The other side of the COIN: counterinsurgency and community policing

Kristian Williams


This essay outlines the current counterinsurgency model, with an emphasis on its domestic application in the United States. It shows that many contemporary counterinsurgency practices were developed by police agencies inside the U.S., and illustrates the transfer of theory, strategy, and technique from domestic police to the military - and back. The essay also examines the state’s use of nongovernmental or nonprofit agencies, as one element of counterinsurgency strategy, to channel and control political opposition. The conclusion briefly considers the strategic implications for social movements, especially as we learn to recognize and respond to political repression.

Introduction: expect repression

Oppositional political movements inevitably face - and therefore ought to expect -repression at the hands of the state. But, while quick to condemn the most obvious and violent manifestations of this repression, especially when directed against peaceful groups, the institutionalized left has been slow to grasp the strategy underlying the state’s approach.

We tend to characterize repression as the state’s response to crisis, rather than seeing it also as a means to preserving normalcy. Hence, it has been very difficult to recognize it in quiet times, and when it does appear it seems like an exception, an excess, a panicked over-reaction.

But repression does not always come dressed up in riot gear, or breaking into offices in the middle of the night….

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