CENTENNIAL OLYMPICS, ATLANTA 1996:
COUNTER-INSURGENCY GOES FOR THE GOLD
by Michael Novick ( Turning The Tide, V9#2, Summer 1996)
Atlanta, GA is gearing up to host the 1996 Summer Olympics, on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the modern Olympic Games. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent by the Atlanta Committee on the Olympic Games (ACOG), by multi-national corporations, particularly the media, and by all levels of government, to finance this colossal spectacle. With the Presidential race moving into high gear this summer, the Olympics will surely be played as a celebration of “America Resurgent: standing tall and on the move!”
197 countries will participate and as many as 100 heads of state will attend, led by the host, Bill Clinton. The 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games will be one of the most widely watched events of all time. The Games represent a prime arena for conventional politics. Taking yet another page out of Ronald Reagan’s book, Clinton will surely wring every ounce of political advantage he can out of the Atlanta Games, as Reagan did with the ’84 L.A. Olympics. Bill, Hillary, and their daughter, as well as V.P. Al Gore and his family, plan to attend several Olympic events.
$63 million in federal funds have been provided for “anti-terrorist” security, and $150 million more for other Olympics operations, such as transportation. In fact, the White House has been heavily involved in planning for the Olympics since before Clinton took office. The Bush regime began participating in planning the Games in September 1990, soon after Atlanta’s selection as the Olympics site.
But the Games will be of international and domestic political importance, far beyond the shallow media politics of the presidential election. Faced with a massive erosion of popular support and trust for the state and the system, and a thinly disguised economic contraction that necessitates increased economic exploitation to sustain corporate profitability, the U.S. ruling elite is seizing on the Olympics as a major opportunity to get Americans rooting for the “home team, the greatest country on earth.” Behind the patriotic hoopla, the Olympics logo and the official corporate sponsors, moreover, another more ominous development is taking shape. Under the guise of providing “security against a possible terrorist threat,” the government is strengthening its police state apparatus in the heart of the Black Belt south and a center of both upwardly mobile, Black neo-colonial “bourgeoisie” and downtrodden Black masses.
George Orwell, whose book “1984” entered popular consciousness to become synonymous with the police state, once wrote that “international sport is like war without the guns.” This July in Atlanta, the guns will not be absent. As more than 10,000 Olympians take the field, they will be outnumbered better than three-to-one by private and public law enforcement and counter-insurgency personnel from ACOG, local jurisdictions, the Army, Coast Guard, National Guard, CIA, FBI, Secret Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service and secret police from countless foreign countries. This ratio is even higher than that for the L.A. Olympics, which established the high security benchmark. The estimated security budget for all this is upwards of $200 million.
Unlike in 1984 in L.A. however, when security operations were highly publicized and promoted, the developments this year are more covert.
Enjoying tremendous prestige and respectability, with hundreds of millions watching on T.V. worldwide, the Olympics provide the perfect rationale for this mobilization of repressive power. The security preparations for the Olympics do not arise out of a momentary crisis, only to fall away when the danger has passed. They fit into the long term trend in this country and in Europe towards more repressive mechanisms of state control. The development of domestic repression is a growing preoccupation for all the imperialist countries and their client states.
Despite the talk of economic recovery, the global economy upon which the empire depends is in perpetual and growing crisis. Colonies and neo-colonies are seeking liberation, and cracks and strains are appearing within and between the advanced industrial countries.
Across Europe, popular movements are resisting suppression, and fascist threats once thought long dead have reasserted themselves with a vengeance in both eastern and western Europe, no longer divided by the cold war. In the U.S. there is a stuttering increase in progressive activity, arising in response to the reactionary thrust of mainstream politics and to the depression-level conditions faced by colonized people. The international campaign to free Mumia Abu Jamal, the resurgence of organized labor, the resistance to immigrant bashing and to the anti-affirmative-action backlash are all markers of this development. At the same time, the surprising growth of a threat of armed activity from the right, in the form of militias, secessionist movements and the forces of a “leaderless Aryan resistance,” has given the state a convenient pretext for intensifying repressive measures in the name of “anti-terrorism.”
In the face of such challenges, not only the U.S. but all the western “democracies” are becoming increasingly militarized, adopting new laws to suppress dissent and prevent the growth of contradictions that could enhance anti-imperialist struggle among their populations. Last month, for example, for the first time in 13 years of Conservative rule, the British opposition Labour Party decided not to oppose the annual renewal of the so-called “Prevention of Terrorism Act.” Several of the party’s backbenchers, as well as the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, expressed dismay at the lack of proper debate over the new measures. The five-point package aimed to bring anti-terrorist laws in England into line with those in Northern Ireland. The most controversial measure is the power to stop and search pedestrians in designated areas when there is a likelihood of a terrorist attack.
The Olympics provides only one pretext for such measures in the U.S. Additional hundreds of Federal and military agents have been deployed to San Diego and Chicago, where the Republican and Democratic Party Conventions respectively are to be held in August. As tens of millions of dollars are spent on security to protect the Republican Convention, a stone’s throw from the increasingly militarized border, and the Democratic Convention, fearful of a repeat of 1968, the police have begun practicing large scale riot control and containment operations against demonstrations. Police have carried out several mass arrests this past year in San Francisco, Minneapolis and elsewhere of protesters demanding freedom for Mumia Abu Jamal.
The Olympics, financed by monopoly corporations, will attempt to raise patriotic fervor and militaristic nationalism to a fever pitch. If the U.S. can sell Twinkies, MacDonalds, and Buicks to the huge audience watching the Games, why not sell the elimination of habeas corpus, or a crackdown on militias, too? The FBI SWAT team and the Los Angeles police anti-terrorist division that were created for the last U.S.-based Olympics, in L.A. 1984, are still with us today. It is apparent that the police machinery being set up for the Atlanta Olympics and the Conventions will also remain with us long after the last athlete and delegate have departed from the spotlight.
FROM THE BATTLEFIELD TO THE PLAYING FIELD: A LITTLE HISTORY
The Olympic aura as a supposedly apolitical celebration of human sports endeavor is belied by its revival 100 years ago, at the turn of the last century, as a means to inculcate European and U.S. youth with a more martial spirit. The modern Games were begun by a Frenchman, Baron de Coubertin, who was concerned that French youth were neither sufficiently trained physically nor motivated politically to fight for their empire. Since then, virtually every Olympiad has been either the scene of sharp conflict, or suspended because of World War. The Soviet Union was excluded from the time of the Russian Revolution until 1952 and the Peoples Republic of China was similarly banned for decades. In 1936, Hitler used the Munich Olympics as a stage to promote Nazi racialism throughout Europe. The Games were suspended during World War II and revived as an arena for Cold War competition.
In the Americas, the history of the Olympics is no less political. South of Los Angeles, the Mexico City Olympics of 1968 was the scene of a bloody massacre and mass repression. The revolutionary upheaval which swept through Latin America in the 1960s emerged in Mexico, causing great concern not only to the Mexican bourgeoisie but to the U.S. as well. More than five hundred Mexican students and members of the independent left — possibly as many as 2000 — were machine-gunned to death in the Tlaltelolco Plaza de las Tres Culturas while demonstrating prior to the start of the Games.
That same year, Black athletes in the U. S. threatened to boycott the competition entirely in protest against the brutal repression of the Black liberation struggle going on in this country. Black Olympic medalists Tommie Lee Smith and John Carlos expressed the outrage of many, when they raised their fists in the Black power salute during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. For this they were immediately ejected from Mexico.
In 1972, the Palestinian revolution came into the international arena by taking hostage a number of Israeli athletes who were also members of the Zionist armed forces. Israeli, German and U.S. counter-insurgency squads attacked them, precipitating a massacre.
African nations boycotted the 1976 Olympics as part of the worldwide effort to isolate racist South Africa and those nations which support it. Jimmy Carter fired the opening salvo of a new cold war in 1980 by refusing to send the U.S. team to the Moscow Games. The Soviet Union returned the favor for the subsequent 1984 games in 1984.
In spite of all this, the Olympics continue to enjoy a reservoir of respectability that provides the U.S. government an unequalled opportunity to get people to swallow increased repression in the name of protecting the “integrity” of the Games.
ATLANTA: ‘NEW SOUTH’ OR OLD CONFEDERACY?
What is the U.S. state so concerned about protecting in Atlanta? The city, corporate headquarters of the so-called “New South,” is home to Coca-Cola, the best known brand-name in the world, and to the many tentacled operations of Ted Turner, including Cable News Network and numerous sports and entertainment franchises, as well as to other manufacturing, financial, and energy corporations. But the city is a microcosm of the contradictions of the empire, of poverty amidst plenty, and is crucial to the future of Black/New Afrikan people in America.
According to the publication “Conscious Rasta Perspective” (CRP), Atlanta media mogul Turner is a dyed-in-the-wool Malthusean. His global ambitions are apparently matched only by his fear of a Black planet. In a 1991 interview with Audubon Magazine cited by CRP, Turner confessed that he spends much of his time worrying — “worrying about the population explosion, worrying about poverty and the Third World, worrying about deforestation, worrying about the oceans…” During the same discussion, Turner announced that “there are just way too many people on the planet,” and said he longed for a world in which people had “only one child” and where world population would eventually drop from the present 5 billion to only 250 or 350 million! More importantly, he told the publication that he hoped to turn his vision into reality “through mass communications.”
Asked by a reporter what how he understood the term “American cultural imperialism,” CRP reports, Turner replied, “I hate it… But I’m part of it.” He boasted that he “gave $200 million away last year” for “population and environmental stuff,” and explained: “The world is too crowded. That’s simple enough. It’s getting more crowded all the time.” In November of 1995, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Turner planned to put $350 million more into his five year old Turner Foundation on top of nearly $150 million he had already donated. The purpose of the foundation: to give grants to “environmental and population groups.”
But such plans for depopulation apparently apply only to poor people of color in the Turner scheme of things. To commemorate the 1992 “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro, Turner proudly signed a pledge promising to “help save what is left of our natural world in its untouched state” and to “add no more than two children to the Earth” — only to face the embarrassing public acknowledgement that he himself already has five adult children — Beau, Rhett, Jennie, Laura Lee, and Robert Edward IV.
BLACK LIBERATION IS THE TARGET
Despite its claims to cosmopolitanism that the Olympics are meant to reinforce, Georgia still reflects its position at the center of “Dixie,” the homeland of white supremacy. The Confederate stars and bars are still incorporated into the state banner. But Atlanta is also a Black capital. It is the home of the Martin Luther King Jr. shrine, the mecca for thousands of college educated Black youth for the spring”freak-nik” weekend, the headquarters of the Center for Democratic Renewal, an anti-racist organization rooted in the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s and the anti-klan network of the ’70s and ’80s, which is currently leading the national campaign to uncover the origins of, and put a stop to, the wave of church arsons, many definitely Klan-related, that have been terrorizing Black congregations across the south.
In fact, while white supremacist militia forces provide a convenient and politically palatable pretext for a security crackdown, as in the case of two Georgia militia members busted on charges of stockpiling pipe-bombs, it is in fact the forces of Black liberation and the masses of the Black community who are the true targets. But the targets are capable of counter-attacking, using the Olympics as an opportunity for a political offensive of their own against the state and white supremacy. On July 27, amid all the Olympic hoopla, Atlanta will be the site of a national mobilization of the forces of New Afrikan/Black liberation. A rally for New Afrikan (Black People’s) right to self-determination, featuring national and international leaders of the liberation struggle, will be held on that date at 5:00 p.m. at the Southwest Community Center, 1444 Lucille Ave SW, 1/2- block west of Langhorne St. in Atlanta. For more information on the rally, sponsored by the Coalition for New Afrikan Self- Determination, call 404-288-9880 or 601-354-8731.
Other voices of dissent will also be heard in Atlanta, attempting to counter the media hype and pierce the media veil on the occasion of the Games. The Atlanta Olympics Protest Committee is calling for progressive alternative music acts, political hip-hoppers, radical poets and music performers of all types from around the world to come to Atlanta during the Olympics, to take part in a concert/political protest against the Olympics to be held July 19-20, The theme is “Rock Against Racism – Rap Against the State,” although reggae, folk and all other forms of music are welcome. This concert is to be a political forum, according to the organizers, “to expose the commercial nature of the Olympics, the warlike nation-state basis of the competition, the police state activities of Atlanta and the United States government to prepare for the Olympics, the farce of the 1996 American elections, and the deteriorating economic and political condition of the U.S.A. and the world in general, which the Olympics is designed to cover up.”
The concert is a benefit for the Foundation for Radical Social Change, a nonprofit funding organization which will dispense the proceeds to pre-designated organizations fighting racism, for human rights, prisoner support and other issues. If your music organization or
band/group is interested in playing at or participating in the event, please contact the Atlanta Olympics Protest Committee c/o the Georgia Antiauthoritarian Group, Box 144, Hiram, GA 30141, or call Kris Freeman at 1-770-443-9186
“PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN!”
THE CORPORATE MEDIA — HAND IN GLOVE WITH THE NATIONAL SECURITY STATE
In preparation for the Olympics, Atlanta’S bourgeoisie has established a new private downtown security organization, the so-called “A-Force”, to augment the cops. Part security operation, part public relations tool, the distinctively attired 55-member A-Force is one of several Olympics-inspired initiatives by Atlanta’s corporate and civic ELITE to turn downtown into an attraction for tourists and suburbanites. As in other cities strapped for cash because of the state’s fiscal crisis, with shrinking tax support, Atlanta’s business community is taking control of services that once were considered to be the responsibility of government. Downtown property owners have formed a special tax district to pay for this private security. Simultaneously, they have gotten local authorities to write laws to clear the streets of the poor and homeless, including one ordinance that makes it illegal to enter a parking lot if you do not have a vehicle in it! Using the excitement generated by the summer Games to push through the transformation of downtown has garnered wide support for even the most repressive measures.
Central Atlanta Progress, the downtown business association behind the initiatives, unveiled its master plan in March. The centerpiece is the creation of residential and entertainment districts near a privately financed 21-acre park now under construction, in a section called COPA, for Centennial Olympic Park Area. The plan also calls for capitalizing on the city’s new identification with sports to create a 50-acre “sports business park,” a still-vague scheme to foster sports-related business development downtown. $2 billion in construction tied to the Games is underway. These are both public and private projects that include stadiums, swimming pools, and parks.
Central to the plan’s success is overcoming the perception, long cultivated by the media, that downtown and other poor and Black areas are dangerous and frightening places. Business leaders now see this propaganda created perception, which served its purpose in helping to create the booming white enclave collar counties that provide Newt Gingrich with a secure home base, as the city’s No. 1 problem. When the Atlanta daily paper reported that the city had the worst record for violent crime in recent FBI statistics, city leaders quickly forced a re-analysis of the figures and a retraction. “This is not representative of a lack of preparation for the Olympic Games,” A.D. Frazier, chief operating officer of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG), said. “If people who come here … follow instructions, I think they’ll be in the most secure place on earth,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For the place and the moment, the “war on crime” hysteria fomented by the media has outlived its usefulness, an example of the contradictions in which the system finds itself. With the need to assuage those long-cultivated fears of crime in mind, business leaders pushed an “anti-loitering” ordinance through the City Council, and began lobbying for tougher laws on panhandling. They also are seeking a special court for minor crimes that they say are too often dismissed by Municipal Court judges. The A Force is an integral part of the effort.
The 55 A-Force “ambassadors,” who underwent 200 hours of training, do not carry weapons, but are expected to improve the “perception of safety” through their visibility as they patrol the streets downtown. The ambassadors carry two-way radios and are trained to call for police assistance.
ACOG has mounted a massive security operation to protect the Centennial Olympics, with as many as 20,000 guards, 10,000 soldiers and thousands of agents from the FBI, CIA, secret service and Georgia state patrol staff taking part. The committee refuses to disclose the price tag for the operation. Security staff went briefly on red alert late last month when two men were arrested in central Georgia accused of making pipe bombs. Early reports said they planned to disrupt the Games, but police and security officials later denied any Olympic connection.
As was the case with the security planners for the L.A. Olympics, ACOG security chiefs have traveled to Israel to receive advice on anti-terrorist tactics. Again as in L.A., where police cordoned off the Black neighborhoods around Olympic venues at U.S.C. in “Operation Cul-de-Sac” (dead end), billed as the city’s first foray into so-called ‘community based policing,’ many Olympic venues in Atlanta are close to high-crime areas and public housing projects with substantial gang activity, as well as drug-dealing and other social ills of colonization. Given this social tinder, repression must be increased to make sure that neither the vast disparities of wealth, heightened and exposed by the Games, nor the presence of political activists and alternative perspectives, ignite the potential conflagration.
In a May 14, 1996 interview with Elaine Long, editor of the ‘zine “Maxine’s Pages,” Lt. Butch Beach of the Columbus GA P.D., who is in charge of security for Olympics-related activities in Columbus, stated, concerning demonstrators at the Games, “You really have to be careful where you allow the crowd to gather. What we’ve tried to do is give them a place where they can do what they want and still get the public exposure. You really can’t take them and stick them off in the south forty; you have to give them an opportunity to have the message heard. That’s one of the constitutional issues. It’s just another one of those parts to the puzzle that has to be managed.”
Managing the demonstrations, the news, and mass consciousness appears to be the key to elite planning for the Games. Ron Martz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution told Long, “One of the things that we need to do, is be responsible in the types of things we print in terms of security related issues. I have an awful lot of rumors come across my desk about [how] this group or that group is going to going to try to sabotage the Olympics or try to blow up the Olympic Village or try to do this, that, and the other. I think a perfect example of that was with the CBS report that these two guys who were arrested for making pipebombs down in central Georgia were targeting the Olympics. There was very little fact to that.”
“Whether they were actually making pipe bombs I don’t know, but if they were, they were not targeting the Olympics.” How Martz knows what he knows, or what he doesn’t know, is unclear. “CBS went with what was largely an unsubstantiated rumor about that, and it created all kinds of problems for not only Olympic officials but for law enforcement people, and heightened what I think is already a sense of anxiety about security during the Olympics.”
However, while Martz has internalized the elite’s concern about disturbing the public’s restive consciousness with too much troubling information, he also testifies to the increasingly narrow and top-down limits being placed on information, let alone political discourse, as the social contract wears thin. “By the same token,” he told Long, “the strange phenomenon that’s taking place at the moment, [is] the federal government has really muzzled the local law enforcement agencies that are dealing with the Olympics.
When I say local, I’m talking about federal, state and city law enforcement people that have worked Olympic security for the last two years in Atlanta, and who know the issue. They are being told by official Washington to say as little as possible about Olympic security in terms of reassuring the public. The general feeling now is that if you don’t talk about Olympic security, people are not going to be concerned about it. What is happening now is that the White House has told the Justice Department, the Treasury Department, and the Pentagon that any information about the Olympics will come out of Washington.”
Long also interviewed Don Romine, Imperial Wizard of the Militant Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, in April, 1996. “Romine’s Klan is centered in the general area of Chattanooga, TN; Fort Payne, AL; and Rome, GA,” says Long. “He routinely engages in public demonstrations in North Georgia and the Greater Atlanta area.” Romine predicts that many white supremacists are going to be “coming into the area for the coverage… But you’re going to have some that’s going to be after the press.” According to Long, he believes the press will be a target during the Olympics. “Security in Atlanta is going to be tight,” Romine says, “but somebody is going to make a mistake.
Somebody is going to shut their eyes, somebody’s going to shut their ears and boom — it’s happened. Just to show it can be done and it was done… [T]he people that you better worry about is these unknowns that’s wanting to get known, that’s who they better watch. … I wouldn’t be close to Atlanta. I’m in my house and that’s where I’m going to stay til after the Olympics, because I don’t want to be there when something happens.”
Long talked with Marc Crandlemire, of the GPSTC Police Academy. Reflecting the realities of the national security telecommunications state, he formerly worked for WRBL-TV, the CBS affiliate in Columbus GA, and is now employed as a tactical instructor at the police academy. Crandlemire has been involved in training officers for Olympics duty. He provides further evidence of the intent to “manage” and marginalize dissent.
Crandlemire apparently sees a need to restrain press freedom. He told Long, “In journalism, you have some people who have ethical standards and … others who just want to abuse their powers of the press and run roughshod over people. The eyes of the world are going to be on Atlanta, Georgia in July and August and the news media from all over the world is going to be here. If you want to make some type of statement, what better place to be? As long as you’ve got a news media that’s going to give them the attention that they are looking for, then they are going to be there to conduct the protest. If the news media ignores them, then they’ll go home. … They’re in business to print the news … but in so doing, if what they’re printing or broadcasting is a threat to national security, then I don’t think that they should have the right to do that.”
Michael Novick is editor of Turning the Tide and author of White Lies, White Power available from Common Courage Press. He first began to research the use of the Olympic Games by the national security state apparatus prior to the 1984 Olympic Games in L.A.