Scenes From Militarized America

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

TV station KOAT sent cameras along on a recent drug raid in Los Lunas, New Mexico. This raid was to find marijuana.




Every time I see an image like this, I’m reminded of a blog post from conservative writer Michael Ledeen a few years ago. Ledeen was using a series of photos from a recent drug bust in Iran to point out what a totalitarian state it is. The post is no longer available online, but I excerpted it at the time on the Reason blog.

Terrifying pictures, to be sure. For me, the most revealing thing about them is that the police feel obliged to wear masks while conducting a drug bust in the capital. tells you something about the relationship between the people and the state.

Indeed it does. Here is what the Los Lunas cops found:

Thanks to Mike Riggs for the tip.

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42 Responses to “Scenes From Militarized America”

  1. #1 |  perlhaqr | 

    Maybe they’re ashamed to show their faces.

  2. #2 |  Jack Dempsey | 

    They do a dangerous job and are surrounded by bad people, so they need to protect their identity, not for their protection but the protection of their family who they don’t want targeted by these bad people.

  3. #3 |  David | 

    Wait, are you talking about the cops or the people who have to deal with them?

  4. #4 |  Reformed Republican | 

    I feel much safer knowing that baggie of marijuana is off the streets and locked up safely in evidence.

  5. #5 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    Looking over these photos, why I do I get the bizarre sensation that
    VietNam was not about Marxism or Maoism or any of that intellectual bullshit but really about confiscating and hoarding their killer ganja?

  6. #6 |  Andrew S. | 

    Albuquerque? Did they think they’d found Walter White or something?

    (yes, I know it wasn’t there. But it’s a TV station from there, and dangit, I wanted to make that joke)

    It makes me sad to know these kinds of raids happen. It makes me far sadder that the majority of people think these raids are a good thing.

  7. #7 |  Jay | 

    And yesterday in Oakland:


  8. #8 |  Mattocracy | 

    Imagine how much economic output we have sacrificed to do this kind of shit. Billions of dollars not spent on R&D for medicine, science, and technology. Billions that didn’t pave roads, fund schools, or go into retirement accounts. Or heaven forbid, billions that could’ve gone back to tax payers have been spent on whatever they want.

    The opportunity cost of overbearing policing is astronomical.

  9. #9 |  Balloon maker | 

    On the bright side, the comment threads on these articles tend to be 100% about what a waste of time and money these raids are. Not sure it matters, since the commenters are normal folks like you and me, and presumably not part of the protected class of thugs and murderers that run this country, but it’s still nice to see.

  10. #10 |  Aresen | 

    Re the baggie of MJ they found:

    You know damned well that is all they found.

    If there had been so much as a slingshot, the cops would have displayed it as a “weapon” to justify the heavy armament.

  11. #11 |  Bill Poser | 

    If you only saw the pictures of the raid and didn’t know what was in the baggie, you’d think it was plutonium.

  12. #12 |  CSD | 

    I am particularly impressed with the irony of what appears to be two rather large spare tires attached to the vehicle they arrived in. I guess they are concerned they may have to drive over a fallen cactus in the road on one of their perilous journeys.

  13. #13 |  Bob | 

    #7 :Jay

    And yesterday in Oakland:


    Nice! Our Government in action, intelligently allocating resources to where it really needs to go!

    infrastructure! Why? The polling places are local.

    Jobs! Whoops, that would mean repealing all the regulations. Can’t do that! It’s an election year!

    Housing! The banks own those. The banks are our friends. Where did I put my kool-aid?

    Military-Policing complex! Score! We’ll need them when the food riots come after the Federal Reserve causes all the banks to close!

    And remember… when the food riots hit, it won’t be about protecting the food, but rather shooting the looters. A thinner herd means less government payments. “Austerity”, American style.

    Do you know what they call it when the banks close and pandemonium ensues? They call it a “Bank Holiday”. That’s so sugar coated, not even Kellogg’s can compete with it.

  14. #14 |  el coronado | 

    One is reminded of the scene in ‘The Dark Knight” where the Joker reveals himself to the assembled Bosses, and proceeds to punk the crap out of ’em.

    “And as for the suit,” (APC’s, ninja/soldier outfits, gold-plated pensions, et al), “it wasn’t cheap. You oughtta know: you paid for it.”

    Bad guy/befuddled taxpayers: “You think you can steal from us and just walk away?!”
    Joker/cops: “Yeah…”

    Lather, rinse, repeat. Respect their Authoritah!

  15. #15 |  CSD | 

    Well at least it looks like they are trying to improve the “image” of the prisons in New Mexico, maybe those fired complained about conditions and are being fired in retribution. Odd that no reason at all is given.

  16. #16 |  RBS | 

    We just had a big raid here in MB that resulted in around 20 something arrests and netted about 300 plants and almost a whole pound of marijuana ready for the streets. The self congratulatory bootlicking around here makes me want to vomit. Of course, the group targeted are Hells Angels, so naturally everyone around here is super relieved to have these incredibly dangerous 60 year old bikers off the streets… seriously, I’ve lived here for about 20 years and I can’t remember the last time the HA’s were in the news.


  17. #17 |  Doug Walker | 

    Here is Ledeen’s original post and comments:

  18. #18 |  joe | 

    If the job of “policing” is dangerous, it’s because the police are making it dangerous. Violent and property crime are at very low levels, while the police escalate the drug war. Make no mistake, you can’t wage war on drugs. It’s a war on people.

  19. #19 |  derfel cadarn | 

    The police wear masks because even with their abysmally low standards of behavior even they are ashamed. They also realize that the party cannot go on forever and hide their faces in fear of the retribution that will be taken. Just like the nazis after the war their sleep will be haunted by who may show up demanding the piper be paid.

  20. #20 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    All government projects are cursed with the necessity of looking busy. The people involved may clearly fill a core need of society, but if they don’t look busy their next budget is going to be cut. This is why the CDC keeps poking its nose into matters that are clearly none of its goddamned business; they know perfectly well that their real mission – to be ready for the next pandemic – is very important, but they also know that if they don’t look busy Congress (bless their black, flabby hearts) will cut their budget (and then scream bloody murder if there is an epidemic and CDC can’t do its job).

    Crime is falling all over the U.S.. Police have less and less to do, so they are being very busy with the Drug War and other such entertainments.

  21. #21 |  Fascist Nation | 

    Must have been real terrifying desperadoes to allow a film crew to be around when the bullets and explosions started to fly.

  22. #22 |  all day every day | 

    @#8 | Mattocracy :
    I wish someone could generate a sort of line item price guide for these ventures-

  23. #23 |  freedomfan | 

    On Radley’s 10th bloggerversary, I thought this was a good occasion to note the transient nature of internet resources. Of the 8 links in his 2007 Reason post noting how similar U.S. drug raids are to raids in authoritarian regimes, 7 of the links are broken.

    BTW, of those 8 total links, 3 were even links to posts on, and all of those are broken as well. I hope more links don’t break with the move to HuffPo hosting, but the lesson is clear: If you see something you will want to refer to for an extended period of time, keep a copy of it yourself.

    OTOH, one of my early favorite finds on the web is a 1995 U.S. News & World Report article called “Consulting the Oracle” on how easily manipulated and generally worthless polls can be. It’s still there after all these years and still relevant. But, I have a local copy saved anyway, just in case. ;-)

  24. #24 |  Doubleu | 

    Off Topic Follow up: A former off-duty state trooper accused of drunkenly kicking his way into a South Utica house earlier this year has been indicted by a grand jury.

  25. #25 |  picachu | 

    Why do they have to wear green?

  26. #26 |  Bergman | 

    I’ve always wondered how police use of balaclavas and other face-concealing articles interacted with mask laws.

    Yes, the mask laws usually don’t criminalize mask-wearing if the wearer doesn’t commit any crimes while masked, but wearing a mask while committing a misdemeanor can elevate it to a felony in some places, even if there is no mens rea in the misdemeanor.

    So if a police officer unintentionally or accidentally commits a minor crime while all tacticool, especially if the combination of minor crime + mask = felony, how can the police justify wearing masks?

  27. #27 |  albatross | 

    Is there actually some evidence or documented threat that justifies the mask wearing? My uncomfortable suspicion is that the masks are a reaction, not to a threat of retaliation against their families, but instead to a threat of someone filming them beating someone up, and posting the video to YouTube.

  28. #28 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    The increased use of masks also reminds me of footage of federal police in Mexico that you see on Univision or Telemundo. Drug policy has contributed to the destruction of many U.S. neigborhoods and communities over the last forty or fifty years. Maybe some of these U.S. police agencies think that the U.S. is going to get a lot more like Mexico before too long. And they might be right. Of course, if they want to spare us all some unprecedented carnage, maybe we could just call this damn drug war off and come up with a different system. Of course that might endanger job security and might look “soft on crime,” so we’ll just let the bodies stack up.

  29. #29 |  Dante | 

    If you read the comments to the original article, one person said:

    “I had a pipe that would hold more than that” or something to that effect.

    So, we have about 10 SWAT guys, a K-9 unit, an APC, who knows how many guns and grenades and other stuff – how much did all that cost and what was gained by deploying all of it?

    Less than the amount which would fill one guy’s pipe.

    Every day, every where, the real threat to your life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is an encounter with the police. They are the real terrorists.

    Protect & Serve (Themselves!)

  30. #30 |  Maria | 

    @12 I wonder if they have AAA? With all that gear on and the huge amount of danger involved in scoring and transporting that baggie of what I can only assume to be radioactive material and/or anthrax; I’m sure they can’t be expected to change their own flats.

  31. #31 |  Maria | 

    @25 Tactical advantage. If they wore normal clothes how could they blend in with the vast forests of cannabis growing in your average condo?

  32. #32 |  Doubleu | 

    #29 Dante, relax the tax payers are paying for it.

  33. #33 |  picachu | 

    lol thank you Maria. Good answer. I just think if they really want to dress up in green and play army they should go to Afghanistan. Why don’t they just go to Afghanistan?

    And then I remembered that in Afghanistan people fight back and it all made sense.

  34. #34 |  Personanongrata | 

    They (the powers that be) sent Los Lunas SWAT for a dime bag of pot.

    Excellent allocation of your finite resources, it isn’t like goverment can just go out and shake the well-informed folks in this land of the free down for more money in order to continue these types of paramilitary operations.

    Never mind mentioning placing the lives of all involved in lethal jeopardy for a dime bag of pot.

  35. #35 |  BamBam | 

    police fishing expedition

  36. #36 |  Chris | 

    The masks are particularly disturbing. There is an obvious reduction in disincentive to engage in misconduct resulting from an officer hiding their identity.

    But masks also have a direct effect on behaviour even ignoring their effect on the chances an officer will be held accountable for misconduct: masks cause what psychologists call “deindividuation,” a sense that’s one’s conduct is divorced from usual social norms. I was struck by this passage in the relevant Wikipedia article:

    “The Ku Klux Klan demonstrates characterizes [sic] the perfect situation for deindividuation. Members wear white robes and hoods that completely unify their appearance and mask their identity. They form as a clear in-group with a clear out-group, and extol the superiority of their group against all others. Fearing violence from other members, any potential dissenters would probably squash their views out of self-preservation. It is therefore unsurprising that the Klan committed many lynchings and other violent attacks. ”

    If we replace “white robes and hoods” with “camo body armor and masks” and “lynchings” with “pointless no-knock raids”….

    It should be policy that officers cannot wear masks or otherwise hide their identity unless for some reason masks greatly increase safety (e.g., gas masks when tear gas is deployed), and in any case all police at all times should display some sort of identification which is easily recognizable even at distance, such as large high-contrast numerals. Such a policy would be a dirt cheap and minimally intrusive way of reducing misconduct.

  37. #37 |  John | 

    Photos of armed men in masks carrying guns in our streets followed by a bag of weed. The first pictures made me feel a lot less safe than the last one.

  38. #38 |  jon | 

    Yeah, if they weren’t wearing masks, the bloodthirsty owner of that two whole grams of weed would clearly go on a rampage and slaughter their wives, children, parents, siblings, and friends. I mean, it’s obvious. Duh.

  39. #39 |  Whim | 

    I notice that the military green clad police Ninjas have only a subdued POLICE nametape on the back of their uniform. Very hard to read in low light conditions.

    The POLICE in yellow is also somewhat small to easily read. Kept small and indistinct for a reason, I suppose?

    And, there is no POLICE marking at all on the Kevlar helmets.

    Please leave the face masks and balaclavas at home.

    Bring back the blue uniforms with the billed caps that look like police. And, not like soldiers.

    I also notice that the buxom Hispanic lady being questioned is not apparently also under arrest. No handcuffs……

  40. #40 |  TXMarko | 

    One does not have to be an official card-carrying member of Law Enforcement to use the Internet to purchase all sorts of Hats, Coats, Vests, etc that say POLICE or FBI or SWAT or ICE on them.

    Many stories are out there of those who attempt to intimidate/subdue the occupants of a residence by bursting in and screaming POLICE and SEARCH WARRANT.

    While Law Enforcement is not even on the Top 10 list of Most Dangerous Jobs, I hope they understand that most folks believe anyone who bursts into their homes in a fury should expect the occupants to defend themselves against the attackers.

    Whatever happened to the old phone call/visit by Sheriff Friendly?

  41. #41 |  ben tillman | 

    Every time I see an image like this, I’m reminded of a blog post from conservative writer Michael Ledeen a few years ago.

    It’s hard to imagine someone less conservative than Michael Ledeen:

    “Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our own society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law.”

  42. #42 |  Filing | 

    I’m a US Marine and alot of gear looks nicer than the stuff I’m issued