|Boys and their toys: Members of the Malheur County (Oregon) SWAT team out having "fun."|
"Wouldn't it be great if it were like this all the time?" commented a pleasant middle-aged gentleman as the two of us contemplated the large gathering of armed men in camouflage who had materialized in Payette's Centennial Park. "I feel really secure with these guys around."
"Actually, I'd feel much more secure if the guns were in the hands of people who aren't government employees," I replied, prompting a puzzled look from my new acquaintance.
Centennial Park is located just inside the Snake River boundary separating Idaho from Oregon. For reasons I've yet to learn, every time I visit the park to do calisthenics and sprints -- regardless of the hour of day -- I'll receive a visit from at least one police officer, who will typically do a very slow pass by my little exercise area while I'm huffing and sweating.
On this particular afternoon, however, the park was literally swarming with camouflage-clad "police" from the Malheur County Sheriff's Department Emergency Response Team, in the company of at least one Payette County officer. They arrived in a caravan of more than a half-dozen vehicles, one of which was pulling a trailer carrying a large motorboat.
"Are you guys doing a training exercise?" I inquired of one fellow as he unpacked what appeared to be an AR-15.
"We're just playin,'" he replied with a perfunctory smile.
That response was quite similar to the description offered by SWAT team member Michael Hale of a training exercise conducted just a few weeks earlier just outside of Vale, Oregon.
"This is fun," the second-year officer told the Argus Observer. "This is what I did in the military. I get to shoot guns and play in the dirt. It is what I did as a kid. I just get paid for it now."
Although the Malheur County SWAT team did play a backup role at a police roadblock during a recent carjacking episode, they spend most of their time arresting marijuana plants. On two occasions last summer, SWAT operators -- armed with assault rifles and with support from a helicopter crew -- were deployed to barren locations in rural Oregon to clear out marijuana grows, thereby doing their part in the federal government's "drug lord" price support program.
|Malheur County's gorgeous Leslie Gulch.|
An August 29 SWAT raid on an abandoned marijuana grow near Gold Creek harvested some 1,000 forlorn, dessicated plants, "It was not a very big garden," commented Malheur County Undersheriff Brian Wolfe (who, as it happens, was in Boy Scout Troop 453 with me as a youngster). "A lot of the plants had already died out," Wolfe explained, emphasizing that the operation was a success because the plants that had been seized wouldn't end up "on the streets."
Why was the involvement of a SWAT team "necessary" here? Wolfe insisted that this was necessary for "public safety," since hunters and campers occasionally stumble across marijuana farmers, some of whom "have been found with multiple firearms in the past."
I'm not confident that "public safety" is enhanced by this use of paramilitary operators. "Officer safety," on the other hand, probably is. During the August 29 operation the SWAT team advanced under cover of pre-dawn darkness. In such situations it's important to exploit every advantage, marijuana plants being notoriously violent when cornered.
This odd and pointless exercise in rural landscaping became a federally subsidized, multi-state enforcement action when agents of the Bureau of Land Management (yes, those folks are armed as well) arrested a couple of people in Idaho "in connection with" the abandoned marijuana garden.
Malheur County is a huge and beautiful swath of territory in eastern Oregon that runs parallel to western Idaho all the way to the Nevada border. Vale, the tiny town that serves as the county seat, is located along the Oregon Trail and attracts many tourists eager to yank trout from nearby Bully Creek Reservoir or snag a few pheasants. Neighboring Nyssa proudly calls itself the "Thunderegg Capital of the World," a reference to the volcanic geode that serves as Oregon's state rock. Another product of the region's turbulent geologic past is the Malheur Butte, an extinct volcano that presides over the western section of the county like a brooding ursine sentinel.
When Daryl Gates created the first SWAT team in 1968, its advertised purpose was to deal with hostage situations, bank robberies, insurrectionary urban crime, and other high-risk incidents.
|Enigmatic landmark: Oregon's Malheur Butte.|
The same is true of Payette County, Idaho, which is located on the eastern side of the Snake River and forms part of the bi-state Treasure Valley. Yet federal seed money is being spent to build SWAT teams in both of these thinly populated rural counties as part of the "war on terror."
The Department of Homeland Security, working through Idaho State University and a quasi-private entity called the Government Training Institute (GTI), recently completed the first national training course intended to develop "type III" SWAT teams. The 16-day training program, which the Idaho Statesman reports was "conducted inside an old airplane hangar in Eagle near Old Horseshoe Bend Road," drew SWAT trainees from across the country to be trained in military tactics by Special Forces operators.
"The next time a terrorist act happens, it's not going to be [a matter of] flying airplanes into a building, it's going to be something locally," insists Detective Pat Weber from the Payette County Sheriff's Office. Weber is "looking forward to getting the rest of his team trained and categorized," continues the Statesman. "That way Payette can join Malheur County's SWAT team or any other" the unlikely event that the Islamo-Fascists turn their attention to the strategically crucial Treasure Valley. The joint exercise at Centennial Park appeared to be a prelude to inter-agency cooperation of that kind.
According to the Statesman, "the course is something every SWAT team member [in the country] will eventually graduate from -- that is if they want to keep their federal funding." In fact, the training is paid for through Homeland Security grants to local police departments. So the Feds are subsidizing the same training they require SWAT teams to have in order to qualify for even more federal subsidies.
The Homeland Security Department's decision to use Boise as a training site for national SWAT training makes an interesting counterpoint to the Idaho state government's high-profile and low-content posturing about "states' rights." But let it not be forgotten that this is a national program intended to bring all SWAT teams firmly under federal control. As the GTI's Type III Swat Operator's School Course Description points out, "The preparedness of state and local SWAT teams in the United States is one of the major initiatives of the Department of Homeland Security."
Of course, the question is, or should be: "Preparedness" for what? The Treasure Valley isn't likely to experience a tsunami of violent crime, or find itself under siege by Muslim sleeper cells. But there is a growing possibility of organized resistance to enforcement of federal "laws" regarding health care, land use, and taxation. In the event such resistance coalesces, Washington would sure find it helpful to have some federally trained paramilitary cadres in place.
All of this offers one small but significant illustration of the fact that your "local" police can be described as such only in purely geographical terms. It's also a reminder that the Homeland Security Regime is quietly building an army of occupation in even the smallest and most placid communities.
A quick note
I'm sorry it's been so long between updates. I've once again been waylaid by computer problems -- terminal, in the case of my dearly departed desktop.
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Dum spiro, pugno!