Stop the Olympics Police State (1984 L.A.)

Stop the Olympics Police State (1984 L.A.)


Prefatory note from 1996: This article, based on research and drafts by Michael Novick, is reprinted from the Spring 1984 issue of BREAKTHROUGH, the political journal of Prairie Fire Organizing Committee, an anti-imperialist grouping which then had chapters in San Francisco and several other cities (including Los Angeles at the time).

I thought the article merited a re-reading by activists today, both for the things which remain timely and those which are dated. There are striking similarities in terms of state repressive planning now (1996–MN) for the Olympics in Atlanta and the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in San Diego and Chicago respectively, with what the following article described in 1984. Today’s expressed justification for the repressive buildup appears to be the militia movement, although the Black, Latino and Native American liberation struggles continue to be the state’s essential target, along with all communities of color in general.

 What is also striking is the undeniable success of many of the state strategies outlined at the time in this paper: the counter-insurgency war against Black, Puerto Rican and Native American freedom fighters and their support base, the re-intensification of the Cold War, the effort to liquidate Central American national liberation struggles and their solidarity movements in the U.S. were all largely carried to fruition, setting the stage for the current political period. It is vital that we learn lessons from those setbacks, because the economic and political contradictions that require the state to steadily intensify its repressive apparatus none-the-less persist to this day, and new revolutionary challenges are emerging. In Atlanta today, as well as in San Diego for the Republican Convention and Chicago for the Democrats, many of the same measures outlined here 12 years ago are being put into place again. We need to be vigilant and creative to avoiding repeating the losses of the past. — M.N. (Note from 1996)



Los Angeles is gearing up to host the 1984 Summer Olympics.  Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent by the L.A. Olympic Organizing Committee (LAOOC), multi-national corporations, and 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!” More than a boost to sagging national spirit, the Olympics will be used to build support for the U.S. march down the road to war.

Even with its image tarnished by the withdrawal of the Soviet Union and its allies, the Games will be of international importance. Faced with an erosion of popular support for intervention in Central America, it is a major opportunity to get Americans rooting for the “home team, the greatest country on earth.” Behind the patriotic hoopla, the official Olympic logo of Sam the Eagle designed by Disney, the candy bars and Olympic banks, another more ominous development is taking shape. Under the guise of providing “security against a possible terrorist threat,” the government is developing a police state apparatus in the sun and smog of Southern California.

George Orwell, whose book “1984” has entered popular consciousness to become synonymous with the police state, once wrote that “international sport is like war without the guns.” This August in Los Angeles, the guns will not be absent. As 10,000 Olympians take the field, they will be outnumbered two-to- one by law enforcement and counter-insurgency personnel from the LAOOC, five dozen jurisdictions in California, the Army, Coast Guard, National Guard, CIA, FBI, Secret Service, and secret police from countless foreign countries. The estimated security budget for all of this is between $100 and $200 million.

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 in the West, the global economy upon which the empire depends is in perpetual and growing crisis. Colonies and neo-colonies are fighting for liberation, and cracks and strains are appearing within and between the advanced industrial countries. Across Europe, popular movements are arising, and revolutionary armed actions are occurring with greater frequency. In the U.S. there is a generalized increase in progressive activity arising in response to U.S. militarism and intervention, and to the depression-level conditions faced by colonized people. The state has been unable to destroy armed clandestine movements like the Puerto Rican FALN, the Black Liberation Army, the Red Guerrilla Resistance, the Armed Resistance Unit, and the United Freedom Front.

In the face of these challenges, all the western “democracies” are becoming subtly militarized, adopting new laws to suppress dissent and prevent the growth of anti-imperialist struggle among their populations.

Up the coast to the north of Los Angeles, hundreds of Federal and military agents have been sent to San Francisco, where the Democratic Party Convention is to be held in July. As tens of millions of dollars are spent on security to protect the Convention, the San Francisco police have begun practicing large scale riot control and containment operations against demonstrations opposing U. S. aggression in Central America. When one thousand people took to the streets to demonstrate against Kissinger in April, the SFPD’s mounted police and tactical squads beat demonstrators and engineered a mass arrest of nearly 200 people.

Over the past few months military and FBI agents have stepped up their spying and harassment of individuals and organizations in the area. The Livermore Action Group (LAG), a mass organization which has mobilized thousands to carry out civil disobedience against the nuclear war machine, has had its meetings infiltrated by government spies. The FBI has launched a wave of visits to the homes and workplaces of Black activists on the west coast. It is apparent that the police machinery being set up for the Olympics and the Conventions will remain with us long after the last athlete and delegate have departed from the spotlight.


 The Olympics, financed by monopoly corporations, will raise patriotic fervor and militarism to a fever pitch. If the U.S. can sell Twinkies, McDonalds, and Buicks to the huge audience watching the Games, why can’t they sell the FBI SWAT team or the new Los Angeles police anti-terrorist unit?

The Olympic aura as a supposedly apolitical celebration of human sports endeavor is belied by its revival, at the turn of the century, 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.

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 while demonstrating prior to the start of the Games.

That same year, Black athletes in the U. S. threatened to boycott the competition 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.

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.


What is the U. S. so concerned about protecting in Los Angeles? In addition to being the entertainment capital of the world, L.A. is a strategic center of the military industrial complex. The Olympic venues, which extend from Santa Barbara to San Diego, are lined with Air Force, Navy, Army and Marine bases, defense contractors and weapons research facilities. Los Angeles is a mega-city which sprawls for miles and miles. It is the southern capital of the Pacific Rim; the place from which strategic commercial and military activity is launched south to Mexico and Central America, and westward to the Philippines and Asia.

At the same time, L.A. is home for millions of Black and Mexican people. The Mexican population there is second only to Mexico City and is growing. While the region’s economy is greatly dependent on colonized Black and Mexican labor, these people are at the bottom of the pyramid and face genocidal conditions of existence. During the last six months, Los Angeles has been the target of a Klan organizing drive [culminating in the burning of three crosses by the Klan, the Nazis, the Aryan Nations and White Aryan Resistance]; and since December three other crosses have been burned in Black communities. As the Games draw near, the state is haunted by the fear that unemployment or police killings may provoke another “Watts riot” a long, hot summer of Black resistance like the one in 1965 when the inner city burned as Black people rose up in the first intense rebellion of the 1960s.

In L.A., the police have killed or shot an average of one Black or Latino person every week for the past 15 years. The relative economic situation of Black people today is worse than it was at the height of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.  Unemployment among Black people is rising as it falls among whites. Joblessness for Black youth is well over 50 percent. And Black tenth graders in L.A. have lower reading levels and are less likely to complete high school today than they were ten years ago. PCP and other destructive drugs are pumped like a deadly plague into Black neighborhoods.

The disregard for the human rights of colonized people which prevails in L.A. is illustrated by the recent spraying of toxic malathion in several Mexicano and Black neighborhoods to kill fruit flies. This chemical is so corrosive that cars have to be shielded so the spray won’t destroy the finish. It has been used as a crowd control weapon by the Junta in El Salvador, which has sprayed it on demonstrators. One child has died after exposure in L.A., and many other school children have reported nausea and discomfort. Yet, despite strong community protests; the spraying has continued.

Using the Olympics as a pretext, the state is moving to prevent the Black and Mexican communities from rising up during the Games or any time after. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (“la migra”), citing the threat of Olympic terrorism, has increased its activity against Central American refugees and has raided undocumented Iranian “gypsy” cab drivers in the city. Over one million Mexicanos have been arrested at the border in the last year, while Reagan and the right wing are promoting an hysterical fear of so-called “feet people” (undocumented Mexicanos and Central Americans) crossing the border en masse.

The sheriff has announced that street gangs are plotting a “reign of terror” during the Olympics, and is calling for increased police presence in the community. He is planning to build 2000 “temporary” jail cells to house the anticipated mass arrests which will be made during the Games. The State Legislature plans to authorize Governor Deukmejian to call up the National Guard during, and at least six months after, the Olympics, without even having to declare a state of emergency. At the first signs of unrest, troops could be patrolling every street corner in south-central L.A.

Last year, when a tornado hit mostly Black south-central Los Angeles near the Convention Center, police cordoned off the entire neighborhood. They required I.D. from everyone entering or leaving a many-square-block area. Similar plans are in the works to require passes for movement in and out of the Black community surrounding the Olympic Village at the University of Southern California (USC).

According to a leader of the Center for Black Survival, a New Afrikan community organization in L.A., “Police will be sealing off major streets supposedly to deter terrorism, controlling all food and other deliveries into the area.” A Black woman told the newspapers, “I know the concern is terrorism, but if there are no jobs this summer, the little people are going to be doing some mini-terror of their own.”


Who are the real terrorists in charge of the Olympics and what are they planning? Olympics security planning is coordinated at the highest levels of government. The Pentagon has budgeted $60 million for security at the Games. Reagan has appointed Michael Deaver, who runs the White House, as his personal liaison to the L.A. Olympic Organizing Committee. Below him are 600 Secret Service agents, international, federal and local experts armed to take full advantage of the anti-terrorist mobilization the Olympics provide.


Ex-Green Beret Commander Beckwith

Retired U.S. Army Colonel who is the leading operational expert on counter-insurgency in the military, was retained by Washington to conduct a study of the Olympic anti-terrorist efforts. Beckwith, a former Green Beret commander, founded the Army’s Delta Blue Light commando team one of the forces being sent to the Olympics and led it into Iran during the hostage crisis.


Webster assigned 700 FBI agents to LA for Olympics

Head of the FBI, which has principal operating responsibility for security, has announced that 700 agents are on assignment to the Olympics to supplement the hundreds already on permanent duty in L.A. Under Webster, imperialism has found the ideal successor to J. Edgar Hoover. Webster has given the agency a face-lift, reorganized it and presided over the new guidelines which give it freedom to carry out break-ins and other illegal activities against progressive groups.


Gates’ s role in 1984 led to 1992 rebellion.

Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, has been somewhat resistant to FBI domination of security, insisting on greater independence for his forces. Gates became infamous for his defense of the lethal police chokehold when he said, “Black people die disproportionately under the chokehold because their arteries are not normal.” Under Gates, it was revealed that the Public Disorders Intelligence Division (Red Squad) funnelled files on individuals and left organizations to the John Birch Society’s Western Goals Foundation computer network.

Gates has travelled to Germany and Israel to consult with their security experts. He has stated in T.V. interviews that Americans must be prepared to give up some rights to gain greater security. After a briefing in Quantico, Virginia with FBI, CIA and NSA agents, he signed a protocol with the FBI establishing a joint police-FBI Terrorist Task Force on the West Coast.


Denton was the first ex-POW Senator, before McCain.

Head of the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, has begun holding closed hearings on security planning for the Olympics. Denton’s committee is being groomed as the HUAC of today. (HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee, led the anti-communist witchhunts of the 1950s.) Denton claims that L. A. police and federal agents have told his panel that people travelling to Lebanon for terrorist training are returning to the U.S. to pose a threat to the Games. FBI Director Webster testified to Denton’s committee that he has raised counter-terrorist activities to one of the Bureau’s top four priorities.


As the repressive apparatus is put into place, the government is being unusually open about it:

* Recently the FBI brought network T.V. onto its high security base in Quantico, Virginia, so it could broadcast training exercises of its hostage rescue team. Shown on the six o’clock news, this report featured agents rescuing a young woman “held hostage by terrorists.”

* The L.A. police have established close working relations with the Israeli Mossad (espionage agency), according to Commander William Rathburn. Shaul Rosolio, a “civilian” Israeli counter- intelligence expert, met with the law enforcement leaders of six Olympic countries. His company, the Jerusalem Research Group, has helped reorganize the police forces of Costa Rica and Colombia to carry out para-military operations. Rosolio met with Olympic Committee security chief Edgar Best and gave a seminar to the L.A. police academy. In his wake, the new Israeli consul to L.A., a former tank commander in the Sinai invasion, held a press conference to announce an active Israeli role in protecting the Olympics.

* Surveillance and dirty tricks against the left have increased in the L.A. area. An agent of the California Department of Justice, June Johnson, spied on the Palestinian resistance, the Puerto Rico solidarity movement, and Prairie Fire Organizing Committee. She infiltrated the anti-nuclear Alliance for Survival and entrapped an activist into participation in a government- sponsored “bomb plot” against the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. Her role was exposed at the trial of the man, who was acquitted. Johnson has disclosed that as many as twenty other agents have infiltrated the anti-militarism movement in L.A. alone.

* Other security forces are being coordinated for the Olympics. The INS has announced new restrictions on immigration to deter “terrorists and criminals” from entering L.A. Reagan’s budget provides a multi-million dollar increase in funding for the Border Patrol, most of it concentrated on a fifty mile zone of California.

* Special police sharpshooters have been outfitted with silencer equipped machine guns, and Hughes Aircraft is providing helicopters to the Olympics Committee for surveillance and other security purposes.

* The security hysteria being created around the Olympics preparations has its national counterpart in the construction of concrete barriers and bunkers around government buildings in Washington D.C. These were put up to counter alleged Iranian “suicide bombers,” and in response to the bombing of the Capitol by the Armed Resistance Unit in solidarity with national liberation struggles in Grenada, Central America and Puerto Rico. Unnamed federal sources have leaked to the press the existence of one-hundred “terrorist groups” posing a threat to the Olympics: fifty of them operating in the U.S. and fifty internationally. Reminiscent of Joe McCarthy’s list of communists in the State Department, the groups on this list were not identified.


The anti-terrorist campaign being built up through the Olympics is a microcosm of U.S. strategy. On April 15, 1984, word of Reagan’s secret National Security Decision Directive 138 was leaked to the press. Called a “quantum leap” by the head Pentagon policy maker on “terrorism,” Noel Koch, this directive authorizes the FBI, CIA and other agencies to carry out pre-emptive attacks on “terrorists.” The directive orders twenty-six separate agencies and offices of the U.S. government to create plans to implement the new policy. 

Several weeks after this was made public, the chief of the FBI’s “anti-terrorist operations” held a news conference in which he announced that nineteen organizations inside the U.S. are being targeted as “terrorist groups.”

As the economic and social crisis escalates, the State is moving to stop revolutionary leadership from developing. The central focus of the repressive forces and new laws are the liberation struggles of Puerto Rican, New Afrikan (Black), Mexican, and Native nations colonized inside this country. These movements represent the aspirations of tens of millions of people who are oppressed by the empire, not somewhere far away, but at the very center of America.

In 1978 in Puerto Rico, the U.S. convened a major international conference to plan repression against the Puerto Rican independence movement and other revolutionary forces inside this country. The working meeting was attended by top counter- insurgency planners from the dictatorships of Argentina and Uruguay, as well as by officials from Germany, Britain, Canada, Israel, and by an editor of the mercenary journal “Soldier of Fortune.” The major project of the conference was to figure out how to apply the fascistic counter-insurgency methods used in other countries dictatorships and democracies alike to the problems of the U.S. empire.

Under the cover of training the police to guard the Pan American Games from the “terrorist threat of the Puerto Rican independence movement,” many long-range goals were set. Chief among these were the revision of laws to enable the government to deny legal and human rights to “suspected and captured terrorists.” This meeting set a priority on building a consensus of popular support for repression. To accomplish this, the media was urged to depict revolutionaries as heartless killers and never as sympathetic human beings.

Faced with the prospects of growing mass struggles in this country, and with the existence of an armed movement in the early stages of development, the U.S. government is implementing this counter-insurgency strategy. Some of its most striking features are:

* The creation of the FBI Joint Terrorist Task Force, which works with local police “red squads” to coordinate political repression nationally. This unit is now carrying out a campaign of low intensity warfare against the clandestine movements and public supporters of the Puerto Rican FALN and the Black Liberation Army.

* Violations of bourgeois legality in the trials of Puerto Rican, New Afrikan and white anti-imperialist freedom fighters. Secret juries, where the identities of jurors are never known, have become standard practice.

* Political internment of activists through the Federal Grand Jury witchhunts.

* The violation of the most basic human rights of captured Prisoners of War, freedom fighters and political prisoners. The attempted destruction of these revolutionaries through psychological torture, denial of medical care, and isolation.

These repressive plans are also being broadened in order to contain and scare off all progressive opposition to the U.S. war drive. New FBI guidelines have given government agents the green light to infiltrate, harass and attack many organizations.

The steady escalation of U.S. military intervention in Central America, the crisis facing colonized people within this country, are far more than a backdrop to the spectacle being staged at the L.A. Olympics. Like the anti-communism of the 1950s and the COINTELPRO repression of the late 1960s, anti-terrorism today is the smokescreen being used to stifle and crush both dissent and revolutionary progress. When we look at the Olympic flame blazing before the American flag, when we see Reagan waving to the fans, the gun towers will be there behind the scenes. It is up to us to stand up to repression, not only in Los Angeles but across this country, if our resistance is to grow in the times ahead.