism in itself, leading to anarchists differentiating ourselves from others through our focus on political violence (whether this comes in the form of direct resistance or property destruction). Thus we began to see some absurd tactical trajectories, from the attempt to pad-up and confront police directly (even though this is recognized as suicidal), or in the fetishization of property destruction, which largely occurs in a vacuum in the middle of the night, outside of concentrations of conflict. The attempt has become to manifest some form of violent resistance as a way to reject pacifism.
Now, rejecting pacifism is fine and good. Pacifism implies an arbitrary definition of action based on arbitrary conceptual definitions, and consequent limitations on possible actions (as well as the attempt to police actions... peace police are still police). But building tactical narratives around this rejection means that tactics began to be approached as merely a question of the militancy of fighting, and loses an important aspect of tactical discourse: the dynamics of conflict and the relationship of these dynamics to effectiveness. This can be seen in the fetishism of people like Ted Kaczynski and organizations like Deep Green Resistance; the absurd assumption that the magnitude and force of an action, taken against places or people reduced to isolated points, is somehow the next logical step after the rejection of nonviolence. In this approach, and in many like it, action is reduced to an expression of the acceptance or rejection of some ethical imperative, the attempt to manifest some abstract political ideal, or the attempt to act against “systems” that are understood as inert and unitary, and in this the dynamics of policing and movement are completely forgotten. What results is a fetishization of violent resistance, as if the necessity of direct conflict is something to be celebrated, rather than a regrettable reality due to historical dynamics. In this attempt to fetishize the magnitude of action, the sheer force of isolated actions, we fail to understand why these campaigns (and others based on similar concepts, like the Weather Underground and Red Army Faction) ultimately failed to be effective. In reducing the map to inert and isolated points we fail to understand what constructs these points as convergences in political or economic circulation, the policing of circulation itself, the logistics of organized police force that attempts to structure space, a logistics that is mobile and logistical. When combined with the evacuation of everyday life that this form of action requires, what we are left with is an isolated organization engaged in a frontal conflict with the state, a conflict that small isolated organizations are highly likely to lose, and that results in increasing isolation from the dynamics of conflict, and thus from the ability to amplify the conflict in time and space—instead increasingly resorting to isolated strikes that are easily contained. At this point we cease even being able to discuss these organizations in the framework of insurgency, or an intentional and conflictual engagement with the dynamics of policing; the isolation and misunderstandings of these tactical dynamics reduces them to an odd combination of an activist politics of complaint and gunpowder.
This simplistic question of violence/nonviolence misses the point of tactical discourse, and comes to obscure the immediacy of tactical dynamics, removing our discussions of action from the particularities of the conditions and dynamics of any specific action. In both tendencies—approaching action through the absurdities of pacifism, and rejecting this through a narrative of action-in-itself—the same mistake is made; tactical dynamics are obscured and effectiveness becomes impossible to even discuss. We cannot understand conflict separate from the time and space of this conflict, or separate from the terrain of conflict, and the ways that conflict can be amplified in space and policing pushed to the point of rupture, a point also known as insurrection. In attempting to even posit the question of violence and nonviolence, transcendental concepts that exist separately from the immediacy of conflict and effectiveness, come to be the center of the discussion of tactics, so the discussion ceases to be about tactics or tactical dynamics, but rather becomes a conceptual discussion of abstract ethics. In all forms of warfare the tactical dynamics of conflict exist at a fundamental separation from the ethical questions that may be asked around these dynamics and the actions one may choose to take in the midst of warfare. So we have to separate these questions from one another. Someone may have ethical limitations; these are merely limitations on the actions that person is willing to perform (and thus they are a factor in tactical calculation), but cannot restrain tactical discourses of effectiveness except to the detriment of our ability to actually fight. To get out of this impasse we are not looking for some new tactic that everyone can use in all moments, nor some grand strategy that could be developed: both are impossible. Rather it is a question of situating the discussion of fighting and warfare in such a way as to discuss effectiveness at all.
The second tendency is to write about police through a sociological-historical lens, framed as a discussion of inert and situationally interchangeable tactics existing in some direct connection to transcendental political concepts. In radical scenes, much of the prevailing literature about police exemplify this tendency to discuss police and policing on a qualitatively conceptual level (as if our approval or rejection of police ethics has anything to do with police action), and to frame this discourse around spatially and temporally disparate events and practices. In this way, we have failed to grasp the particularity and variance of policing from place to place and time to time, even within the history of a single department, and even within the space of a week, a day, or an hour. Policing, if we are to directly engage with it, cannot be understood in these transcendental and nonparticular ways, ways that reduce the material dynamics of policing (as a logistics of conflict that moves through space) to conceptual questions of approval, disapproval, ethics, and historical forms of repression. Rather, policing has to be understood on an operational level, grounded in a particular time and space, and thus on a level that can inform tactical deployments against policing. If we are to engage in insurgency, if we are to begin to approach this as a war, rather than as a pointless activist campaign of complaint, if we are to seize control of the situation and the conditions of our existences, then this means coming to terms with the operations of the enemy, and these only occur in particular and material ways in particular times and places that have to be understood as such in order to be engaged with effectively. Once we have made the decision to engage in insurgency, the only remaining question is tactical, and tactics do not occur in isolation of the operations of the enemy, but rather in intimate contact and direct collision with these dynamics.
These two tendencies have resulted in an approach to action in which discussions of inert principles come into conflict with inert, conceptual police and policing to form an approach to action that is completely divorced from any ablility to discuss tactical effectiveness, and therefore completely unable to discuss insurgency as a material and immediate conflict with policing. An insurgent approach requires centering around material effectiveness, and its lack is the point of generation of our current impasse. To overcome this impasse means developing a fluid and immediate analysis of the dynamics of conflict and possible points of effective intervention in these dynamics , and to develop this as completely separate from the question of how we make sense of this on a particular level. This means the rejection of both the concept of some pure, correct analysis of police (that can apply between moments or between spaces), and of generalized tactics; neither can be essentialized or made into inert, transcendental concepts.
All of these tendencies have fundamentally prevented any discussion of the immediacy of conflict and effectiveness within this immediacy, whether framed within the violence/nonviolence dichotomy or the concept of grand strategy. All are based on the same tendency to completely ignore the particularity of tactical dynamics on the ground and the complete impossibility of making sense of these in some generalized and true form. In statist military theory a similar dynamic plays itself out constantly, between fluid understandings of the dynamics of conflict (as argued through Clausewitz), and attempts to form laws of war (as framed through Jomini). In the Jominian approach all conflict is reduced to predictable applications of transcendental rules. Since the advent of mobile warfare this approach has been catastrophic, since the dynamics of conflict shift but the understanding of conflict remains static, leading to an increasing distance between the dynamics and the understanding of these dynamics. This is not merely a conceptual question of theory; in dynamic moments there can be no proper theory. More the problem with Jomin-ian approaches is the fundamental removal of the discourse of warfare from a discourse on effectiveness, which is always positioned in a particular time and space constructed with particular dynamics of conflict. But, just as the military has rejected Jomin- ianism as unworkable, tendencies in the radical scene to formalize conflict must collapse as well. We have to come to terms with the immediacy of the war that we are fighting. And it is a war, a fundamental and immediate conflict between those we identify as friends and those we identify as enemies, and until we do so, we will always remain in our current impasse.
A Primer on Police Crowd-Control Tactics and Frameworks
It seems to make sense to begin this discussion of police crowd-control tactics with a brief discussion of the the history of this Primer, now in its third edition, and the thought behind assembling a text like this (for all its limitations). The project grew out of a series of practical and conceptual concerns relating to some relatively intense street confrontations between anarchists and police in the mid-2000s in the Midwest. Through these experiences a couple things became clear. The first was that street actions can serve as an antagonistic dynamic in escalating conflict against the police. Secondly, none of us had any idea of how to make sense of this, channel it, or think through it, outside of categories of analysis that we had constructed around our own experiences (many of which were steeped in the limitations of the discourse of activism). In other words, the enemy was clear, but we had no idea how to think about it in ways that could point to more effective actions.
As a result some of us began to compile and study military and police documents, trading information and discussing the results of our research. Around this time we came upon US Army Field Manual 3–19.15, which serves as the basis of this primer. On researching the history and use of the manual it became clear that it is a distillation of the basic concepts and frameworks of analysis for police crowd- control operations, as well as the basis of crowd- control training for National Guard and police units before summit demonstrations. Beginning in the late 1960s, collaboration between the military and local police became more organized and focused, with SWAT teams being developed as a result of police forces using equipment from military surplus stockpiles and training from the US Marine Corp. Since then these collaborations have become commonplace, with most local police departments training in paramilitary tactics, using automatic weapons and heavy equipment (like armored personnel carriers), reorganizing of police departments around military structures, increasing incorporation of combat veterans into police departments, and the militarization of operational analysis and theory. We found a significant amount of cross-pollination between police and military literature on crowd-control tactics, with FM 3–19.15 forming an important point within this matrix.
The first version of the Primer appeared in the middle of 2007, in the lead-up to the October Rebellion demonstrations in Washington DC, and was primarily used as a training material to accompany on- the-ground police crowd-control tactics workshops, presented by some of us at the National Conference on Organized Resistance in 2006. Since this initial version the thinking behind the manual has changed dramatically, moving it from a practical pocket guide to a baseline discussion of the methodology and frameworks of analysis for police operations. Primary to this shift has been a move away from an approach to street actions as a more important site of struggle, or as a unique form of struggle in itself.
The effectiveness of street actions, in their common form in 21st Century America, is questionable for a variety of reasons. Firstly, street actions tend to be planned around events where police are concentrated to begin with; we tend to default to attempting to take action in moments where there is some central event, which means police know about it and will be monitoring it. Usually, though there are exceptions, these sorts of tactical terrains are not conducive to effective action; in the calculus of concentrated force we are clearly at a disadvantage. To the degree that street actions became more and more effective by 2009, this was to the degree that we used asymmetric tactics of mobility and speed, a lesson learned after repeated failure. Secondly, these actions have limited resonance. They are preplanned confrontations, generally occurring in isolated commercial areas of major cities. As such, they are easily contained and don’t escalate a conflict beyond the time of the events themselves. Now, this does not mean that these events are useless, but it is important to understand the limitations of street actions as currently understood.
The potential of conflict within this context comes merely from the concentration of action and resistance itself. However, this spatially concentrated conflict is not necessarily the same as a situation in which there is numerical mass (such as political demonstrations), and definitely not limited to situations in which there is some central event that people want to make a (generally useless) political point about. At its core, the street action is nothing but a material collection of events that generate more or less conflict and stretch police logistics more or less to a point of rupture. During the G20 in Pittsburgh this point of rupture was hit, with police operations beginning to lose any semblance of coherence. But given the limited time frame and the focus on the meetings and talk, the potential opened up in this rupture was not realized, with the police getting the night and following morning to reinforce, resupply, and reorganize.
What has remained consistent throughout the development of this Primer are its potential uses, both practical and theoretical. Practically, though large scale street actions are not the most conducive terrains for insurgency, many of us do still find ourselves there. Regardless of how hard many of us try to move outside of the “movement” context, that context remains a strategic site of intervention; certainly many of us saw Occupy that way. We also have to remember that street actions, and police crowd- control tactics, are not limited to demonstration contexts, but also operate in street riots, sports riots, public events like block parties, and so on. Theoriti- cally, changing the focus from just mass street actions into more general police and military literature and histories, has made clear the reciprocal relationship between tactics for controlling crowds and tactics and logistical frameworks deployed on the street on any given day. The question of the “crowd” is merely a question of concentration, but not a difference of kind. Policing, regardless of the situation, is always the attempt to project force into all possible spaces in all possible moments. In situations of concentrated conflict, or potentially concentrated conflict, the methodologies become more defined, the formations and structures of force become more concentrated, but the basic frameworks of police logistics and deployment continue to function along similar lines. At its core, crowd-control tactics address the fundamental problematic of all policing operations, the deceleration of conflict in time and space through a process formed around a deployment of force in space; it is the attempt to use a deployment of conflict to decelerate conflict, to use war to generate perpetual peace. Central to this attempt is the mitigation of uncertainty in the process of operating in space, attempting to achieve an impossible material certainty of action.
Without being able to operate in all time and space simultaneously policing, whether in concentrated terrains of conflict (as crowd-control tactics), or in less concentrated resistant terrain (as everyday tactics of surveillance and patrol), policing always must project its operational terrain as far as possible, as consistently as possible. This becomes infinitely more difficult the more fragmented and resistant terrain is or becomes. Fragmentation and resistance is caused by the concentration and speed of action within that terrain. As such, policing, and this is clear in crowd-control tactics, revolves around projecting through space, containing action within space, and moving through space. Without this projection, containment, and movement, policing ceases to function outside of zones of immediate presence. For example, if we look at any large police force, break it down by shift, subtract those with desk jobs, and compare the resulting number to the space that is policed within the department’s jurisdiction, it is easy to see how spatially limited police actually are. This spatial limitation is then supplemented by surveillance cameras, patrol routes, citizen snitch organizations (Neighborhood Watch, auxiliary police, etc), and informants, to structure a general sense of deterrence. But for all the money that police departments are given every year, and for all the fancy equipment that they buy with this money, for all the tacit and coerced support that they may have, their ability to project is still incredibly limited. And it is increasingly limited the more resistance to these operations there is. In order to be able to make sense of this projection through time and space, and the logistical movements involved in this projection, policing relies on a certain legibility and predictability, an ability to see and limit the possibilities of action within a space. Much of the material presented in FM 3–19.15, other policing literature, and this Primer centers around the process police use to make sense of space, and the tactical operations that may result from this calculus.
It is only when we understand this process of making-legible and the projection of logistical operations that we can begin to analyze this in particular moments, and to disrupt this process. Just as in insurgent operations against counterinsurgency op- erations—and all policing is a counterinsurgency operation—the ability to engage in effective actions requires an ability to maintain movement, a speed of action, an understanding of the tactics deployed by police, and the terrain that this deployment occurs within. But, just as police manuals and literature can only form a framework for an approach to actual tactical deployments, all of which are embedded within a particular dynamic of conflict, this Primer can only exist similarly: a point of departure for focused analysis of particular tactical terrains. The purpose of this Primer is to begin a process of developing our own ways of making sense of this terrain, and in doing so, to plan actions that disrupt the logistics of the projection of policing, pushing them to a point of rupture, a point also known as insurrection.
The Array of Forces
Before we launch into a discussion of how the police make sense of situational dynamics of conflict and what we can learn from this process (both oppositionally and directly), we have to discuss how forces may be dispersed in space, and the possible limitations of forces. Unlike most other governments, the United States does not possess a formal national police force tasked with tactical operations. Rather, the American police terrain is characterized by mission-specific federal forces with distinct limitations and tasks, supported by a wide array of local, county, and state-wide bodies that carry out tactical operations involving physical force. For tactical analysis, this has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, this dispersal of forces, complete with layers of administrative limitations and fragmented command structures, makes tactical analysis much more difficult, and shifts the frame of reference to local operations, local commanders, and so on. On the other hand, these divisions provide a series of tactical advantages on the street, allowing for a much more specific, focused analysis, with a much narrower scope, meaning more detail and thoroughness.
The following is a brief description of a series of forces that one may come across in conflictual terrains, some of their limits, and their scope of responsibility.
FBI—The Federal Bureau of Investigations primarily exists to investigate violations of federal law, with their jurisdiction traditionally limited to the domestic United States. However, this is loosely defined, with the FBI now investigating overseas as well as gathering intelligence (specifically regarding domestic resistance movements or groups). This trajectory was set early on in the history of the Bureau, specifically under the leadership ofj. Edgar Hoover. The Bureau grew out of the Bureau of Investigations (founded in the wake of the assassination of William McKinley) to monitor political radicals. Since its founding in 1932, the FBI has been engaged in subverting political organizations, entrapping radicals, and sowing internal conflict between various political groups. Given the scope of the FBI (with over 14,000 agents and an $8 billion a year budget), and their past activities, we always have to assume that FBI surveillance is present.
Federal Protective Service—The FPS is currently a part of the Department of Homeland Security. Their jurisdiction is formally limited to federal installations, including office buildings, recruitment centers, courthouses, and so on. Places like Washington DC, dense with federal installations, have blurry lines ofjurisdiction.
Department of Homeland Security—The DHS was created in November 2002 as a fusion of roughly two dozen federal agencies. In its current form DHS is responsible for all federal security operations within the domestic United States, and includes the Coast Guard, Secret Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Customs, Federal Protective Service, Transportation Security Administration, and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, among others.
JTTF—The Joint Terrorism Task Force is an alliance between the feds, mostly the FBI, and local police, including intelligence work. This structure, which often operates through local Fusion Centers (offices organized to gather, analyze and exchange information between agencies), also serves a role in coordinating operations between agencies. These structures were created for coordination, but also to preserve the secrecy of this coordination. Fusion Centers and JTTF consortiums maintain their own documents, and because their operations do not fall under any specific entity, there is no body with which to file a request for the release of documents. This gives these documents de facto classified status.
Local Police—These are the most common cops that confront us: beat cops, riot squads, SWAT teams, detectives. Local police are differentiated from other forces in the following ways. Firstly, they tend to be more limited in numbers; local police forces usually exist in smaller numbers than military units. Secondly, they are under local jurisdiction and operate through local command structures. This means both that the operational terrain of local police is limited to local administrative borders (although there are exceptions), and that they have more consistent engagement with the terrain, both political and social, of a local area. Thirdly, local police are trained to operate through a doctrine of escalation of force, and tend to be less well equipped than National Guard and military units, which are primarily trained for deadly combat roles.
Military—The Posse Comitatus Act prevents the US Military from being used in domestic operations (except for in DC) unless a State of Insurrection is claimed over an area by the President. The military can also loan equipment to local and state forces if requested. Such a request was made during the Rodney King Uprising in LA and for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The legal barriers have been revised to only include law enforcement, meaning that US troops can be used for crowd control as long as they do not make arrests (recently military police have been spotted at DUI checkpoints in southern California alongside local cops and highway patrol). For this purpose the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team (a brigade that will be 20,000 strong by 2011) has been stationed on US territory and trained in “non-lethal” crowd-control techniques. Also, within the District of Columbia, military units can be mobilized for security operations, and have even been seen advising DC police in attempts to repress the October Rebellion demonstrations against the International Monetary Fund in 2007 (in this case Delta Force was advising police).
Military Intelligence: The Pentagon also maintains its own constellation of intelligence agencies. The roll of these agencies is supposed to be limited to the gathering of information for military operations, but this has been interpreted broadly. These agencies include the following.
The Defense Intelligence Agency: This agency primarily focuses on terrain research, mapping, and gathering information on particular oppositional forces. For example, before the Gulf War the DIA assembled maps of possible bombing targets and intelligence on these targets.
The National Security Agency: The NSA focuses on signals intelligence, or SIGINT. The agency has grown from engaging in the surveillance of radio communications to its current role, collecting as much of the signal traffic that moves through public space as possible, including cell phone calls and internet traffic. To accomplish this task the NSA has morphed from an agency with dispersed listening posts to an apparatus centered around the world’s most powerful super-computers, which are used to store, index, and decrypt as much of the communications traffic circulating globally as they possibly can.
Intelligence Branches: Each branch of the military also maintains their own intelligence wings that largely serve to collect specific forms of operational intelligence. For example, intelligence units within the Air Force largely function to collect information on oppositional air force structures.
National Guard—When the situation escalates the National Guard may be sent in. This requires the declaration of a state of emergency—which can be initiated by the governor or requested by a mayor. The National Guard are state forces operating under state laws, unless they are federalized, which puts them under national laws. The District of Columbia, which has no National Guard, can call in a neighboring state’s National Guard or use military personnel based in the area, as they did against the Bonus Army demonstrations in the 1930s.
There are any number of local variances on these force divisions. As such, we always have to be researching and analysing local tactical terrain, police operational capacities and methods, and the dispersal of police forces through localized space. We must remember that insurgency is always particular to the moment in which it occurs, and is shaped by these moments. Therefore, for us to engage in an analysis of the possibilities for disruption and the amplification of conflict in particular spaces requires an analysis of the terrain where this engagement occurs. There are innumerable ways to analyze these things; for a break down of some of the methods and some of the information that may be important to gather see Appendix 2 (the Tactical Terrain Analysis Guide).
When attempting to understand police tactics it is fundamental to begin with understanding terrain analysis. Terrain in this context is not just physical terrain, but the dynamics of force in physical terrain. There are many points of departure for terrain analysis, and endless information that can be gathered about a conflictual terrain. Within the framework of police crowd-control tactics we begin with an analysis of the dynamics of conflict in space, which always includes a paradox. On the one hand, conflict is a dynamic collision of force in space that, by its very existence, changes the dynamics and terrain. Yet, on the other hand, this is being made sense of with reference to conceptual categories that are connected to a calculation of tactical operations and approach. With this in mind it is important to understand the points where categorical definitions shift, and the implicit operational shift.
Situation Analysis—In analyzing the (potential) dynamics of conflict in space, this analysis relies on a simple tripartite categorization. Remember, these are not just conceptual shifts that we are discussing here, but fundamental categorizations in the process of attempting to structure police strategy and tactical operations.
The first crowd type is impromptu gatherings, which have no formal or announced plans to assemble, and which gather through word of mouth. In this situation the police response tends to focus on monitoring; the police may begin to position themselves to contain conflict but do not engage directly. To engage directly runs the risk of escalating or accelerating conflict.
The second type of crowd is organized, such as political protests or gatherings that are pre-planned, announced, and accompanied by outreach materials. This are typified by increased potential of conflict, but not necessarily by direct resistance. In this situation police will tend to contain the area, maintain some distance, avoid direct confrontation, without interrupting the gathering. Again, the point of providing space is to prevent an escalation and acceleration of conflict that could result from direct confrontation. The tactical approach may change at the point where direct resistance begins to organize itself in space, at which point the goal shift from containment to dispersal.
Crowd Dynamics—After monitoring the general dynamics of the gathering, police analysis will attempt to understand the concentration of people and conflict in itself, in its particular aspects. As with all aspects of police crowd-control analysis, this is reduced to a series of categories that imply a set of tactics. Now, the attempt to analyze a crowd is difficult. There is a concentration of conflict in space, but it’s not necessarily dispersed evenly; some groups may be more intentionally confrontational than others, and this becomes even more difficult in highly dynamic situations like urban riots or other situations that are very unpredictable. As always, there is an element of constancy to these categorizations, even though the dynamics of conflict can be radically modified almost instantly. It is important to keep in mind how these categories are assembled. As in the analysis of “crowd types” there is a dramatic shift that hinges on the presence of (possible) direct confrontation.
Public Disorder: This is a basic breach of civil order that has the potential to disrupt the normal flow of things. Permitted protests can fall into this category. This literally means that something outside of the “norm” is occurring, which could characterize any public gathering of any sort. Again, as with all low intensity scenarios the primary strategy revolves around attempting to monitor the situation, but to avoid direct confrontation if possible.
Public Disturbance: A situation that has the potential to escalate. In this situation people are yelling, chanting, singing, etc. A Disturbance is separated from Disorder merely through the manifestation of a certain form of disruption. The Disturbance is a situation that has already been deemed hostile, and has the possibility to accelerate quickly, while the Disorder is a situation which merely has the possibility of becoming hostile. Disorder situations tend to a containment strategy, in which the situational terrain is contained, limited, and monitored, with the police positioned to deploy more force if necessary.
Riot: A situation including property destruction, defense against police, and with the potential to spin out of police control. Riots are defined as situations in which hostility has crossed over into direct resistance, or situations that are clearly structured around the possibility of direct resistance; black blocs for example, are structured to engage in direct resistance. These immediately become situations in which the tactical approach is likely to change from containment to coercive dispersal.
Crowd Type—General analysis of crowd dynamics is always accompanied by an attempt to understand the organizational, logistical structure of a crowd, and thus the approach that will decelerate conflict. Contrary to the maxim repeated ad nauseum in American media, the primary danger for the police does not come from highly organized crowds. When a group is highly organized and relies on this organization, the organization can be attacked directly and the potential for action will largely disperse. We see this with hierarchical organizations as well as during many Occupies, when the loss of parks (as home base) usually spelled the end of the trajectory of conflict on a local level. Highly organized groups and networks are easier to read; there is a structure that can be understood and targeted. This is not the case in dispersed or impromptu forms of organization and communication. We see this in the ability of insurgent groups to disappear to the degree that they operate autonomously.
Casual Crowds: This is the normal gathering that one witnesses every day, for instance a lunch hour crowd. Each person, or group of people, comes separately and leaves separately. They have no common agenda. We should think of this situation as a sort of baseline policed scenario where police logistics and deterrence functions with maximum efficiency.
Sighting Crowds: These are the crowds that assemble for things like festivals and sports games, but also events like police brutality incidents and traffic accidents. They are brought together in one place by an event or happening. On many levels this is the sort of concentration that the police fear the most; the dynamics are unpredictable and potentially volatile. The textbook examples of the quick escalation of this sort are the Watts Riots, which began after a group of people gathered around police engaged in a racist traffic stop. There were always racist traffic stops in Watts, and crowds often gathered, but for any number of reasons, a series of events that began with some yelling at the police escalated into days of intense street riots.
Agitated Crowds: An agitated crowd is a crowd that is starting to develop a unity beyond an event. This type of crowd is defined by strong emotions, yelling, screaming, and verbal confrontation with the authorities. Like sighting crowds, these are thought of as volatile as well, though more predictable. Police literature makes clear the mentality based understanding crowds in singular ways, with the agitated crowd being understood to be upset for some singular unified reason. Now, this is a fiction. Even if there is common articulation of some grievance, the ways that this is understood are always particular to each and every person, in each and every moment. But, within this assumption, which derives from early 20th century crowd psychology (a largely discredited discourse), there is an assumption that the crowd is unitary, and so can be understood through the causes of this agitation. When approaching potentially conflictual dynamics the posture of the police will often switch from one of monitoring and non-confrontation to one of containment. This approach involves controlled uses of force against specific targets (what are called “leaders” within police literature) in the attempt to decelerate the dynamic. Mob-Like Crowds: Mobs are crowds that have become confrontational in action as well as (or instead of) just verbally. The categorical shift is marked by potential resistance becoming actual resistance, or by a predictable deployment of direct resistance. At this point the tactical posture will shift from containment to dispersal (whether this dispersal occurs coercively or through the use of tactics that limit movement, such as kettling— funneling groups into enclosed spaces). The strategy in this scenario centers around the attempt to completely contain and disperse a concentration of conflict in such a way that the police can maintain some level of control over the avenues of escape from the epicenter.
Crowd Assessment Questions
The police assemble a conceptual framework to make sense of any concentrated conflict in space, framed through the lens of crowd category, based on what they call Crowd Assessment Questions. The questions here are from FM 3–19.15, with some analysis by us. Some things are important to notice about the questions and their implicit framework. Firstly, the questions themselves are based on intelligence gathering combined with an understanding of past practices. This, of course, assumes that there is tactical continuity over time, and that those who they are attempting to counter are visible, and thus on a certain level public. Secondly, looking closely at these questions we notice that they assume a certain form of already regimented political action, which has a beginning point, an immediate route of movement, and a determinate end point, none of which is the case in open-ended insurgency and long-term trajectories of conflict, or in the hit-and- run tactics common in asymmetric warfare. As such, these questions assume a crowd that is largely unitary, largely assembled to make some rhetorical point, and largely linear in tactics. Thirdly, much of this information is based on intelligence that is unfortunately easy to gather from cursory searches of the internet and the event outreach materials themselves. This poses an important problem. Often the idea of public actions is to attract large numbers of participants, but this requires doing public outreach, thereby providing important operational details to the police. Now, this can be avoided through the use of disinformation campaigns, but these can be hard to organize and require good communication between various elements of an action. More commonly, we have to calculate tactics based on publicity coming at the cost of immediate effectiveness, unless the objective is to just gather large numbers of people (the question always becomes, and this was the primary question of the antiwar movement, why we are gathering people, and for what purpose).
Who is in the crowd? What is the identity of the crowd?
What does the crowd identify as?
Police will determine this information largely from pre-action intelligence and announcements by the organizers themselves. This is the first step in how they analyze what the crowd is capable of.
What are the goals of the action?
This helps them determine whether they can try to placate the crowd (for example, by offering a space to demonstrate in). They call these “goals of recognition.” But if the crowd has goals that go beyond a desire to be seen and heard, then police are more likely to prepare for confrontations.
What are the factions of the crowd?
They ask this question to develop a landscape of active groups in the area and use this to decide how to allocate forces and which groups they will attempt to negotiate or work with.
What are we [the crowd] capable of?
What are our [the crowd’s] traditional behaviors and norms?
This question is important for a couple reasons. Firstly, they want to figure out how to contain certain groups and with how much force. Secondly, the information generated in the answer is completely based off prior actions and experiences.
When and where will we [the crowd] assemble?
Where will we [the crowd] go?
What are possible targets?
What is the “worst case scenario”? (often their worst scenario is our best one)
This question may be the single most important calculation that is made in forming police strategy. Through determining what the worse possible scenario may be, all sorts of logistics begin to fall in to place. For example, this calculation will determine the equipment that they use, the supplies that they believe necessary to have available, the forces that will be called in and how they will be arranged in space. During the G20 in Pittsburgh the police ran out of gas on the first night, one demonstration of the importance of this metric. This means that the gasoline supply that they thought would last in the worst possible scenario over a three day period, was exhausted in around 8 hours; and this means that the events that happened on that day far exceeded the worst possible scenario that the police projected.
When and where will we [the crowd] disperse?
What are our [the crowd’s] plans for meet-ups and follow-up actions?
It can never be forgotten that action and conflict occur in a place, as well as at a time and in a form. All of these together form the terrain. Variances in terrain play an integral role in the formation of a dynamic of conflict, sometimes facilitating and sometimes hindering the ability of police to project through space. Two examples will make this clear. The first is the Cuban guerrilla war, in which the guerrilla fighters took advantage of the mountainous terrain of the Sierra Maestra mountain range to hide their numbers and engage in ambush tactics. Government forces were forced to move down narrow roads with no escape routes. In this situation there was no ability for government forces to really project into this space, except in narrow concentrated columns, which became more concentrated, and therefore projected through less space, as attacks increased; this denial of movement was amplified through the political resistance that was already present in the terrain, and the history of government absence. This can be contrasted with the Haussman- nian reconstruction of Paris, between 1853 and 1870, that created the wide avenues which currently characterize the Parisian city-scape. This reconstruction involved leveling working class districts in the city (specifically districts that had been the staging areas for past insurrections), and replacing them with wide, straight avenues that were framed by long row buildings. This essentially cut off the remainder of the neighborhood from the avenue, except through easily controlled routes between the row buildings. This reconstruction was undertaken primarily to make the city more easily defensible, both from internal and external conflict. Internally, the wide avenues were difficult to barricade off, while the straight lines of sight allowed for greater range of weapon projection (usually in the form of gunfire, but later through the shooting of tear gas). Externally, this form of street-scape allowed for large contingents of government troops to move from fortresses in the core of the city to the outskirts of the city, and from forts on the outskirts to the center.
The analysis of terrain in police crowd-control tactics is an on-going process that occurs on two levels simultaneously. One part includes the relationship between areas of development, and in what form this relationship occurs, where the concentrations of development, production, and commodity circulation are in relation to outlying areas and so on. The other moves down to street level, to understand the actual structure of space within concentrations of development, or areas in which development is less concentrated.
Four categories are used to analyze the relationship between areas of development, each one implying a different approach.
Satellite—A central hub supports outlying areas, and includes a concentration of circulation. The most clear example of this is the suburban relationship to the city, where the suburbs exist to the degree that the city functions, and to the degree that commodities and people can circulate to and from the city. But, this pattern of development can also be seen around county seats in rural areas, or even resource extraction sites in generally undeveloped areas like Northern Alaska. In this sort of pattern the police priority is to maintain patterns of circulation, necessitating a defense of avenues of movement, with a specific focus on the core, or central area.
Network—Areas are structured not through a single hub, but rather with direct connections to one another, with each area directly connected to multiple other areas, and no area being central. For example, the connections between isolated towns in south-central New York state, where towns are connected both through the freeway system and also through state routes, with no relationship of dependency. In this pattern there may be some areas more economically central than others, but none of the areas are dependent on the others, and each tends to develop independent of others. In this pattern the police priority will be keeping the primary routes open, with the secondary priority of securing secondary routes (like county routes and so on).
Linear—Areas characterized by a central route between areas of development, such as state routes and interstates, as well as rivers, canals, and so on. This is common in flat farming areas, where towns grew around concentrations of farming operations, and served as places for farmers to find supplies, as well as to traffic commodities. This pattern is common in areas like central Ohio, as well as the Great Plains areas, where a single road may connect dozens of towns, stretched out along the route. In this sort of pattern the police priority, obviously, becomes keeping this main route of circulation open.
Segment—Areas characterized by separation of a single space, or single site of concentration, into areas that are distinct, but also geographically connected. The most common example of this pattern is a major city, is comprised of neighborhoods, each with a distinct history and set of political dynamics. The segment pattern does not exist in isolation from other patterns, for example, it is common to see a discussion of a segmented space that is also the center of a satellite pattern (this would just be a major city with suburbs). This focuses not just on routes of transportation and circulation, but more on the relationships between spaces and how the borders of spaces are conceived. For example, during the Pittsburgh G20 actions moved through a series of distinctly segmented areas. Early into the actions the movement occurred in a largely working class area of Lawrenceville (where anarchists found a large degree of support), then moved through Bloomfield and into the border areas between Oakland, East Liberty, Shadyside, and Bloomfield. These were areas characterized by more open streets and lower concentrations of people, with much of the space being commercial, and here the actions sped up and spread out. This eventually ended in Oakland, the university district, when the riots spread to the student population (with a history of confrontation with the police during sports riots), characterized by open areas and wide streets (facilitating quick movement and providing places for students and anarchists to gather during the riots, as well as parks to retreat to when necessary).
Figure C-2. Urban Patterns
From this general structural analysis, the framework of analysis will become more specific to the actual structure of specific spaces, and the ways that circulation functions in these spaces. In the attempt to analyze these specific patterns, police analysis will come to rely on three categories of spatial structure, framed around street patterns.
Radial—The area has streets radiating out from a central point. Usually that central point is the center of religious or political power. This structure of space allows for easy concentration of force around primary objectives, such as government buildings and so on, along with wide avenues of deployment from these points. This pattern tends to exist within planned cities, specifically capital cities like Washington DC, and is structured specifically to construct a terrain that is easily defensible. Within this sort of pattern the primary police tactical imperative is to protect, and even to stage from, the hubs in this radial pattern, which is usually the site of government buildings, commercial concentrations, or open areas like parks. Through controlling the central hubs police are able to control the routes that spread from the central hub, allowing them maximum projection from a central point.
Grid—Streets in a simple hash pattern, straight lines, simple to follow. The grid pattern is often found in industrial cities that engage in, or have engaged in, a heavy volume of shipping. This pattern is widely characterized by wide open avenues, usually four lanes or more, running both North-South and East-West, with smaller side streets moving in straight lines between the avenues. With the wide avenues acting as the primary arteries of movement, the grid pattern allows police the maximum amount of visibility, projection of weapon fire, and speed of movement. These patterns are the easiest to police and to maintain commodity circulation, which is the primary impetus for this pattern.
Irregular—Characterized by a generally organic pattern of development, such as in parts of Pittsburgh or the Latin Quarter in Paris, these areas have not been subject to standardized street plans. Within these irregular formations there are often numerous small, narrow side streets and alleys, streets that bend and wind and a wide variety of terrain and elevation variance. Within these, the ability of police to move through space is dramatically limited. Without long lines of sight it becomes hard to keep actions visible and difficult to move cohesively as a unit. Without straight streets it becomes difficult to project weapon fire long distances without hitting structures that may stand at a pivotal point in the road itself. The tendency of irregular patterns to be characterized by a network of narrow streets and alleys also makes this space more conducive to barricades, which limit the movement of police even more. With the limitations on vision, movement, and weapon projection, irregular patterns maximize uncertainty of police movement, limiting their ability to move without concentrating force, which dramatically limits their ability to project through space.
Figure C-3. Basic Internal Street Patterns
The result of this analysis is the formation of tactical operations, or strategies for the deployment of police force into space. These operations are based on the intelligence that police gather before an event or gathering, as well as information gathered during the event or gathering. Keep the following in mind. Firstly, the goal of this constellation of objectives is always to decelerate conflict within space, eventually dispersing that conflict through space. It is only at the point of deceleration, dissipation of immediate concentrations of conflict, that police can also disperse their deployments of force and begin to project through space again. Secondly, any concentration of police in a space comes at the cost of being able to project through space, meaning that gaps are created in police coverage where conflict can spread. Thirdly, this process of analysis is constant, but involves a cognitive gap that can be (and has been) exploited in mobile tactical scenarios. The goal of analysis of the dynamics of conflict is to achieve what is called topsight, which faces two challenges. The first is purely cognitive; police forces have an incredible capacity to collect information, but this information needs to be processed to be of value in tactical operations. Currently, their ability to gather information far outpaces their ability to process information. Actions are mobile and shape the terrain that they occur within, meaning that the gathering of information (frequently automated) is far faster and more thorough than the processing of that information (especially when by humans). The second difficulty is that this information is always interpreted, generating interpretive gaps. When analyzing information the analyst is placing this information into a framework developed before the information was generated, dramatically recontextualizing the information. These two difficulties prevent either total awareness, or true analysis, and requires delays; analyzing and making sense of information takes time, and in this time other events are occurring. For example, during the early stages of the American war in Afghanistan, before the main force invasion in November of 2001, Special Forces and CIA personnel were on the ground, buying off militias, but also targeting air strikes. In this process an operator would spot a Taliban vehicle, send the coordinates to a drone that was flying overhead, which would send them to a satellite, which would send the coordinates to a base in Saudi Arabia, which would beam orders back through a satellite, which would send them to a B52 flying in the area which would drop a bomb, and this process took 18 minutes, at which point the data was obsolete, and this process was largely automated; this gap widens when human analysts and communication is involved. But, even with delays, the conceptual deployment of force takes shape in the form of orders, given to direct tactical operations. These include the following:
Monitoring—Monitoring operations should be assumed to be the most prominent form of tactical operation. It serves two primary purposes. Of course, the first is to gather information, to assess the situation, and even to probe the crowd to see how they will respond. For example, in the mid- 2000s when groups would gather in Washington DC, the police would always walk in to the park to find a “leader,” usually in a team of two: a large, well trained cop and a commander. The primary purpose here was not to negotiate with the crowd, but to use this interaction (along with other forms of surveillance), to assess the level of the crowd’s hostility to the police, and how willing to fight. From here the police would determine their approach to the group. Outside of these probes monitoring occurs through any number of mechanisms including, but not limited to, aerial monitoring with helicopters; overhead monitoring from the tops of buildings; monitoring from ground level; infiltrators, and so on.
The second purpose of monitoring is to discourage and track actions. On-the-ground monitoring units position themselves in visible spaces, outside of projectile range (which they put at around 300 feet, or 100 yards), overtly taking pictures and taking notes. It is thought that, when groups are monitored, they are less prone to hostile action. Now, this process breaks down when people resisting the police are anonymous, especially when combined with escape and changing of clothes. When people do act, and resist the police, the cops’ task shifts to identification of possible arrest targets. In groups that are not coordinating dress and hiding identifying markers, this usually occurs through the recognition of clothing and facial features. In groups that are being careful, distinguishing features can be minor ones, like the pattern of the sides of shoes, a tuft of hair that slips out from under one’s hoodie, gait, and even height and weight; we would think that this sort of evidence would be too flimsy to hold up in court, but we would be mistaken in many cases.
Blocking—These sorts of tactical operations are structured to deny access to specific areas or targets. As tactics have become more mobile over the past decade this has become more and more rare for a very obvious reason; at the point where police have to concentrate their numbers and attention to deny access to a certain area or target, they fail to project across space, generating large gaps in coverage. For example, during the Quebec City Summit of the Americas in 2001, the police set up a wide fenced-in perimeter around the convention center. This held up to repeated attacks on the first day. The police concentrated at the fence in anticipation of attacks there, and were largely successful. But after the first day it became clear that the rest of the city was fair game, either for actions or to use as staging areas for actions on the protected zone. Police strategy was not able to cope when the terrain of conflict expanded. Currently, we will see this tactic used as a forward action in combination with other tactics. For example, often during marches in Oakland, California[?] the police will have units trailing a group through the streets, while at the same time positioning forward units far beyond the front of the group, blocking specific streets and attempting to contain the group within a certain area by blocking access to areas outside of the containment zone. This tactic was also recently seen being used by LAPD against people demonstrating on the highway against the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the cold blooded killing of Trayvon Martin; the police blocked many of the freeway exits in the vicinity and contained the group on the freeway, eventually moving them off the freeway, up an embankment, then using more mobile tactics to split the crowd and finally dispersing people one at a time. One rarely, if ever, sees a pure blocking operation that is outside of other tactics to contain and disperse groups, with the blocking operation used only to deny access.
Dispersing—The purpose of all police tactics are to disperse conflict from concentrated points of collision, but there is a risk involved in this sort of operation. All police tactics are based on the ability to have a relatively comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of conflict in a space, which requires that concentrations of conflict remain relatively geographically narrow and tactically contained. The risk of all dispersal operations is the potential expansion of the terrain of conflict with such speed that conflict can no longer be contained, and thus become unable to be seen and understood.
As conflict spreads out through terrain, and the speed of action increases (often in response to police violence), police operations become more mobile and more dispersed across space, scattering themselves as well as as antagonistic forces. As we see in countless studies of asymmetric warfare, this dispersal of police force fragments their operation, and stretches logistical capacity (especially on the level of supply and communications), to a point of rupture. We can clearly see this in the failure of the main force strategy employed by the US military in Afghanistan; when the main force invaded, and tens of thousands of soldiers flooded into the country, insurgents just disappeared by dispersing their forces throughout the terrain. After a time—most place this as between one and two years—these insurgents began to contact one another again and to launch attacks across a wide and varied terrain without a necessary front line, largely against supply lines and patrols. This escalation, combined with the targets and the variance of the terrain of attack, negated the idea that the US controlled territory and, when combined with attacks on patrols and supply lines, forced US forces back to large, heavily defended, forward- operating bases that they could easily defend. The process of this retreat created wide gaps in coverage that future attacks were staged from. What is important about this example is to understand that it was not any one attack, or even the combination of all the attacks, that forced this retreat; it was that each attack pointed to a gap in coverage that was being exploited that, combined with the speed and variance of the terrain of attack, collapsed the ability of US forces to trust their own operational understanding of their terrain, forcing them into a defensive position. In other words, these attacks created vast uncertainty, which prevented the US from understanding the terrain thoroughly enough to plan operations.
Given the ability of uncontained dispersal to disrupt the entire analytic apparatus of the police hierarchy, dispersal operations are usually taken with extreme care. As is described in FM 3–19.15 and other police literature, dispersal can only occur efficiently within a wider containment operation, in which police force is spaced out across a terrain to channel and contain the movement of people away from a concentration of conflict. This is one of the primary differences between European and American police tactics. In the US police tend to contain large areas, like an entire downtown area, blocking access to certain areas. creating a perimeter around a concentration of conflict to contain that area in the case of movement or dispersal. Weapons like tear gas are only used when the police have to disperse a group quickly, or to push groups in certain directions, as we saw during the riots in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh during the G20 (tear gas was used to push students and anarchists rioting on Forbes Ave away from the commercial district). In contrast, European police, with the exception of Germany, traditionally use access-denial and dispersal tactics (although this is changing as more and more American police advisers train EU police), in which projectile weapons are used to disperse crowds quickly, without much focus on containing the areas of conflict. This style can be seen in studies of the Poll Tax Riots.
Containing—These operations always exist in a relationship with dispersal tactics, through the attempt to generate contained dispersal. In situations of physical containment police set a perimeter that isolates an area that more or less conforms to the borders of a terrain of conflict. To do this police may use kettling, where groups are surrounded and immobilized en masse, to decelerate the movement, expansion, and speed of conflict in a space. Tight containment tactics like these have an inherent fundamental problem. Initially, this tactic can only be deployed if conflict is already geographically limited to a narrow area, such as a march. But when the zone of conflict is contained, increasing containment concentrates too much conflict in a space, which usually generates attacks on the police lines that prevent movement as well as on targets within the zone of containment. When wider zones of containment are constructed police will space themselves out, denying access to specific areas, usually closing in on the perimeter as conflict disperses as they sweep the area. For example, during the Spring 2009 IMF and World Bank demonstrations in Washington DC, through the use of concealment, disinformation, and mobile tactics, the police were forced to sweep the entire downtown area to make sure that no concealed groups went undetected. This required dispersing force around downtown, covering all streets within the containment zone, starting on the edges of downtown and slowly tightening the perimeter until they had contained all conflictual elements in a tight ring near the perimeter fence and delegate checkpoints.
In containment operations the central dynamic revolves around the relationship between force concentration and force projection. To attempt to contain a wide perimeter, force has to be dispersed to maximize projection, but this makes each unit able to mobilize less force and less support. To attempt to contain a narrow area, force is concentrated, but this means that less space can be contained. As one can see in studies of mobile tactics, by widening the terrain of conflict and maintaining mobility one can prevent concentrations of opposing forces and stretch the logistics of opposing forces to the point where units can become isolated, supply lines broken, and communication cut.
Aspects of Police Formations
To coordinate forces across space the police will often rely on formations, or choreographed structures of force in space. There are advantages but also shortcomings to this approach. On the one hand, proximity of forces allows police to concentrate force in space, effective when dispersing concentrated conflict in geographically narrow spaces, or when protecting single targets. We can see what occurs when formations are used to clear wide spaces if we look at footage from the Chicago Democratic Convention protests in 1968; with a relatively, by today’s standards, small contingent, the police attempted to clear an area wider than their formations. Formations collapsed as police chased individual demonstrators. Formations function to the degree that they stay coherent, limiting the amount of space that they can project through. Also, we have to keep in mind that formations tend to function in close proximity to a target area, rather than at distance. With distance between a group and police formations the police have to rely on forms of projection other than physical projection of units through space. Usually they resort to the use of projectile weapons.
Formations consist of a variety of elements, not always apparent, that coordinate movement between units, develop strategic approaches, and maintain supply and communications. These elements consist of the following.
Base—What most people think of when they hear “police formations” is the base element, which comprises the front lines of any police formation. These can be police in lines on foot, with the first line for direct confrontation and the second line (made up of team leaders) to relay commands and fire projectile weapons. Remember though, that this base element does not operate in isolation, including command hierarchy, reinforcement elements, and supply lines. Failure to understand this has led to the tactic by (usually inexperienced) American anarchists of frontal charges on police lines; even if a line is broken the logistics are not disorganized, and support is still present. It is true that, with few exceptions, most force deployment will come directly from this element. But focusing solely on the base element loses the wider context of police operations and movements.
Support—This element fills in for base element police that need to be replaced, performs extraction/ snatches, and provides general support. The primary support elements tend to maintain a presence in immediate proximity to, though not immediately engaged within, a terrain of conflict. This allows them to quicker response times, including the ability to organize targeted arrest operations, snatch squads, immediate supply and logistical support, or immediate relief of units that may need rotation or back-up.
Command—In modern policing tactics, with the proliferation of computerized communications, the Command Elements tend to stay within a command center structure, usually in a safe zone away from the primary sites of engagement. This element serves to collect and process information about the dynamics of this specific conflict and to disperse orders back to the base and support elements in the field. Police logistics rely on this relaying and processing of information. If that process is cut, police logistics undergoes a profound crisis. For example, most of American air strike tactics are completely based on this concept, framed within a doctrine called Parallel Strike, in which the primary targets of an air campaign consist of command and control centers, radio transmitters, and radar sites. Successfully hitting these targets blinds and deafens the opposing force, rendering them unable to coordinate and plan operational responses. By targeting and fragmenting the logistical support structure and severing base units from command, the opposing force becomes critically disorganized.
Reserve Support—Not technically part of the formation but readt to join the formation if needed. Unlike Support Elements, Reserve Support Elements are held back, usually maintaining a presence at some distance from the primary points of engagement. This has a variety of implications. Firstly, Reserve Support Elements can be difficult to factor in to an immediate tactical calculus; their numbers and presence are hidden. Secondly, their distance from the conflict means that they can be used for a variety of roles, including supply and communications.
The use of concentrated military formations dates back to ancient warfare. In the absence of electronic communications, units had to be kept close to receive oral or visual commands. Since that time the formation has taken on a different purpose, only being deployed in situations of concentrated and geographically limited conflict to be able to bring a concentration of force. We often see formations carried out by single squads but, in situations where more space needs to be secured or more force needs to be concentrated, formations can include entire platoons, which are comprised of a number of squads. Diagrams and force breakdowns for an average platoon follow these descriptions. Formations generally fall into the following categories. Line—One or two ranks of police lined up shoulder to shoulder. This formation is mainly used to clear and hold space in general. The line is a mostly defensive formation which attempts to hold space; if it operates offensively it is to clear space in general, rather than to secure specific locations. Echelon—An offensive diagonal line, used to push people away from a certain location and toward locations desired by police. The point person goes in the direction of the target and when the line reaches the target it either becomes defensive or pushes forward and clears the area. Unlike a pure line formation, which is a primarily defensive formation meant to hold space, the echelon is a hybrid, beginning its deployment in an offensive role, moving to secure an individual target (rather than securing a space), and then moving to clear the immediate area around the target (switching from an offensive to defensive role). The echelon is structured to move through space toward a particular objective, and to secure the objective, rather than to prevent movement or to hold space.
Wedge—Primarily deployed to split crowds into segments. In the United States we often see this formation deployed with the use of vehicles, specifically motorcycles and patrol cars. The police form a V, with the point of the V leading, to drive into the middle of a space, splitting the crowd into smaller and smaller groups.
Diamond—The diamond is both offensive and defensive. Offensively, it is used to enter crowds and is the formation most used by extraction teams/ snatch squads. Defensively, this formation is used when all-around security is needed. This formation allows police to create a 360 degree perimeter, with all sides of the formation secured. In an offensive capacity, when moving through resistant terrain, this formation prevents the possibility of being attacked from behind, while defensively it allows for the securing of specific zones, even if these zones are surrounded by resistant terrain. The trade-off of formations like this is that, in the concentration of numbers to provide 360 degree visibility and security, the formation can move or occupy less space.
Circular—Similar to diamond formation except the rounded edges (or lack of edges) allow some flow between the corners of a street for instance. It is a way to have 360 degree vision without blocking the space entirely.
Signals and Communications
The police communicate through a series of verbal cues, which can be overheard when close enough, and nonverbal cues, which can be seen if utilized, from a distance. Non-verbal commands either emphasize or substitute for verbal commands. The team or squad leader will walk out in front of, or to the side of, the other police in the squad and give non-verbal signal that can include some of the following.
Non-Verbal Commands for Formations
Raise both arms from the sides until they are horizontal. The aims and hands should be extended with the palms down.
Echelon (Right or Lett)
Extend one arm 45* above the horizontal and the other 45” below the horizontal. The arms and hands should be extended. The upper arm shows the direction of the echelon when the commander faces the troops.
Extend both arms downward and to the sides at a 45 ° angle. The arms and hands should be extended with the palms down and in.
Extend both arms above the head. Bend the elbows slightly, and touch the fingertips together.
Give the diamond signal. Then give a circular motion with the right hand.
Figure 6–4. Hand-and-Arm Signals
In recent events a new signal has been noticed in Oakland and Los Angeles, California. The signal is for an advance preceded by a volley of weapons fire. In LA the movement forward was preceded with volleys of rubber bullets. It looks like the following signal, from the US Army Visual Signals Guide, except that the hand is held open and extended forward at a 45 degree angle (yes, like a Nazi salute)
Raise the fist to the shoulder; thrust the fist upward to the full extent of the arm and back to shoulder level; do this rapidly several times.
Figure 2–33. INCREASE SPEED, DOUBLE TIME, or RUSH
Two other non-verbal signals are worth noting here.
An extraction team is a team from the support element that moves into the crowd and makes a targeted arrest. Sometimes this is done as a way to disperse a crowd or to eliminate instigators. When an extraction team is forming you will notice police gathering behind the front line. This is often followed by the pointing out of targets for extraction. The squad leader of the extraction team, once the squad is organized, will stick his hands between the arms of two police and say “Open”. The police that were tapped will open like a double door and the extraction team will run out into the crowd. An extraction team looks like this:
Figure 6–5. Extraction Team Formation
Police also have a signal for firing a what they call a less-than-lethal weapon. The officer properly equipped to fire a specific type of weaponry will walk up behind two front line cops and tap them on their inside shoulder. After they are tapped they go to one knee and put their shields up. The weapons operator then fires the weapon over their shoulder. If people in the crowd see weapons being prepared, they should leave the area.
In crowd control there are two ways that the police will address concentration of conflict, each its own limits and tactical opportunities. Firstly, as has been seen throughout the past decade, the police will concentrate incredible amounts of force to maintain an advantage. It is not that they are ready for total deployment, or a scenario in which all units are engaged simultaneously; the situation is verging on the disastrous for them if total deployment becomes necessary. Rather, the forces mobilized is an attempt to cope with contingencies, and to maintain (regardless of the concentration of conflict at any point) the ability to move forces as necessary. This concentration involves a sacrifice of the ability to maximize the amount of space covered however, because conflict has to stay contained in order to be able to adjust operations to the dynamics of action.
We see this in the shift of US military operational strategy into, and recently out of, counterinsurgency operations. Counterinsurgency (like crowd control) implies the ability to totally occupy space, covering every moment and space necessary to decelerate conflict. However, counterinsurgency approaches require that more police are concentrated in certain spaces, usually inhabited spaces, to maintain operational coherence and a force mobilization advantage. But this limits the space that can be occupied, which allows fringe spaces to escape police operations. In the recent shift into counterterrorism operations (characterized by decreasing physical occupations of space and increasing targeted raids and drone strike operations) the amount of space that can be covered is maximized, but the consistency of this coverage and the ability to concentrate force in space is almost entirely eliminated. This clearly points to some of the tactical problems raised by the assumption of mass street action, (when we concentrate numbers the police can easily identify and concentrate force at that point), and also reinforces the importance of movement and speed when one does not have an advantage on the level of force (often the case in insurgency).
Secondly, the approaches used in crowd-control situations require a containment of the terrain of conflict. While concentrating force allows police to concentrate numbers at a specific point, as the manual discusses in relation to dispersal, this exists in a paradoxical relationship with the attempt to decelerate conflict. If conflict disperses through space, if the terrain of action expands faster than it can be contained, then concentrating force at a point becomes detrimental to the attempt to decelerate conflict on the street. Action will simply spread to where the police are not. Therefore, while they attempt to disperse conflict and decelerate it through the fragmentation of the dynamic, losing control over the lines of flight and avenues of movement prevents them from being able to contain this conflict to certain zones. So, they have to balance the tendency toward confrontation and dispersal against the need to contain and limit movement. Unfortunately, we often contain and limit ourselves. Our tendency to move in large groups in confined spaces, let alone to announce actions before hand (or even to rely on coordinated actions), makes us more legible, spatially limited, and containable.
The ability to concentrate force and contain conflict in space requires topsight: a comprehensive view of the total terrain of conflict. There are all sorts of means to generate and maintain topsight, different ways to scout: helicopters, surveillance cameras, informants, and so on. We can see the importance of intelligence in the crowd assessment questions, which all are attempting to organize and categorize information gathered about potential actions. Without the ability to delineate potential zones of action, people who may take action, and the actions that these people tend to take, the police have no way to understand where to concentrate force. This is one of the aspects of asymmetric warfare that is emphasized in almost all literature on insurgency, insurgencies function to the degree that they can maintain a certain form of invisibility, only appearing in situations where tactical advantage can be generated, such as in the ambush. Similar dynamics play themselves out here, or in any dynamic between insurgency and policing; without the ability to “see” insurgency, without the public manifestations of insurgency, the announced actions, identifiable groups, normative tactics and targets and so on, police deployment occurs with a certain blindness.
Now, we must be careful not to reduce this into some sort of “law of war”; such laws are paradoxical and impossible, one cannot formalize forms of action within tactical dynamics which are all particular and dynamic. Rather, what becomes clear is that there is an inverse relationship between visibility/ identifiability and the ability to operate outside of police containment. The failure in taking this dynamic into account can be seen in both mass movement mentalities and in the form of the underground urban guerrilla. In the mass movement the tendency toward maximum visibility, created in an ill-conceived attempt to generate maximum “support,” which is understood as an end in itself, the mass movement becomes easily containable, easily monitored and, as a result, easily predictable. At the other extreme is the underground group, in the mold of the Red Army Faction, which removes itself from the dynamics of conflict on the street entirely, and ends up fighting a contained frontal struggle between the organization and the police. In the definition of the organization as the privileged site of struggle, as the vanguardist force, conflict becomes contained within the organization, and only deployed by the organization, generating a certain visibility merely in its definability as an organization that maintains some material presence, in the form of supply chains, safe houses and modes of operation.
The ability to act and disappear, to move through space silently and to manifest when the advantage presents itself does not mean that public actions are to be completely ignored. The use of crowd cover, or the use of the crowd as a form of concealment, as we can see with actions in Chile, where anarchists will conceal themselves in a wider crowd and wait for the time to attack, can offer certain opportunities for action. But, this form of action functions to the degree that the framework of the action itself can be broken out of, or that the actions taken generate a trajectory of conflict that multiplies spatially and can mobilize enough force to cause conflict, perpetuated through the reactions of the police, to amplify. However, this is also not to say that we have to default into the framework of mass action, as is often the case in radical circles. The mass action is public, identifiable and easily contained, with large numbers gathered in finite spaces. Often, the ability to maintain concealment provides the ability to act in situations where we can take advantage of surprise or a lack of concentrated police force, but at the risk of isolating the action and limiting the potential amplification of conflict. Increasingly it is clear that the same dynamics play themselves out in virtual acts of disruption, hacking, Distributed Denial Of Service attacks and so on, as well.
There are numerous ways that topsight can be disrupted and police operations lose their offensive or pro-active posture, an effect of an opacity of terrains of struggle. When police movement through space is limited their ability to maintain confrontational pressure, or to intervene in the dynamics of conflict, becomes greatly limited. In the multiplication of movement through space, the proliferation of actions, acceleration in the speed of action, and the multiplication of terrains of action inhibit their sense of what is going on, fragments their ability to plan and deploy strategic operations within their hierarchy. This means that they have to constantly reassess, which generates crisis for their force coherence, communications, supply, and strategy. However, there is no universal formula that we can offer here, only frameworks that we can develop to make sense of the actions that we take and the effectiveness of these actions.
We cannot work through this calculus in isolation. As much as we can learn from reading crowd- control literature, this only provides a framework through which to understand wider dynamics of policing and insurgency. Any number of other aspects of a situation have to be accounted for, including local police structure and tactics, the actual moment of action and the dynamics that may surround this moment, the possible effects of acting against specific targets, and the potential reaction by the police, as well as innumerable variables that construct the local terrain of action. Without these specifics we are reduced to calculating actions that may be taken based on other, non-tactical, concerns, which are generally irrelevant to the material effects of action. For example, if we think of an event through the lens of “putting our ideas into action” the possibilities of action become limited by the definitions of “our ideas,” and effectiveness is calculated in reference to the degree that we think that these ideas were manifested in particular moments. This is, in itself impossible, and is a completely separate question from that of effectiveness. By measuring actions in this way the actual discussion of tactical effectiveness, or the calculation of whether material objectives were met, is entirely obscured, and action is reduced to a Quixotic attempt to “change the world,” without actually engaging in a material dynamic at all. We wonder why tactical discourse is almost absent from radical circles, we wonder why the same frameworks of action are repeated over and over again, with different results expected; this all centers around the hesitancy, or outright resistance to any discussion of the material effectiveness of action, outside of the lofty reasons that many have to fight.
Assessing tactical dynamics is how we make sense of specific actions and possibilities, but the attempt to make sense and the actual actions can never be fused into a singular narrative, unless someone out there knows some form of absolute truth. So, we cannot discuss something like ethics—the primary category at the center of the absurdly false dichotomy between violence and nonviolence—as determinate of material tactical deployments, without limiting the kinds of actions we can imagine. Tactical dynamics are amoral, arational, particular dynamics of conflict, and effectiveness is the accomplishment of objectives within this dynamic of profound uncertainty and resistance. Fusing ideas and action together is always already impossible: analysis generates a space that becomes inert while tactical dynamics are always in flux in all moments, making both strategy and tactics impossible to think in direct and total ways. The most that we can do is try to make sense of these dynamics in increasingly effective ways, ways that facilitate the achievement of material objectives. This requires an approach referred to as operational theory. Neither strategy— impossible to project through time, nor tactical the- ory—the attempt to think particular tactical dynamics in generalized conceptual forms, operational theory is the attempt to think action in conflict through an analysis centered on the dynamics of action, rather than through the lens of conceptual qualitative categories, So, it creates an analytic space between the conceptualization of strategy and the immediacy of tactics. The ways that we make sense of these dynamics is part of understanding how we can think of action within that dynamic. But at the point where these ways of making sense become plans, grand strategies, theoretical definitions, and rigid understandings of tactics, the deployment of action within that dynamic becomes limited, actions become easily defined and containable, and topsight by the police becomes that much easier to generate and maintain. Insurgency is always a material dynamic, and we will only be able to get beyond the current tactical impasse that many of us feel to the degree that we embrace the materiality of struggle and focus on acting based on careful attention to the actual dynamics of conflict in a particular terrain in a particular moment.
Beyond Property Destruction
All politics is against the police — Jacques Ranciere
There have been some remarkably disruptive actions of property destruction in the last series of years. This is a welcome shift away from the aimless people dressed in black marching in circles, away from crowds that rely on numerical concentration in a specific space, away from the island effect (where a group at the front becomes isolated and boxed in because the rest of the crowd has dispersed due to some minor police threat). The streets of Athens, London, Pittsburgh, Santa Cruz, Asheville, Oakland, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto (among others—the list grows daily) have been littered with broken glass and barricaded with burning dumpsters (or cop cars). But beyond the immediate appropriation by the media spectacle and the payday for plate glass companies, something remains lacking. From the obsession with “riot porn” to the images produced to explain or call for actions, this reliance on property destruction, both as a tactic and indicator of success, has moved from being a tactic, to a fetish, a trap that we have not yet been able to move away from. Maybe it is the militant rejection of nonviolence coupled with instances of overwhelming police force, leaving property destruction as the simplest direct yet low risk alternative to actual conflict. But regardless, we need to move away from this tactic, this concept of a certain tactical necessity, and beyond property destruction.
Property destruction can be remarkably disruptive, especially when there’s lots of it, but it has come to exist as some sort of abstract anarchist threat in a reactionary politics of consequences. Every time a city announces a summit, out go the calls to action, the grandstanding starts, the hype builds, and the security apparatus is put in place to “maintain order.” The script has played itself out, without apparent end or even acknowledgement that we have been down this path before. So, this discussion of where to go tends to fall into a series of ridiculous dichotomies: direct action, community organizing (as if there is a separation), or the endless violence or nonviolence debate (as if concepts can ever speak of particular tactical terrains). In this collapse into dichotomy we have lost the purpose of the discussion: what we are doing and how it is, or is not, effective. In other words, in the swirling conversations about concepts and definitions what gets lost are tactics, action, material tactical situations. It is not as simple as saying that property destruction is the logical surpassing of nonviolence. We need to look at tactics and to remove them from the conceptualizations of politics that we have all become so fond of.
This is far from a call for a return to mass movements or the large-scale parades of the antiwar movement (as well attended as they were ineffective). It is about seeing beyond this dead end of mass actions and the shattered windows that sometimes result. In other words, these tactics are exactly that; tactical deployments into space, deployments with effects that change tactical terrains. It is not a question of the affectivity of property destruction or how riots constitute our subjectivity, or something like that; this is merely a question of the material dynamics of conflict. When we look at these instances of concentrated property destruction, or even the isolated attack in the middle of the night, we must see not the action itself but rather the tactical medium that it exists in and as a part of. This focus on property destruction has tended to come from two mutually reinforcing perspectives. On the one hand, property destruction is spoken of affectively, as something that feels appropriate to those who carry out the actions. On the other hand, property destruction and its fetishization tend to focus attention on the act itself, as if any action has some inherent meaning outside of the terrain and medium that it exists within.
This focus on affectivity, the idea that an action is carried out for the affective results, exists as an attempt to isolate actions, to speak of the action in itself, while marginalizing the action in some attempt to proliferate subjectivities. In order for this sort of analysis to carry through, the action has to be first isolated as a space that generates results separate from the dynamics that the actions exists within, and then analyzed in relation to this affective result (and apart from any other material results). This occurs in all attempts to generate essentialist concepts of certain sorts of actions, whether in the form of nonviolence or of fetishized property destruction. This conceptualization of tactical actions begins with the generation of some transcendental imperative, a concept held as true, in which the action in itself becomes an expression. As in all concepts of ethics, the action is reduced to a conceptual object, a sort of constancy that can be applied between moments, and is then analyzed as such, in isolation from the particularity of the dynamics that the action occurs within and the terrain that the action generates in its effects. In other words, what occurs, at the point of treating actions as something with a specified, legible, result, is that the action becomes isolated from history (from the dynamics of conflict that construct its possibility), and then judged through some transcendental lens, in this case the lens of abstracted affective profit. But this isolation, in order to obtain some profit or gain in the amount of possible subjective manifestations, is just another form of isolating action from the context that it is a result of and that it produces. It seems odd how much some of this rhetoric surrounding affectivity (especially among the more hipsterly-inclined among us), begins to resemble early capitalist arguments about the importance of material profit: the action is isolated as carrying transcendental value, which benefits an isolated producer. Now, this does not mean that we should reject any analysis of affec- tivity, rather we need to understand the co-immanence, the necessary relation between the affective and the effective. In other words, there are no actions that in themselves exist purely affectively, there is always an effect, and with that effect a consequent construction of other particular moments.
Action exists as a manifestation of one of various possibilities present at any moment and has effects; that is, it participates in the construction of other possibilities. Put another way, there is no action that is not necessarily external, that does not project a certain existence into the world, and on that level there is no way to separate the affective from the effective; affective results from effects. In the fundamental shift in the dynamics of terrain, new, inconceivable, unpredictable dynamics will result, new possibilities will become apparent, and the entire terrain is constructed in a particular way in each moment. This occurs with any action; the effects of any action will fundamentally rupture the dynamics that existed before the action occurred. In other words, due to the inherent connection between the affective and the effective, predicting the affectivity of an action, planning affective actions, is impossi- bile. There is just no way to sit in a room and determine the possible effects, the shifts in the terrain of action that we call a world, before an action is taken. All that we can do is conceptualize possibilities, but always in necessarily inaccurate ways. And, because no action exists completely internally, no action is completely affective, all action implies effect and thus a reconstruction of the entirety of the terrain of existence in the very truth of its occurrence as something that had not occurred before.
Nothing can exist as more or less affective, all moments are singular as what they are, they are all moments that have never occurred before and will never occur again, and as such we cannot understand the affective as a quantity that produces subjectivities (especially because the act of production also necessarily has an effect, but that is a minor point here). The affective is not a quantity; comparisons of quantity imply the ability to compare moments which in themselves are fundamentally particular, and its co-immanence with the effective, or the tactical, necessarily means first, that all action exists as one trajectory of affect/effect within a innumerable series of actions (or everything that has ever occurred) and trajectories that come into conflict in the tactical medium. Also, this very conflict, this collision of trajectories, makes the future indeterminable and that the conflict itself, the unfulfilled trajectory of affect/effect, is what constructs what we call the world. To go back to something Patton said, following Clausewitz, “no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” In other words, theoretical attempts to isolate affectivity, to predict affective consequences, may not be wrong in the absolute conceptual sense, but it is impossible. We project the theoretical within this smooth context devoid of actions and affect/effect, devoid of conflict, devoid of the unfulfilled; but the moment any action occurs the very context that was theorized is already obsolete, the theoretical and the material necessarily exist at a division across a wide gap, an infinite distance between concept and moment, as Blanchot would argue.
Now I do not want to reject the affective consequences of direct action. Going on missions, smashing bank windows, taking out surveillance cameras, building barricades, running through streets, has a large affective result for a lot of people. For some of us who grew up in places that elevated property to the status of the sacred, destroying property is a way to break free from that culturally imposed limit. For those of us who grew up in places where there was very little property to fetishize, destroying banks and fighting cops exists as an outlet for the rage that we had always felt about the positions that we had been relegated to from birth. It was a way to get over the fear that the police had instilled in us from a very young age when they rolled up on us, searched us, walked into our classrooms to pull people out for questioning, beat us for minor infractions and then dropped us off without being arrested (because arrest would entail explanation), the killings in cold blood, the criminalization of our youth, the friends locked in the dungeons of America; for us it was about finding a catharsis, a way to fight, a way to feel powerful in a world that constantly beat us down. But often this discourse of affectivity tends to focus on only the “positive” or “empowering” aspects of property destruction and fails to deal with the trauma, the mental affects that this has had on a lot of us who have been in serious situations. (This has a lot to do with the inattention that trauma gets in our community, but that is a topic for another essay.)
This focus on affectivity is a result of and reinforces a certain theory of isolation. To focus on the affective in action to the exclusion of the coimmanence with the effective, is only possible through a dual isolation, the isolation of agents and the isolation of actions. The focus on the affective exists within a focus on subjectivity. We all love the Situationists, but they made this same error. While recognizing that our actions can cause wider destabilizations, the purpose of these destabilizations became about the manifestation of some subjective desires. Now, I am not rejecting the existence of a certain sense of the subjective, rather I argue that we need to reject the separation of this so-called subjectivity from some form of objectivity. In other words, we need to reject the basic error of the Enlightenment, which is the separation of the subjective from the objective, the individual from the totality of our existences, the self from history. It is an error that permeates Kant and Hegel and that has crept in to this discourse of affectivity. To focus on the subjective to the exclusion of effects, or of the external and tactical, is to isolate our existence into the perpetuation of some form of the individual, to isolate ourselves from the very conditions and possibilities of our existences. Not only is that the same move replicated in all capitalist discourse (the isolated producer who owns property, implying exclusion as well as use), it is also the generation of a subject who cannot speak, who has no context for words, no way to make sense of things, no way to actually experience phenomenon, all of which imply an externality.
In this isolation of agents there is also a co- immanent isolation of actions. We tend to see single smashed windows, or even instances of large scale property destruction, as actions in themselves, as if they have meaning in themselves. Theory only exists as a way to make sense of the world, it cannot actually describe moments that always exist as singular, unrepeatable, unreplicatable. In other words, all actions are possible due to the dynamics of everything that has ever occurred, yet that totality of actions is inaccessible in a moment and particular to that moment, while the attempt to construct conceptual understandings of moments implies some sort of constancy across moments. Theory is the impossible attempt to chain moments together, to generate concepts from some notion of a constancy of actions. It forgets that describing a moment, all the dynamics that led to the manifestation of a certain possibility, all the possible meanings, all the moments that have ever occurred, is impossible from the positionality of theory as something that occurs at a particular time and place; the theoretical requires transcendence that in itself is impossibile. To put it another way, acts of property destruction in themselves are meaningless, all actions are materially meaningless. Not that they do not have effects, but rather that there is no way to theorize about the affect/effect of an action or moment isolated from the totality of history that led to that moment and there is no way to make sense of history in any way that is not just more or less persuasive speculation.
Yet, this fetishization of property destruction as an action in itself is the attempt to do just that. When we isolate actions from the totality of history that led to the possibility of that action itself in order to make sense of the action itself, we ignore the relevence of the context that the action exists within, the terrain of conflict that constructs possibility, the effects that action has in the construction of history, or the dynamics of the the tactical medium itself. This is just a really long way to say that we need to see beyond single actions, beyond single windows, beyond single streets isolated by the tactical medium that made these moments possible. In all instances of property destruction another phenomenon is presenting itself, one that we need to be able to see and analyze, if only speculatively. Rather than seeing single actions outside of the dynamics that they exist within, we need to look at tactical mediums as a dynamic, as a conflict and collision. When we look at the burning of cop cars in Toronto, the smashing of shopping districts in Santa Cruz and Asheville, the riots that broke out in Pittsburgh, the property destruction around Oakland after the verdict in the Oscar Grant case, we see one commonality. In each of these instances, and in innumerable other sites of unrest globally, beyond the property destruction, beyond the taking of streets, beyond the barricades, these events were possibile because of the disruption of police coverage, the disruption of the ability of police to suppress conflict, to close gaps in coverage and projection, to police as a material totality. What we are witnessing is not the result of any one action, any one window, but the result of a disorganization of the ability of the cops to define territory and situations, a break down that is always possible if we only take a moment to analyze police tactics through a certain lens, a lens of immediacy, of the immediate material operations of policing itself.
Again, this is not a rejection of the legitimacy of property destruction nor is this an attempt to discourage property destruction—whatever choices people make in actions are the choices they make. Rather, this is a rejection of the attempt to systematize property destruction by only focusing on this one gap in police coverage, to only see the gap as an opportunity to break stuff, rather than as a disruption of the very logistical capacity of police to project through space, a disruption that can be expanded and amplified. In other words, when we separate the gap from the dynamics that create these gaps we lose the resonance amplified by conflict and destabilization (an amplification that implicates the state’s functioning on larger levels as well) and instead we take actions as isolated opportunities. What many seem to have been forgotten is that insurrection is not a fulfillment of some conceptual conditions, but an immediate and material rupture in the attempt of police to maintain operational coherence.
There has been a lot of discussion about a Plan B: abandoning instances of conflict with the police to go elsewhere to exploit gaps in coverage to engage in property destruction. The concept underlying Plan B, that attacks and actions should be occurring outside of concentrations of conflict, is sound. It is based in the necessity of the crisis in policing, the impossibility of a totality of policing. But, rather than seeing the gaps in police coverage—the impossibility of total policing—as something that can be amplified, Plan B takes these gaps as “the best we can do,” as something to be exploited by single actions that can be easily mediated and repaired. It begins from the assumption that we are already defeated, that no new possibilities are able to be generated, that the situation is totally defined, and then entrenches this notion of defeat in our actions and the way we imagine our tactical possibilities. Because, really, what is the importance of broken glass, how much existential weight does a smashed ATM screen carry? What we need to see is that even isolated attacks, when frequent, are important to the degree that they stretch police logistics to the breaking point, to the point of rupture. They are not imperatives in themselves, or do they carry some essential conceptual weight on their own. We need to look beyond the isolation of moments imposed by the thinking underlying Plan B. This rejection of Plan B is not in favor of some “Plan A,” but an attempt to take the thing that Plan B recog- nizes—which is that there is always a necessary gap in police coverage, that policing exists as a dynamic in crisis—and amplify this crisis rather than accepting it as static, something outside of our engagement, that only opens the way for isolated actions. Until we analyze policing as an operation in constant crisis we are doomed to minor attacks (that leave almost no marks mere hours later), locked within a strategy of defeat.
The Impossibility of Total Policing or Why Policing Exists as Motion
War is the province of chance.
In no other sphere of human activity must such margin be left for this intruder.
—Karl von Clausewitz
When we look at police it is all too easy to see the riot shields, the armored personnel carriers, the tear gas, and the lock-step formations and forget that the police operate within a certain paradox, a certain impossibility. When we are on the streets it is easy to see the cops as some mechanistic force, marching to orders, and we forget that they themselves move, that these actions exist within a dynamic terrain of conflict. To move outside of the context of viewing policing in mechanistic forms is not an attempt to “humanize” police, to make them into people with feelings. The very basic reality of policing itself is that the police exist as a logistical form of organization that attempts to accomplish the impossible.
Like our friends that demand that theory can speak of the world itself, that it is directly applicable, the cops exist in the vain attempt to organize space and to channel possibility to manifest some abstract theoretical principle, the construction of their own materially impossible coherence as well as the unity of time and space in the very operations of policing. In the construction of police logistics a certain coherence is relied upon, in which moments can find some connection—even though this implied connection rejects the particularity of these moments, how they exist in particular ways, with particular dynamics, in particular times and spaces. Authorities have constructed all sorts of mechanisms to force some sort of coherence into police logistics, but cannot overcome the material particularity of actions, which always demonstrates this coherence as mythological and logistical, at best.
The state itself exists as a theoretical principle— the idea of the nation as a unit, the idea that law can express some truth or operate with immanence, the idea that those who construct laws could possibly represent others. The state is something that is created partially through paper, in constitutions, in theory books. There have been a lot of really fascist theory books written, there have been a lot of attempts to generate some all-knowing theoretical principle that defines life itself; these are problematic enough. But what we need to understand is that the state, though formed around certain notions of the world, does not exist on paper. Rather the state is the logistical attempt to make concepts manifest materially, to manipulate the concept of unity in a materially total way, as an immediate and material form. In other words, the state itself does not exist without the attempt to structure the material possibilities of our lives, to construct immanence in the moments that are our existence; it cannot exist without conceptualizing all change, all life, all contingency, within certain defined limits that attempt to transcend the theoretical and become material. Not only must the state project theoretical principles (whether these are laws or “revolutionary principles” does not matter) into the future and across all space, particular momentary existences, and all moments from the moment of construction, but— barring the state leaving the material world suddenly and becoming the “kingdom of god”—it must do so at every moment, moments that are increasingly divergent from the moment of conception. Put another way, the state is a constant operation, a constant attempt to channel the dynamics of everyday life into the models generated by politicians, to make some constancy of moments operate in spite of the singularity and particularity of moments themselves. Theory is just not enough to accomplish this task. Regardless of how bought-off the average American may be, they still interpret this form of agreement through a particular series of circumstances and experiences, in a particular way that changes momentarily.
To cross this gap, to make the theoretical operate, requires a logistical form of organization: the police. To put this another way, it is not that the state is not at base a conceptual construction, it’s just not one that can be grouped into the categories that we have generated to understand political history. It is not that that the United States is a liberal democracy, it is that the United States is a conceptual construction based on a unitary concept of time and space, in that it constructs its own reality, which exists in wildly divergent ways in different spaces and at different times. The United States exists as what it is now, a conceptual coherence existing at a distance from the attempt at coherent operation, not as some expression of a certain reality constructed in times gone by by rich white men. Rather, it is that the ideological allegiance claimed by the state itself, though it can serve to set a series of abstract limits to the state’s operation (we have elections periodically, for example, and courts), is in itself largely inconsequential. To put this another way, the question is not the “what,” the attempt to conceptually define the state conceptually (which implies a materially impossible coherence and differentiation); rather, the question is “how,” a question of tactical operation in the impossible attempt to overcome the infinite distance between transcendental concept and materially particular moments.
When we think of the state we must not think of a political operation, an operation borne of an absence of conflict. It is, instead, the attempt to operate as a totality in a constantly shifting tactical medium constructed through conflict and a collision of many dynamics of action projected into space. It is the mobilization of politics, the dynamics of conflict in space, to end politics, to construct a unity of time and space that can only exist in a terrain devoid of conflict. In this the state is always utopian, and utopia always implies the construction of absolute unity and the end of all conflict. To say this another way, the state is not, at its most basic, a political reality. Rather it is a logistical policing operation that attempts to avert conflict, that attempts to be the end of politics itself. For many of us this is clear in the post-Cold War age (hell, Francis Fukuyama wrote The End of History and the Last Man about this end of politics). But we need to see beyond the historical moment of the manifestation, or increasing apparent success, of this attempt to end politics and understand that the very possibility of this move lies in the basis of the state itself.
This may all seem like so much hot theoretical air, but the point is that when we speak of the state it makes no sense to talk of policies. Rather we need to see policies (and politicians) as nothing but certain appropriations of an attempt to operate a conceptual “unity,” materially, in a constantly shifting tactical medium, through constant policing. Concepts of law, citizenship, and so on attempt to define existence, regardless of the particularities of time and space in moments, as a singular unity—which in itself is impossible. Policing is the attempt to operate a logistics of force to construct this unity, but this requires a total operation in all moments simultaneously. A constant operation is waged every day to operate a coherence of the operations of the State in a moment. This, by the very fact that it is constructed by actions that are constantly generating different possibilities, is in itself necessarily particular in each moment. Regardless of the structure of unity that policing is an attempt to construct, this can only function in different, particular ways in each and every action taken by each and every cop in each and every moment, and never, even in itself, as a unity. The state is a logistical phenomenon, one that exists in a state of constant crisis. It is impossible to transcribe the theoretical, the legal, the ideological, onto the material. This material attempt to construct the state in a moment—to at once define existence in the theoretical-legal while at the same time encompassing and defining innumerable constantly shifting particular manifestations—the attempt to logistically operate this definition materially, is at once both occurring (police function in time and space), while at the same time impossible. For all the attempts to construct the unity of time and space, moments can never be defined in their totality; for all the attempts to construct the coherence of police logistics, these logistics fails to operate in a unified way; for all the attempts to project policing into every moment, they can only cover so much ground.
What this all points to is a certain impossibility of the state, an impossibility that shows itself in the constant crisis of its logistical operations, and the tactical possibilities (and lack of them) that this crisis generates. Policing, the attempt to make the state material, is also a vision of a logistics in constant crisis, one that is dealing with a dual impossibility. On the one hand, there is no possibility of total policing spatially and mathematically. If policing were total, then the very differentiation of “police” would be an impossibility; the state would always already be an actual material immanence, and our existences would collapse into irrelevancy. To the degree that the police manifest through a separation, between police and non-police, this totality remains always already impossible. So, if we take the many thousands of cops that were brought out in Pittsburgh for the G20—or the 50,000 that they are mobilizing for the G20 in Seoul, South Korea—and stick them side by side, they cover very little space. If we add all the fancy toys and vehicles that they use, they cover a little more space, but not much. And these mobilizations include much larger numbers than in normal days when summits are not in town. If we space these numbers out across a major city their coverage begins to look rather weak. This all indicates that the police need to operate through projection. They need to project themselves across space in order to amplify the effectiveness of these numbers. To help with this they use, among other things, communications and vehicular transportation. In other words, the police are a logistical operation in constant movement, in constant motion, and they rely on the ability to move through space, either materially or virtually, in order to construct operational coherence. This projection is also amplified through the use of snitches, stings, undercovers, and informants, to destroy our ability to trust our space and those around us. They stick cameras up at intersections and in what they call “troubled neighborhoods,” with big flashing lights on top, to give off the impression that we are being watched. When we see it this way, we begin to see the police not as an institution but as a logistical operation in constant motion that is attempting to construct the territory that we live in, the tactical medium of conflict and resistance. As we see in the 21st Century metropolis, criss-crossed by its overlapping networks of surveillance, the structure of space impacts police operations as much as police operations shape the dynamics of space. If they were relying on force and physical presence in itself, they would quickly lose control; instead they attempt to project themselves through space to operate a certain, conceptual, tactical terrain. What this means is that, regardless of the fear that cops strike into the hearts of many, there are always gaps, there is always crisis.
The second impossibility of policing is all the more glaring in light of the first. It is not that we can just look at the problems with this logistical operation numerically, it is that this numerical limitation implies the inability to project across all space simultaneously, all the time, and therefore requires movement, action, which in itself generates conflict and modifies the dynamics of terrain, and thus the dynamics of operation. The police have developed all sorts of ways to amplify their projection through preparing the ground, so to speak. So much time and resources are spent by police departments every year on DARE programs, Neighborhood Watch, and auxiliary programs, all to amplify this projection; and this does not even mention the more sublime weapons: the tear gas, helicopters, and now sound weapons that are meant to be projections of force over vast areas in the literal sense rather than just potentially or metaphorically. The attempt to operate a material unity, which assumes an elimination of conflict in space (a total peace), comes to operate through organizing conflict. In order for the police to operate they must mobilize the very dynamic that they are trying to operate coherently and without internal conflict, action itself. As already mentioned, the very necessity of all action, all moments, is that through action contingency and possibility are generated affectively/effectively. New possibilities are generated, new things occur that have never occurred before. The totality of history, the entirety of the collisions of everything that has ever occurred in any one moment is now a different totality, even in something as simple as a breath.
So the tactical medium in which action is carried out is a constantly shifting phenomenon. For the police to function with any coherence, they attempt to “unify,” operate, and define these moments; to chain them to other moments, to construct some form of coherent and constant discourse of moments that functions materially. It is not in the theoretical that the issue arises—all theory takes on this transcendent mode, and constructs a sort of consistent totality. Rather, it arises in the attempt to bridge this gap from the theoretical to the material, from a notion of sense to manifesting materially and totally. At the moment of operation the very actions that are mobilized to bridge this gap from the theoretical to the material (or from the strategic to the tactical), end up generating contingencies, shifting the tactical medium, and generating the very destabilization that the police are organized to prevent. In other words, the point here is not our value judgements, not our individual opinions of the actions of the police, the way they violate our humanity, their use of force. Rather, what is at issue is that the very attempt to logistically operate policing is in itself paradoxical, impossible; the very operation itself is one that always attempts to mediate the very internal crisis that it generates in its own operation. In other words, rather than seeing police as a static form of military organization, we need to see the magnitude of the paradox. To function as pure policing, a policing that realizes some form of “pure policing” (in which the state through policing applies totally and defines all moments), circumstance could never change, all moments would be defined by the operation of policing, and policing itself would be some inert total form of existence. In order for them to maintain order they could never act because all action unleashes conflict into the tactical terrain that the organization of policing is mobilized to prevent. In the very fact that policing does act, in the very fact that action occurs to the degree that it does, in infinite ways at all moments, the very operation of policing must be one that always is in motion and thus an operation that is always causing a crisis in its own mobilization. It is this impossibility that leads to the material impossibilities of policing (the mathematical gaps that always must persist, combined with the paradoxical attempt to use action to cease action) that really makes politics possible. If politics itself is a conflict (a collision between innumerable desires and the possibilities of action), then the very operation of policing can only operate cryogenically, in the impossible attempt to cease this motion while at the same time amplifying it, through its very operation. The impossibility of pure policing is the impossibility of the philosophical becoming material, of moments becoming defined within a total unity of time and space. It is not that they don’t try to realize the “promises of philosophy,” it is that the very attempt implies a fascist attempt to define life itself. This attempt to materialize the philosophical found expression in the Terror and the gulag, one organized around concepts of virtue and the other around concepts of the revolutionary. This is the mistake of radical movements that always exists on the horizon. We see this ambition in all the great tyrants, from Robespierre to Lenin, from your local police captain to the president, the goal is always the same: “to fulfill the intentions of nature and the destiny of man, realize the promises of philosophy” (Robespierre).
Because the police exist as a logistical organization always in crisis, the basic categories of analysis that we have been using, those of victory and defeat, are outmoded. The very category of victory (how many hours have been devoted to talking about “what victory looks like”) is an impossibility. To claim victory implies that at some moment all action has ceased, that there is a static situation in place that can be termed victorious. But just as for the police, victory is impossible. Rather than victory we need to be thinking of movement, of speed, of the multiplication of possibilities. In other words, the logistical organization of the police is not an object to be defeated, rather it is an operation that, in the very constancy of crisis, can be disorganized and rendered increasingly inoperable. Defeat would mean the end of all options, the complete total end of action itself. But as we have mentioned at length, the very operation of the police generates possibilities in its attempt to eliminate possibility; it creates contingency in the constant security operation meant to define situations.
This means that there is never a tactical dead end, there are always other options, other possibilities, to the degree that we stop seeing the police as an institution that can control single actions, to the degree that we stop seeing our actions as singular and begin to think of this conflict as a fluid tactical medium. The real fallacy of Plan B is not even so much that it entrenches defeat (although it does), but that it operates within the categories of victory and defeat. Plan B-based tactical thinking entrenches the idea that we are already defeated in our attempts to be “victorious” over police and then comes around to saying that our defeat can be mitigated by opening up other planes of conflict only to the degree that the police are absent. In this approach, in this form of tactical essentialism, in which all tactical moments somehow become common and understandable through singular conceptual frameworks, the terrain of action itself becomes some inert totality, and we fail to identify the tactical points of convergence and possibility as they manifest in particular moments. We need to see beyond these categories of victory and defeat and see the proliferation of possibilities in front of us all the time. Until we do this we are doomed to thinking the police are stronger than we are, and to entrenching this defeat in approaches that further construct our position as being defeated.
Constant Crisis and Capacity
Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.
-John Allen Paulos
As we mentioned earlier, the impossibility of policing numerically and tactically means that the police must operate through projection. This means not just that they need to operate and move quickly, both in communication and logistics, but also that, as a movement, they require absence of interference to function. Every person on the street who calls the cops, everyone who gives them information, all the snitches and informants, all the cameras, are minor compared to the effect of organizing space through “self-control”. Not only do police project themselves spatially in a material way but the crux of their ability to construct space, their ability to operate in non-resistant spaces, is a product of their projection: not where they are, but their ability to project anywhere. In the most concrete terms possible, it is not that people do not shoplift because there is a cop in every store but that the notion of being able to shoplift is made difficult by the possibility of arrest, by the possible projection of police into a space where they are not within or apparent. However, as much as this deterrent effect, this ability to project through space, may seem total, it is not. Otherwise the police would not need to function, let alone be armed. All spaces, all times, all terrains present their own particular resistances, from the potholes in the streets to the tendency of many to have a deep hatred and resentment toward the police—let alone when certain terrains present much more concentrated resistance. And all of these resistances to police movement disrupt their ability to project. This conflict in space, combined with the conflict from the effects of police action, generates a crisis for the coherence of police operations.
To think of crisis as something that occurs only episodically is to think that at some moment there is a condition in which a catastrophic collapse is not possible, in which moments are actually determined and defined existentially, in which policing functions totally; this can never be the case unless we assume that policing has structured some metaphysical truth of some sort or another. As such, we cannot just look at crisis as something that can occur, or consequently goes through periods where it does not occur. The mistake that works like Nihilist Communism makes is assuming that because a situation does not seem to be in crisis, that it is stabilized in a complete and metaphysical way, that there are no other possibilities. In other words, and to use an argument from Capital (Volume 1), it is not that abstract value actually functions, rather it must be inscribed over moments constantly; in itself it is an impossibility. To say that crisis is ever eliminated, that there are periods of crisis and periods of non-crisis, is to make the assumption that concepts actually come to be joined with and define moments and objects. It is not that crisis exists or does not exist. Rather it is that crisis is perpetual in the attempt to actualize the philosophical, to operate any unity of moments across time and space. Instead of seeing crisis as only existing in some moments and not others, we need to embrace the impossibility of philosophy becoming actualized and treat crisis as something with magnitude, as generating more or less resistant mediums of operation, or tactical mediums that become disruptive to the point of disorganizing policing’s attempt to logistically materialize definitions.
Policing develops logistical structures around the capacity to contain this crisis, to prevent it from taking on such power that the semblance of coherence ruptures, due to either internal or external factors. Policing therefore cannot be understood as something to defeat, but rather as a projection to disrupt and disorganize, a crisis that can be amplified to the point where their capacity is exceeded. This capacity is not just material (the number of vehicles and personnel that can be mobilized) but the ability to mediate contingency, to operate logistically, to define territory according to strategy. That capacity, as the ability to logistically project across time and space, allows them to deal with the crisis implicit in the operation of policing. When that capacity is exceeded the police are reduced to nothing but a physical force that operates in direct physical contact, responding to situations without being able to either define the limits of movement or space, unable to project coherent force, unable to maintain a coherence of operations, reduced to nothing but isolated individual units separated from their logistical network. This is what we call rupture; it is the disorganization of the logistics of policing and the policing of logistics. We should not understand rupture as some privileged historical moment, yet another metaphor for Revolution. Rather rupture exists fluidly and alongside space where projection can operate, as a concentration of conflict in space, particular to a space and terrain. But it is these ruptures, these gaps in coverage where projection ceases to operate, that can be expanded and amplified.
What the act of property destruction recognizes is this gap in coverage, this space, either through direct resistance, fluid movement through space, or logistical incapacities that actions can deploy from or into. But, in limiting our imagination to the exploitation of this gap for a single action, rather than tactically amplifying these gaps, the real importance of these gaps, of this crisis, is missed. It is not that we are looking at an inert map, with some spaces covered and others not. We want to exploit that to attempt to cover these gaps, police have to engage in logistical shifts, stretching their resources even further, creating more gaps that have to be covered. It is in this that policing logistics become stretched, that their capacity is exhausted, that crisis amplifies, and rupture occurs; it is this point of rupture that is called insurrection. Each and every thing that occurs, each breathe, each step, each person leaving a building or crossing a street, each conversation, generates a new contingency and a series of possibilities that police logistics have to compensate for in order to maintain their projections, and this ability to cope with and mitigate the possibilities generated through basic, banal, everyday actions is limited. Each act of property destruction gives them something else to respond to, each barricade disrupts their ability to project through space, each action amplifies the crisis that is always present, especially in spaces where pacified self-control does not operate totally. The police are constantly disorganized, there is no actual logistical coherence, only the occasional ability to contain crisis; it is just a matter of whether this time they have the capacity to project or reinscribe themselves into space. This is why they patrol constantly, why they stand on sidewalks, why they use overwhelming brutality: all attempts to amplify this projection, to operate in the face of their own uncertainty.
In a story about the Greek insurrection in 2008 an anarchist said that they knew the insurrectionary events had resonance when they realized that old ladies were smoking cigarettes on the train and telling the cops who came to stop them to “fuck off!” In other words, the insurrection had resonance because, long after the windows were replaced, long after the streets were cleared of the burned-out carcasses of cars, the ability of the police to project themselves through space, the ability of the state to operate logistically, was still disrupted. And in this disruption people inhabited the space to realize new possibilities, even if that only meant that people smoked with impunity on the subway.
In every action that occurs there are effects, and in these effects the terrain of action shifts, disrupting the ability of the police to maintain a coherence of operation. This infinite distance between the dynamics of action in space and the ability of police to gather information, interpret this information, and generate operations becomes even wider when action is accelerated, and when actions occur in concentration. We can clearly see this in the riot, where the spatial and conflictual amplification of action can quickly overwhelm police logistics—not because these logistics are attacked directly (although this can contribute to rupture)—but because the terrain of conflict can get dense so quickly that there is no ability to mount a coordinated response. Property destruction actions cause points in the constellation of response, that the police can compensate for, that are easily containable as single points in isolation; the police show up, the window frame is boarded, and the window replaced in a short period of time. In this containability these strikes fail to generate an amplification of conflict which can overwhelm and disorganize police logistics, but it does not have to be this way. The isolation of the act of property destruction comes from the tendency to analyze the action-in-itself, the isolated action. This analysis removes property destruction from the dynamics of action and conflict that surround these actions, preventing both the process of targeting actions for maximum effectiveness, and understanding this effectiveness in reference to the dynamics of policing and resistance in that space. As an action, property destruction can be a form of amplification, but this means moving beyond the tendency to think of the action-in-itself, or in terms of affectivity (the tendency to explain away the lack of tactical thought through claiming that the act of destruction is some act of desire). We can do better, but only to the degree that we move away from conceptual understandings of philosophical conflicts. This requires a simple shift in the way that action is thought, away from the idea of the isolated action taken for conceptual reasons, and into a sober, material analysis of the dynamics of conflict and policing where they occur, when they occur, and how they occur.
If we fail to do this, we will continue to be locked into this faulty concept that actions become more and more radical or effective to the degree that they become more materially destructive, a mentality that pervades organizations like Deep Green Resistance—reducing all terrain to a collection of inert infrastructural points. In this approach the action is isolated from its dynamics, and we fail to even engage in a discussion of effective action. When effectiveness becomes obscured all that we can do is engage in isolated actions, with the vain hope that something will result from them. Actions are always external and externalizing, moving into a space outside of the physical confines of a particular existence and having effects in this external space; action is not about the self, but rather about what exists outside, as a dynamic between things. It is this dynamic between things that is the plane of operation of the police, structured around attempting to regulate the movement of people through space, the actions that can be taken, and the dynamics that can form. But, insurgency is also a product of this space, the point in the dynamics of space where this space becomes so resistant that policing becomes impossible. This does not occur by focusing discussions of actions on abstract threats and personal affirmation. It is not a question of means, property destruction, direct action, and so on, but of how these means are thought, and on what level they are able to have a resonant effect in an immediate material situation.
The movement of time is guaranteed by the birth of generation after generation, a never-ending succession that fills the gods with fear —Mikhail Bakhtin
The fetishization of property destruction makes various serious errors, but two are primary. First, it relegates action to isolated times and spaces. When we focus on individual broken windows, or spaces of concentrated destruction, we fail to see the tactical terrain that made this space possible, the amplification of the constant crisis in policing that generated this possibility. Instead, we relegate action to isolated points in a vacuum, separated from the tactical medium. We need to understand that property destruction has a space, but it is not in riot porn videos on Youtube. Property destruction exists as one of many means to amplify the crisis in policing, to generate space for more actions to occur which further amplify this crisis to the point of rupture, the point of disorganization. But we need to understand this rupture, this disorganization, not as an end but as the possibility of possibility itself, as a beginning. But, we must be clear, disorganization is not some goal, something to be thought in itself as a conceptual ideal, but rather is a constant movement that makes policing impossible and severs the state from any possibility of manifestation. Fetishization of property destruction has taken these gaps in coverage, the crisis in policing, for granted. It has squandered them on actions that only exist in isolated moments, that begin and end with the swing of a crowbar rather than understanding the broken window as something that amplifies, as something that disorganizes, or has resonance. Property destruction can be used tactically, as a generation of another point of response and as a a potential amplification of crisis, but only to the degree that we can move beyond the fetishization of property destruction, the focus on the action itself in a vacuum, and begin to understand it as a potentially effective action that is taken in reference to its effectiveness.
As was mentioned earlier, we must get beyond the notions of “victory” and “defeat,” but this requires us to challenge another categorical mythology handed down to us from the trajectory of traditional politics: the myth that movements in themselves accomplish anything directly. We have to dispel the notion that anarchists are the movement, that we directly construct the new world. This trap has led us down the road of traditional politics too often, into the trap of defining moments and enacting theory. If we learn anything from the gulags, the massacres, and the numerous other failures of the radical project, it should be that once we go down this road of defining moments, the moment we go beyond understanding our role as anything but being another disruption to the functioning of the state, then we come to replicate the impossibilities that have plagued all politics, the arrogance of disregarding the basic fact that theory exists at a divide from the material. Once we forget that we come to replicate the police. It is not that we ourselves cannot have politics, it is not that we cannot take positions (on one level all insurgency is an attempt to encourage a density of positions and possibilities that can enter into conflict). Rather, we should not be so arrogant as to assume that those are something other than attempts to make sense of the world. It is not about the operation of theory, which is really nothing but an opinion from a particular point of view, but about generating the possibility of possibility; of generating the possibility of politics itself through the disorganization of the police.
What Is Policing?
Policing as Paradox
Politics is generally seen as the set of procedures whereby the aggregation and consent of collectivities is achieved, the organization of powers, the distribution of places and roles, and the systems for legitimizing this distribution. I propose to give this system of distribution and legitiza- tion another name. I propose to call it the police.
—Jacques Ranciere, Dis-agreement
Insurgency, an intentional engagement in social war, is always an immediate and material dynamic. It is a series of actions with effects in immediate moments in time and space, within a particular convergence of the dynamics of history, but we would never be able to grasp this by listening to our activist friends and the ways that resistance is spoken about in those circles. Listening to movement rhetoric, we are transported to a world where metaproblems exist, where political passions and concepts of true speech somehow mean something in themselves, where the interests of the movement mean more than taking materially effective action. A feedback loop builds: they talk to one another about the reasons they resist, and the conceptual frameworks that justify certain actions, but never about the actual dynamics of resistance, or the terrain in which one fights. In this discourse two questions are fused together: one involving the actual dynamics of action and history and the other how we conceptually make sense of this in more or less consistent, but still arbitrary, ways. Rather than this odd sort of meta-analysis, which prevents us from engaging in a way to understand and impact the operation of the state, we must start to ask questions of operation, the inscription of concepts, or policies (which are just conceptual), into time and space (rather than concepts like ethics and political desire). It requires an approach to action that starts from a sober reading of the dynamics of operation, the moments in which operation occurs, and the structuring of space. To engage with the dynamics of resistance, of fighting and thus of warfare, means to separate these questions of events and the ways that we make sense of events in a conceptual sense, to analyze action on the level of immediacy, and to take action based on this concept of the immediate. In this analysis there is no purpose in complaining about corporate immorality; it is only necessary to understand the operation of land enclosure, private property, the operations of economics and imposed scarcity—in short, the administrative and material possibility of capitalism itself, as a conceptual content that is then operated by the state, through policing. This means fundamentally shifting the way we understand what we fight against, the imposition of certain unities and concepts of unity into everyday life through a material operation. Or, in other words, the state.
The state always already only exists as a concept in a unitary sense, and thus as an impossibility. In the concept of the state there is an attempt to construct a constancy of particular moments, a permanence of impermanence. This is not where the problem arises. On this level the state is nothing but one of innumerable manifestations of the impossibility of philosophy, the attempt to speak of particular phenomena, and the moments these occur through transcendental and qualitative concepts. The paradox is this: the state occurs, yet the conceptual structure of the state prevents anything from occurring. The conceptual framework defines time and space as a sameness, as inert space in which all objects and actions are isolated and infused with this conceptual content; people are citizens or not, actions are illegal or not. The action becomes removed from itself, the possibilities of existence become removed from themselves, but this means nothing if it only exists in the realm of particular concepts that are constructed by particular people. The question of the state is not a question of the concept of the state, it is nothing but another manifestation of the impossibility of speaking truth, and just as arbitrary as any other conceptual apparatus. The question must shift; it must be a question, not of the concept, but of the attempt to take a particular concept— thought in a particular way by a particular person in a particular moment—and project this concept as a universal definition of existence and the possibilities of existence totally and materially. For these concepts to manifest entails a paradox. Particular actions have to be taken in particular moments, yet with the intention of depriving moments of this particularity and defining them through the framework of a material conceptual totality; particular things must occur, even though these things are impossible within the conceptual totality of the state. This projection must be material, even though the conceptual framework eschews all materiality; it must attempt to manifest this totality, even though this operation only occurs through particular actions, each of which have effects, and, therefore, fundamentally alter the dynamics of time and space. We call this attempt—to manifest totality through the dynamics of the particular—policing.
The state must occur, otherwise we are dealing with nothing but another conceptual construct, but at this point the state becomes something partial, historical, and based in the dynamics of conflict and moment. As such, the state remains an impossibility: the attempt to construct unity even though things are occurring—all moments are defined, but only to the degree that policing functions in time and space, and only to the degree that this operation is effective. For example, it is always possible to move in to an abandoned building, or take something off of a store’s shelf. These actions only become “resistance” in relation to policing. If the state were to function as a totality nothing could occur, everything would be defined, and if things did occur they would have to occur without cause, and arise randomly.
Schopenhauer explains this in his description of a nightmare in which the possibility of truth means that all existence ceases, but concepts continue to exist. For something to be true nothing could ever change, all moments would have to be irrelevant, and could not have any effects: events would just arise with no possible historical dynamics, if they could arise at all. But, if the concept of the state is separated from this concept of totality, of the definition of existence in a universal way, then the state manifests as something that occurs, an arbitrary deployment of organized force into moments—or warfare. To put this another way, if the state actually possessed some existential truth then action would be irrelevant, this truth would just structure all actions; but, to the degree that the state operates, exists as logistics, then action is being taken, and that action cannot possibly cover the totality of time and space—there will always be gaps in coverage, crises of logistics, and so on. This begins to construct the fundamental paradox of the state, as recognized in Foucault: the state always operates as a mobilization of force and conflict in time and space in the attempt to impose peace, or the end of all possible action. We see this in Mussolini when he discusses the state as both given and practically tactile in a historical sense; implying a determinism that is in- deterministic. He calls this the spiritual immanence of the state, that things somehow occur, but they are premised by the state as a material given.
Schmitt argues as much in The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, where he draws a fundamental division between the universalized rationalism of the parliamentary structure and the irrationalism of the operations of the state. Parliamentary, or conceptual, discourse exists within a space that assumes the necessity of the conversation, and the ability to come to some agreement through it. But this is lacking and paradoxical on two different levels. Firstly, for this concept of the unitary state to function we have to assume that, somehow, there can be conflict, necessary for debate, within some ahistorical singularity, the eternal necessity of the conversation, making the assumption of the conversation the condition of possibility for all action. Secondly, this assumes that, within the conversation itself, the solutions generated are somehow universalized materially without any action. This leads to a basic separation between this concept of the (political, conceptual) conversation and the material attempts to operate this conceptual content in materially universal ways through particular actions. As such, what Schmitt terms “the state” is a separate, immediate, material, relationship of force, attempting to operate the content generated by these conversations. This immediacy moves the state outside of the framework of the total description, and moves its manifestation into the immediate and material—a space which cannot be theorized in any sort of direct way, outside of attempts to make sense of it.
This means, however, that the state cannot be seen as a unitary entity, or a static condition: its attempt at totality is always unfulfilled. The attempt to construct the unity of time and space is disrupted by the emergence of events and actions, including the very functioning of the state, which has effects, constructs other possibilities and resistances through these effects, and so on. We cannot see the state as a unitary entity that makes things occur or imposes restrictions; rather these restrictions, these definitions of existence, cannot function outside of the particular actions taken, in the form of policing, which in themselves are always partial and generate effects and conflict in themselves by their very occurrence. In this partiality, in this operation, in this constant flux of history and its convergence into moments, the state (to the degree that it cannot impose total peace through the cosmic catastrophe, the end of all action) must always exist as nothing but the attempt to construct an impossible unity of time and space, while deploying force into time and space. It can be nothing but the more-or-less frantic attempt to impossibly operate transcendental concepts in particular moments, in all moments, in all spaces simultaneously. If this cannot actually function without causing a cosmic catastrophe in which all existence ceases to be relevant or ends all together, if it cannot freeze all dynamics and history, if actions continue to have effects, then this paradox becomes operational. So, we cannot think of the state as unifying its concept and its operation. The concept asserts a unity of time and space that the operation itself disrupts and makes impossible. The state only exists through this mobilization of force, and attempts to construct unity in each and every moment, as a form attempting to construct the operation of some conceptual content in all moments.
Not only is this partiality of operation, the ability to maintain operations in only some times and some spaces, but this also constructs the state as a fundamentally different attempt from the construction of meaning that motivates and directs this operation. The state exists as an immediacy, rather than a unity, and can only be effectively confronted on this level. The constant war waged on our streets every day is potentially motivated by these concepts of the state, but the concepts are irrelevant. Rather, the question of the state, and of confrontation with the logistics of the state, is not a conceptual question. It is not enough to understand the state—there is no singular entity to understand—nor to grasp the operations of the police in a general sense—this is only the attempt to make sense of phenomena. Engagement, insurgency itself, is a material dynamic, completely outside of the realm of nice, neat, rationality. On this level, it is not a question of whether the state is right, or a desirable political concept, the only aspect we must focus on is this: that the unity of time and space is impossible to understand, and that the attempt to operate such a theoretical unity entails an impossibility that leads to a constant mobilization of force in everyday life.
Yet, as clear as it is that the state operates somewhere, at some time, this is often obscured in the narratives of resistance to the state. These narratives tend to attempt an inductive movement, to posit qualitative content to the particular and material. This accomplishes nothing but the reduction of policing to a singular conceptual object (much the way that pacifists do with all conflict) and fail to develop a framework of analysis for the actual dynamics that occur, preventing a more or less effective thought of resistance and disruption from emerging. In too much of the writings about police and policing, writers fall back into distracting and more-or- less irrelevant moralistic arguments about brutality and force. All too often, texts on the police are attempts to construct some unitary narrative of policing as institutional, as the manifestation of some static institution that exists independent of history itself. We see this play out in all discussions of the police racism. It is not that the police are not racist, obviously. But stating it in this form, and limiting analysis to this form, implies assumptions that limit the possibility of analysis on an operational level. For this to be true we have to assume the unity of the institution of The Police, as an entity that is somehow separate from the particularities of its operation, of the internal conflicts within this logistical structure, and as separate from changes in historical dynamics that modify the manifestations of policing in time and space. On this level, we ignore the most important aspect of policing: it occurs somewhere, at some time, and is only existent on this plane of immediacy.
We see similar analyses play themselves out in ethical arguments about policing, whether policing is “right” or “wrong.” Just as in this sociological- historical reading, we must first generate a universal framework of qualitative analysis, then impart this into the analysis of a single object. Whenever someone argues that the police are racist or brutal, individual actions (taken in particular times and spaces) become isolated from their immediate dynamics as a separate manifestation of a specific qualitative characterization, and the action and the characterization are fused into one, single, universal statement. This is not a problem on the qualitative level of description; I think most of us would agree that police tend to be racist and brutal. Rather, this analysis is limited to the ways that we understand the concept that we call police in an ethical or politically conceptual way. As an immediate dynamic, policing operates with variance, in particular ways, in particular times and spaces. In the attempt to impart universal ethical, emotional, or conceptually political content into these particular manifestations we obscure the immediacy of this deployment of force, the ways it is organized materially, and the gaps and crises in that operation.
This manifestation in a particular time and space is a material question. Removing the discourse of policing from the discussion of its immediate and material manifestations, its immediacy and the implications of this, moves an irrational relationship of force (mobilized in material moments) outside of its immediacy (attempting to relate to it as rationally coherent). This sort of removal of immediate dynamics from themselves is a common framework of tactical discussions, specifically ones centered around the question of violence (which plague so-called radical scenes). In this discussion, the action and its dynamics are removed from their immediacy, frozen in time as some specific moment to be analyzed, and then analyzed in reference to some arbitrary classification of ethics, such as the imparting of concepts of universal effectiveness of definitions of violence/ non-violence to materially specific and immediate actions. This removal makes it impossible to speak of the dynamics of the action itself, forcing us to make sense of the action only in reference to universalized conceptual totalities, again assuming some over-riding rationality. By conflating the transcendental concept of policing as a conceptual object, and the material operations of police logistics, we end up reducing policing to a static concept in which no action occurs and we ignore the tactical manifestation of policing as a logistical and totalizing organization of cohesive force.
As a phenomenon, or series of phenomena grouped together under a single term, policing must occur in some time and in some place, otherwise we are speaking of phantasms. But for this to be the case, policing cannot be reduced to an inert conceptual object: incapable of acting, being, moving, and so on. We can never group together the concept and the phenomena of policing into a single entity. Rather, we have to either speak of the conceptual object of policing, at which point we cease to analyze the phenomena of policing, or we have to form a different sort of analysis, to understand policing as a phenomena particular to a time and space, one that also shifts in form. This entails a fundamental change, away from the ethical and conceptually political, and into a grounding in tactical immediacy and logistical dynamics. We can see this in the rebellions of the “Arab Awakening.” In the initial phases discourse may be focused on utopian dreams. But when struggle becomes immediate, when it breaks out onto the streets, discourse grounds itself in tactical expediency. However, focusing on tactics presents its own theoretical difficulties. As Clausewitz and Naveh point out, tactical thought is impossible; one cannot think a particular moment in all ways without consequently positing that there is truth and that one could know it, making the effects of material actions irrelevant within some form of determinism. But strategic thought, or thought grounded in meta-contexts, is irrelevant; it is merely the way that we think about particular actions and dynamics, the immediate and material. As such, Naveh points to a place between strategic and tactical thought: operational theory. Operational theory is the attempt to think tactics, while recognizing its impossibility: if tactics are immediate and material dynamics, then there are no tactics to speak of, in a general sense. This will be the framework that we start from: the focus on the immediate and material, and on ways to make sense of this—but outside of the question of whether these frameworks are true, in the transcendental sense, or not. The attempt here, therefore, is not to develop some total understanding of policing, but to develop a framework to evaluate the materiality of police operations and logistics, as they deploy in time and space (which will only be judged as to whether it is instrumentally effective or not).
In this, we can begin to reconstruct our understandings of resistance, fighting, insurgency, and warfare. There should be no question about this: insurgency and insurgent movements entail warfare. They exist as spaces, conceptual categorizations marking the space between friends and enemies, and in this they are the basis of politics. This designation is an acknowledgement of both agonism and the immediacy of conflict. The acknowledgement of agonism is the understanding that conflict structures history, that everything that occurs does so in the midst of innumerable other dynamics that have effects on the trajectory of action, making outcomes impossible to determine, and infusing all operational theory with a foundation of calculated probability, impermanence, and uncertainty. Acknowledging immediacy separates the two formerly posed questions, the immediate dynamics of a moment and the conceptual meta-analysis of that moment, and focuses on immediacy as a point of departure. For too long we have been fooling ourselves, convinced that our politics, in the sense of theory, somehow lead to something called praxis, an impossible fusion of theory and action. Rather, we have to approach theory and analysis from a fundamentally different direction: as something that occurs and thus has effects—as something that is always either more or less effective.
Policing as Projection and Capacity
To create architecture is to put in order.
Put what in order? Function and. objects.
The police are an occupying force, but of an odd sort. When occupation is thought of it is usually as a blanket, total, form, one infecting all aspects of everyday life. But this is always an impossible totality. The concepts of the occupation are total, a space is occupied and defined by these operations, but occupation is never a total phenomena, it never actually enters into the possibility of actions to frame and determine actions. If it did, then resistance would be impossible. Rather, policing functions as a logistics of action, held together conceptually through logistical supply lines, uniforms, command structures, communications, and so on. This logistics enters into everyday life in a mythology of the unity of time and space as defined by the occupation, but this unity never actually functions, possibility is never actually defined. Policing is a deployment of force in a vain attempt to define actions, and in the process it must be positioned. It is not some ethereal force that exercises control over actions (although police violence definitely acts as a deterrent). All they can do is inject more or less organized action, which carries more or fewer consequences, in the attempt to control action, an attempt that is never fulfilled.
As Clausewitz argues, occupation always comes with two impossibilities. The first is simply numerical. If policing ever became total, if the constructs of the state ever came to frame and determine existence, policing would be irrelevant, and all of existence would be nothing but a drab, defined, playing out of a teleological script. But, since this is not the case, since theft still occurs, resistance still happens, people still get into confrontations with the police, refuse to snitch, and so on, it is simple to see that this totality does not exist. Therefore, we have to think of police, and the logistics of policing, as a limited and defined deployment of bodies and actions into space, and one that only covers a limited amount of space with a limited number of bodies. For example, take the G20 in Pittsburgh, which saw assembled the largest single police force in American history. If we line all of these cops up to the point where they could control all action in space in a direct way, without weapons, transportation or movement, they control a very limited amount of space in a city the size of Pittsburgh; add to this variances in terrain, which limit movement, the movements of the city and the density of actions that occur, and the security priorities that keep certain numbers of police pinned to a location, and that space shrinks further. In a more extreme example— US military tactical shifts after the War in Iraq—we see this even more clearly. When the US invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq, they did so under the fantasy that occupation was unnecessary, that somehow their very presence would construct some total capitulation. But, as was found quickly, a low concentration of troops in resistant terrains allows for the conditions for insurgencies to flourish, organize, and arm. As a result, they flooded these regions with troops, stretching their capacity to the breaking point, and not only still failed to cover the totality of the terrain, but also left open other terrain, Northern Africa and the Yemen specifically. Their concentration of troops prevented their projection through space. So they shifted into low-concentration deployments, backed up by drone strikes and Special Ops raids, to attempt to cover as much space as possible, as consistently as possible, but this eliminated their ground presence and prevents them from holding any space. Literally, unless every square inch is covered, all the time, there is still the possibility of resistance action against or outside of the logistics of policing, making occupation not total. There are always gaps in coverage.
Secondly, action always changes the conditions and dynamics of action, a process that can never stop. Actions are within a time and space, a particular convergence of the dynamics of history, that both forms the conditions of that action, and also forms through action. Contrary to Aristotelean concepts of production and action as creation, we never act within or on some inert object, rather the object presents resistances that fundamentally change the dynamics of that action. Within the construction of history, all action generates resistances, shapes the generated effects of actions coming into conflict with the dynamics of other actions, in a process that fundamentally shapes the terrain of action. The state, on the other hand, exists as a definition of existence in a smooth, total, atemporal way. This means that it functions only to the degree that it functions totally in every moment, in all space, all the time, eliminating resistances and effects, and constructing actions in a smooth, resistanceless environment. The logistics of policing, the material manifestation of the attempt to construct the unity of the state in time and space, as time and space, only functions to the degree that it generates this total coverage prevented by numerical limitation. If this totality functioned, if all actions were defined, then we would be faced with a tragic, dystopian world: the world of immanence. For that to exist we would have to assume that every action was defined before being taken, the conceptual definition of that action would have to be the actual condition of possibility for all action. No actions could have any effects that were undefined, everything would arise as if disconnected to anything that occurred prior, if anything could occur at all. In other words, there would be no possibility of possibility, no ability to modify circumstance, only a total, metaphysically teleological definition of the totality of all existence, of which each and every existing thing is nothing but an expression. But, again, if this were the case then occupation, the logistics of policing, would be irrelevant. Therefore, we have to assume that the police act, and that these actions generate effects. Even in their deployment, even if nothing else occurred, the dynamics of action are changing, the terrain of action is being modified, and this is happening in ways that can never be determined. Conflict still occurs, even just in the relationship of bi-pedal movement and hard ground, let alone in the collision and friction that action itself generates. In their very deployment, police generate friction, conflict, and open up other possibilities of action; history does not cease in its dynamics. We see this every time a counterinsurgency plan solicits an ambush, every time police crack down on a neighborhood and something occurs in another neighborhood, away from their concentration of force. Their movements change the terrain of action, and collide with the movements and actions of all other things that construct that terrain: the degradation of infrastructure, the growing hatred and resistance to the police, basic “crime” carried out by the desperate to survive within capitalism, worker absenteeism, strikes, and so on. Unless, magically, the deployment of the police actually overcomes the effects of their own actions, and somehow comes to freeze history in a defined moment, terrain will always shift, and this shift makes total occupation impossible.
The impossibility of the totality of occupation constructs policing as an attempt to project through ever greater volumes of space, in ever more constant ways. The entirety of the history of police methodology and operations centers around the development of the methods of projection. From the use of the car to the use of the radio, from the development of the surveillance matrix (ever more pervasive) to the construction of task forces, from the move into paramilitary operations to the development of so-called community policing—these shifts are undertaken in order to further project through space in more and more consistent ways. But there are limits to this projection, as we see with the transition from counterinsurgency to counter-terrorism methodologies within the US military, where a strategic choice has been made to avoid long occupations with large force footprints in favor of maximum projection across space with minimal numbers. With limited numbers choices must be made: allocation of force, structuring of logistics, maintenance of supply lines and so on. This becomes more and more difficult the more resistant the terrain becomes. For example, within the team-policing structures in Pittsburgh, the police space themselves throughout a sector, with numerous sectors per zone and six zones within the city limits. Within a sector police within a team will space out as far as possible, patrolling streets alone, with one cop per car, and then converge on a site of response, for example a traffic stop. This methodology tries for the best of both worlds: spreading out through a limited amount of space while still being able to swarm a specific area. Capacity is sacrificed in this operational methodology. As force spreads throughout the city and is divided between sectors, whenever there is a point of response (for example in sector a) the entire team converges, leaving the rest of that sector open, unless force is pulled from sector b to the empty spots in sector a.
Projection exists in two forms: visual and material. Visual projection is the capacity to see space and things in space, to develop what in modern military parlance is termed topsight. In the 19th Century, police had tended to march through streets in formation, largely so that they could communicate with one another. This is an often misunderstood aspect of Napoleonic warfare, and the phenomena of soldiers marching into lines of gunfire. These formations existed in the absence of forms of communication that could cross distance. With the noise of combat, the smoke generated by gunfire, and the lack of radios, all commands were transmitted either through hand signal or some form of audible command, and early police forces were no different.
This column formation began to space itself out with the use of whistles or other noise-makers, but, even with this mild form of projection, the area that could be projected through was limited. Vision was also limited, and the ability to gather and transfer information. With the advent of the radio, then the car, and finally the helicopter and surveillance camera, policing was able to project through space at greater speed and communicate over wider distances, allowing for greater projection. But, even with the total surveillance structure that cities like New York, Chicago and Cleveland are building, where private security cameras are linked into the police camera matrix and private, semi-official police begin to act as support for city police, this coverage is remarkably limited. Cameras, mechanical vision, cannot in themselves analyze information—yet. This means that, even with the most sophisticated tools of surveillance, and the most sophisticated, highly trained, human analysts, there is only a certain amount of information that can be processed— even though the amount of information generated multiplies exponentially with the addition of each new surveillance apparatus.
Even the most sophisticated surveillance agency, the National Security Agency, which pulls terabytes of information every hour, only has around 35,000 analysts to look into all this information: millions of phone calls, millions of emails, millions of web- searches, library records, on the ground surveillance and so on. Analysis is the chokepoint, and this gets infinitely more complicated with the anonymity methods that are used by many of the internet generation. This gap between information and analysis becomes all the more stark when there is an attempt to analyze in realtime. At that point, to the degree that a command structure functions, information is being compiled, sent up the chain of command, analyzed, turned into orders, and communicated back to the ground. If actions are quick, even if this analysis becomes absurdly fast, there is still a gap, both temporal and interpretive, between action and the analysis of information about action within the command structure. Secondly, this is still limited to line of sight and information that can be combined with this vision. This is a primary difficulty when there is an attempt to crush any sort of insurgency; as David Galula argues, insurgencies must become the terrain, meaning that they are incredibly difficult to differentiate from the “population” (of course assuming that these are not the same thing). Many experienced people know that it always helps to have a change of clothes at actions, especially if they make you look like a hipster. A quick change of clothes when dispersing means often the police will drive right past you—the simple change of clothes makes them blind. Anonymity isn’t what exists when our faces are covered, anonymity, as Baudelaire argued, is the condition that we are relegated to in the capitalist metropolis. The distance that vision can encompass can be elongated with helicopters, drones, surveillance planes, cameras and satellites, but every time this distance multiplies the ability to pick out the micro-details of that space become more limited.
Material projection is the actual projection of force through space. Again, this occurs within a balance of concentration and projection. As policing began to spread out through space, and force concentration became more and more diffuse, the means of deploying a magnitude of force increased. Initially, police may have carried nothing more than night-sticks and sometimes cuffs. Combined with movement on foot, force could only be projected on a line of bodily movement, and only at the speed of a quick run, along with the range of movement of the human arm. As force spread out, through the use of the car and the radio, and then the helicopter and the armored personnel carrier, this became combined with the handgun and automatic weapon to increase that projection dramatically. While the arm may only reach a couple feet from the body, the gun can project a bullet on a straight line for hundreds of meters, and with lethal force. This ability to project through the projectile was again furthered by the grenade, and grenade launcher, pepper spray and now the Taser, to project different levels of force out from the body onto a target, with the LRAD able to project concentrated and targeted soundwaves over a quarter mile. These projections, along with increasing scales of force, are all ways of project force into space, to make the visibility achieved through topsight material and operative.
This reliance on the ground force is absolutely essential. Surveillance can act as a deterrent but not an actual material deployment of force as the US military found after the first phase of the invasion of Afghanistan. At the beginning of the war Special Operations and CIA were on the ground, acting as forward spotters. They would find a target, send coordinates to a drone overhead, which would send them to a base in Saudi Arabia, which would beam them to a satellite, and the satellite would send these to a B-52 that would drop a guided bomb on the area. This process would take 18 minutes. However, for all the destruction that can be caused within this structure, the ability to hit targets evaporated when insurgents abandoned infrastructure and hid vehicles in mountain passes, making them impossible to spot. This made the US respond with the commitment of ground forces, which insurgents can track, which have supply lines, etc, that must be supplied, and so on, creating a plethora of targets. Even with huge numbers in an area, the US ability to control the space by physical presence and the projection of projectiles was incredibly limited. As is often witnessed within insurgencies, the movement of main force concentrations into an area meets little resistance, insurgents melting away only to reemerge after the main force moves on. Material projection is not just a spatial question regarding the amount of space covered, but also one of time, of the constancy of that ability to move through space. As Clausewitz argues, this ability to move through space becomes increasingly difficult, and force projects less, the more uncertain and resistant the terrain becomes. Even a single attack can force an entire occupying force to shift into increasingly dense, defensive, concentrations, limiting their ability to project through space. The more they concentrate force physically the less able they are to project themselves across space as a seemingly constant presence.
Projection of force, visually and materially, is the attempt to construct a terrain that is conducive to the movements and operations of policing. We have seen numerous aspects of this within the tactical terrains that we inhabit: the proliferation of surveillance cameras, the networking of private cameras into the police surveillance matrix, the proliferation of private security and semi-official police departments, and the growth of neighborhood snitch networks, also known as Neighborhood Watch, but also the leveling of vacant buildings, the mowing of vacant lots, and so on. Most innovative in the methods of projection is not a technology, but merely the construction of metropolitan space itself. The street grid developed in the 19th Century and the freeway systems in the early and mid-20th Century made movement through space easier and more efficient. Projection does not just involve the ability to latently hold space, even outside of immediate presence, but the ability to move through space. However, like any technological innovation, the development of the road structure, standardizing space within Cartesian models, may have made movement easier, but also disperses concentrations of force and largely confines police movements to the roads themselves. As in Paris where Reclus suggested turning into gun turrets the row buildings lining the newly-built wide boulevards (that now characterize that city), this confinement to the road generates zones of elongated vision and projectile movement, but also limits the vision of what occurs off these roads, in zones of indiscernability, whether Iraq’s open desert plains, Afghanistan’s mountains, or the “unbuildable” spaces on the sides of wooded hills in the middle of Pittsburgh. These zones of indiscernability, of invisibility and possibility, become wider the more resistance is waged within a space, the less that people snitch each other out, the more open space off the roads there may be within a terrain, and the density of the dynamics and physical objects (whether trees in a forest or barricades on streets) within the lines of flight within that terrain.
One can easily trace this trajectory of containing land for policing beginning with land enclosure and the standardization of naming and surveillance structures in the 16th and 17th centuries, of policing saturating space more and more thoroughly, as the dynamics of this space come to shape policing. The co-immanent dynamic between policing and space can be seen everywhere. In the suburbs we find the proliferation of private security, on every corporate campus, on every college campus, in every mall and shopping center, as well as the growth of increasingly fortified gated communities. In the core of the metropolis the street grid, the walls around the security buildings and precinct stations, the proliferation of private and public cameras, the deputization of pseudo-police forces at colleges and hospitals, the proliferation of non-police and “task forces” hired by development organizations, the rise of the community watch group, and the growth of the federal security apparatus have come to form spaces that are almost entirely framed around the movements and operations of police. With the enclosure of space, and the elimination of the commons, the “public” has become something to protect against. Surveillance saturates the workplace and the park. Police roll down the street looking for someone that looks suspicious; the streets in the poorest neighborhoods are cordoned off and Baghdad-style armed checkpoints are set up on the streets of LA. Paramilitary tactics are adopted by SWAT teams that increasingly become aspects of everyday police operations and the flip-side of the velvet glove of “community policing.” Everywhere we look the metropolis has become structured around the separation of space, the separation of bodies, the dispersal of the street and the fortification of the private. This does not occur in a vacuum, or in the absence of the attempt to amplify projection across space and time. As space becomes increasingly striated, increasingly operated upon, space itself begins to shift around a new series of imperatives. As static as many of us may feel built space is, the solidity of terrain is largely mythological. But just as space shifts in order to allow for the smooth operation of policing (or prevent it), policing has been modified to operate in the post-WWII metropolis with the incorporation of ever faster forms of communication, ever more sophisticated forms of monitoring and surveillance, and ever heavier weapons and paramilitary tactics.
What we are witnessing is nothing short of a constant security operation, a constant attempt to eliminate these zones of indiscernability, structured not only to respond to actions but also to prevent actions from arising or becoming apparent. Every day this more defines the spaces that we exist within; it is nothing short of the expansion of the prison outside of the walls. As in the prison, a terrain conducive to police movements and operations necessarily involves an almost total vision, a complete ability to project across space, the ability to justify unlimited uses of force. But, along with this, we come into contact with the primary paradox of counterinsurgency (policing is necessarily a form of occupation, and thus a form of counterinsurgency). As policing becomes more and more all-pervasive, as the police become more and more able to mobilize overwhelming concentrations of force, their very movements generate resistance, resentment, conflict. As they project through space they become visible, and the methods of tracking their movements and avoiding their detection are becoming more and more effective. Even with this growth of the prison, to encompass all space to varying degrees, illegality still persists. Every day, acts of economic disruption, like theft and worker absenteeism, are rampant. The state only functions in the space in which policing functions, and to more or less of a degree. In these gaps in coverage, generated by the sheer limitation of police spatial occupation and the limits of the range of vision and weapons, the concentration of state logistics is low, and the possibility of action proliferates; this becomes even more pronounced within spaces where there is an ethic of noncooperation or outright resistance.
Policing as Social War
Activity in War is movement in a resistant medium. Just as a man immersed in water is unable to perform with ease and. regularity the most natural and. simplest movement, that of walking, so in War, with extraordinary powers, one cannot keep even the line of mediocrity.
—Clausewitz, On War
This projection through space is evident on each and every city street, from the flashing blue lights of the cameras on the light poles to the threat of the undercovers. The movements of the gang task force mirror the movements of the SWAT team, which directly parallels the dynamics of “community policing” and the designation of some as “undesirable.” In some places this occupation is barely apparent, but in many it has very much taken on the aesthetics of an occupation. But, for as much as this occupation can increase the capacity of policing to contain crisis, and the ability to project through space, it can never be total. The impossibility of policing generates a mobilization of an armed apparatus, in which all moments are assumed to be the terrain of action, the tactical terrain. On this level, the aesthetic shape of the content being projected through policing is completely irrelevant. We can sit around and discuss politics in a conceptual sense, but this is meaningless. The political is a direct relationship of force and a dynamic of conflict, something that occurs within the immediate tactical movements of moments, something that happens. Policing occurs within a tactical paradox: the attempt to mobilize politics (to differentiate between friends and enemies), to end politics, or to generate peace. The concept of peace implies the end of conflict, and thus the complete determination of actions, the end of friction, the end of the possibility of mobilizing action, the impossibility of the historical: total occupation.
Policing always exists as this attempt to operate peace, but through the mobilization of conflict. It is not that we could wish for more peaceful police, peace is impossible unless all action ceases or everything becomes determined, and as an action the logistics of policing are, like all actions, an imposition of certain dynamics in space. As such, policing is an impossible attempt, the attempt to mobilize conflict to end conflict, the attempt to mobilize the effects of actions to prevent actions from generating any possibility or effects. The impossibilities of policing necessitate a fundamentally different framework to analyze the logistics and movements of policing. Rather than the discussion of some institution, or some singular linear history, policing must be analyzed on the plane through which it occurs, the tactical, the immediate, and the material. To function necessarily implies a mobilization of force throughout space, as thoroughly as possible; or warfare in every moment in the impossible attempt to operate some conceptual totality in particular moments. The war of the state is a paradoxical war (not in the sense of a war between states, but the constant warfare waged on us in every moment, a war that structures the space we live in, a total war, a perpetual war).
But, as much as we may be tempted to think this in a generalized, total, conceptual way, we are missing the underlying structure of warfare itself. A common fallacy in the analysis of tactics by radicals is the structuring of a dualistic concept of warfare focused on micro-tactics, fighting styles and so on; and the meta-structure of strategy, or generalized histories of battles. This way of thinking misses the dynamics of conflict. As Clausewitz argues, the war is a series of engagements that led to some result; the engagement is constructed from a series of combats, or immediate relationships of conflict, each of which necessarily changes the dynamics of the terrain of conflict, shaping future dynamics of conflict. To think “the police” is neither to think the institution of the police, nor the immediate ways that they fight on a particular level. It is to understand the relationship between the conceptual methodologies of policing and the immediate actions that they take, as well as the terrain that these actions occur within, and the effects of these dynamics of conflict in the construction of a tactical terrain. We have to think of the concept of the police as a collection of particular people attempting to operate their own particular way of understanding, through the framework of some total conceptual content, and then taking particular actions that generate effects. We cannot approach the police as singular, and their logistics as unified, but rather, must begin to understand the logistics of policing as the impossible attempt to not only construct the unity of time and space external to their operations, but also the attempt to construct their own coherence. There are numerous means through which this attempt occurs (specifically command and control as well as supply). But, as much as a force can be trained, as standardized practices and uniforms can be, the immediacy of action and the particularity of those who act in moments can never be eliminated. This impossibility of internal definition, internal coherence, generates crisis—the possibility that this logistics could cease to function at any moment—and forces the constant desperate attempt to construct its own coherence as the condition of its functioning.
Projection occurs in relation to crisis, but in a complicated way. On the one hand, the projection of police logistics is always already deployed in the attempt to contain possible increases in crisis. Areas that are seen as ungoverned, areas that are “hotbeds for crime”—the neighborhoods of the working class, the workplace, the government building—these spaces, whether a single target is being protected or the general flow and dynamic of the street itself, always become the focus of police initiatives. When crisis appears, or becomes possible in a space, police logistics must stretch in order to address that gap in projection, this gap in presence, visibility, and deterrence. But, as this occurs, and the police enter more and more resistant ter- rains—areas where they are regarded as occupiers, where they are met with a wall of silence, where people defend themselves against police incursion— the amount of force that must be mobilized to enter these terrains multiplies, along with the uncertainty of their movement through that terrain. As a terrain becomes more and more potentially resistant the uncertainty of movement amplifies, requiring more and more force to be concentrated there, if only to move through the area. This can escalate to a scale that pushes the police off the street entirely, requiring outside forces to come in, usually in the form of the National Guard and the Army. As the density and speed of action increases, the conflict becomes increasingly difficult to contain; if the terrain multiplies, further amplifying crisis, then it can become impossible to contain. Even in the face of the minor crises of the street on a normal day, a single point of response, a single point of convergence, can severely limit the ability of police logistics to project through space; as the police from one sector respond to a point and concentrate force, others have to be drawn from other sectors, potentially creating a cascading effect that rupture police logistics entirely, as we saw for a period of time in Greece in December 2008.
There is this mythology, born out of linear military histories, written by military scholars, mixed with a certain American machismo, that generates the idea that all military conflict becomes linear and frontal. Believing this myth is suicidal. Such a mentality is mirrored in pacifist attempts to engage in tactical discussion. They claim that “fighting the military on their level will never be successful,” of course assuming that linear symmetric conflict is the only form of fighting possible, and ignoring the military component of all revolutionary moments. To look beyond this absurd assumption of linear conflict means to engage on the level of crisis and its amplification. With the advent of the Napoleonic military (characterized by mass numbers, intensive intelligence collecting, and fast movement) pursuit became a primary aspect of military conflict; many engagements were defined by pursuit of retreating defeated forces. As they retreated, troops would get lost, defect, desert, and walk home or become isolated from the main force. The opposing force broke down, not out of the magnitude of the attack, but out of the multiplication of terrain and the acceleration of action. As action accelerates, and as terrain widens, there are more points to respond too, stretching the ability of the opposing force to maintain organizational logistics and falling, increasingly, into disorganization. This is the key to understanding all guerrilla conflict, all insurgency; it is never a calculus based on magnitude of attacking single points, but a multiplication of terrain, acceleration of speed, and amplification of crisis. This process used to take hold more quickly, with only minor modifications to the dynamics of conflict throwing entire forces into disarray, but this was before the advent of the radio. But even this history is not full proof. We only need to look as far as Syria to see the gradual effects of long, protracted, organizational crisis: regime soldiers relied on roads to transport supplies, but these were attacked, and covered too much space to defend, so they relied on helicopters ’til the airbases began to be attacked. Now many are isolated, able to communicate through the radio and cellular networks, but unable to move and now out of supplies. This is a central principle and the basis for the doctrine of parallel strike, a strategy used since the 1980s to strike multiple targets simultaneously (preventing the reinforcement of certain sites or the ability to cope with the rapid amplification of crisis). As troops have to spread out, as conflict occurs in intentional forms in more and more terrain, coverage becomes more and more difficult; troops have to either pull back to safe areas or risk complete disorganization, complete logistical rupture.
With the advent of the police cruiser, the radio, the helicopter, the surveillance matrix, and the standardization of space through the construction of private property, zoning laws, building codes, and the imposition of the grid pattern of streets, space has been saturated by the attempt to amplify the capacity to contain crisis. This is necessary for policing to function. Not only is the structuring of space made possible by the attempt to operate some sort of conceptual content as a definition of space, which is also latent in urban planning, rural regulations, and resource extraction, but this terrain becomes, to the degree possible, an expression of the conceptual content being developed, both shaping the operations of police logistics and the space itself. But even with the structure of metropolitan terrain being shaped by policing, this does not prevent the crisis in policing, or even to keep it from increasing. This crisis is generated from two sites: the movements and dynamics of history itself (infrastructural decay, financial crisis... everything else that occurs), and the crisis latent in the very operations of policing itself, born from the impossibility of the coherence of police. In the very movements of policing, in the expansion of the terrain of policing, in the maximization of projection, the terrain in which this crisis occurs expands as well. Policing cannot be considered separate from crisis, just as the tactical manifestation of crisis cannot make sense outside of the attempt to generate unities of time and space; the impossibility of the attempt to construct these unities of time and space (crisis) cannot exist without the attempt to construct unity (policing) to begin with. As action occurs, as police logistics are deployed into space, these deployments generate effects. These can be the predictable amplification of conflict that is often generated by armed occupation, but could also be the more mundane actions within everyday life; everything has the potential to cause effects which are catastrophic to the attempt to define existence, and everything that occurs outside of deterministic immanence—which is everything—is necessarily a crisis for policing. This generates a crisis in the very disjunction, the infinite distance, which necessarily exists between conceptual totalities and the particularity of actions, and without this crisis resistance would be impossible. Yet, this also generates this more foundational crisis, the crisis of the impossibility of the police as a coherence. Therefore, policing exists not as an institution that can be argued against within the realm of the philosophical, but rather is a logistics of the deployment of force in the attempt to construct the impossible, an absolute and total definition of the relations between things, people, space, and movement.
We cannot approach this question of the police as a static thing. Rather, as a logistics, policing is constructed in space, as something that occurs, complete with its own dynamics, sites of coordination and command, communications, supply lines, and the organization of movement within space. It is a deployment of organized content that attempts to move through the totality of space, as a form of limitation and definition of the dynamics between things, and can, therefore, only be understood as warfare waged in the social. But, as with any logistical apparatus, the very mobilization of it also generates crisis within it. The impossibility of covering all space and time necessarily means that force is deployed unevenly, that it has to move to cover space, and that this movement entails further crisis. As units deploy through space they are met with resistances, equipment breakdowns and glitches, a lack of coherence, and so on, forcing the operation to remain in constant motion, generating constant crisis. As we have been able to witness through the ability to track dynamics of conflict in real time, through the help of live blogging and social media, the impact of crisis can be widely known. Every time resistance is mounted in a space, every time a logistical hub is cut off, every time a supply line is cut or force is concentrated in space, effects cascade, actions speed up. This speed of action, combined with the multiplication of the terrain in which action occurs, disrupts logistics, amplifies crisis internal to the attempt to construct the coherence of these logistics, which can enable the crisis to become a point of rupture, a point in which this logistical attempt to construct the unity of time and space, as well as the coherence of logistics itself, ceases to function.
Crisis amplifies through the friction caused in action. As this logistics deploys force through space, and crisis is generated in this deployment, that crisis amplifies to the degree that friction is generated in that very movement through space. Barricades are an example, preventing police from moving through space—but not all examples are so geographically static. Friction is generated in the deployment itself, but is amplified through intentional action, through the intentional multiplication of the terrain and speed of action, the multiplication of contingency and the construction of resistant terrains, where the movement of police becomes increasingly uncertain. As the speed and terrain of action multiplies capacity is stretched, logistics are stretched, supply lines are stretched, and projection is disrupted. Insurrection is the term denoting this rupture of policing logistics, where the police are run off the streets and the possibilities of action multiply. But this is not some conceptual calculus, and there can be no concept of insurrection in itself. The mentality that has become popular lately— social war as something that we engage in and initiate, and insurrection as an ideal that can be theorized about—misses the point. When we discuss the dynamics of conflict, social war as something that is initiated has to be separated from any dynamics that were occurring before this magical point at which resistance coalesces. Rather, social war occurs, it is the deployment of policing in time and space, and insurrection is merely an amplification of this continual conflict. As with the logistics of policing, insurrection occurs, it is tactical, and is necessarily a dynamic relationship. Our choice is not a conceptual one—one endorses or doesn’t the thesis of police—but rather the positionality one takes in relationship to the impossibility of policing, to social war itself. It is not a question of whether social war occurs, it is only a question of how we relate to its materiality, to policing itself.
To engage in a fight against police is necessarily to engage in a material tactical struggle against the logistics of policing. No correct theory, proper motivation, or perfect analysis guarantees anything in material struggle. We must move beyond the idea that holds resistance to be transcendental, abstract, conceptual, and begin to embrace it for what it is, an intentional engagement in the immediacy of conflict, in the dynamics of conflict itself. At this point, the only determination we must make is how we conceptualize this war, who we choose to define as friends and enemies (although this is a secondary concern and only allows us to make sense of what is happening). The actual struggle is a material question, and therefore one that exists as separate from the conceptual question. It is not a question of why one chooses any particular form of engagement in social war, it is merely about conceptualizing the dynamics of social war itself, and whether this conceptualization effectively disrupts the dynamics of policing. Struggle or resistance is a material dynamic, something that occurs, and something that, at the end of the day, only matters to the degree that it is effective. The longer we persist in analyzing policing as institutional, inert, and as a conceptual object that can be argued against, the longer we will fail to consciously engage in a dynamic of conflict, an intentional amplification of crisis, and the longer that we will remain nothing but activists and fail to embrace the necessity of our role as insurgents.
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Clausewitz, Carl von, trans. Unknown (1968). On War. Penguin Classics, London
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Schmitt, Carl, trans. Schwab, George (1996). The Concept of the Political. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
Williams, Kristian (2007). Our Enemies in Blue. South End Press. Boston
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Kaplan, Fred (2013). The Insurgents: David. Petraeus and. the Plot to Change the American Way of War. Simon and Schuster, New York
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Debord, Guy, trans. Nicholson-Smith, Donald (1994). The Society of the Spectacle. Zone Books, New York
Weizman, Eyal (2007). Hollowland. Verso Press. London
Ranciere, Jacques, trans. Rose, Julia (2004). Dis-agreement: Politics and Philosophy. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis
Appendix 1: We Give a Shit: An Analysis of the Pittsburgh G20
Intro: So It Begins
The primary critique of the summit hopping era, (one that applies to me as well) is that we never expanded outside of the activist context, never moved beyond complaining loudly around summits, never moved from complaint to active engagement. But there was something in the summit era that did hold promise; in the concentration of numbers in space there was always this possibility of breaking out of the confinement of the downtown area, the confinement of the frontal conflict between police and anarchists, the confinement of pre-planned confrontation, and the limitations of the dates of the summit itself. There was this sense that activism could be transcended, that conflict could be amplified on the streets with speed and magnitude, that conflict could multiply territorially and break the logistical capacity of the police to contain it. This is what many of us saw, if only briefly, during the Pittsburgh G20, the finale of the summit era, and it was this that both generated the current tactical impasse that we find ourselves in and that points the way out. The multiplication of the terrains of conflict during the first day of action creates a problem; it became clear that this form of action was insufficient to break the forms of containment that typify the summit demonstration (even if we raised the stakes dramatically). This left many of us feeling as if the terrain of conflict in our own spaces, in our own towns, began to be everything, and that seems to have left us at a loss. But it was specifically this collapse of the attempts to contain the Pittsburgh demonstrations into the traditional forms that typified the summit demonstrations that points a way out of a dead-end strategy based in complaint and activist tourism. To understand why this was the case we must do more than just look at the context of the actions, the recent tactical shifts that had occurred between 2007 and that point, or even the actions themselves. As with all actions we have to keep in mind that these occurred in a time and in a space, and it is those, combined with the actions taken within those dynamics, that shaped the trajectory of conflict during those two days in September of 2009.
To get a handle on what happened there we have to begin with the political and historical terrain. The city of Pittsburgh has a long history of struggle. It was the Pittsburgh Congress of 1883 that is widely credited with beginning an organized anarchist movement in America. This was the site of the Homestead strike in 1892, a huge steel strike that involved shoot-outs between strikers and Pinkerton guards and was where Alexander Berkman attempted to assassinate Henry Clay Frick (who now has a park named after him). This is one of those events that is now immortalized on plaques in warehouse districts and so-called historic areas. Pittsburgh is also where the United Steelworkers began (and are still based), as well as the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations and was the site of the AFL-CIO merger agreement.
This history of struggle has shaped the dynamics of the city and its structure of enforcement. During the Homestead strike, when the Pittsburgh police refused to break the strike, bosses called in Pinkerton guards and deputized them, beginning a practice in the Rustbelt of deputization to deal with social ruptures, something that has become a day-to- day part of life there. Homestead was also the motivation for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to create the Pennsylvania State Police, a large element of the enforcement structure during the G-20.
Like all cities in the Rustbelt, Pittsburgh is a city that has been completely fucked over by capitalist globalization. Starting in the 1970s and 1980s, with the rise of neoliberalism, privatization, and globalization, production of steel—the basis of the city’s economy—began to shift overseas. Today, despite being the home of the United Steel Worker’s union, and commonly referred to as “Steel City,” Pittsburgh is left with no functioning steel mills, aside from some part-time, scrap-melting mills. Massive unemployment and political marginalization was coupled with the market abandonment of these areas, leaving many with no hope in the market to provide for their daily needs. In the recent past Pittsburgh has seen a rising anarchist scene, with a series of long-running and well-known direct action groups and campaigns occurring through the late 1990s and into the 2000s, specifically the anti-war and counter-recruitment campaigns between 2002 and 2008. These often had actions turn into confrontations with the police.
Obama claimed to have chosen Pittsburgh for the G20 due to its economic “revival” through something called the Pittsburgh Model. This model of development uses tax breaks and restructuring and colonization of poor neighborhoods to provide “favorable market conditions,” (cheap or free land, cheap or free buildings, the lack of unions, tax breaks, etc) to attract investment. In Pittsburgh this has primarily concentrated around “green building,” military engineering research, the biomedical field, and the building of large universities, as well as the demolition of a poor neighborhood to build a baseball stadium on the north side of the city. Development is also a major force in gentrifying parts of the city, particularly Oakland (the university district), parts of Garfield, and East Liberty among others. This has meant a few research and university jobs are created while the majority of the city is left working low wage and/or temporary jobs. In contrast, 40 years ago this population had access to high paying union jobs in the steel mills. The city looks like it is reviving on the physical level, but under the facade the Rustbelt reality is the rising of the poverty rate and the shrinking of the population (by almost half since 1950).
Pittsburgh has begun to undergo a series of profound changes, with the abandonment of large parts of the city used as an excuse to restructure its entire fabric. In the attempt to draw in outside investment the city government has almost bankrupted itself pouring money into neighborhood redevelopment projects, based on so-called green condo developments, medical research facilities, university expansion, and massive expansion of the policing and surveillance apparatuses, framed in a context of community policing, also known as counter-insurgency. This has caused the fragmentation of many neighborhoods, massive population displacement, and the bulldozing of the city’s history in favor of housing for yuppies. It is this environment that has generated a profound sense of tension on the streets in certain areas of the city, and it is this environment that played a large role in shaping the preparation and trajectory of conflict during the summit itself.
Police Preparation and General Operating Procedures
Analyzing the tactics of police in Pittsburgh is difficult for a couple reasons. Firstly, there were so many actions going on in so many different places that it was impossible to look at as a single strategic body. Secondly, many people have reported long gaps between police sightings, periods of time with little to no police coverage of their movements. This attests to our ability to challenge their control of the streets and to create zones where police had little to no physical control, but also makes analysis difficult. However, from the Twitter feeds, from news reports, and from personal experience we can begin to cobble together some understanding of their thinking during the actions.
There are a few things to keep in mind here. Cops need to build cohesive forces, to be able to generalize their needs for a certain situation, and to build force to define a situation. This takes both time and control, the time to build a cohesive force and the ability to use that force to operate within a terrain, to contain actions with their planned strategy. If the situation cannot be made to conform, then their force ceases to be relevant and they have to improvise, or move to a posture of response. This is what it means for the police to enforce definition. The state sets the limits of allowable action and the police must develop a way of enforcing those limits in a situation that is always changing, even though their force is not. Their preparation time was limited in the case of the G20, since they had only four months (as opposed to the two years it took to prepare a comparable police force for the RNC). In contrast, we can quickly do outreach, plan in our affinity groups, and link up with other affinity groups, all in non-linear structures that can adapt to changing circumstances. More time to prepare can be a good thing, but it is not as important for us. We do not need to create and enforce definitions, we are able to be mobile.
Maybe to compensate for their lack of time to prepare, maybe as an intentional tactic, the cops early on defined their approach to this series of actions. Firstly they engaged in raids meant to accomplish the two goals of disrupting organizing and intimidation. In other words, they were meant to build the feeling that the cops were everywhere. They kept catching the Seeds of Peace bus, as well as other cars, on the street instead of at static spaces, trying to create the impression that they could find us whenever they wanted to. They coupled this with very public announcements whenever they seized equipment. This approach backfired however, and led not just to lawsuits but also to embarrassment. (Having very publically announced finding PVC pipe they claimed was for “sleeping dragons,” they discovered later that the pipes were being stored by a company for product testing.) This constant presence also heightened the eerie feeling within the city of the coming police state, to the dismay of many residents. This can partially explain the intense public support that many reported while marching through the streets. These disruptions, like the tactics used on Thursday afternoon, were as much based on intimidating anarchists and the general populace as they were on materially disrupting organizing work.
This psychological tactic was increased by their tactic of posturing, especially through the media. In past mobilizations the press work by the cops beforehand was aimed at the general populace and meant to generate a fear of anarchists coming to burn the city to the ground, and so on. The G20 preaction press preparation was different; it was aimed at us. There were the obligatory warnings from the mayor against the people coming to “cause destruction,” but on top of that there was endless coverage of the police build-up, tours of the security perimeter, tours of their command center (something even the press was confused about), as well as constant police harassment before the actions. But without being able to carry out any raids of material importance, this all came across as posturing and nothing more. They were forced to backpedal from a lot of these statements in the days before the action as lawsuits and complaints started coming in from various groups, and business owners started boarding up stores. The police were trying to strike a balance between inflating fears of an anarchist horde to justify the massive police buildup, and reassuring business owners that they were safe to remain open. They failed. Ordinary Pittsburgh residents were angry at the government for turning their city into a police state, leading many of them to side with the protesters, and most downtown businesses shut down for duration of the G20.
This press coverage was combined with the use of weapons of intimidation and staged force during the actual actions. They had announced beforehand that they “would not be the spark”. It became obvious that they were anticipating the possibility of disruption and that they assumed it would happen downtown, or at least on the way to downtown. Twin Cities Indymedia, as well as a lot of people traveling to Arsenal Park on Thursday, reported seeing large columns of police behind the initial skirmish line at 34th and Liberty, between the residential parts of the East End of Pittsburgh and Downtown in an area knows as the Strip District. These police were there in case the initial lines broke down. They used weapons that couldn’t be carefully or accurately targetted, so they could not pick and choose targets until they began to bring out bean-bag rounds and rubber bullets on Thursday afternoon. The indiscriminate weapons were used to keep people away from areas. But dispersing a crowd into smaller groups makes the situation harder to define, so this tactic of dispersal, combined with the air of a total presence, was supposed to make us want to disperse ourselves. In other words, like all the pre-action preparation, these weapons are meant to have a psychological effect; they are used to demoralize crowds, to take the fight out of us by making us feel that resistance is futile. But these weapons backfired. Because a lot of people have seen them before, the weapons didn’t have the intimidating effect the police planned on. Even the helicopters and gas (which became constants at a certain point) did little to deter people who have been in situations like this, and at this point that is a lot of us. When gassed we noticed a lot of people calmly putting on goggles and helping others to do the same, then calmly and quickly moving into more open space. Police also relied heavily on the LRAD, which had such minimal effect that it became a joke on the Daily Show, not to mention in our internal circles. (Note: many of us have switched our ringtone to the sound of the LRAD.) Police approaches generally are based in staging force, using increasing physical force instead of psychological as the situation escapes their control, and this is what they ended up doing. They brought out armored personnel carriers on Thursday, but didn’t really use them except to block roads, and changed to indiscriminate use of force on Friday night.
Days Filled with Stones and Flowers (An Analysis of Thursday and Friday Actions)
The People’s Uprising March
To begin to attempt an analysis of the People’s Uprising march is difficult. There was such widely dispersed action after the first half hour or so that we need to look at the dynamics of the actions instead of the actions themselves. In other words, the actions built a dynamic environment, and this is what to focus on. What we know now is that outside the large police presence at Arsenal Park there was a much larger and more concentrated presence of police between the initial point of contact (34th and Liberty St), and the perimeter downtown, staggered in increasing concentrations the closer we got to the David L Lawrence Convention Center.
The initial police contingent seemed willing to give the street to the march. This is not surprising within a new, modified police tactic of containment/ dispersal, or containment as dispersal, a tactic that we have encountered in Washington, DC. If the police think the march will be able to take the street, or is determined to do so, they will set up a zone of control, an area of the street that they will give to the march to avoid confrontation, while they try to contain everything outside this space. So they may give the street but surround the march on the sides, they may give a lane, etc. As this march moved out, some noticed this and redirected the march through the park to another exit point, which immediately frustrated the police attempt to contain the march. This was evident as we were passing small contingents of riot cops, spaced out on the corners of intersections, especially when we encountered two riot cops in a car as we turned onto Liberty (ie, we were seeing the backside of their tactic). At this point the march split, some trying to head away from the massive police contingent in downtown and go to any number of recently gentrifying commercial districts. On reaching the corner of 34th and Liberty we saw a line of riot police, an armored personnel carrier (APC) equipped with an LRAD, and a series of other vehicles. Unknown to many at this point was that this was only an initial line; there was a much higher concentration of cops further on. The cops gave a dispersal warning and then sounded the LRAD for the first time.
The march diverted down an alley next to the Church Brew Works, where the first dumpsters came out and barricades were built. This area of Pittsburgh, in a neighborhood called Lawrenceville, is characterized by narrow winding streets, often dead ending into one another, which only require a single dumpster to completely block. As we rounded the corner again, to get to Butler St at 37th (and thus begin the move through the Strip District towards downtown), we were met with another line. That is when the cops first used high concentrations of gas. After they failed to contain the march at the park, they switched to a blocking tactic, one that is only meant to prevent access to certain areas. They used a show of force and shifting blockades to prevent access to downtown while also trying to convince us to disperse. This is speculation, but it seems as if they made some mistakes in their projections of our actions. Firstly, they seemed to assume that our goal was to head into downtown, and they allocated force to prevent that movement. This became clear as the march formed into smaller groups; those who headed away from downtown saw almost no cops for a long period of time. Secondly, police made a big deal before the actions about training to defeat lockdowns, maybe expecting a repeat of the Republican National Convention activist tactics, which centered around blockading access to certain areas of downtown. For G20, few if any groups planned on locking down, opting to remain more flexible instead of using a tactic that immobilizes at the point of deployment.
As the march “dispersed” into smaller groups, the situation became really fluid and dynamic. The constant changes in the scenario kept cops from accounting for numerous groups in the streets. We can separate these trajectories of movement into two general movements. One group engaged with the cops in their own territory by trying to head downtown. This was a rather large section of the march; they got stopped in the Strip district. It seems like many cops were diverted to stop this group. Another set of groups started to head the opposite way towards the gentrified shopping areas of the East End through Lawrenceville and Bloomfield. These groups began to notice a series of things. The most astonishing was that people from the neighborhoods, and these are largely working class neighborhoods, began to come out onto the streets to engage with the events, both in cheering anarchists on and in certain instances helping to barricade off streets. These groups set up barricades to create space. A PNC Bank got its ATMs smashed, pulling more police into simple response actions, and away from the operation of coherent strategy.
There are two fundamental aspects to these sets of movements. Firstly, in multiplying the terrain of conflict, in the organized and intentional dispersal across space, we were able to break the zone of containment that the police attempted to set up, and to eventually break outside of their ability to contain the terrain of conflict at all. This forced the police to respond to a series of points of conflict, often too slowly to actually catch anyone or to even engage, which constancy of movement stretched their capacity to maintain logistical coherence or strategic initiative. Secondly, the use of barricades and property destruction occurred in a way that had not really been seen in American summit demonstrations. Barricades proliferated on side streets as groups began to move off main roads and into the twisted tangles that characterize this part of Pittsburgh. Barricades limited police movement to major roads. When combined with the loss of tactical initiative, which forced them to respond to points of engagement in small groups, usually on city buses, police lost the ability to project through space. As the terrain became more resistant, as the movement of motorized units was constrained, and as the terrain of conflict widened, the police were forced to move through whatever space they could, as fast as possible, in as many groups as possible, to as many points as possible, and lost their ability to occupy, to move, or to maintain logistical coherence.
A call went out over Twitter to meet in Friendship Park, on the border of the Bloomfield, Friendship, and Garfield neighborhoods. A trickle of people ballooned to hundreds. The park became a space to rest, get treated for injuries, and plan next moves. Cops began showing up in droves, hoping to surround the park, but again the crowd was too large for them to box in. That march began, and headed down Liberty Ave, away from downtown, in the direction of the Oakland neighborhood, or the university district. At the intersection of Liberty and Baum Ave the march turned right and began to speed up, with many groups breaking off. The police began to fire rubber bullets into the crowd, causing some affinity groups to spread out, resulting in a trail of broken windows all up Baum, including hits on Boston Market and various other chain restaurants. During these confrontations police attempted to target certain individuals (including the now famous footage of police in camo fatigues jumping out of a car, grabbing someone and driving off with them); these stopped after groups began to double back and pelt the police with chunks of concrete. As people filtered into Oakland the police presence increased dramatically, beginning the trajectory of conflict that would result in large scale rioting a couple of hours later.
This concentration of police was bolstered by contingents of cops tasked with protecting a State Dinner at Phipps Conservatory (a building in Schen- ley Park), which borders the University of Pittsburgh in the heart of Oakland. Students began to be harassed by police who, in response to events earlier in the day, were attempting to clear the campus of any students not in their dorm rooms. This caused a conflict between the students at Pitt and the police on their campus; a conflict that would set the stage for what was about to occur.
As the cops were tear gassing the first groups of protesting students in Schenley Plaza, the Bash Back! march began to gather at the corner of Desoto and Fifth Ave, three blocks south-west of the Plaza. The march rolled out around 10, only a half hour after the disturbances began on Pitt’s campus. The march began down Meyran Ave to Forbes and along the way picked up six dumpsters. The first police vehicle arrived and was stopped by four of the dumpsters being turned over in the intersection. Corporate shops were attacked, with windows busted out of Subway, McDonald’s, and American Apparel, among others. While the cops were still stopped at the first barricade, two more dumpsters were overturned, one on fire, at the intersection of Forbes and Desoto, which created even more space away from the cops. Students and bystanders crowded the sidewalks as the police substation got its windows busted out. The march then saw its first police line, a line of vehicles, about a block ahead. Instead of engaging, the crowd began to move through university property across the street from Schenley Plaza. The crowd took a right and headed up past a university vivisection lab, which got its windows smashed out, then a left, a right, ending up on a street with three banks and a Quiznos, all of which got windows broken.
At this point you could begin to see the police cordon setting up at the intersections: a couple of cops per intersection, a car, and usually some form of wooden barricade with reinforcements of riot police down the streets. We did not know at the time that there was a much larger disturbance back at Pitt. In the wake of the crowd, students had swarmed the streets, chanting “cops off campus,” “Go Pitt, Fuck the Police” and “we love Pittsburgh, fuck the G20.” Contrary to media reports, students were not just swept up in the events but were actively participating.
The cops were split once again, trying to deal with dynamic situations moving in two different directions. Vehicles had caught up with the crowd again and were attempting to run it off the streets. Many small groups started to disperse down alleys and work their way back toward Schenley Plaza where cops had begun gassing students again. Around midnight, around when they called “All units to Oakland” over the police scanner, they decided to cordon off the area. They set up skirmish lines on Forbes and Fifth and pushed students away from the commercial district and back onto campus. They began by pushing people down the sidewalk but that quickly escalated into firing tear gas down the street and even gassing students trying to enter their dorms. This escalated the situation and brought more students out into the street. It took till 2:30 for them to finally quell the unrest in Oakland. What few of us knew was that when the march began, they were trying to get Obama out of Schenley Park, the entrance to which is Schenley Plaza, ground zero for the rioting, and at this point many units ran out of their gas requisition, freezing them in place for a period of time. This even further escalated the situation until they began to completely clear streets, driving vehicles down residential streets in Oakland, repeating the dispersal warning from loudspeakers.
The point when they ran out of gas is an important moment, the point where their security plan broke down completely. In a single day we had exceeded their projection of the worst possible scenario for the entire weekend. When creating a summit security plan, police will requisition supplies based on what they are consider to be the worst possible scenario for the entire time of potential conflict (in this case, a weekend). The fact that they ran out of gas makes it clear that in a single day we exceeded the worst possible scenario projection for the entire weekend. This wasn’t because of the volume of property destroyed or the magnitude of any individual action; it was a result of the speed of movement through terrain, the ability to limit police projection, and the multiplication of terrains of conflict that ruptured the coherence of police logistics and eviscerated any concept of tactical initiative on their part. As is often discussed in relation to asymmetric conflict, when conflict spreads throughout a terrain, gaps in police coverage open up, and these gaps are where conflict can proliferate; but in the creation of these gaps conflict becomes a potential in all space and police movement through space becomes uncertain and difficult. It was in specifically breaking the containment of the summit demonstration, breaking the planned demonstration zones, the containment of police strategy, and the containment of political identity, that these actions pushed police logistics to the breaking point. The only tragedy of that day was that we did not push this further, through the night and into the following days, and in failing to pursue, to continue to amplify conflict. We allowed the police time to regroup, resupply, and call in reinforcements.
The Permit March
The next morning the permitted march began to gather. At the gathering point itself there were relatively few police, but just blocks away were hundreds of riot cops, spaced out in groups of 30–50, surrounding vehicles so they could be mobile, and accompanied by K-9 units. These mobile units were to deal with anyone who diverged from the agreed-upon plan for the day. As the march moved downtown we noticed more and more cops, in higher concentrations, ‘til we got downtown and then they lined the streets, standing in front of barriers that held back crowds of people who had gathered along the march route. When the march stopped in front of the City County Building, the cops began to show a little of what they had in store for later that night. The crowd stood in a downtown street while 50–100 riot cops began to move off a side street, one (backed up by one of the LRADs) even moving into the crowd. The bloc assembled and moved towards the cops to form a buffer between the cops and the rest of the crowd.
As the march moved the police presence thinned out. They moved squads of riot cops into the positions that we had occupied minutes before and drove Hummers with fences attached to their fronts to block off the bridges to everything but foot traffic. As the gathering in the park wore on, and as the time for the permit to expire approached, we noticed lines of riot police beginning to surround the park and a large contingent getting off a school bus and gearing up in the southwest corner of the park. These shows of force were further foreshadowing of the actions later that night.
Go Pitt, Fuck The Police
That night a large group of Pitt students, along with assorted anarchists and activists, gathered in Schenley Plaza to demonstrate against the police brutality from the previous night. Hours before the gathering, we could see large groups of riot cops gearing up in the Oakland neighborhood and hiding down side streets, particularly around Forbes between Meyran and Desoto. As people began to gather, the park became completely surrounded. After 45 minutes the dispersal warning was sounded and the LRAD blared, but there was nowhere for anyone to go. The cops began to move in but not as a unit. They sent small tactical teams into the crowd to secure an area, while the cops behind them gassed that area, and pepper sprayed or attacked anyone in range. Those they caught were cuffed and arrested. Larger lines would move in behind them to secure the area and process the arrestees. Groups managed to break through and head both out of the area and further into Pitt’s campus. Those groups that ended up on campus were chased down by riot cops and beaten if caught. The cops beat and gassed people indiscriminately, including at least one instance of launching tear gas canisters into open dorm windows.
The gathering in itself was relatively innocuous, being largely people playing drums and giving speeches, but that is not the point. The police response was meant to send a message not only against causing disturbances that night, but to make anyone present think twice about stepping out of line again. The response was meant to psychologically damage and generate fear, not just to stabilize a situation. And this is a good lesson to learn. If we are going to be successful we have to be ready for and expect this type of response in subsequent gatherings. While difficult to deal with, it is inevitable. The police are trying to stabilize a situation, and for them that means preserving control. That means constructing us as subjects to be organized, to be positioned to preserve the flows of the city, and if we can’t be organized, to be forced back into stability. The police actions on Friday night accomplished their goal. There were few popular actions Friday night and the energy of the actions dissipated quickly, but we doubt the resonance of those actions will fade as easily.
The End... or The Dawn of New Beginnings
There is little doubt that these were some of the most successful actions that we have undertaken in recent memory. Not because anarchists barricaded streets and created space, or because we fought back against the cops and actually held our ground. Not because we forced the cops into a stalemate by the middle of Thursday or the scale of the property destruction. Rather it is that we were able to glimpse a form of action. Unlike past summit demonstrations, isolated in downtown areas like the summits themselves, these actions were both visible and invisible simultaneously. They engaged on a plane of daily life that our actions rarely touch (outside of our own lives). The actions were dispersed and mobile, escaping the ability of the state to impose order on them.
During the Greek uprising a government minister complained most about the inability to have an object or group to negotiate with, no demands to mediate. Those actions existed on a different plane than the state. Against the state’s imposition of samenesses, people in the streets created divergence and multiplicity. The streets became indefinable as actions proliferated, changing the environment with the participants themselves. It became a terrain impossible to define, impossible to limit as the very structures of control had broken down. The inability of the state to mediate these actions was precisely due to the existence of the actions on a plane that could not be mediated. It was not for anything specific but for the possibility of possibility, the very energy that destroys limits. This is a strategy of disappearance, unable to be defined, unable to be categorized, and therefore unable to be policed. It was a fight over the possibility of control.
Not that the G20 was anywhere close to the intensity of Greece, but that type of situation can only exist to the degree that it is invisible to the state, that there are too many dynamics, too many actions to stabilize. But this disappearance from the plane of the state, from the state’s gaze, is also an appearance on the level of daily life, a level where life and action link up in ways that can only create dynamic situations. Resistance struck a chord, it resonated, and that resonance built itself into an energy that shook the city. It escaped the bounds of the removed specialists of political action and broke out, it became social war, or at least a glimpse of what that resonance may feel like. It opened a window into something else. What that is, is up to us to decide.
Appendix 2. Tactical Terrain Analysis: A How-To Guide
As we witnessed in the Fall/Winter of 2011, repression can seemingly destroy the possibility of resistance. All around the country people gathered in and occupied open spaces, and just as quickly they were run out by the police. This was not only due to inexperience and an almost total inability to confront repression (largely due to the obsessions with pacifism that plague American social movements) but also to a lack of pre-action research on the tactical terrain itself. As we saw in the antiwar movement, and as was replicated in many factions of Occupy, there was an obsession with politics, political theory, issues, the ethics of certain actions... so much theory. But for all the discussion of resistance, and for all the endless arguments about tactics, there was no discussion of effectiveness, actual tactical dynamics, or the terrain in which tactics play themselves out. There were endless discussions of transcendental conceptual frameworks but absolutely no discussion of the particular tactical dynamics that exist on the ground. To focus on tactical terrain is not only to focus on the necessarily tactical conflict that exists at the core of all resistance but also to discuss the physical terrain itself, the tactical operations of the police, the structure of the terrain itself, and the possibility for tactical openings and amplifications.
Engaging in this sort of tactical mapping means recognizing the paradox latent in the approach itself. Tactical terrain is a constantly shifting phenomenon; it is the time and space in which action occurs. Yet, a research- and mapping-based approach is necessarily static; it generates static information. In other words, there is a certain obsolescence in the information gathered the moment after the gathering ceases, or at least the moment that the main body of information and the primary framework of analysis is developed, because the situation itself always keeps moving. This is compensated for, in military and police operations, through a constant stream of real time information coming into central command. In our case there have been experiments with using Twitter and live Google Maps in order to map and distribute information about police movements. Regardless of approach we must acknowledge two things. First, for as comprehensive as this information may be, and for as total as distribution may be, it is never enough and it is never transmitted fast enough to actually encompass the changing dynamics of a situation. Second, we still need a general framework of information in order to put this information into context; without advanced research on the space or the tactics of the police, disseminating information about police movements is worthless. Tactical terrain research, therefore, will never give a total view of the terrain; it is not something that can be taken as true or as a hard logistical framework for the planning of actions. Rather, we need to see these research studies both as fundamental to the process of preparation for action as well as a baseline from which we can make sense of changes on the ground.
What is Tactical Terrain?
We need to think of tactical terrain as a convergence. Far from being confined to the physical terrain, the street is a place of coming together; a convergence of actions, effects, ways of making sense. It is a result of everything that has ever occurred, everything that has lead to this point in time in this particular place. Now, it is impossible, obviously, to be able to grasp the totality of this convergence; all we can ever do is attempt to construct a way of making sense of this space that is more or less effective in grasping that which occurs. In other words, regardless of all the information that we can gather and process, regardless of how deeply entrenched we may be in a space, it is materially impossible to understand this totality of history. As such a tactical terrain is always something that we can never entirely grasp. Our ways of making sense of this space will always exist at a necessary disjunction from the particularity of this space at this moment. This does not mean that the attempt to make sense of space is irrelevant, it can be a really effective exercise; it only means that we will never come to understand tactical terrain in some direct and total way, in some absolutely true way.
With this said, we are talking here about how to potentially make sense of a particular space at a particular time, and ways to understand this convergence. All too often, in this sort of analysis, we fall into one of two traps. On the one hand, the tendency is to understand this space only spatially, to read the terrain itself as a static space. This prevents us from understanding the potentiality of tactical movement in that space. On the other hand, there is a tendency to obscure the terrain itself entirely, focusing, instead, on a history of tactical successes and failures devoid of any discussion of the tactical particularity of these moments. To avoid these traps we need to always treat tactical terrain studies as a convergence of dynamics.
We need to recognize that all terrain is structural, expressed in the research of maps, elevations, concealments, features, placement of points, materials, and so on. In other words, terrain has a physical dimension. We see this discussion in most of the great works of tactical theory; in the Art of War this is expressed in the discussion of concealment, elevation, and tactical advantage. Conflict occurs in a place, and the characteristics of that terrain play an integral role in how conflicts play themselves out. We see the difference in terrain even in contemporary conflicts during large demonstrations. In St Paul we were faced with a relatively isolated downtown area, separated from the rest of the city by a freeway and the Mississippi River. This presented advantages (the ability to section off and further isolate this space from the rest of the city, particularly important in blockading delegates to the convention) and disadvantages (most of the mass arrests occurred either along the river, on isolated streets, or on bridges). Compare this to Pittsburgh during the G20 where the use of barricades combined with the irregular street patterns and dense urban structure of the East End gave us a huge advantage in preventing police movement.
Secondly, terrain is mobile. Understanding this involves getting a grip on the neighborhoods, the traffic patterns, how things shift, and the way that the structural elements of the city facilitate this movement. Again, as we mentioned, there is a tendency to treat tactical terrain as only physical; as atemporal, ahistorical, inert. We reduce terrain to only its physical elements at our own peril. If we think of a city street, full of brick row-houses, we may see a static terrain; but even if nothing occurs overtly, they degrade, the pavement degrades, the space shifts and lives. Making sense of the particularity of any space at any time is also to understand the animation of this space, the flows of the space, the actions that occur, and why. This involves making sense of where convergences of action occur, when and why. Only at this point can we make sense of the effects that actions may have and the dynamics that these actions will occur in.
Thirdly, tactics is a terrain of conflict. Understanding this means researching the terrain as a combative space, the histories of resistance and repression, the relationships with the police, police tactics, and particular approaches in particular areas, features that can help to facilitate actions, and so on. In other words, to the degree that the state exists, we need to understand space as a conflict between the historical possibilities of action and the attempt to construct a condition of possibility for action through the operations of policing. It is not that tactical terrain occurs in some bubble, nor that it is an organic process; rather, we need to think through policing operations, but also think these operations within the historical possibility of that terrain. To put it another way, policing occurs somewhere and this somewhere has dynamics. The actions taken by police have effects, and these effects cause shifts in the tactical terrain which cause shifts in policing and so on. We cannot think of conflict and tactics as static phenomenon or the direct expression of theory. For years we have attempted to grasp police tactics in a bubble, treating them as a whole that exists in some singular way across time and space. But tactical terrain research shows that these dynamics change over time, what the operations of task forces look like, what levels of force are allocated when and where, what common approaches to certain situations may look like; this requires a consistency of research that we don’t currently have.
Tactical terrain research occurs on two levels. First is the abstract and general level, when we look at space in the widest sense possible, primarily on the level of the map itself. However, this transcends simple map reading and assembly and is the process of assembling a framework through which we can understand the space that we are gathering information about. While each person or group should, and probably will, develop their own process for constructing this framework, I have found that the most effective ones include physical space, mapping roads and other arteries of circulation, and also mapping generalized social dynamics, the division between neighborhoods, concentrations of wealth, social convergence points, and commercial districts. Then we move from this general level onto the more specific. Here we will be going down on the street to understand how people and commodities circulate within this space, how dynamics occur on the street; this also includes things like timed maps of police force concentration, traffic concentrations, dissipation points, and the dynamics around special events (among other things).
What Are We Looking For?
Points of convergence: spaces in which there is a concentration of a collision of dynamics. These tend to be points where movement concentrates, and often enters into a level of congestion that prevents or slows movement. Points of convergence are also often the major junctions in the function of the space itself. These include intersections, freeway junctions, exits, entrances, choke points, commercial districts, bridges, and other “points of interest” (stadiums, venues, hotels/resorts, college campuses, etc).
Points of deployment and surveillance: points where the police leave from, gather, or project across space (things like cameras, neighborhood watch groups, substations). Mapping spaces like this not only allows us to understand where force is more likely concentrated but also where it is most likely scattered, as well as the primary point of departure for police operations. These points include police stations, possible staging and holding areas, cameras, points of concentrated police operations, substations, campus police stations, courts. and prisons.
Terrain variance and features: many radical groups conceptualize space as a flat collection of points. If we take the time to read the history of conflict, or even basic tactics theory, the features of the space itself, in a three dimensional sense, are often the difference between successful actions and crushing failure. Just as we use the basic layout and social dynamics of a space to make sense of where effective actions may be possible and where we hold tactical advantage, we can also incorporate terrain variance into this framework. We look for things like elevation shifts, spaces of concealment, alleys and other cut-through paths, terrain depressions and other spaces of concealment, convergence and dispersal points, parks and wooded areas, unpass- able areas (water, ravines, etc), bridges...
To gather this information we either rely on resources that already exist or ones that we develop. Keep in mind, this research is much easier if you do it with your friends, your affinity group, people in your neighborhood (if they’re down). The more eyes on the ground, the more people scouring the web and talking to others, the more information we will gather and the easier it will be to organize and analyze it all. This sort of analysis is not about just gathering specific information; we have come to recognize that there is no such thing as too much information, and no piece of information that we gather has ever been irrelevant. The only limitation that we have is time and capacity, the amount of time we have to gather info and the capacity we have to make sense of it all.
Internet research is a great place to start. In simple Google searches one can come across everything from maps of spaces, maps of camera placement, police field manuals, operational after-reports, police theory journals, and so on. All of these can be valuable. Just make sure that people doing research practice good security; we highly recommend downloading and using a secure browser, and storing your data on a True Crypt partition on your hard- drive.
Google Maps allows us to see the street layouts, terrain variations, building elevations, and so on. A simple Google Maps search gives us a tool that was a pipedream for organizers and operators even five years ago; it allows us access to a satellite surveillance network. Increasingly, as the labeling of space becomes more comprehensive, we can already see the locations of numerous points of interest, saving a lot of time that would otherwise be spent doing address searches and then mapping all of these points individually. However, while this can be a useful tool (particularly when combined with smart phones) we always need to keep in mind that these maps are often slightly outdated (sometimes more than slightly). As static as much of human development may seem, this space is constructed to facilitate certain forms of movement and that it is in constant flux. For example, the maps of Tampa used in the lead-up to a research project that occurred before the 2012 RNC did not incorporate a lot of changes in development in downtown; there were buildings that had been torn down, buildings that had been built, roads that had been rerouted, and so on.
We have been researching alternatives to Google Maps, and have found Wikimapia to be an adequate replacement. Wikimapia not only allows one to look at maps with similar layers (except for real time traffic mapping and street view), but also provides certain advantages. Wikimapia is an open-source project. This does not guarantee security, but the site was used extensively by radicals in Syria and Libya without having information turned over to the state, not something that we can say about Google. Secondly, Wikimapia allows users to outline shapes and objects on a map and label the entire object, which is useful for the making of maps combining defined objects, but also terrain features and things like avenues of movement.
Google Streets allows us a view of the street, landmarks and scale, in places we have never been. The value of this cannot be over-estimated. However, we need to keep a couple things in mind. Remember that these street shots can be obsolete the second after they are taken; space shifts constantly so this sort of visualization only goes so far. Also, these images are taken with a certain distortion simply due to the limitations of the cameras. In other words, scale will not be precise, nor will the location of mobile terrain features (dumpsters, newspaper boxes, planters, etc). You can take measurements of space on Google Streets, and we recommend this, rather than relying on often distorted lines of sight.
Internet searches The internet gave us access to absurd volumes of information, and like I said before, there is no such thing as too much information. However, to avoid an endless abyss of research, focus is helpful. When I am researching space I tend to focus on a relatively few sources, but ones that repeatedly give solid info. Look for news articles about past actions, particularly actions that may have anything in common with the tactics sets that may be used in future actions. If we are engaging in this sort of research on a daily and local level then this may mean researching articles about police initiatives, enforcement priorities, methodologies, practices like “stop and frisk” and so on. Along with this it helps to look at articles about general police operations; often the police will have a public relations department, and even a Twitter account, in order to openly talk about changes as part of “community policing” (or counterinsurgency). Though many of the sources that you
will find will give you really sanitized versions of these programs, it allows us to understand what they are doing where and when, and that gives us some focus when we move into on-the-ground research. We also look at police annual reports; all departments need to make these available, and many are on the internet. Annual reports usually talk about the locations of facilities, the number of personnel at each facility, force concentration by shift, arrest numbers by precinct or even neighborhood, task forces, SWAT teams, and so on. They include a wealth of basic information on force allocation and operations, some even go into detailed discussions of methodologies and theories applied in policing operations (Tampa Police do this extensively). From this data we begin to piece together a rough estimate of total force allocation at any one time; to do this take the number of police in a precinct (if this information is not available take the total number of personnel, subtract administrative and investigative personnel and divide that number by the number of precincts) and divide this by the number of shifts, which is usually three during normal operations and two during heightened security. Also try to find pre-action security briefs or articles about briefs. In the past decade the police have often taken to intimidating us through exaggerated discussions of the numbers they have or may be bringing in, their centcom capacity, the numbers they are planning to arrest and so on. Even when these numbers are exaggerated, they can give us a good look into their numbers and mentality; the fact that they talked about finding PVC pipe down alleys and their training to dismantle lockboxes before Pittsburgh’s G20 definitely gave us a really solid idea of what they were expecting, and thus what they were prepared for (which was very different than what they saw, and a lot of us know how that turned out). Other good sources of information are the writings of police think tanks or think tanks that theorize about police operations (like RAND Corporation), and they all have email lists that announce the release of new papers; the same goes for police theory journals. There are also police conferences in which command personnel gather and trade notes, often the notes of these talks can be found online (this helps even more if your local police commander tends to give talks at events like this).
The ambitious can take on mapping police operations on a regular basis, which provides much more comprehensive information, especially when combined with other forms of research. This level of research requires a copy of the daily police blotter, a way to pull the information off the blotter (and they are all structured differently, so one may need a tech-savvy friend to data scrape the blotters into a database), and then a mapping application (this can be done through Google Maps, but there are really useful specialized programs and web-apps built to create real time live maps). Then track this information over a period of time (at least two months or more), looking into points of response, when and where arrests tend to be made. When combined with police scanner data the information will become even more illustrative. From these sorts of maps, along with information gathered from other sources, we can piece together a relatively comprehensive understanding of local police operations.
On the Ground Research
Nothing can substitute for on the ground intel gathering. This means going out on the street. It helps if there is more than one team on the streets (you cover more space more comprehensively with more eyes on the ground). These teams observe people’s movements, talk to people, maybe do a little covert cop watching, and so on. Getting into the space allows us to get a feel for it and also allows us to gather bits of information that no amount of internet research or reading will ever get us.
On the ground research can be broken into three general categories.
Metropolitan: This is intelligence relating to the flows of the metropolis, the circulation of people and commodities, communications, and infrastructure that comprises tactical terrain. This primarily focuses on the shifts in the movements and patterns of the space; when rush hour occurs, where traffic concentrates, where people gather and when, where police allocate force and when, the economic divisions of space, the divisions between neighborhoods and so on.
Point of Interest: This could include things like entering and researching the floor plans of certain buildings, the transportation infrastructure of a specific event, and so on.
Grassroots: This is the gathering of narrative information from the people who populate the space. This may include us, if we live in this space. Primarily this involves going to social events or engaging in the dynamics of the space itself, talking to people and trying to get a read on any number of aspects of the space. This is a great way to gather information that is otherwise being withheld (for example the hotel arrangements of delegates to a specific event).
This is only the basis of a research plan and a brief discussion of methods. While there is no such thing as too much information, the volume of information gathered relates to our ability to analyze it. This implies a few things. The more people involved, the more information can be gathered and analyzed. Secondly, organization is key; the more organized gathering and processing is the more efficiently you can work through it. Thirdly, there is never such a thing as having all the information about a space; space shifts through time, conditions and dynamics change on the ground. Research, therefore, can only provide a basis for a framework to make sense of our information. From the point of analysis there are many ways to spatialize this data. We prefer layering of maps, usually beginning with an online mapping program (Google Maps, Wikimapia) that has the general points of interest dotted on the map. We overlay that with maps of things like neighborhood dynamics, commercial districts, and traffic patterns to help break up the map into easily digestible portions that we can research in a reasonable amount of time. Everyday, as information comes in from researchers we map the data, converge at the end of the day, and restructure the plan for the next trip based on the data received. From here we compile the raw data, look at the maps, construct a framework for making sense of all the information collectively, then write a narrative report.
There is a difference between doing research on a space over a few days and existing in the space that one analyzes. The more time on the ground, the more eyes watching and gathering information, the more experience we have with the psychogeography of a space, the more deeply the information gathered will make sense. From here the possibilities are limitless. The more we know about the space that we fight in, the more effective we can be, and effectiveness is what matters. Through Occupy something was forgotten, again: revolution is an immediate and material dynamic, something that happens in a time in a space. It is a dynamic of material actions, tactics, and a calculation of effectiveness. It is only in undertaking disciplined studies of tactical terrain that we can come to begin to understand what effectiveness can actually mean.
Appendix 3. Reading List
On War Carl Von Clausewitz
Cyberwar Is Coming! Arquilla and Ronfeldt https://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR880.html
Networks and Netwar Chapters 1,4,6,9 Arquilla and Ronfeldt) https://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1382.html
“Nomadology and the War-Machine” Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari
From the Centre to the Periphery Alfredo Bonanno 325collective.com
Armed Joy Alfredo Bonanno theanarchistlibrary.org
20 Thesis on the Subversion of the Metropolis anonymous Internet Archive
The Coming Insurrection The Invisible Committee theanarchistlibrary.org
Intro to Civil War Tiqqun
War In The Age of Intelligent Machines Manuel Delanda
Speed and Politics Paul Virilio
Reflections on Violence Georges Sorel
In Pursuit of Military Excellence: The Development of Operational Theory Shimon Nahev
Army and Police Literature
US Army Field Manual 3–19.15 https://fas.org/irp/doddir/army/fm3-19-15.pdf
US Army Counterinsurgency Manual FM 3–24 https://fas.org/irp/doddir/army/fm3-24.pdf
US Army Stability Operations Manual FM 3–07https://fas.org/irp/doddir/army/fm3-07.pdf
Riot Control Rex Applegate
Counterinsurgency David Kilcullen
Learning To Eat Soup With A Knife John Nagel
Maneuver In War Colonel Charles Willoughby
Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice David Galula
Radical and Insurgent Literature
Enrages and Situationists in the May 68 Occupation Movement Rene Veinet libcom.org/library/enrages-situationists-occupations-movement
Total Resistance Major H Von Dach
Guerrilla Warfare Che Guevara
Guerrilla Warfare Mao Zedong
Philosophy of the Urban Guerrilla Abraham Guillen
Forward Into Battle Paddy Griffith
A Secret History of the IRA Ed Moloney
History of the Art of War Hans Delbruck
The Evolution of Weapons and Warfare Colonel Trevor Dupuy
The Makers of Modern Strategy Paret and Craig
Hollowland: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation Eyal Weizman
Lockdown America Christian Parenti
Our Enemies in Blue Kristian Williams
American Methods Kristian Williams
Tactical dynamics are amoral, arational, particular dynamics of conflict, and effectiveness is the accomplishment of objectives within this dynamic of profound uncertainty and resistance. Fusing ideas and action together is always already impossible: analysis generates a space that becomes inert while tactical dynamics are always in flux in all moments, making both strategy and tactics impossible to think in direct and total ways. The most we can do is try to make sense of these dynamics in increasingly effective ways, ways that facilitate the achievement of material objectives...
 occuring in parallel, effecting one another, but never fusing together
 To be able to make the determination of an incorrect concept is to also argue that one knows the correct concept, and thus truth.
 Foucault, 2003; Society Must Be Defended
 Mussolini, 1936; Mussolini discusses the state as an active totality. All existence is framed through the state and one’s value is in their role in maintaining a unity that is materially impossible. Hence the structure of the fasci, even before the March on Rome, the attempt to construct unity through force, through the elimination of all political contingency.
 Schmitt, 1988
 Clausewitz, 1968
 Naveh, 1997 142
 Schmitt, 1996: The Concept of the Political
 Sorel, 2004 144
 Clausewitz, 1968 146
 Williams, 2007
 Delanda, 1991
 Galula, 1964
 long range acoustic device
 Kaplan, 2013
 Clausewitz, 1968
 Many police tactics, including patrols, are meant to serve as a deterrent, to project their perceived presence outside of immediate presence. They may not be immediately present, but the altering of patrol patterns and the use of swarming tactics always make their presence possible.
 US Army FM 3–19.15: The development of the road grid was meant to make movement more efficient, but also allowed for bullets to be projected longer distances without hitting buildings, allowed vision to project further down wide straight streets, and made streets more difficult to barricade.
 “And he who becomes master of the city used to being free and does not destroy her can expect to be destroyed by her, because always she has as pretext in rebellion the name of liberty and her old customs, which never through either length of time or benefits are forgotten, and in spite of anything that can be done or foreseen, unless citizens are disunited or dispersed, they do not forget that name and those institutions...”; Machiavelli, The Prince, as quoted by Debord, Society of the Spectacle.
 In Hollowland Weizman recounts the debate around the rebuilding of Jenin after the invasion and destruction of the camp by the Israeli Defense Forces. The UN wanted to use the rebuilding process as an opportunity to rationalize the camp, by building permanent structures, widening roads, and imposing a grid pattern to the streets. Palestinians rejected the plan, arguing that permanence would sacrifice their claim to return to their previous land while the rationalization of the streets would make it easier for the IDF to invade in the future and easier to monitor, defeating the intentional chaos of the original development, built to resist invasion by structuring the space around dense winding streets (difficult for armor to move through and troops to maintain visual contact in).
 “Illegality” is a term that is only defined within the framework of law and the ability of the police to arrest, but all illegality presents a gap in police coverage.
 Schmitt, 1996
 Foucault, 2003: Society Must Be Defended
 Ranciere, 2004; “Whether the police are sweet and kind does not make them any less the opposite of politics” (31).
 Clausewitz, 1968
 Whenever liberals argue that the “police are people too” they are hitting on an important point, and then, as usual, completely misunderstand the implications. If the police are just expressions of a unit or definition then they are robotic and determined, but not responsible for the implications of action, while if they are people—particular existences in particular moments—they only exist as police to the degree that they attempt to mobilize force to operate their particular understanding of existence as a total limitation on the possibilities of existence, making them fascists.
 Clausewitz, 1968 170
 Delanda, 1991; Napoleonic military structures were characterized by the breakdown of the aristocracy during the French Revolution and the advent of mass conscription. Before the French Revolution, European military tactics were based around largely mercenary armies led by aristocrats (expensive to train and small) and around highly regimented maneuver warfare, sieges, and negotiated battles, with neither side willing to risk their forces in frontal clash. With the rise of Napoleon the chain of command became meritocratic and the ranks of soldiers, compelled by nationalism and conscription, swelled, now numbering into the hundreds of thousands. This allowed battle fronts to stretch for miles, multiple fronts to be formed, grand maneuvers, and greater speed through charge and pursuit.
 The social here is not referring to some impossible, singular “Society,” but rather to what occurs between things.