Dennis Loo

Sometimes asking for the impossible is the only realistic path

Dennis Loo

Dennis Loo
Los Angeles, California,
December 31
Professor of Sociology
Cal Poly Pomona
Author of Globalization and the Demolition of Society; Co-Editor/Author of Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney, World Can't Wait Steering Committee Member, co-author of "Crimes Are Crimes, No Matter Who Does Them" statement, dog and fruit tree lover. Published poet. Winner of the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award, Project Censored Award and the Nation Magazine's Most Valuable Campaign Award. Punahou and Harvard Honor Graduate. Ph.D. in Sociology from UC Santa Cruz. An archive of close to 500 postings of mine can be found at my blogspot blog, Dennis Loo, link below. I publish regularly at, (link below) and also at OpEd News and sometimes at Counterpunch.

JUNE 22, 2009 9:57AM

DoD Deletes "Protest =Terrorism." Problems Remain

Rate: 7 Flag

In response to the ACLU’s June 10, 2009 letter demanding that the DoD pull a question from its DoD training exam that equated protest with “low-level terrorism,” which I wrote about at Open Salon on June 14 (“DoD Training Manual: Protests are ‘Low-Level Terrorism’”) – and which was reposted and written about on scores of websites and blogs, both left and right - the DoD has removed the question from the exam.

This is good news. The problem, however, goes deeper than this one question. Before going into that, let’s look at the DoD’s latest actions and its explanation:

As reported by Fox News:

“The Pentagon has removed a controversial question from its anti-terrorism training exam that labeled ‘protests’ a form of ‘low-level terrorism,’ calling the question ‘poorly worded.’

“A Pentagon spokesman said the question failed to make clear the difference between illegal violent demonstrations and constitutionally protected peaceful protests.

“Civil libertarians and activist groups, interviewed by for a story that appeared on Wednesday [June 17], had objected strongly to the exam question, which a Department of Defense employee had printed and given to the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The question asked:

“’Which of the following is an example of low-level terrorism?’

“— Attacking the Pentagon

“— IEDs

“— Hate crimes against racial groups

“— Protests

“The correct answer, according to the exam, was ‘Protests.’

“’They should have made it clearer there’s a clear difference between illegal violent demonstrations and peaceful, constitutionally protected protests,’ Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Les Melnyk said on Thursday.

“Asked when a protest becomes an ‘illegal, violent demonstration,’ Melnyk said, ‘I’m not a lawyer. I couldn’t get into the specifics of when you cross the line.’

“’If you’re doing physical damage to people or property, that could fall into that,’ he said.”

There remain a number of troubling issues here.

First, how do even violent demonstrations constitute “terrorism?" Conflating the two gives license to authorities to claim with impunity that they had to act with suppressive or even pre-emptive arrests and perhaps much more violent and repressive action, including shooting demonstrators, because they feared that the demonstrations might or were showing some signs of becoming violent and therefore “terrorist.” A society in which protest of any kind is officially linked to terrorism can only be described as a tyranny.

This is what in fact was done to the RNC Welcoming Committee at the 2008 RNC convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Authorities carried out pre-emptive raids upon peaceful protesters prior to their even peacefully demonstrating and charged them with “domestic terrorism.” In the course of this, at least one of the arrested US citizen activists was brutalized in a fashion that comes very close to torture.

Second, the DoD exam question sought to define “low-level terrorism.”

It was not intended to distinguish peaceful and legal protest from “illegal, violent demonstration.”

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Les Melnyk’s account for what was wrong with the question/answer choices – that the problem was that the question/answer did not distinguish between legal protest and illegal protest – is, therefore, not entirely convincing or truthful.

The Fox story goes on to say that Melnyk “added that many Defense employees work in countries where violent demonstrations are regular occurrences.

“’In those situations, that anti-Americanism might be taken out on an American in the crowd,’ Melnyk said.”

This is also not entirely convincing or truthful.

The original question includes as answer choices actions that occur in both foreign locales and/or within the US, so it can’t accurately been said that the DoD had in mind only foreign locations.

Obviously an attack on the Pentagon has to happen within the US.

I.E.D.’s are used outside of the U.S.

Hate crimes against racial groups can and do occur both within the US and outside of the US.

Protests occur within and outside of the US.

Since the “correct” answer according to the DoD was “protests” = “low-level terrorism,” they cannot accurately say that they had in mind only violent protests in foreign lands because their answer choices included activities that occur within the US.

The correct answer should have been “none of the above.”

Third, the question and answer choices were obviously deliberately designed to lead the exam taker/DoD employee to choose “Protests” as an example of “low-level terrorism” inasmuch as the other answer choices are all obviously not low-level acts. All of the others are very violent attacks.

Finally, as I pointed out in my article, the term “low-level terrorism” appears to be a “term of art” within security agency circles given that a scholarly paper delivered in February of 2009 at an international conference incorporated it into its title as such:

“Vinthagen, Stellan. ‘Labeling “Low Level Terrorism:” The Out-Definition of Social Movements’ Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ISA's 50th ANNUAL CONVENTION ‘EXPLORING THE PAST, ANTICIPATING THE FUTURE’ New York Marriott Marquis, NEW YORK CITY, NY, USA, Feb 15, 2009.

“Abstract: This paper explores current state security tendency to label ordinary protests and opposition as "low level terrorism" or social movements as "terrorist environments" and the political and democratic consequences of such a politics of fear. The judic [the abstract cuts off here.]”

The problem at its heart, in other words, is that this particular question in the DoD training exam is merely a glaring individual example of a larger trend and mentality – the criminalization of protest and dissent and its relegation to a category of “terrorism,” legitimating the repression of dissent and free speech and assembly, ranging from declarations by public officials that dissenting ideas are “unpatriotic” and “traitorous” to training DoD employees that protest is terrorism-lite. The prospects revealed here are alarming.

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Rw: thank you.

Jane: Even after a government has already imposed martial law things are not settled. We have a situation here in which, as you correctly note, we are very close to the gov't declaring some version of martial law. The Bush regime created all of the legal scaffolding to do this and might have had the economic collapse not buried them in 2008.

Perhaps Americans can take a lesson from the heroism of the Iranian people. During the 1960s when students protested the Vietnam War on campuses and the s**t hit the fan, the one group that anti-war protesters could utterly count on was the Iranian Student Association to stand up for them.

Thursday is Torture Accountability Day. Find a demonstration near you or do something with your friends, your family, or by yourself.
Jane: Excellent.

Sometimes Marshals declare martial law. : )
Part of the problem is the belief that protest = terrorism is somewhat "entrenched" within DoD. I *think* it was 1984 when DoD (and 34 other agencies including FEMA and the Red Cross) first did a drill in which protests equated with terrorism.

Every April Federal agencies conduct "drills" in which they test their communications, tactical, response, etc... readiness (Usually the first full weekend in April) and the "most common scenario" for these drills is some type of large-scale disaster (either natural or man made) followed by large-scale protests/riots (DoD makes NO differentiation between a protest and a riot).

DoD may have publicly backed down on the subject however given that they make no distinction between lawful protest and a riot (a'la Kent State) the odds are higher that they will continue to privately maintain that protest = riot = terrorism than there is that they will change the entrenched belief that there is no difference between the three.
Raptor: Agreed. Thanks for the additional info. Important to spread this as much as possible among the people.
It is a small thing but anyway good that they removed 'protesters from the terrorist list'. Nowadays all so-called 'western democracies have got similar problems.

I think that the reason is that they have invested so much in arms. The governments are worried about their own armies and weaponry and about their own citizens.
I am so glad you are writing about this. I have been utterly horrified for years at how peaceful protesters are brutalized by police and excoriated by the government and the public at large. I have personally been abused by police as a peaceful protester, but what I have seen them do to others is much worse than what was done to me.

And if I have to hear one more supposedly nice yuppie complain about how "those protesters are just getting in my way and making me late for work, and they're not doing any good anyway", I may just fucking lose it. And this is in San Francisco. I really don't get it - didn't these people study the same American history that I did? Don't they understand our forefathers were PROTESTERS?!
Dennis, I took a criminology class with you at Cal Poly last quarter. I really enjoyed it and I am glad I came across your blog. I have been following your posts here at OS for a couple months now, and finally registered today.

Like most others commenting about the topic, I agree that this DoD training manual story is pretty scary. It's sad how fast our rights and freedoms are being altered with and taken away, and it's even more sad that so few people pay attention or care about these kinds of things. I hope more people start to realize that if we don't do something about it, one day it will be too late.
lorelei: Thanks for your comments. Yes, yuppies are a royal pain in the butt. They would be some of the royalists, in fact, during the American Revolution!

JDan: Welcome! Glad you're here!
Thanks for the warm welcome. And I meant last year, not last quarter by the way. I'm a business student, but your class was by far my favorite college course. It was eye-opening in many ways, and I feel the same way when I read most of your posts. Thanks for getting this information out there and encouraging everyone to take a stand.
I'm finding I have more and more in common with rwnutjob. Thank you, sir, for chiming in.
Thank you again JDan. It's very gratifying to hear this from students and from people in general. Makes it all worthwhile!

Leslie: You mean that in the right way. LOL.
Don't need no steenkin' Bill of Rights!