Here, have a few spare grenade launchers

Have you been wondering how it is that Ferguson, Missouri can send such heavily-armed cops into the streets to terrorize the citizens?

It’s thanks to the nauseatingly-named Department of Homeland Security. Alec MacGillis at The New Republic* explains.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the American taxpayer has been providing the funding for an eye-popping influx of money from the Department of Homeland Security to state and local law enforcement agencies.

The funding is all in the name of preventing “terrorism,” but funds are fungible, and so are heavily-armored vehicles and high-powered weaponry. As the Missouri Department of Homeland Security explains on its own website advertising one of the federal DHS grants it distributes to local agencies: “Activities implemented under [the State Homeland Security Program] must support terrorism preparedness by building or enhancing capabilities that relate to the prevention of, protection from, or response to, and recovery from terrorism in order to be considered eligible. However, many capabilities which support terrorism preparedness simultaneously support preparedness for other hazards.” [Emphasis mine.]

Other hazards—like the disturbances that can spring up in the event of a police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old named Michael Brown.

Score another victory for Bin Laden. He succeeded in making the US a more fascist state than it was before he made his disaster movie.

And then there’s also all that second-hand war stuff.

As the New York Times has reported, state and local law enforcement agencies are getting armored up from another source as well: the U.S. military. With our troops withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, “the former tools of combatM-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and moreare ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice. During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.” USA Today reported Wednesday night that Ferguson is among the countless towns that received some of the nearly $450 million in military surplus distributed in 2013most recently, two unidentified vehicles, a trailer, and a generator last November. 

So, that’s how.

*Yes that surprises me too.


  1. moarscienceplz says

    Score another victory for Bin Laden.

    Nope. Bin Laden is merely the excuse du jour. George Orwell and Joseph McCarthy knew the value of keeping the populace perpetually fearful long before Bin Laden was born. This is the result of careful calculation by right-wing Americans, including Roger Ailes, Karl Rove, and the Koch brothers, among others. All Bin Laden achieved was to ensure the Afghans would be included among the peoples who would suffer under American warfare, rather than some other group, but some group(s) of (probably brown-skinned) people was inevitably destined to experience mass killings, woundings, and illness and starvation the minute the SCOTUS ruled in Bush’s favor in Bush v. Gore.

  2. says

    Meh. I think the Kochs and their buddies are much more interested in keeping the populace willing to allow the super-rich to keep getting super-richer while everyone else gets poorer than they are in creating a fascist police state. It’s much cheaper and pleasanter to do it with PR and bullshit than with militarized cops.

  3. jedibear says

    I’m irritated by the focus on equipment. There are situations where the police having heavily-armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and machine-guns is a good thing. SWAT teams exist for a reason.

    What’s alarming isn’t a few DoD hand-me-downs. It’s the behavior. Racism. Bullying. Attacks on the press. Whatever.

  4. soogeeoh says

    @3 jedibear

    I’m irritated by the focus on equipment. There are situations where the police having heavily-armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and machine-guns is a good thing. SWAT teams exist for a reason.

    What’s alarming isn’t a few DoD hand-me-downs. It’s the behavior. Racism. Bullying. Attacks on the press. Whatever.

    What do you mean exactly?
    Are you irritated that (non-police) people are critizing the police for having that equipment?

  5. wannabe says

    O.B., if it surprises you that the New Republic is reporting this, perhaps your’e confusing it with the National Review.

  6. Suido says

    I think there’s a big issue in militarizing the police, however when the public is as dangerously armed as it is in the US, there needs to be law enforcement that can handle it. Riot gear has limits, for very good reasons. So when a gun nut armed with automatic weapons starts shooting a place up, what equipment should be available to the police?

    A police force shouldn’t need the equipment, but the military (traditionally*) doesn’t have the training to deal with civilian issues, and that’s even before you get into the legal issues of jurisdiction and chains of command.

    As jedibear says, the real issue is trust – how well do you trust the police force in general, even without the military equipment? If they’re goons when armed with nothing more than a badge, then militarization is obviously a huge problem. If they’re demonstrably conscientious and serve the public, then the only questions about equipment, if there’s a proven need, should be the cost and safe storage.

    *Nowadays, with most military action being peacekeeping and/or counterinsurgency in civilian environments, I would say that the military is probably quite competent at handing a civilian siege, providing they were under police command. In the US, this would probably provoke immense outrage from the libertarian brigade, but I think most other western countries would understand the police calling in specialized military assistance if required, and possibly prefer that to an overly militarized police force.

  7. brucegorton says

    It is the equipment that is part of what is causing the problem.

    Basically the cops have all of these nifty new toys – in an era where violent crime is in rapid decline.

    More often than not protests are entirely peaceful, and the violence you observe in them is being sparked by the police.

    Swat teams are being called in for issues which previously would have been met with a polite knock on the door. Why?

    Because the cops want to play with their toys. They want to justify that tank on their budget.


    The problem with your argument is, as I just said, violent crime has been steadily declining, and it was doing so long before the cops got militarised.

  8. forestdragon says

    I think brucegorton has a point. Remember when tasers were first issued? How long was it before they were being used at the least excuse? How long before they were being used not to subdue a violent suspect, but just because a cop didn’t like somebody’s attitude/backtalk? How about pepper spray? IIRC it’s a fairly recent addition to the police arsenal, and I still remember a few years back the photo of that one cop walking down a row of protesters at a sit-in, hosing down each person with pepper spray like he was spraying for weeds. Bastard.

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