Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 21, 2011

Economic Terrorism

Filed under: Events,Radicalization,State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on October 21, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I questioned the meaning of the growing protest movement that started with Occupy Wall Street and its relationship to the economic discontent expressed in other quarters by the Tea Party Movement. This angered at least a few readers who claim to have moved on from reading this forum regularly.

In a follow-up comment, I noted that despite my sympathy for their message, I was less than sanguine about what the rising tide of discontent on display around the country (and now the world for that matter) might portend for the nation as disaffection spreads from those angry with the government to those who work for the government in our public safety services.

Recent media commentary on the Occupy movements has questioned their sustainability in the absence of clear leadership, a coherent direction, and some sort of decisive action beyond sign-waving and chanting. Others have noted that the movement is doing just fine without these things, and, in fact, has articulated a clear and convincing objective: Ending capitalism as we have known it, at least in the United States. This leads some observers, particularly those who see themselves targeted by the movement, to believe the group is anything but benign and probably not as disorganized as it might seem to some.

This makes me wonder, does this make the Occupy protestors economic terrorists? Some might think so, especially if their activities begin having a destabilizing effect on markets or market actors. The Geneva Center for Security Policy defines economic terrorism as, “varied, coordinated and sophisticated, or massive destabilizing actions [undertaken by transnational or non-state actors] to disrupt the economic stability of a state, groups of states, or society.”

Clearly, the Occupy protestors see themselves quite differently. They have been telling us for weeks now that the real terrorists are the bankers, hedge fund managers, and barons of international high finance who have so thoroughly coöpted and corrupted the engine of democracy that it no longer serves the interests of ordinary people.

Occupy protestors and their supporters have noted with disgust that the number of people arrested at rallies now far exceeds the number charged with crimes arising from the financial debacle that has so ruined our economy. The tactics employed to enforce local ordinances against such misdemeanors as curfew, camping in public parks, excessive noise, interfering with traffic, and tramping through flower beds have often involved the application of force to detain or remove protestors. These actions stand in stark contrast to those used in the detention and prosecution of those accused of felony financial crimes.

Despite police actions in quite a few cities, the American protests seem mild compared to the unrest sweeping some European cities as instability accompanying the debt crises in Greece, Italy and other nations continues. As the frequency and intensity of strikes and riots mounts, one can only speculate as to whether the mood here will turn from gloomy and overcast to stormy.

As we watch the drama unfold here and abroad, wondering what will happen next, it’s worth remembering: One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

October 21, 2011 @ 12:12 am

And of course terrorists like THOREAU have lingering impact! Personally I always like to mention CROMWELL when mentioning terrorists under most definitions. As for the GENEVA groups definition of economic terrorism I always that referred to the final exam in my two semester course in ECONOMICS using the Paul Samuelson text in fall and spring 1961-62!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 21, 2011 @ 5:05 am

Mark, I find the Geneva definition of economic terrorism too broad. I also find the Patriot Act’s definition of “domestic terrorism” too broad, but it is more specific than Geneva:

The term `domestic terrorism’ means activities that–
`(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
`(B) appear to be intended–
`(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
`(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
`(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
`(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.’.

There is an element of intimidation — and even coercion — in the tactics used by the Occupy movement (and in most political acts), but only through otherwise legal activity. There is no evidence of use or intent to use acts dangerous to human life, mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.

Those involved in the Occupy movement are exercising their first amendment rights. They occasionally apply tactics of civil disobedience to amplify their “voice.” This is, for me, the opposite of terrorism.

As the Occupy participants have engaged in civil disobedience through trespassing or other non-legal activities it seems to me that in the vast majority of cases the public safety response — and in the case of Zucotti Park, the private sector response — has been mostly restrained and respectful.

Neither the financiers nor the anti-financiers (nor the cops) are behaving as terrorists. Making the distinction is important to both our liberty and our security.

Comment by Mark Chubb

October 21, 2011 @ 10:35 am

To be clear, Phil, I don’t consider the Occupy protestors terrorists either. By the same token, I was intrigued by the broadness of the Geneva definition, which I think was motivated more by concern for the consequences (ends) than the means.

By that definition, I would be hard-pressed not to apply this label to some of the actions of Wall Street Bankers and others that led to the financial crisis. Those acts that were not unethical or criminal in a strict sense were clearly immoral, if not amoral.

Those responsible for the crisis may not have pursued their agenda by violent means, but the violence wreaked upon innocent people and communities as a consequence of their deeds is undeniable.

Comment by Michael Brady

October 21, 2011 @ 11:42 am

The self-serving GCSP definition of economic terror sounds much more like the actions of firms on Wall Street than it does its peaceably assembled occupiers.

When peaceful assembly, petitioning for redress of grievances, and even civil disobedience or nonviolent resistance meet the criteria of terrorism we need to take a long hard look at who is writing the definition.

As we were reminded in Dr. King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.'”

Is insurrection the solution the Wall Street Occupation or the Tea Party have in mind? I don’t think so, but the Guy Fawkes masks and “blood of tyrants and patriots” tshirts worn by some teabaggers give one pause. There is always the risk that the steady drum beat of divisive and violent rhetoric will eventually entice some other Timothy McVeigh to impose his vision of action on the debate. It would certainly be nice to find a way to turn down the heat while continuing a fruitful dialogue. In the mean time Congress and Wall Street seem to be conducting business as usual.

Comment by Michael Brady

October 21, 2011 @ 12:35 pm

At first I wondered if the GCSP had disavowed this view or merely deleted its source document from their website. A careful reading of the 2005 original suggests they meant to discuss the ability of real transnational terror actors to cause economic disruption, but we must be careful not to grant those in power the ability to summarily protect themselves and their cronies from we citizens. Thank you Internet Wayback Machine http://web.archive.org/web/20070927104321/http://www.gcsp.ch/e/meetings/Security_Challenges/CIP/Economic%20Terrorism%20roundtable/programme.pdf

Comment by Mark Chubb

October 21, 2011 @ 3:05 pm

Michael, thanks for putting the GCSP document in context. I am sure you’re right about what they meant. Nevertheless, I considered their overly-broad definition an interesting jumping-off point considering the reactions provoked by my original post on the topic.

Comment by Terry O'Sullivan

October 22, 2011 @ 4:46 pm

The definitions are indeed too broad. The Constitution presumably guarantees the right of citizens to gather and demand redress, and I’m glad to see (despite initial alarm about where he might be going with the argument) Mark also agrees that the OWS protesters are most certainly not terrorists.

I would take issue with the idea, however, that that are all trying to bring down capitalism. Some may be, of course, but for the most part, they and those who support this movement appear to be seeking redress from a warped, almost Medieval anti-democratic version of crony capitalism that has evolved over the last 30 years — one that stacks the deck in favor of the very rich and powerful, and is nothing like a true “free” market. It is the powerful elite that appears to be moving toward bringing down capitalism with their greed.

The Occupy Wall Street protests are against what (especially American version) the neo-Gilded Age plutocrats have overseen: the slow demise of the middle class, and, as some current political demagogues continue to brazenly claim, arrogantly and callously blaming the poor for their status. It is against those radical libertarians who would destroy the very institutions responsible for the success of post-WWII American/Western social contract — which gave a socio-economic safety net to citizens in exchange for regulated, but relatively free range of capitalist trade and entrepreneurship.

OWS is pointing out what the mainstream media and establishment political class have been disdainfully unwilling to accept: That a large percentage of Americans believe the current political and economic system is damaged, captured by the metaphorical and literal “1 percent,” in need of serious repair.

These peaceful protests are exactly what the Founding Fathers were hoping might happen when economic or political tyranny or dysfunction prevailed. As long as it remains a comparatively peaceful protest and even civil disobedience movement, for anyone to characterize it as terrorism would be dangerously authoritarian. Sadly, some in this country seek to do just that (again — not Mark, of course). Ben Franklin’s warnings about false trade-offs between security and liberty should be ringing loudly in our ears.

Comment by Einstein: Freedom and The Second Amendment

October 24, 2011 @ 10:35 am

Another very interesting discussion herein which reminds me of Einstein’s stand for the second amendment rights of Americans during the days of McCarthyism.

During this era in American politics, he recollected being horrified that more had not risen in resistence when the Nazis came to power and we must recall Einstein’s beliefs that upholding the spirit of the First Amendment and the Constitution was at the “core of America’s cherished freedom” while at thand he often mentioned how even he while at Princeton was denied a security clearance, but heck his sense f humor overcame whatever politicizing surrounded he and the intellectuals of the day often thought as communists…

Christopher Tingus
PO Box 1612
Harwich (Cape Cod), MA 02645 USA

Pingback by Yes, but is it terrorism? | Travels with Shiloh

November 1, 2011 @ 6:25 am

[…] Homeland Security Watch has an article on the Occupy movement that asks if its followers can be classified as ‘economic terrorists’. Some might think so, especially if their activities begin having a destabilizing effect on markets or market actors. The Geneva Center for Security Policydefines economic terrorism as, “varied, coordinated and sophisticated, or massive destabilizing actions [undertaken by transnational or non-state actors] to disrupt the economic stability of a state, groups of states, or society.” […]

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