Non-lethals and OWS on MSNBC

Posted in Crazy Weapons, Culture of Lickspittle, Decline and Fall at 9:03 am by George Smith

Yesterday the Maddow Show devoted a short segment to non-lethal weapons and the OWS protests.

It started with a showing of graphics and citations on the more exotic and menacing versions developed for the US military in the last few years. First up was the microwaving pain ray, aka The Sheriff, written about many times on this blog.

The Maddow Show transcript is here. (Page down for it.)

MADDOW: From the files of accurately nicknamed weapons, this is the so-called giant pain ray. It`s technically called the active denial system, but really the nickname pain ray is so much more descriptive. This giant satellite looking thing, it shoots electromagnetic radiation at a target, also known as a human. It’s intended to cause a lot of pain. The top layer of skin is supposed to absorb the radioactive rays and get very hot.

In tests people could endure the pain ray for about three seconds.
Nobody lasted more than five seconds. So it hurts a whole heck of a lot, but in theory at least it does not kill you …

[Maddow goes on to say that non-lethal weaponry is rationalized as “an alternative to deadly force.”]

But it turns out it`s not the way nonlethal weaponry gets used.
Often, instead of substituting for lethal force, nonlethal weapons just
increase the number of occasions, the types of occasions on which force is used at all. Seattle police, for example, probably would have never used guns and live ammunition to shoot this 84-year-old woman who was the defining image [as someone who had been pepper sprayed] of Occupy protests last week.

A couple of week ago — and again at Globalsecurity.Org this weekend — I made a similar argument.

From DD blog last month:

Another small homeland security industry now of importance is the one devoted to “non-lethal” weaponry in the United States. Small and large businesses, as well as the big arms developers, got involved in peddling various new arms to the government and police forces, all using the argument that technological advances would allow for non-bloody crowd control.

The most public example was The Sheriff, a high-powered microwave gun mounted on a Hummer and developed by Raytheon. The Sheriff took over a decade of taxpayer investment and an incredible public relations effort to push it (one that failed spectacularly) as a revolutionary weapon which could be used to disperse crowds.

Publicly, it was a disaster. The Sheriff was taken to Afghanistan a year or so ago and quietly brought back without firing one microwave shot in anger. It was, and still is, simply viewed as a device for torturing people who can’t fight back.

At which point in time Raytheon began peddling a much smaller mounted version of it for use in the California prison system.

The essential point to be made is a simple one. All the arguments for the development and use of “non-lethal” weapons rely upon the success in getting people to believe there is some magic point of force application in which people are not irrevocably injured or killed.

In real life, this point is imaginary. It does not exist. And there is no scientific method that can be used to find or elucidate it. As any perusal of the literature on use of tasers, rubber bullets and tear gas quickly reveals.

However, the argument remains seductive particularly when governments or law enforcement need rationalizations for using force short of bullets on the unarmed.

What the “non-lethal” weapon does is set the bar downward for the use of force. When one equips a military or law enforcement agency with weapons which the average soldier or policeman believes will not hurt people because they have been told there is a science to them making them safe, the problem becomes obvious.

The point to be underlined is that weaponry sold as stuff that doesn’t kill you only lowers the threshold for its use in the militarized police forces of this country. Restraints are removed.

And you wind up with what we have: Appalling incidents like the one in which the campus police officer blithely empties a canister of pepper spray into students — then goes for more.

On MSNBC Maddow has covered the pain ray before.

One of her producers, Laura Conaway, was also one of my editors at the Village Voice years ago.

In December 2002 I authored a column, “Weapon of the Week,” for the Voice. Conaway was my editor and one of the first pieces we did was on the pain ray.

At the time it was advertised for coming use in the imminent invasion of Iraq.

From then:

What is the microwaver’s target? It must be unarmed civilians, because as described, the VMAD wouldn’t seem to offer much against terrorists or regular soldiers ready to fire back with conventional weapons. What is certain is that the Pentagon’s microwave projects lack oversight and common sense.

However, pepper spray, as everyone knows now, is more than bad enough. We’ll probably never get to the pain ray because the old-fashioned stuff — capsaicin, tear gas rounds and rubber bullets — have been more than sufficient at horrification.

Use of non-lethals on unarmed crowds in the United States has led, and will only lead, to more civil unrest. And that’s because the rationalization for their use is totally rotten. Their practical use is in handing out severe punishments for stepping out of line. Everyone knows it, too.


  1. Hunt said,

    December 6, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    You “appear” to have experience Dick in just about everything. Is it practical, on the ground, real experience or just intellectual experience you learned from study? Just wondering how to evaluate the stuff you write about. Some people may really believe you’re right about everything.

  2. DD said,

    December 6, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Boy, that’s the first time someone has used my alias as an insult. This week.

    The acerbic wit of it has left me weak in the knees.

  3. Jeff said,

    December 17, 2011 at 7:06 am

    Found this article via Wired and GlobalSecurity.org. I shall be subscribing anon – it’s a great read :-)

    And Hunt’s comment is what you’d expect from someone whose alias is rhyming slang.