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Economic Terrorism?

October 19, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I questioned the meaning of the growing protest movement that started with Occupy Wall Street and its relationship to the economic discontent expressed in other quarters by the Tea Party Movement. This angered at least a few readers who claim to have moved on from reading this forum regularly.

In a follow-up comment, I noted that despite my sympathy for their message, I was less than sanguine about what the rising tide of discontent on display around the country (and now the world for that matter) might portend for the nation as disaffection spreads from those angry with the government to those who work for the government in our public safety services.

Recent media commentary on the Occupy movements has questioned their sustainability in the absence of clear leadership, a coherent direction, and some sort of decisive action beyond sign-waving and chanting. Others have noted that the movement is doing just fine without these things, and, in fact, has articulated a clear and convincing objective: Ending capitalism as we have known it, at least in the United States. This leads some observers, particularly those who see themselves targeted by the movement, to believe the group is anything but benign and probably not as disorganized as it might seem to some.

This makes me wonder, does this make the Occupy protestors economic terrorists? Some might think so, especially if their activities begin having a destabilizing effect on markets or market actors. The Geneva Center for Security Policy defines economic terrorism as, “varied, coordinated and sophisticated, or massive destabilizing actions [undertaken by transnational or non-state actors] to disrupt the economic stability of a state, groups of states, or society.”

Clearly, the Occupy protestors see themselves quite differently. They have been telling us for weeks now that the real terrorists are the bankers, hedge fund managers, and barons of international high finance who have so thoroughly coöpted and corrupted the engine of democracy that it no longer serves the interests of ordinary people.

Occupy protestors and their supporters have noted with disgust that the number of people arrested at rallies now far exceeds the number charged with crimes arising from the financial debacle that has so ruined our economy. The tactics employed to enforce local ordinances against such misdemeanors as curfew, camping in public parks, excessive noise, interfering with traffic, and tramping through flower beds have often involved the application of force to detain or remove protestors. These actions stand in stark contrast to those used in the detention and prosecution of those accused of felony financial crimes.

Despite police actions in quite a few cities, the American protests seem mild compared to the unrest sweeping some European cities as instability accompanying the debt crises in Greece, Italy and other nations continues. As the frequency and intensity of strikes and riots mounts, one can only speculate as to whether the mood here will turn from gloomy and overcast to stormy.

As we watch the drama unfold here and abroad, wondering what will happen next, it’s worth remembering: One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.

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