Thursday, November 12, 2009

When the Border Is Everywhere: Examining the Resistance to Speed Cameras and Border Checkpoints in Arizona.

By Phoenix Insurgent

The last couple of years has seen two interesting convergences in Arizona politics. First, the constantly expanding control grid, consisting of cameras and other measures for the regulation of movement, has finally burst into the popular consciousness in the greater Phoenix area, thanks primarily to the spread of highway photo radar and both fixed and mobile roadside units (including red light cameras). These particular cameras, much more visible than the thousands of smaller cameras comprising the broader surveillance grid that has been set up largely under a similar public safety argument, are contracted out to private – sometimes foreign -- companies by the state and other government institutions, and represent a recurring and concrete intrusion into the lives of drivers.

The tickets issued by the cameras are generally viewed by the population as illegitimate, not leastwise because they are issued by faceless (private, corporate) machines. Secondarily, they are viewed as a sneaky tax by a greedy government intent on getting its hands in everybody's wallets. People receiving the tickets in the mail (the primary method of notification) routinely disregard them and, when process servers are sent out, they sometimes receive violent reactions from the served. As a result, the private firms running the cameras have sometimes resorted to subterfuge in order to deliver the summons, including a famous case in which a server dressed up like a UPS driver. Such sneaky tactics haven't won many friends, it goes without saying. In fact, some drivers have taken to wearing disguises. As reported in the Arizona Republic recently, one man has dodged more than 30 tickets by wearing a monkey mask while driving. Police identified him after staking out his house and following his car as he drove to work.

Monkey-masked driver eludes speed cameras.

In reaction to this expansion of state and corporate power, a resistance movement has risen up, consisting on one hand of above ground, organized, largely right libertarian and constitutionalist activists. These groups, primarily headed up by an organization called CameraFRAUD, have engaged in lobbying, street protests and a ballot initiative in order to stop the cameras. CameraFRAUD emerged from the Ron Paul milieu and represents for the most part the standard ideology of that tendency. In addition to the above ground movement, there have been countless illegal and quasi-legal attacks on the cameras themselves, ranging from vandalism to street theater to the murder of a camera technician. So far, for the most part, those who have attacked the cameras have gotten away with it.

Meanwhile, this has happened in the context of a massive reaction from the Arizona white working and middle class, primarily centered on defending their white privileges against what they have generally mis-diagnosed as an attack from poor and working class Mexicans and other immigrants. This has taken the form of everything from reactionary ballot initiatives to vigilantism and violence. The collapse of much of the middle class in Arizona, hidden for some time due to the proliferation of debt, migration and the housing boom, has become clear for all to see. It is obvious now to them that the capitalist class has sold them out to a large degree, in search for large returns on investments abroad and financial speculation to replace falling rates of profit at home.

So, I say that whites have “mis-diagnosed” the problem because even though there is some truth to the general allegation that cheap immigrant labor does in some instances impact the wages of other “legal” labor, the movements that have emerged to defend the class position of whites has foundered, as has been the case historically, on the borders of whiteness. That is, rather than pointing their rage upwards at the capitalists, politicians and bureaucrats that set different segments of the working class against each other, the white movement has seen fit instead to defend its whiteness and the accompanying privileges. In a real sense, a civil war rages within the working class in Arizona.

As a result of their limited class imagination, whites in Arizona have demanded a massive expansion in the border policing apparatus in the hopes that it will protect their class position, which has become increasingly tenuous in the last decade. As a result of this, checkpoints set up by the border patrol have moved north of la linea and into what are perceived by their white residents as white communities far from the border (up to 100 miles north in some cases). This has caused friction between white residents and the border patrol and has created the conditions for an emergence of an anti-checkpoint movement on the political right. Meanwhile, the encroachment and regular harassment doled out by the border patrol to border communities of color, such as the Tohono O'odham Nation, have generally passed without notice in white communities.

Still, the support for the anti-migrant round ups and police apparatus is not just reflected in terms of an expansion of the number of agents and checkpoints. Support for the technological class war on migrants and immigrants at the border has been strong and has included encouragement for the deployment of cameras and all manner of other Big Brother technics and machinery -- as long as they are pointed south. Such demands have even included the imposition of government controls and bureaucratic approval in order to work legally in the state. Workers now, when applying for jobs, must run their identities through a computerized database which effectively requires state permission for employment. Despite the notoriously libertarian bent of Arizona politics all these police state policies have received broad support, with the notable exception of the freeway cameras.

Considering the Contradiction

What explains this contradiction? In Arizona, as in the rest of the US, the white working class, rather than engage in outright class war with the capitalist class, has over the course of several centuries opted for a cross-class alliance with them. In this relationship, whites receive a special package of privileges that cleaves their political allegiances from other working class people of color and transplants it onto the white ruling class.

Because of the settler nature of the American civilization, combined with its foundations on indigenous and then imported slavery, this alliance was developed in order for the white ruling class to prevent a unified front emerging against their domination of the population and exploitation of the continent's resources. As most Europeans arriving in the “New World” were poor and, often, involuntarily delivered here as a result of the expanding capitalist system of production in England and then other places, class antagonisms were a real and constant problem. In exchange for certain concrete benefits, the English and other European transported working classes in the US built on and expanded this alliance, which we now call “whiteness” or, “being white”.

These benefits are concrete but not always financial. For instance, better access to schooling and other means of social mobility, combined with reduced exposure to the negative effects of policing and to the so-called justice system, make up this package. The flip side of this deal is true as well, because while whiteness has broadened to include a wider section of those generally of European descent, this expansion is framed against others and exists at their expense. In a real way, for instance, the persistence of a police and prison apparatus that primarily targets people of color (including a Border Patrol that almost exclusively targets those perceived to be of Mexican or Central American origin) is the proof of the importance of whiteness to white people of all classes.

In the case of the anti-camera and anti-checkpoints movements, underlying them both are questions of who should and who shouldn't have the right to free movement and therefore who is deserving and undeserving of police scrutiny while doing so. The generally unstated assumption is that as a result of their loyalty to continued white capitalist domination, whites deserve free movement within the country (and not just there, to be honest: into and out of Mexico and the rest of the world, as well – especially when one considers the military as a kind of subsidized travel agency for working class whites). Within both movements, such talk generally operates within the coded framework of “citizenship”. Anti-checkpoint activists on video, for instance, can be seen emphasizing over and over their outrage at being treated like non-citizens, or demanding that their rights as citizens be respected by border patrol. How one can tell a citizen undeserving of scrutiny from an “illegal” foreigner that warrants policing is rarely articulated specifically except on the fringes. Still the relationships are clear. As one border agent recently told me at a checkpoint: “I just need to see everybody's faces.”

This article is an attempt to look at both movements and to evaluate them in terms of their potentiality for liberatory outcomes. I consider what I believe to be their inherent weaknesses and the reasons for them. Likewise, I suggest some alternatives that I think would create the opportunities that I think would otherwise be lost due to the inherent limitations of the actors and arguments being put forward.

The Story So Far

When Thomas Patrick Destories drove his truck along side a DPS photo radar van on the night of April 19th and opened fire, killing 51 year-old Doug Georgianni, the Redflex technician inside, it was a violent culmination to what had been before that many months of creative civil disobedience and direct action by angry residents against the much-hated spy lenses. Previous attacks had ranged from covering cameras with sticky notes and silly string to attacking them with pickaxes, rocks and sledgehammers. And last Christmas Valley drivers received an early present from a jolly band of militants disguised as Santas, who adorned several Tempe cameras with gaily wrapped gifts and festive fabric, disabling them for hours. Just a little over a week after the Santa action, Department of Public Safety Director Roger Vanderpool ordered the threshold for triggering the cameras raised by one mile per hour to 11 miles over the limit.

Sticky notes on a speed camera.

The post-it notes were an inside joke that referenced an exchange between current Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (then secretary of state) and a Redflex employee who dismissed a state investigation with a curt response delivered via sticky note. The Santas, who posted a video of their antics to YouTube, became a viral sensation, dominating local television and radio coverage for several days, racking up well over two hundred thousand views and more than a thousand comments on YouTube alone.

Up until the killing of Georgianni the public was solidly behind the anti-camera insurgency, filling up web forums with supportive comments and openly offering sympathetic statements to local news, something quite unusual for the law and order city that regularly backs the infamous anti-immigrant Sheriff Joe “Toughest Sheriff in America” Arpaio year after year. Even local media seemed at times gleefully supportive, recognizing the broad hatred for the cameras. “When a man swung a pickax at the metal housing of a freeway speed camera, the clang resonated with untold numbers of Arizona drivers frustrated with the 3-month-old program,” reported the Arizona Republic following the axing (a position they would reverse after the April murder).

Given the nature of the Santas' actions, local Tempe law enforcement weren't even sure a crime had been committed and initially reported not to be pursuing an investigation. A poll conducted by a local news channel showed a super-majority opposed to criminal charges and over 40 percent saying they ought to “get an award.” The light-hearted tone coming out of Tempe PD soon changed after pressure from Redflex, the company responsible for the roadside cameras, but no one was ever apprehended in the case. Likewise, the first pickaxe attack, for which Glendale resident Travis Munroe Townsend was arrested and which later spawned a copycat attack, resulted in only probation and fine, much reduced from the originally threatened three years in prison and $150,000 dollar penalty. Posters on message boards praised Townsend as a true American patriot taking on despotism and the pilfering corporate state behemoth.

The Position of the Politicos

Indeed, there was no unanimity amongst prosecutors, officers or police associations when it came to the cameras. Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas at one point famously challenged the tickets issued by the unmanned cameras while Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu received rave reviews from many anti-camera activists for canceling the Redflex contract in that county. One poster, “IloveBush” on the Arizona Republic's webpage wrote, “Makes me proud to live in Pinal county...FINALLY!!! 8)” That comment was followed by exhortations from other readers for Maricopa Sheriff Arpaio to follow Babeu's lead which, on November 14th, he finally did by signing CameraFRAUD's petition. A photo of the much-hated Arpaio posing with anti-camera activists while making his mark appeared on CameraFRAUD's blog under the enthusiastic title, "Sheriff Joe signs!"

Sheriff Joe Arpaio signs CameraFRAUD's petition.

Justifying his move, Babeu said, “There was only a $12,000 increase in revenue after paying for the salaries associated with photo radar and our accidents actually increased by 16%. So not only did it not have an impact of traffic safety, it almost cost us money." Message boards again filled with encouragement. Even Phoenix Law Enforcement Association President Mark Spencer spoke out against them for a variety of reasons, perhaps recognizing the threat that the automation of police work meant for his rank and file.

At the state level, however, despite some fissures in the legislature, there is stalwart defense of the cameras. Having initially claimed that the Big Brother deployment on state highways and roads had everything to do with safety and nothing to do with revenue, the government quickly did an about face just a year later, pleading poverty and defending the program almost purely on the grounds of revenue generation. Said then-Governor Janet Napolitano, "It wasn't designated primarily for revenue generation but since we have it (and) it works, we want to move statewide." Such statements were greeted skeptically by Arizona drivers, to say the least, but they served to reinforce the perceptions of libertarians that the cameras were primarily a pick-pocketing operation for the state.

The Composition of the Anti-Speed Camera Resistance

The main forces in organized Arizona anti-camera activism are CameraFRAUD and 4409. Both have their origins in Arizona libertarianism and the Ron Paul presidential campaign. CameraFRAUD was founded by D.T. Arneson and 4409 is run by a local activist named Jason Shelton. The two work together and there is much overlap between them. Indeed, Shelton was recently arrested on charges unrelated to his activism and police knew where to grab him – at a CameraFRAUD protest. As such, they adhere to the general tenets of American libertarianism, including an affinity for small government for the most part and a romantic vision of patriotic anti-corporate capitalism. There is much overlap between the two in terms of support and philosophy.

In the same vein, libertarianism in Arizona has a particular white, often xenophobic character that is reactionary when it comes to race. In many ways, then, this libertarianism is primarily concerned with the rights of white people. This, it turns out, is the key to understanding the true nature of CameraFRAUD's argument against the cameras.

So, looking at the analysis being made by CameraFRAUD, we see these tendencies play out. For them, the cameras are first and foremost money-making scams foisted on the citizenry by a corrupt corporate/state bureaucracy aiming to subvert American sovereignty (Redflex is an Australian corporation), to spy on its citizenry, to deny due process and to fatten the wallets of its cronies.

Good things about the organized anti-camera movement

The organized anti-camera movement has shown some creativity that deserves to be recognized. One recent Camera Fraud action involved a “flash mob” of sorts in which supporters on separate occasions rolled up on two parked camera vans, one owned by Redflex and one owned by American Traffic Solutions. Displaying signs denouncing the cameras they warned passing motorists.

Of course, unless the cameras inside the van were actually obstructed, the action itself does nothing that the companies themselves don't do, since both Redflex and ATS place warning signs several hundred yards down the street that put drivers on notice of the oncoming speed trap. Indeed, the weakness of this tactic was perhaps inadvertently pointed out on the CameraFRAUD website by an anti-camera protester present at the action: “CameraFRAUD demonstration signs reduced traffic speeds up to 50%, thereby causing the van driver to soon leave due to an unprofitable location… Perhaps the City of Mesa should contract with us instead.” This parallel with the agenda behind policing is a point I will return to later.

CameraFRAUD demonstrating over a freeway overpass.

Other actions have included regular freeway overpass protests in which signs and banners have been displayed for passing motorists. Such actions serve to get the word out and to bring organized resistance out into the open. The DPS has shown some frustration with such protests from time to time, but in general they pose no threat beyond establishing a visual presence for dissent. The protests do seem popular, however, eliciting honks of support from passing motorists.

Likewise, the movement has reached out into venues that, in particular, anarchists are generally deficient at engaging. Car shows, gun shows and rodeos all appeared on a recent calendar of events on the CameraFRAUD website. Likewise, CameraFRAUD has done a pretty good job of getting its voice out in the media. As the only organized resistance, the media generally goes to them for comment when cameras are attacked. This puts them in a position of mediator between militants and the broader political/media establishment.

Good things about the un-organized, clandestine anti-camera movement

The unorganized, essentially clandestine direct action section of the movement has engaged in all kinds of creative actions. They have not engaged in bargaining with politicians and therefore have maintained an extreme wing of the movement that essentially takes an immediatist, insurrectionist position. Each sticky note and pickaxe attack is a reminder to the political establishment that supports the cameras, both for purposes of revenue, profit and control, of the seething anger and tendency towards militant action against perceived oppression.

Likewise, the attacks serve as a dare to the organized and less radical movement above ground. While CameraFRAUD collects signatures for their ballot initiative, there is always, lurking in the background, the threat of a much less mediated all out assault on them. These actions point the way towards an alternative to politicking. Right now the two are not necessarily in open opposition, but one can easily see a situation where CameraFRAUD, having made alliances with politicos and cops in order to achieve its limited objectives, could be forced to denounce other, more radical actions against the “scameras” in exchange for political legitimacy.

Given their inherently conservative nature, those who defend the cameras will use the emergence of radical or even inappropriate tactics to smear the whole movement and create divisions, even when those actions are justified by the political circumstances. The seeds of such conflict are planted, and we have already seen the chants of righteous indignation from the political elite after the murder of Georgianni. Speaking to the Arizona Republic about the fallout from the murder in an article entitled, “Slaying fuels debate over speed cameras in Arizona”, DPS spokesman Lt. James Warriner said, “Because of (critics’) vocalness, you could almost say they’ve led to this, too — because of their protests, the encouragement of people to strike out.

The Arizona Republic editorial page lashed out April 21st in a vicious piece following the murder, claiming in bold letters that the “Murder counter[ed] any humor found in camera fight” up to that point. Barely concealing their political agenda in opportunistic black mourning clothes they lectured the city that the fun and games were officially over. The editorial board manufactured a direct relationship (even a false time line) from the pickaxe to the Santas to the murder which, according to them, meant all resistance to the cameras ought to stop immediately. Still, some in the broader population supported the killing.

To their credit, although they did offer a statement of condolence, CameraFRAUD resisted the immediate temptation to accept the ruling class revisionism that attempted to use the murder to discredit other organizers, militants or supporters. In the same article, CameraFRAUD member Shawn Dow said, "They're putting these people in marked police vehicles that are civilians that have no training, no way to defend themselves. We should have trained police officers - cops, not cameras."

This question of police versus cameras is one I will return to in the next section.

Problems with the arguments of the organized resistance

Currently, CameraFRAUD is primarily focusing on pushing a ballot initiative to ban the quasi-police cameras (a gray area that will soon vanish as the cameras are increasingly linked with various real time police databases) from state roads. But make no mistake, CameraFRAUD is not anti-police, and not even anti-police state, despite their professed love for liberty. Speaking to Channel 15 News in Phoenix, group founder D.T. Arneson said, "Basically, what we're saying is that we want more cops not cameras."

Though this may seem a bit surprising, in fact this jibes quite well with the group's praise for Sheriff Babeu and points to an important contradiction in CameraFRAUD's philosophy that, we will see, can only be resolved by recognizing the underlying white supremacist nature of their orientation.

Following Babeu's triumph over the cameras, the Arizona Republic reported his plan for replacing them:

Babeu thinks that putting more deputies on patrol offers the best way to improve safety, instead of relying on cameras that "can't catch drunk drivers" or stop motorists involved in illegal or dangerous activities.

The sheriff has increased his traffic-enforcement unit from two to four deputies, and a fifth will join the team soon. Babeu said the changes were made at no county cost as part of a departmentwide reorganization.

Babeu estimated that the volume of citations issued annually by the Sheriff's Office would increase sharply as a result of having more deputies on the streets. He said the five-member team alone could generate 10,400 to 20,800 citations a year.

Did the libertarian and constitutionalist lovers of liberty object to this blatant connection between their organizing and the expansion of the police state. Not at all. Instead, perhaps as reward for his stalwart defense of liberty, CameraFRAUD gave Babeu the honor of being the first to sign their petition at the press conference announcing the initiative.

Sheriff Babeu signs the CameraFRAUD petition.

Some victory! Certainly not for the people of Pinal County who now suffer both the prying eyes and harassment from more police. And, judging it by purely libertarian principles, it's hard to see how this expansion of the human police state could be a victory in the eyes of CameraFRAUD either. Except, when we look at it this way, we see a startling parallel to the interests of police agencies in general that is quite confusing for those who claim to be defenders of liberty. What is it about CameraFRAUD's politics that make them incapable of seeing the cameras and the police as two facets of the same apparatus of oppression? Why the perceived need to support more police in exchange for reduced cameras? This is a problem we will seek to resolve.

Notorious anti-immigrant lawmaker Russell Pearce speaks at the CameraFRAUD press conference.

Towards that end, it's important to note that also on hand at that press conference was notorious racist and anti-immigrant lawmaker, state Rep. Russell Pearce, author of much of the anti-immigration legislation in Arizona. Pearce received what amounted to a ringing endorsement in a video hosted on 4409's YouTube page, complete with emotional piano background music. The 4409 write up accompanying Pearce's speech links to Pearce's page and describes him in near-glowing terms:

I've never endorsed anyone besides Ron Paul but I have to say I do respect this man because he takes the time to show up to the legislative District 18 meetings wanting to hear from the people... You will have to decide this election but I think it's a no brainer. Choose the man that shows up to hear you voice your opinion.”

And it's here with this ringing endorsement of a racist, anti-immigrant fear-monger and extremist that we start to get a glimpse of what is truly the unifying, although unstated, common thread underlying Camera FRAUD's analysis: white supremacy and white privilege. This is a pathology common to Arizona libertarianism in general. After all, what else explains a supposedly libertarian movement's support for a a man who supports border cameras as well as powers for local law cops to enforce immigration laws. In essence, it's an endorsement of a two-tiered police state.

Problems with the unorganized anti-camera movement

The unorganized movement that opposes the cameras is harder to nail down, but we see all the tendencies that are prevalent in the organized movement, but even more so. People posting to message boards and comment threads on media articles regularly rely on the language of citizenship and patriotism to describe those that take action against the cameras. Likewise, the argument generally takes place on terms familiar to the organized movement, focusing on the injustice of the tickets or the greed of the state government or the companies contracted to operate the cameras. But quite often, the discussion veers into racist territory. I think this is deserving of special attention.

Looking at the discussion that the Santas action provoked is particularly telling because they were the only group to express a critique of the cameras that went beyond the Big Brother rhetoric espoused by the organized movement. At the end of their video a statement linking the cameras at the border to the cameras on the freeways demanded free movement for all people. As local journalist Stephen Lemons pointed out in a blog entry about the Santa's action:

"Ho Ho Ho! Death to the surveillance state!" declares the video, which just went up today. "Free movement for all people!"

I think this may be the first time I've seen the Orwellian Redflex cameras linked to the border wall. It's a good point, as both are part of the militarization and creeping authoritarianism in our society. The video is even more explicit when it states that Santa will be giving, "Lumps of coal to all those who make it their business to watch and control. From the border wall to the freeway and redlight cameras."

This is, in fact, the classic libertarian point of view, and it is certainly one I can endorse. I hope there are more satirical acts of nonviolent resistance planned. Neither property nor persons are harmed in such actions. After all, if the contracted process servers for these Redflex tickets are dressing as UPS delivery guys, as has happened in at least one case that I know of, folks should be able to fight back against our Redflex oppressors wearing Santa outfits.

But while Lemons supported the action, the response on the message board was more conflicted. One commenter with the obviously Nazi handle, Smirk88, wrote:

All you pro immigration wetbacks can kiss my dick. This country is fucked up because of who we let in here, not who we keep out.

That said, I hate this 1984 shit and good for the Santas! Best xmas gift this country could ever get.

Obviously the Santas linking of the cameras and the border controls hit a chord, revealing the conflicted nature of the argument against cameras being made in many quarters. On the YouTube discussion thread, another viewer wrote, “arrest the beaners. they have no right to be here. keep the cameras on the borders, NOT in every other place inland. case closed.”

Likewise, when the Arizona Republic published an article in late August of this year discussing a reduction in crashes, several posters were quick to dismiss any link to the cameras and instead agreed with one commenter who suggested that “Less ILLEGALS maybe?” was the true cause of the reduction in accidents. Other comments were more blunt in their attacks on migrants, making clear their belief that free movement is something that ought to adhere only to “citizens”.

The White Lie Behind the Anti-Camera Movement

To get at the heart of this, let's take, for instance, a study done a few years ago by the University of Cincinnati regarding DPS and racial profiling in Arizona. The researchers found, among other things, that non-whites were searched when stopped two and a half times more frequently than whites, that they were treated more harshly when detained and that they were held for longer periods of time. This despite the fact that whites were as likely and sometimes much more likely than other groups to have contraband with them. Indeed, and perhaps an important point for Russell Pearce to take note of, undocumented migrants were found to be five times less likely to have illegal materials with them than whites!

And here we get into what would appear to be a major contradiction -- if we weren't beginning to understand the white supremacy that underlies CameraFRAUD's argument against the cameras. Looking at these statistics, it appears that perhaps a person of color traveling state roads would actually be safer from police harassment with cameras rather than the actual police that CameraFRAUD would replace them with. After all, no one traveling under the set limit gets photographed, while merely being black or brown regularly attracts the attention of DPS officers. And yet CameraFRAUD maintains its call for increased cops, which even if we are to assume that they would do their job without racial bias would mean a massive increase in the power of the Big Brother state.

How does this add up, then? Being generally composed of white people, the libertarian movement, of which CameraFRAUD is a part, is totally blind to the racial profiling that comes with increased policing. To the members of CameraFRAUD, the cameras target law-abiding whites unjustly, violating one of the fundamental tenets of what W.E.B. DuBois called the “wages of whiteness”, in this case less exposure to policing. That whites receive these benefits is obviously true to anyone who has studied racial disparities in incarceration, not to mention the disproportionate figures noted above with regard to DPS.

If anyone wondered why CameraFRAUD has the will to call for the abolition of photo radar but not the imagination to call for reductions in police – or at least to refrain from calling for more of them – this is the answer. The activists of CameraFRAUD view their travel as legitimate and, what's more important, they rightly recognize (although don't articulate) that, due to their white privilege, they would naturally be disproportionately immune from the effects of increased numbers of cops – even cops writing tickets. Underlying this is the concomitant assumption that travel by people of color is illegitimate, or at least worthy of suspicion.

This is a common theme in American history. In slavery days a black person, free or not, was a suspect merely for traveling. And this was true in the so-called Free North as well as in the South. A white man had the right to demand travel papers or proof of citizenship from any Black person he encountered. What's more, he was expected to participate in the slave patrols that terrorized escaped slaves that headed north towards the relatively greater freedom of the capitalist North. Further, we know that the promise of Manifest Destiny (which applied to Mexican Arizona, AKA Northern Sonora, it should be remembered) had at its heart both the freedom of whites to migrate west as well as the expectation that local police and military would provide protection from local hostiles.

Knowing this, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised to see CameraFRAUD's arguments suffer from the unconscious linkage between race and movement. Aside from the obvious problem with the the racial connotations of the argument, the strategy sabotages its own supposed libertarian ethic because it inherently leads back to increased policing. As such, the argument is a circular one that not only never breaks with the dominant racial dialog, but also reinforces the overall logic of the police state. No argument that CameraFRAUD makes undermines the greater political designs of the police state or the capitalist and bureaucratic elites that hope to use it to suppress and exploit the population, which would be the true aim of any dedicated libertarian. Quite the opposite in fact. They provide a pathway for the recuperation of the movement back into the police apparatus.

In essence, their failure to address the underlying racist nature of their argument makes them incapable of creating a vision of a broader human liberty. Instead, they settle for a limited, white liberty that is inherently reactionary. To be clear: if you make an argument against the cameras that, whatever their flaws, at least offer a relatively egalitarian form of oppression, merely to replace them with a more specific oppression, namely policing on the streets and at the border (from which you expect to be exempted), then you are not a movement truly struggling for liberty at all. You are defending a reactionary policy.

What's more, because this argument further empowers those reactionary forces that seek to reinforce the cross-class alliance between whites, it weakens any movement that would hope to challenge the dominant order. Rectifying this would at a minimum require dropping the call for more police.

Free Movement for White People

In order to get a better picture of why the anti-camera movement, as it is now oriented, is a movement for the defense of white people's special rights of travel at the expense of the freedom of movement of others, we need to consider CameraFRAUD partner 4409's recent opposition to the border checkpoints. Spearheaded in this case by a pastor of a local hyper-conservative, essentially reactionary church, members of the two groups have lately been confronting border checkpoints.

Steven Anderson, pastor at Tempe's Faithful Word Baptist Church, has been the lead organizer of a series of ad hoc protests and aggressive actions at internal Border Patrol checkpoints. One confrontation resulted in his violent arrest, leaving him with eleven stitches. Speaking to the Arizona Republic on April 17, 2009, Anderson said, “I have the right to travel in this country without being stopped and searched and grilled and interrogated.” As we have seen, this is a common position within the libertarian/constitutionalist milieu.

Pastor Steven Anderson confronting Border Patrol at an anti-checkpoint protest.

Anderson regularly posts his videos to YouTube and it's worth considering some of the things being said in them by participants, including himself. As one video opens, we hear Anderson lead activists in a prayer: “Father, thanks for letting us be born in the US.” In another, a woman rants against the Border Patrol, saying, “I think these guys need to go back to school and look at their compasses and figure out that the border is 50 miles south.”

This demand for increased enforcement at the border is common. Indeed, when interviewed about the anti-border checkpoint actions for a local public access show, CameraFRAUD regular Jason Shelton questioned the true intent of the stops. “Is it really about catching illegals? No. Really it's about conditioning the American people to accept this kind of invasion of their privacy.” Continuing, he advised the Border Patrol to “[g]o catch real illegals down at the actual border.”

I don't want to belabor a point here, just point out the congruence between the arguments being made by the two movements, which I think is particularly important given their overlapping and mutually complementary compositions. This, of course, is no coincidence.

In July public discontent with the checkpoints in southern Arizona exploded in several surrounding towns. Complaining of harassment, the ACLU called a series of community meetings to air public grievances. They got quite heated with two arguments emerging, one all-supportive of the Border Patrol and another seeking to dismantle the checkpoints and replace them with increased policing at the border itself. Phoenix Class War Council (PCWC) and our comrades in O'odham Solidarity Across Borders Collective (OSABC) made a trip down to check one out. Writing on their blog, OSABC described the scene:

This small retirement community was now experiencing the reality of "securing" the border and the end result of the Border Patrol enforcement (harassment). A reality that we as O'odham are all so familiar with and go through on our travels on the Tohono O'odham reservation. Of course, we knew our voice, the O'odham Voice, the Indigenous Voice was going to be overlooked. So we decided to engage the overall "white" crowd. Presenting how we, young O'odham, see the Border debate through a completely different scope. That we see it through the scope of the continuation, of the colonization of our traditional lands, by "foreign" and otherwise "alien" peoples not from this area of the world. Who never consulted the original peoples of this land, the Akimel O'odham and Tohono O'odham, with "their" borders? We shared our history with all the " U.S. " citizens in attendance, and dared to engage their concept of what the borders means to them.

The ACLU presented an overview of authority that Border Agents possessed, much to the audience's dislike. Being that the Border Patrol is entrusted with such power in the name of securing the state. These people were caught in the dilemma of their "own" vision of what America's southern border should look like: a militarized zone, blocking an "inferior, diseased-infested, criminal invasion" (we have heard all of these insulting descriptions of immigrants uttered by anti-immigrants over the years) of their beloved "homeland"; A dilemma which shook their everyday way of life with the elevated enforcement at the I-19 checkpoint between Tucson and Nogales. Leaving them to ask the question, "WHY"? "Why am I subject to the routine stops, out of line questioning and searches too?" "I'm an American citizen!" "I'm a tax payer!"

Here we see the logic of the white anti-checkpoint movement, limited as it is, turned back not only on itself but also on others, just like as we have seen with the organized right wing anti-camera movement. Failing to comprehend that their argument feeds back into the very oppressive system they claim to oppose, they wind up defending their white privileges, sometimes through coded language and sometimes through vigilante patrols. Demanding free movement for whites while opposing it for others has led them into a feedback loop.

Border Patrol surveillance towers on Tohono O'odham land.

Interestingly, it is OSABC's argument that breaks the cycle, specifically because it is impossible for the anti-checkpoint militants, regardless of their opinions of so-called illegal immigrants, to deny the legitimate right of native peoples whose lands and relations were split by the border to cross freely. Indigenous peoples' demand for free movement necessarily subverts the white argument of both border controls and internal checkpoints. Their land is divided and their people must travel freely in order to maintain their ways of living. Further, their presence in Arizona obviously predates any white 'nativist'. In Green Valley, this analysis successfully split the audience and opened a new dialog on the free movement that went beyond the limited debate about freedom for whites to travel. In essence, the free movement argument reframed the debate in a new way. This is an example worth learning from and echoes the approach to the cameras taken by the Santas with regard to the cameras. A third argument is emerging in both debates that has much potential.

Free Movement in the Southwest

Movement in the Southwest in modern times has always related directly to white supremacy, the flows of Capital and war. In his book, “Minorities in Phoenix”, Bradford Luckingham cites a newspaper report from 1888 which describes a situation that rings eerily familiar throughout Arizona history.

Forty-Six Mexicans with their families arrived in Phoenix this morning from Altar, Sonora. The whole company counting men, women and children numbered over one hundred, and all came on foot, “packing” their luggage themselves. There was not a horse, mule or burro in the outfit. They are loud in their complaints against the Sonoran government, where they say it is impossible for poor people to make a decent living on account of the impositions of the rich.

Despite the political and economic repression in Mexico, up until the US government began seriously restricting legal Mexican border crossings in 1968, the vast majority of Mexicans who came to Arizona after it became a US territory did so temporarily, generally returning to Mexico.

This mirrored a trend amongst European immigrants to the US as a whole. As noted in his book “Round Trip America”, Mark Wyman points out the temporary nature of a large portion of even European immigration to the US. Immigrants from Europe often found social and political conditions inhospitable in the “land of bosses and clocks,” as they called it. Here in the Southwest, as with the immigration from Europe, economic reasons drove the movements of Mexican migrants. And, paralleling the resistance many European immigrants received from reactionary Anglos on the East Coast, the pressure of regular popular attacks from white nativists, who increasingly settled in Arizona with the spread of the railroads, put pressure, often violently, on migrants. Periodic expulsions, sometimes backed by wealthy whites interested in expropriating Mexicans that owned land made life difficult to say the least.

Whites frequently joined vigilante organizations that attacked poor Mexican farmers and workers, and they were joined in their efforts by police organizations like the Arizona Rangers. While working class whites felt entitled to the many thousand-mile move across the continent in search of work and land, the only movement that many were willing to grant Mexicans was one way. Starting during WWI whites began clamoring for an increasingly militarized border. For some time this has brought the working and middle class sections, more subject to the disciplining effects that capitalist-driven migration can have on wages, into conflict with the rich landowners, miners and industrialists who have benefited primarily from the cheap labor.

The railroads also brought other folks to Arizona, including Blacks escaping from the Jim Crow South. While Arizona was a segregated state, it was seen as an improvement on the neo-serfdom of the post-Civil War South. Likewise, the work on the railroads drew Chinese to the region who set up Chinatowns throughout Arizona cities, notably Phoenix. The experience of these people was similar to that of Mexicans in that their existence was tenuous and generally subject to the two-fold demand from the rich whites for their exploitation and then from other whites that acted in defense of their growing white privileges in the Apartheid Arizona political system. Unlike Mexicans, however, Chinese were far from home. The nearness of Mexico offered Mexicans able to travel a sort of temporary sanctuary from the daily white domination.

Further, European encroachment displaced many indigenous peoples native to the area. To defend their settler encroachments on native lands, whites demanded the militarization of the state, calling for the deployment of the military. Likewise the railroads demanded protection from indigenous resistance, leading most remarkably, as previously noted, to the American attack on Mexico which resulted in the transfer of the southern part of Arizona specifically for rail lines that would deliver labor to the West and raw materials to the East. Interestingly, this final transfer of land between empires had the further effect of dividing the land of the Tohono O'odham, who to this day face increasing restrictions on their traditional ways of life thanks to this arbitrary division.

Indeed, it is precisely the mobile nature of American whites that has obscured a fundamental fact about Arizona. Even setting aside the obvious pre-Colonial history, Arizona has only relatively recently become a white state in terms of population. While the dominant white American elite was quick to set up a racialized system here in Arizona, census numbers show that in terms of numbers this is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Said another way, what is it about a white American that thinks they ought to have free reign of the continent, to move from the Northeast to Arizona, and yet at the same time someone from Sonora, who can trace their lineage to the region back generations, ought to stay right where they are? Many whites will answer that “citizenship” and “sovereignty” are the defining factors. I think what we have seen here is that it's far more complicated than that. White migrations to Arizona have never stopped. From pre-Territorial days to now, whites have exercised one of the fundamental tenets of whiteness: freedom of movement. And they have necessarily sought to deny or limit this freedom for others.


Kudos to Camera Fraud and 4409 for going after the cameras, but as we have seen, merely going after the cameras without taking a position against the proliferation of police forces in general leads to increased oppression for others, particularly people of color and poor, who are necessarily the main targets of police power. In essence, then, stopping the cameras in this context becomes an exercise in “oppression shifting,” in which the desire is to shift the Big Brother state off white people (termed “infringement”) and onto others who supposedly deserve it.

Towards confronting this, it is a positive development to see white people going after the border checkpoints because these are not only the location of a general attack on freedom of movement, but dismantling them would also go a long way towards making free movement across borders possible for everyone. This would obviously reduce the State's attack on migrants.

However, as we have seen, if the argument is merely to take down the checkpoints because “citizen's rights” (a code word for white rights) are being infringed, and therefore that they ought to be replaced with increased controls at the borders (one way, controls, it should be pointed out), the argument not only returns to one that reinforces white privilege, but it winds up making the border patrol's own point with regard to beefing up its budget and expanding its power. And this, therefore only leads to more checkpoints and infringements in the end (that's how we got here in the first place). A test of the this position could come with the checkpoint movement's reaction to the demands of native peoples, whose land crosses the border and are similarly under assault by the Border Patrol and their checkpoints.

Because of this, it's my contention that in order for the movement against cameras and checkpoints to be consistent, and to avoid the pitfall of reinforcing a white supremacist position (that of free movement for whites only), it must demand total free movement for all and orient itself appropriately against increased police on the street and increased border patrol at the border (and everywhere else).

After all, if the demand being made is for travelers not to have to provide documents to the border guards at checkpoints – and the same argument goes for the cameras vis a vis increasing police on the roads -- then this must necessarily mean a return to relying on profiling. This is clearly no victory for freedom, even if it reduces the “infringements” on white people. The only way to avoid this is to oppose police power specifically and to demand free movement generally.

In essence, the infringement that white travelers are feeling is in reality a blow back from their support over the last few years in particular for a broad increase in powers for the border patrol. And enthusiasm for this increase, like the support for replacing cameras with more police, is a reflection of the movement's belief that it can somehow be exempted from this heightened scrutiny. And that belief stems from its desire to maintain its white privilege.

In the end, then, the exasperation and anger of the anti-camera and anti-checkpoint movement is a frustration at the violation of its white privilege. Since this privilege can only be an exclusive privilege, it has no relation to freedom. It is its opposite. Combating this means fighting white privilege, and that means building a movement for free movement for all people on the streets and between nations.


brennus said...

Another great piece from the PI. Keep it up comrades!

Arizona Atheist said...

"What is it about CameraFRAUD's politics that make them incapable of seeing the cameras and the police as two facets of the same apparatus of oppression?"

Great article! While I support CameraFRAUD and their anti-camera activities I've made the same observation myself. Whether or not it's cops or cameras innocent individuals are still being fined for actions (speeding) that harm no one. Though I do have one objection. I don't think CameraFRAUD is a "white supremacy" organization. I think it's just they try hard to find anyone in power who will back their anti-camera views, regardless of their other opinions. An attempt at legitimizing their position I suppose by citing those in power. I saw them quote Joe Arpaio once as disliking the cameras because he wanted to issue tickets himself. I'd say this is very hypocritical, and contradictory, but nothing to do with some concept of privileging whites. Though, it seems this argument is plausible with pastor Anderson and his groups' wishes to have more border control.

Great work!

Phoenix Insurgent said...

Thanks for the comments. Arizona Atheist, I think you're onto something when you say that they will take an ally wherever they can find one. However, when I say that their organizing is rooted in reinforcing white supremacy, I don't mean to say that they are a racist organization, per se. What I mean is that there are inherent biases and tendencies that play themselves out that, unless challenged, loop back into reinforcing the system of white supremacy. To flip it, let's say, what I mean is that the fact that these tendencies and contradictions exist is because the over all context is of white supremacy. So, the fact that for them there is no obvious contradiction in accepting some support or, alternately, offering it to others, is because they are not considering the broader system of white supremacy and how it relates to their activism. I offer the comments not to attack camera fraud, but in hopes that they will improve their position and tackle this contradiction. I think if they integrated this into their criticisms, they would necessarily have to adjust their politics, but that they would develop a better vision that would advance the struggle for freedom generally. Also, I would say that the reason that they don't find other possible allies, like perhaps those in the immigrant/migrant movement who are also attacking restrictions on movement, is because of the limitations that the white supremacist system puts on them.

Phoenix Insurgent said...

By the way, I suppose this goes a long way towards supporting my thesis (check out the photo, too):

Sheriff Joe Signs!

crudo said...

Loved the piece. I'm curious if any libertarian sites out in phoenix will pick this up or if you can get camera fraud to talk about these issues. I'm sure there have got to be some people that see a connection between the power of the police and the cameras. The whole "cops not cameras" thing must ring false for some.

David Barnard-Wills said...

Hi there. I just came across your piece, and found it very interesting reading. I'm a researcher from the United Kingdom, and I've looked at the resistance to speed cameras here.

We wrote an article last year, published in the free-to-access journal 'surveillance and society' and I think it mirrors many of the points that you have made here, and it is interesting to see the points of similarity and difference.

In the UK the opposition is conservative, and libertarian (although that political tradition is perhaps less well developed here) and it does seem to encourage surveillance and control directed at others. We didn't identify such a strong racial dimension here, as you do in Arizona.

Our conclusion was that resistance to surveillance technologies such as speed cameras was more likely to emerge when it contradicted identities that groups had constructed for themselves (as inherently non-criminal, 'normal' and respectable), but that this resistance would be individualistic rather than solidarist.

If the paper might be any use to you, you can check it out at this link:

- David

Phoenix Insurgent said...

Thank you for the interesting reading suggestion, I'll definitely check it out.

? said...

If you don't like pastor Anderson just say so, but don't dishonestly label the man as a racist when he has never expressed any racist sentiment. The congregation at Faithful Word Baptist Church is a very diverse one, and pastor Anderson frequently preaches sermons against racism. I'm certain there are countless views that he does actually hold that you could find to disagree with him on without making up lies.

If you really want to know his view of racism/racists you can hear it from his own mouth.

Phoenix Insurgent said...

I think what you're misunderstanding is the difference between being overtly racist and defending a racist political position.

? said...

"Expatriate" is not a race, and even if pastor Anderson did have a problem with expats(which he doesn't) It would still not be "defending a racist political position".

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