On Brandon Darby and “Sanctioned Use of Force”

In a recent column (“Should Occupy Use Violence? I Dunno — Should the Cops?” Center for a Stateless Society, February 10) I deny that the state is a morally privileged entity. State violence — and police violence in particular — is subject to the same  universal moral standards as violence by private individuals and associations. Indeed, I challenge the very idea that the state is anything but an association of individuals pursuing particular interests — interests no more sacred or legitimate than those of any other aggregation of individuals.

This apparently struck a nerve. Brandon Darby, writing for Andrew Breitbart’s right-wing “Big Government” website, recently attempted a rebuttal (“Occupy ‘Revolutionary Scholar’ Begins to Openly Discuss the Use of Violence,” February 29).

Darby’s primary objection is to my “moral-equivalency between the sanctioned use of force by law enforcement and anarchistic, far-Left violence.” Considering that the meaningfulness of this “sanction” is the point in dispute, the neocon term “moral-equivalency” amounts to little more than question-begging. To repeat: I judge the state’s “sanctioned” violence by the same standards I apply to violent acts by any other group. But in writing this article, Darby presents another opportunity for examining the double standard used to judge individual and state acts.

Professional police forces, when first created in the mid-19th century in Britain and the United States, were simply understood as ordinary citizens paid to exercise full-time the same rights of posse comitatus — still preserved in the doctrine of “citizen’s arrest” — inherent in citizenship. They were not regarded as holding some special status under the law.

This is no longer true. For example, if the police are understood to be simply hired functionaries to exercise the posse comitatus rights of ordinary citizens, it follows that entrapment or sting operations by undercover cops or police agents are criminal acts, plain and simple — one citizen inciting or soliciting another citizen to engage in a criminal act.

But that’s not the understanding of the law. Acts which are under ordinary circumstances criminal become non-criminal when performed by the police. And even when they are criminal acts, like the invasion of your home without a warrant, it’s a criminal offense to resist illegal arrest by someone acting on the putative behalf of the state as if they were a common house-breaker who happened to be wearing a uniform.

Today, it’s standard operating procedure for undercover police to incite citizens to engage in criminal acts — and then arrest them for taking the bait. If I incite you to blow up a building, I’m guilty of a crime. But if a cop incites you to do it, and arrests you in the attempt, it’s all in a day’s work.

Which brings us back to Darby — a man with his own history of “discussing the use of violence.” William Gillis, a comrade at Center for a Stateless Society, was a founding member of the RNC Welcoming Committee which organized basic infrastructure and support to protesters at the 2008 Republican National Convention. Gillis worked briefly with Darby who had traded on his disruptive involvement in Hurricane Katrina relief organizing to become something of an “activist rockstar” before finally being outed as an FBI informant responsible for the imprisonment of several activists.

Scott Crow devotes a considerable portion of his book Black Flags and Windmills to his experiences with Darby. “[I]n his role as informant he crossed the line to potential provocateur. He tried to incite people into acts of arson or violence in New Orleans and Austin.” And in an article for PM Press, Crow wrote:

“I believe now he tried to set me up in 2006 … to firebomb a bookstore called Brave New Books in Austin. …  For years he advocated ‘blowing things up’ and later using arson. I don’t know if he did, but he sure did try to get other[s] to do it. So was it revolutionary zeal or agent provocateur s**t straight out of the manual?”

This is what one of Darby’s closest associates, believes. I have no idea whether he’s correct. If Darby did indeed attempt to incite a firebombing, then he did something that would be regarded as a criminal act if I did it. But the mere fact that he was — if he did it — in the employ of the police state is enough, in itself, to turn it into a non-criminal act.

This is exactly the kind of double standard I was referring to in my original article. The state is a lawless concentration of armed force that uses violence to serve the interests that control it. But it cloaks itself in an aura of majesty — in Darby’s words, “sanctioned use of force” — to conceal its real nature as a common gang of robbers.

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