Keene, New Hampshire is a town with more rotaries than there are murders.
The Keene Police Department has over 40 police officers, half a dozen cruisers, tactical units with S.W.A.T. capability and a new police station.
What they don’t have is an armored vehicle that would come in. Have no fear, the BearCat is here.
Eight tons and 300 horsepower later, Lenco Industries Inc. has created an armored vehicle for the likes of the U.S. Military and S.W.A.T. teams across the U.S. It’s an intimidating force for any police department to call its own, including the Keene Police Department.
Keene Police Chief Kenneth Meola cited its usefulness recently during a press conference with Keene State Journalism students and faculty.
Meola said the vehicle will be helpful in dangerous situations like Hurricane Irene or protect possible targets for terrorism such as Keene’s annual Pumpkin Festival that attracted over 50,000 people last year. These were situations Meola listed on the grant application filed to the Department of Homeland Security in January of 2011.
This is fear. Humans have a fight or flight instinct in times of fear. Is the BearCat the fight or the flight response? While it can keep anyone inside of its belly safe from harm, being outside of the vehicle is anything less than intimidating.
Keene City Counselor Terry M. Clark submitted the single vote against the grant in December of 2011. At that time, he said it’s because of what the grant symbolizes, what the BearCat means to a town like Keene, N.H.
“As long as municipalities accept these types of grants, Congress will continue to feed this culture of war…” Clark said in his statement to the Keene City Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee.
The culture of war Clark referred to comes from identifying an enemy, especially one that is unpredictable. Citizen’s fear of terror can be traced to Sept. 11, 2001 when the two World Trade Center towers were destroyed.
“Since 9/11, there was a huge military build-up. The Bush administration and Cheney used Iraq and Afghanistan as reasons to fuel a fear in the American spirit and they got their way with people,” Clark said.
For Clark, the BearCat issue serves as a symbol of increasing militarization of America’s towns. Of the 300 or so spread across the U.S., New Hampshire already has six BearCats along the eastern side of the state, the one in Keene will be the only one for south west New Hampshire.
Despite Clark’s opposition, the Keene City Counsel voted nine to four March 1, to accept the $285,000 BearCat. The issue of voting against the BearCat, as Clark sees it, is an issue of perception.
“[Politicians] don’t want to look like they are voting against public safety, but it has nothing to do with public safety, it has everything to do with war profiteering and the culture of war.”
Clark has said Lenco Industries Inc. has tapped into a domestic violence market through the grants from the Department of Homeland Security.
“When people don’t have facts, they always use fear tactics and shame tactics and that’s what they used on us.”
A public afraid.
Fear tactics can be used to create misguided actions. Larry Welkowitz, a Professor of Psychology at Keene State College, calls it “catastrophic thinking.”
“The cognition can go wild, you can imagine all sorts of bad things that can happen,” said Welkowitz
He knows fear. His parents were in the Trade Center when the first plane hit. They escaped with their lives, but were left with a scar of terror.
“The first thing mother said, the day after, she hoped that people wouldn’t use this as an excuse to strip us of our civil liberties,” said Welkowitz.
History offers its share of similar times of fear in the U.S.
The 30-year arms race between the United States and Soviet Russia created an atmosphere of fear so thick that people built underground shelters in their homes. Nuclear weapons brought an age of fear, but nothing like the possibility of nuclear war with the Soviets.
U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy used fear to justify his Communist witch hunt. Fear of the unknown brought McCarthy to the pulpit he needed to create hysteria surrounding the Communist agenda.
It was a time of extreme anxiety, much like the years following Sept. 11, 2001.
“What 911 did, it made people’s thinking go wild, sorta scrambled eggs thinking. You can always imagine all sorts of ways that bad things can happen,” said Welkowitz.
Within months, the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration were created to combat any terrorist threat at home. Color coded threat levels, body scans, Muslim discrimination and massive purchases of duct tape and bottled water became commonplace.
It was a climate of fear that created a culture of people willing to give up liberties in exchange for security. The same fear that brought the U.S. to Iraq is manifesting itself in Keene. There has only been one time in the history of the DHS that the threat level has reached its highest, “Red,” but only for three days in August of 2006.
The DHS has spent $34 billion in grants for police forces all over the country so that they may be better equipped to combat terrorist threats.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, James Massery, sales representative for LENCO industries, claimed nowhere is safe from terror.
“I don’t think there’s any place in the country where you can say, ‘That isn’t a likely terrorist target,’” Massery said.
For BearCat supporters it’s that fear of the unknown, that fear of potential threats from “terrorists” that justifies the purchase of this vehicle.
Welkowitz said fear is self propelling, a fear of fear, call it a “phobia-phobia.” The BearCat, according to Welkowitz, is just the beginning.
Prepare for the worst, and hope for the best has been the sales pitch from the Police and some city council members.
To Welkowitz, it’s a mistake to think a perfectly safe environment is possible.
“If you cling to that belief, you will never stop. One armored vehicle worth 300K leads to one twice as big that costs 600K.”
If liberty and security are always in the balance, is safety really worth the price of freedom?
“You keep trying to get to that safe place … but it’s not possible. . . to create perfect safety, you will always create anxiety and fear. You’ll never cross a street,” said Welkowitz.