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Last Saturday's New York Times carried an interesting front-page chart. It was titled "Tools of War in Counties Across the U.S." and it noted that a Defense Department program about 20 years old provides state and local governments with free surplus "military-style equipment."
Who's going to say no to that?
The program came to widespread attention a few days ago when trouble broke out in Ferguson, Missouri, and the Saint Louis County Police responded with an arsenal that could have made short work of Gaddafi. The Times chart consisted of "examples of equipment obtained by agencies in a selection of counties." Twelve, to be precise.
I learned from the Times that if you ever get out of line in Hartford County, Connecticut, the powers that be are prepared to set you straight with M-79 grenade launchers; in Benton County, Arkansas, a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle will encourage you to mend your ways. Meanwhile, Richland County, South Carolina, has its very own M113 armored personnel carrier.
The Times feature neither answered nor even asked an intriguing question: Do these counties have something in common to explain the arsenals they've assembled? Namely, a large minority population that a white power structure (a la Ferguson) might think about in terms of what it would take to put down an insurrection?
So I'm doing some quick and dirty research into U.S. Census figures. And yes, indeed, Richland County has an African-American population almost the size of its white population. Hartford County has a black and Latino population of about 31 percent; Maricopa County, Arizona (Hughes TH-55 helicopters), has a Latino population of about 30 percent.
But lightly populated Randolph County, Arkansas, is almost entirely white: its African-American population is 1 percent. Nevertheless, it can now boast of a C-23 cargo plane, whose mission has been described by the Washington National Guard as "movement of critical troops and supplies in a theater area."
The Pentagon is generous with clothing and equipment—for example, the exercise bikes given to Los Angeles County—but its most significant gifts can be divided into two categories: terror and transportation. Guns and armor on the one hand, aircraft on the other, each indispensable when a county goes to defcon one. The counties have unique needs, and Washington has helped fill them. Now Los Angeles County has its own fleet of Sea King helicopters, handy in lots of ways—the navy used them to track and destroy hostile submarines.
No conclusions should be drawn from the Times chart. It exists only to provide examples. This map that the Times has posted online shows that there are few counties in America that have not hit the Pentagon up for arms—including many certain that the greatest threat to local liberties is Washington itself.
And the 12 counties in the chart certainly didn't settle for only the articles shown in the "Tools at War" chart. Randolph County, with a population of less than 18,000, can thank Washington for 49 rifles, 29 pistols, and four shotguns. If Richland County is faced with suppressing a threat to its people's liberties, it can bring to the task 153 second-hand assault rifles, three armored vehicles (two of them mine resistant), five helicopters, two planes, and 96 night vision pieces—all compliments of the DoD.
Whatever the danger, from whatever the direction—the counties of America are locked and loaded and ready to face it. My concern is that this fall local weeklies will fan the flames of high school football rivalries and bordering counties will find themselves at war with each other.