Colin Eager, director of the Western New York Peace Center, attended both demonstrations and described the tactics that police used in Miami and Georgia as appalling. The Miami police were far more aggressive than those at Fort Benning, Georgia, but law enforcement officials were overly confrontational at both demonstrations, Eager said.

“The police are becoming more aggressive with protesters,” said Eager. “There was a confrontational air coming from the police in Miami. Wherever you went, there were armored troops watching you, whatever you did. This was a heavily armored, militarized action. It wasn’t a police operation; it was a military operation from the start.”

Media reports confirm Eager’s assessment of the FTAA protests. Rubber bullets and tear gas were fired into crowds of demonstrators indiscriminately, and Independent Media Center (IMC) reports read more like West Bank dispatches than accounts of American demonstrations. Eager said that there were several reports of supposed protesters yelling and throwing things at the police, only to reappear behind the police lines, unharmed, as the troops marched on demonstrators.

“There were quite a few provocateurs there,” said Eager. “They provided an excuse for the police to move more aggressively against demonstrators. It’s distressing but not surprising because the anti-globalization movement has grown stronger, and the government doesn’t know how to address it.”

Fort Benning, Georgia, wasn’t the militarized operation that Miami was, but the actions used by United States marshals, military police, and Army personnel to thwart the annual School of the America’s Watch (SAO Watch) demonstration were insidious and over-aggressive, according to participants.

Alt Press assistant managing editor Alice Gerard was one of the over 10,000 demonstrators who attended this years SAO Watch protest, the largest ever, and she said this year’s event felt different than one that she participated in one year earlier. Gerard said that the military used loud, annoying music, reminiscent of so-called “psy-op” tactics used to get Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega to surrender after U.S. Marines invaded his country in the mid-1980s. This music was directed at protesters in an attempt to drown out speakers addressing the crowd. Military officials who processed the thirty or so persons arrested during the demonstration used harsher actions, said Gerard, who was arrested for “crossing the line” and participating in a prayer of mourning for the victims of persons whom she termed SOA-trained butchers.

“There was this goony military guy barking out conflicting orders like, ‘put your hands on top of your head’ and ‘take off your shoes,’” said Gerard. “The search was quite extreme. Every part of me, except my face, was searched.”

Gerard and the other arrestees were held overnight in the Muscogee County Jail. They were released the next day on $1,000 bonds, a new development, according to Buffalo area Pax Christi leader Bill Marx, who attended the demonstration for his second year and provided support for several of those arrested.

“Last year, a $500 bond was required for release,” said Marx. “Prior to that, I think they (arrestees) were always released on their own recognizance. The doubling of the dollar amount this year was something we weren’t expecting.”

Marx said that dealing with military officials this year was unsettling, a new experience for him as he had always viewed law enforcement officials in a positive light. According to Marx, the MPs and U.S. marshals verbally intimidated and menaced the demonstrators.

“I can understand why we’re experiencing so much violence and trouble in Iraq now,” said Marx. “We were treated like filth. If these guys treat American citizens exercising their rights so poorly, one can only imagine how they interact with people who aren’t accustomed to democracy and don’t speak English.”

Marx and Gerard both told the story of Kathy Kelly, a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee getting shoved to the ground by the military police during the initial search. According to Marx the MP then knelt on the small woman and continued shouting at her.

Eager, Gerard, and Marx all said that recent law enforcement actions are designed to chill free speech and discourage U.S. citizens from exercising their constitutionally protected rights to speak out against the illegal, immoral, and improper actions that the U.S. government is engaged in around the world.

This view is backed up by a New York Times report of an internal FBI memo that equates protesters with terrorists and asks local law enforcement officials to report protest activity to the FBI counterterrorism squad. The memo, reportedly circulated prior to the October 25 anti-war demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, provides corroboration of activists’ claims that they are under regular government surveillance and that the FBI considers demonstrations a threat to national security, according to The New York Times article.

Eager said the revelation that the federal government is attempting to undermine dissent is unfortunate but not surprising because the anti-war and anti-globalization movements are growing in size and energy. He also said that many activists are involved in both movements and that they are starting to coalesce into a broader movement of grassroots democracy.

“We’re completely appalled by it (the FBI memo), but, unfortunately, we’re not at all surprised,” said Eager. “This goes part and parcel with the Patriot Act. The Bush administration is using the war on terrorism as an excuse to target lawful, protected speech. This is the war coming home.”

Gerard said that she isn’t surprised by The New York Times’ report. She said that government agents have a history of infiltrating protest movements and SOA Watch has dealt with the problem for years.

“There were some obvious plants this year,” said Gerard. “I heard about this one guy who, after acting like a protester one day, showed up in a police uniform the next day. I think it happens at just about every demonstration.”

Marx said that the Bush administration is doing everything that it can to interfere with freedom of speech. He echoed Eager’s belief that the situation is getting worse because progressive movements are gaining ground. Unfortunately, according to Marx, the struggle is likely to get worse.

“I don’t think we’re that far from another Kent State,” said Marx. “We’re a thorn in the side of Bush’s imperialistic goals. I think that the people of the world are waiting for the American people to stand up to their government, and that’s exactly what these demonstrations are about.” By Brendan Coyne

While harassment and infiltration of progressive groups have long been a tactic of law enforcement, the confrontational tactics used against protesters at both the Miami FTAA talks and the annual demonstration against the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, cause many to wonder how far the Bush administration is willing to go to silence dissent. Amnesty International has called for an investigation into police actions, according to The New York Times. Area activists who participated in the two demonstrations said that law enforcement officials attempted to stifle free speech and intimidate protesters through a variety of tactics, including verbal and physical abuse and the planting of provocateurs -- government agents acting as activists -- to incite some to cross the line between non-violent and violent protest.