For days, and days, and days, the expendable poor of New Orleans have been
begging for someone, anyone, to come. - Be careful what you wish for.
It’s not just, finally, Bush and some troops who are ambling into town.
I’m sorry, that’s crude of me: firms like Blackwater, the
Steele Foundation and Beau Dietl & Associates prefer ‘security consultants’,
or even, if you can get the media to play along, the coy ‘civilian
contractors’. You know what we’re talking about though:
soldiers-for-hire. There are 25,000 of them in Iraq – and judging
that it’s them,
not army soldiers, who guard the very generals who order that army around, they’re
obviously the more efficient killers. And now they’re heading for New
It’s a commonplace that violence is at the core of what the state does.
The state is, after all, ‘special
bodies of armed men’ (and women). But if it withdraws, it loses its
monopoly on violence. That’s what’s happened in New Orleans. The
social functions of violence have been taken over by people on the ground –
the Evil Looters. Some ‘knuckleheads’
are undoubtedly using their new forceful authority to perform despicable acts
– they are, recall, replacing the usual ‘official’ (and
ongoing) purveyors of violence, and they’ve learnt
by repeated example. In fact, though, despite circumstances of unimaginable
dehumanisation, even some mainstream commentators note that club law has been
by its relative absence. And those exercising their new power to commit
violence against property are, all too often, keeping
not only themselves but their neighbours alive. They’ve shouldered
not only the state’s right to violence, but its supposed duty to provide
welfare (which to be fair it had long made clear it had no interest in). They
are the heroes of New Orleans, though they will never be honoured.
But this kind of brute contracting-out is unacceptable: it has to give way
to the more planned kind. If the power over life and death is to be handed over,
it can’t be given to the populace. Corporations, however, are another
matter. And hence, here come the mercenaries.
The ruins are filling up with gunmen loyal to the corporate bottom
Blackwater USA, The Steele Foundation, Kroll Inc, AKE Group, Beau Dietl
and doubtless others are all in or sniffing the city, and the numbers, with
the demand, are increasing. And unlike the citizens’ desire for food,
this is effective demand, backed by cash, and the service will be provided.
The ramifications for ‘public order’ are unthinkable.
We already know the population is dispensable, that the police and troops were
ordered to stop search-and-rescue
and told to shoot-to-kill ‘looters’. We’ve heard the weirdly
prurient way the Louisiana Governor described soldiers as ‘locked
and loaded’, 'more than willing’ to attack. Now the city will
be subject to a public-private partnership in brute force.
was the media who started it. Terrified for the safety of their
correspondents among angry poor, NBC, CNN, CBS, ABC and others paid
for ‘security services’ to escort them. In
point of fact, rather than attacking the media, the 'bad people' of New Orleans,
as Michael Brown, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency has vociferously
complained, have instead had the disgraceful impertinence to complain
to the journalists about being left to die, have sought out cameras and
begged for help down the lenses. You could argue that separating yourself from
your story with armed men might not be the best journalism, but whatever –
NBC et al wanted some muscle on their side.
But what were at first a few jobs for the mercs have now become an
opportunity, because other businesses – Hilton is mentioned, and Marriott,
and there are doubtless many more – are scared: their property is under
To be sure, the 'security' purveyors might make a few half-hearted noises about
helping the desperate, whatever, but when, for example, Blackwater USA says
it has ‘joined the ongoing relief efforts … to help assist in evacuating
citizens’, what does it mean? Well, it lists the services that are ‘available’
– which include, ominously, particularly given its veterans'
histories, ‘crowd control’ – then provides a number to
ring if you have ‘a security or evacuation request’. A request,
one imagines, backed by dollars.
The Steele Foundation is a
bit more explicit about how it can ‘assist clients’: it can
provide security and safety ‘at designated client locations’; it
can ‘protect client personnel and … secure assets’. It provides
a painfully accurate analysis of what’s gone wrong, and a promise about
what Steele’s ‘Global Rapid Response’ can do about it.
At a time when federal recovery agencies are staged outside of New Orleans and
unable to assist the population due to security risks; at a time when the private
security and public law enforcement agencies have been decimated; when companies
have been unable to secure government resources; when fuel sources have been
depleted and emergency generators are failing; when the downtown area has been
cut off from food supplies; when people are trapped in buildings and unable
to evacuate on their own, Global Rapid Response(TM) has been able to proactively
support clients during the crisis.
So while most of New Orleans has been left to die of starvation, thirst,
heat, disease and violence, a few people have some support. Despite
the lack of doctors for the dying, there's
medicine for business, and while the state won’t
even let the Red Cross in to help the dying, because it will ‘keep
people from evacuating', the soldiers of fortune can come and go, to minister
to their clients.
You know what we're seeing? Another mercenary boss, Bill Vorlicek, director
of Kroll’s emergency management group, knows, and tells us without hesitation
or dissembling, but with pride.
America taking care of its own.’
Corporate America already had a go at the ‘before’ of a hurricane
(though they’re now quite
coy about it). Now they’re having a go at the ‘after’,
and this time, what they’re about to inflict isn’t only the murderous
violence of neglect, of poverty, of unaccountability: this time it’s also
the violence of guns.
In the unsentimental world of business there’s no cataclysm that’s
not also an opportunity: after all, Halliburton’s dabbing away its tears
over Katrina with some of the dollars from its new reconstruction
contract. Now in a breathtaking feedback loop, the social chaos caused by
governmental neglect has created a truly exciting opportunity for the providers
of privatised violence. Their presence, analysis and recent
history suggest, is likely to increase the chaos, so increasing the need
for their presence. They can’t lose.
people can lose, while Corporate America takes care of its own.