Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Fear and loathing in Utah

Anasazi pottery (public domain)

"You work your whole life to help others and then you get a knock on the door and within thirty-five hours you're dead."

Relics to ruins video, Los Angeles Times

When I read Peter Tompa's Cultural Property Observer blog, As the Archaeological Blogosphere Celebrates the Latest Repatriation, Serious Questions Are Being Raised About Government Tactics, I was already familiar with the incident in Utah, but the L.A. Times masterful presentation, A sting in the desert brought it all back in the most dramatic manner. Noam Chomsky's comment that the U.S. is a “leading terrorist state” was applied to actions taken outside of the U.S., but that was many years ago and things have changed since then. The incident in Utah was certainly state-sponsored terrorism, but it came very close to domestic terrorism: two of the three criteria were met, but I suppose that if it is a FBI-ordered act then it might be considered legal. Peter's statement about the action being "hardball tactics" seems kindly when you consider that more than a hundred FBI agents in combat gear were involved in the operation, especially when going up against a middle-aged family doctor and his wife.

A few years ago, I witnessed a Calgary Police SWAT action against a meth-lab in a house across the street from where I lived. The owner of the house was definitely not the sort of person you would want to meet in a dark alley. My dog seemed very agitated one morning and kept running to different windows to look outside. I couldn't see anything unusual through the windows, so I opened the front door to see about five or six officers start shooting at the house after sending a percussion grenade through the living room window. A SWAT truck pulled up and a few more officers arrived on the scene. I think there were about a dozen, all in all. Within about five minutes, the culprit was led away in handcuffs. There was barely a mention of it in the news the next day. It all seemed very efficient to me, no one was even hurt.

Back in the early seventies, I served a stint as a voluntary RCMP Security Services operative (then, the Canadian domestic intelligence agency). I had been told of a terrorist plan to detonate bombs at several downtown office buildings. I contacted the RCMP at once and a couple of hours later met up with an RCMP SS agent in the parking lot where I worked. He told me that although this was a Métis terrorist group, it had been set up by a Soviet instigator. Over the next few weeks  I gathered more information for the RCMP, passing information to them, always over lunch in some restaurant or another. I knew that they had recruited other people too, but I worked alone. I had many conversations with them about their methods. They had come under some public scrutiny because they did not go about subjecting their quarry to the process of law. One agent told me, "You run one of them through the justice system and he is replaced by more of them before the case even goes to trial". I was also taught that the real purpose of the terrorists was not to blow up buildings and kill people but to "break the spirit" of the country ― to spread fear among its citizens (The FBI certainly did that in their Utah raid). The end result of all of our work was that the cells were identified and "disbanded" and the explosives were captured. No one else even knew what might have happened if the RCMP had have failed. Nothing was ever reported in the news. I would call that a complete success ― no member of the public had been terrorized in any way and the Métis never became a publicly-hated group. If you think about it, they too, were victims. If a top Soviet KGB officer decided you should become instigated about something, well, there is probably little chance that you would have been able to resist. The thing about intelligence work is that what might seem obvious to everyone never really is ― as Oscar Wilde wrote: "The truth is rarely pure, and never simple." I am very proud of all of my actions for the RCMP. The FBI operative, as well as the arrested doctor who was married to a collector committed suicide. Does this tell you anything?

The Anasazi culture no longer exists, but the stuff of its existence is still understood and loved by many people in the area, and these people have a varying ancestry. I am reminded of the Roman Genius Loci, or the spirit of a place. The culture is carried on to some degree as a living entity, not just as sterile exhibits in a glass case where no real interaction takes place.

To destroy a living culture (and all cultures are in a continuous state of flux) to defend an extinct culture is an example of Jungian enantiodromia. A culture is taken up by the mind. It does not exist as a genetic trait and it is not restricted by national boundaries unless it is a national culture in and of itself. People have innumerable cultural frames. A culture was destroyed in Utah that day and its effect was bad enough to lead to suicides on both sides. It was destroyed by the FBI. I wonder who instigated them.

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