12.16.14

Weapon of the Week’s best use: Crowd suppression in America

Posted in Crazy Weapons, Culture of Lickspittle at 2:00 pm by George Smith

I wrote about something called the “sonic pain stick” in 2003 for the Village Voice as part of a column called “Weapon of the Week” in the run-up to the Iraq war. The mainstream media was publicizing alleged miracle weapons that would make the war antiseptic and the “sonic pain stick” by “American Technology Corporation” (could there be a better name!) was one of them. The “sonic pain stick” was never of use in Iraq or the Middle East because it has no application when people can shoot back with AKs and rifle-propelled grenades.

Today it has the more common name, LRAD, and “American Technology Corporation” is the LRAD Corporation. It’s now commonly used on protesters in NYC.

Excerpted from a write-up on a legal protest from the National Lawyers Guild on the cruel use of LRADs in CommonDreams:

Videos of officers using the LRADs surfaced on December 4 and 5 during marches that came after a grand jury’s failure to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the chokehold death of Eric Garner. Crowds can be seen dispersing quickly as loud, shrill, repetitive beeps ring out in short blasts over and over …


Initially developed as a sound weapon for the military, the LRAD’s so-called deterrent tone is meant to hit human hearing at its most sensitive levels. As Amnesty International explains, “LRADs can pose serious health risks which range from temporary pain, loss of balance and eardrum rupture, to permanent hearing damage” …One protester who attended the marches when the LRADs were used told Gothamist that he had residual pain from the sound cannon blast for the next six days …


Moreover, the sound cannons can hurt those not actively protesting. “The LRAD can cause hearing damage, and possible neurological damage, to anyone in its path.”

There’s also an armored LRAD truck that has been made available to city police forces.

In 2003 the LRAD was part of a boom in defense spending for non-lethal weapons to be used in the war on terror overseas. Most of the inventions were never used, one of the primary reasons being they’re easily viewed in public as elements of torture. This because they were and are solely designed to cause increasing levels of pain. (Note: Although this seems not to have mattered in the secret overseas sites where, by comparison, simpler, prolonged and far more obvious mechanisms of torturing and administrations of pain were the rules.)

In 2003, eleven years ago, I wrote this:

New methods of American technical torture continue to roll off private-sector assembly lines in the effort to aid the war on terror. One of the most aggressively pitched is a meter-long sonic pain stick marketed to the Department of Defense by the American Technology Corporation of San Diego.

In a recent full-court press to the media, the company gaily described the sonic baton’s potential to agonize terrorists on airplanes, where flying bullets wouldn’t do. Intended for use at short range, the weapon projects sound intense enough to cause temporary loss of hearing, perhaps nullifying its effect, or possibly shattering the hijacker’s eardrums. It would also probably agonize or rupture the hearing of everyone else in an enclosed cabin, blocking the communication of useful commands like “Get that terrorist bastard!”


The soldiers, weirdos, sadists, and tinkerers enthusiastic about acoustic technology envision strapping the sonic pain stick to an M-16. While it would be no good in situations where people can shoot back or even throw rocks, it certainly could have its uses in rousting frightened women and children from closets in an occupied Iraq.

America’s nonlethal-weapons scientists note that in our country, hearing aids and surgery can mitigate damage to the outer and middle ear caused by such a weapon. However, mangling of the inner ear is permanent. But in poor or just bombed-flat foreign lands, access to health insurance to pay for damage claims, hearing aids, and good surgeons may be hard to come by. Nonlethal weaponeers are also vexed by the fact that once one’s ears are ruined, the sonic weapon loses its bite.

Seriously, at the time, that was what was said to push the LRAD: It could be used on airplanes. And that once your ears are damaged by it, it loses effectiveness.

Needless to say, the LRAD is another weapon designed and manufactured thanks to the taxpayer. It is also fair to add that, technically, the American people ought to be owed a royalty on every one sold. But that’s not how things work. The taxpayer is on the hook twice. Once for funding the development of it. The second time, locally, for equipping police departments that purchase them.

So after being designed and built in different models with different looks and varying degrees of broadcast power, a decade later the LRAD has found its primary role in the hands of the state in suppression of free speech and the right to assemble. And the United States in 2014 is its best market because social unrest, predictably and for just cause, is increasing.

Remember the old bullshit everyone was told when we went off to blast the terrorists in Iraq and everywhere else, the thing you still occasionally hear today?

“They hate us for our freedoms.”

Please pardon the excruciating pain in your ear while you’re exercising your right to peacefully protest.

This collection of images shows the spread of LRAD purchases (as well as LRAD-equipped armored vehicles) throughout the country.

And here.

1 Comment

  1. Ted Jr. said,

    December 17, 2014 at 8:35 am

    >Remember the old bullshit everyone was told when we went off to blast the >terrorists in Iraq and everywhere else, the thing you still occasionally hear >today?

    >“They hate us for our freedoms.”

    But that’s the supreme irony, DD. They DO hate you for the little bit of freedom you still have left. But no worries, they’re fixing that problem for you.