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Carlos Montes and the Security State: A Cautionary Tale
Posted on Jul 10, 2011
By Chris Hedges
On May 17 at 5 in the morning the Chicano activist Carlos Montes got a wake-up call at his home in California from Barack Obama’s security state. The Los Angeles County sheriff’s SWAT team, armed with assault rifles and wearing bulletproof vests, as well as being accompanied by FBI agents, kicked down his door, burst into his house with their weapons drawn, handcuffed him in his pajamas and hauled him off to jail. Montes, one of tens of thousands of Americans who have experienced this terrifying form of military-style assault and arrest, was one of the organizers of the demonstrations outside the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., and he faces trial along with 23 other anti-war activists from Minnesota, as well as possible charges by a federal grand jury.
The widening use of militarized police units effectively nullifies the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which prohibits the use of the armed forces for civilian policing. City police forces have in the last few decades amassed small strike forces that employ high-powered assault rifles, armored personnel carriers, tanks, elaborate command and control centers and attack helicopters. Poor urban neighborhoods, which bear the brunt of the estimated 40,000 SWAT team assaults that take place every year, have already learned what is only dimly being understood by the rest of us—in the eyes of the state we are increasingly no longer citizens with constitutional rights but enemy combatants. And that is exactly how Montes was treated. There is little daylight now between raiding a home in the middle of the night in Iraq and raiding one in Alhambra, Calif.
Montes is a longtime activist. He helped lead the student high school walkouts in East Los Angeles and anti-war protests in the 1960s and later demonstrations against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was one of the founding members of the Brown Berets, a Chicano group that in the 1960s styled itself after the Black Panthers. In the 1970s he evaded authorities while he lived in Mexico and he went on to organize garment workers in El Paso, Texas. He and the subpoenaed activists are reminders that in Barack Obama’s America, being a dissident is a crime.
“It was an FBI action, as I recall,” Sgt. Jim Scully told reporters of the Pasadena Star-News. “We assisted them.”
Montes was arrested ostensibly because he bought a firearm although a felony conviction 42 years ago prohibited him from doing so. The 1969 felony conviction was for throwing a can of Coke at a police officer during a demonstration. The registered shotgun in his closet, bought last year at a sporting goods shop, became the excuse to ransack his home, charge him and schedule him for trial in August. It became the excuse to seize his computer, two cellphones and files and records of his activism on behalf of workers, immigrants, the Chicano community and opposition to wars. Prosecutors said Montes should have disclosed his four-decade-old felony charge when he bought the shotgun at Big 5 Sporting Goods. Because he neglected to do this he will face six felony charges. The case is to be tried in Los Angeles.
“The gun issue was clearly a pretext to investigate my political activities,” he said when I reached him at his Alhambra home. “It is about my anti-war activities and my links to the RNC demonstrations. It is also about my activism denouncing the U.S. policy of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, their support for Israel and the Colombian government. I have been to Colombia twice.”
“I thought someone is breaking in, somebody is trying to jack me up,” he said. “I was a victim of an armed robbery in December of 2009 in my home. I do have a gun in my bedroom for self-defense. I was startled. I jumped out of bed. I saw lights coming from the front-door area. They looked like flashlights. I saw men with helmets and rifles. I gravitated towards the front door. I didn’t take my gun. I could have done that. I have it there. It is a good thing I didn’t pick anything up and put it in my hand.”
“I yelled, ‘Who is it?’ ” he said. “They said, ‘The police. Carlos Montes, come out’ or ‘come forward,’ something like that. I approached the entryway. They rushed in. They grabbed my hands. They turned me around. There were two police officers on each arm. They brought me out holding my arms. I have a little patio. They handcuffed me and patted me down. I am on a little hill. I looked down the street and [it was] full of sheriff’s vehicles, patrol cars and two large green vans. They were bigger than vans. People could stand in there. They didn’t have any logos on them.… I thought it was an Army truck at first. Later on I found it was from the sheriff.”
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