Dallas: The fifth generation force multiplier and how violence found a niche in social movements

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The Dallas police attacks have shaken not only police forces around the world but also our understanding of what dramatic change is possible in the space of a single day. With one action, which not only defines the lives of the police officers who were lost and injured, but also the lives of the social movement in whose cause the killings occurred. The word terrorism takes on new meaning. The day marked the inevitability of the evolution to enemy centricity and away from population centric policing. Whatever force was being protested just increased.

In the strictest sense of the word the unlawful killings of the police officers are terrorist in nature. They are actions taken by an individual in the name of a cause which is political – the protest against white people and by extension, the cultural and social structure that empowers them. The role of a police officer is specifically to uphold that structure. They represent the structure that protestors were objecting to. By any definition the use and abuse of force by police officers in the United States is sanctioned and empowered by the state.

The reluctance to use the word terrorist for the actions taken by the attacker in Dallas is marked. In the psyche of a Daesh-exhausted global community the possibility of ‘home grown terrorist action’ is so far removed and yet this is exactly what this is. An action that is political in nature and designed to inspire fear in order to address an issue or cause which is political and therefore state based. Hence attacking the institution of law enforcement to express the helpless frustration of a segment of the population being abused by the state and empowered to do so by the state. Social movements form to protest injustice. It is a form of actively reclaiming their sovereignty and effectively  removing  this sovereignty from the state as protest against the violation of the social contract which binds citizen and state in an understanding that the state’s role is to prevent life becoming Hobbesian in nature…‘nasty brutish and short’.

Law enforcement has no other option but to escalate its force given the Dallas events. This implies that policing has turned enemy centric in nature and no longer population centric. From this point on there can only be an escalation of armament and force options; we may see a new norm when policing protests. Threat assessments for conducting operations will include an anticipation that the ‘enemy will strike again.’ In exchange, the population prepares to meet aggression with aggression. It is called a security dilemma. When armoured police troop carriers arrive at the next protest those peaceful protestors will either not attend – and thus grow in frustration at unfulfilled democratic expectations – or they will meet their oppressors with equal force. Social movements become violent when the state’s repression becomes excessive. State response to future protests is about to become just that.

Welcome to the world of fifth generation warfare

In Dallas, people from many communities merged together to protest two additional incidents of excessive force leading to deaths at the hands of the police. In 2016 alone 163 black people were killed by police including two in the preceding 24 hours to the Dallas incident. An already destabilised black community was continuing to stand up for answers and demand change. This wide scale response generated ripples of instability in the status quo of the system. While peaceful protest was underway under protection of a strong and visible police force the tranquillity of the event was shattered and the protestors turned to the same police force to protect them. Officers died doing just that – protecting the rights of citizens to protest their own institution. They gave their lives for protestors marching against them. Those officers who died upheld the noble tradition that policing should be defined by. The role of the police force is to uphold law for the benefit and safety of the population. Law enforcement is designed to protect and serve its communities. When it fails to fulfil that function there is an inevitable response from the population: Retaliation.

The march was going peacefully when the sniper started firing his legally acquired weapon that he was legally allowed to carry. At the end of the incident five officers had been killed and seven wounded. The attacker targeted policemen exclusively and not protestors. The sniper was professional, according to videos by eyewitnesses.

The attacker used a legally purchased rifle to carry out the attacks. The state allows citizens to buy these high powered weapons. Therefore, they operated within the system and state rules. The police had three attackers in custody and were negotiating however, the last attacker resisted, exchanged fire with officers then shot himself. There is a clear understanding here that this attacker chose to die for the cause he was prompted to act upon. The cause was a stand against the state and the institutionalised racially motivated abuse which the police have been accused of. The motives behind the attack may vary but according to latest news, the sniper was aiming his hatred at white police officers. In any respect this is a reaction to the way in which the organs of the state respond to and address sections of the civil society that make up the state.

This arguably marks a departure in how the police may view  protest as we move forward and the likely ramping up of anger and aggression by social movements into ‘violent transnational social movements’. Also known as fifth generation warfare.

Fifth generation warfare might be the best way of understanding the shape of what comes next. Groups of people who have their own agenda and do not fit into the existing system trying to make a change; make a revolution or create a new system with more equity and equality but using violence as a means of last resort. These groups arm themselves against the state and the structures of the state system in order to bring about political, social and religious change. With violent chaos, the group tries to change the structures and norms of the existing system in which they are unable to function as full beneficiaries of what they perceive as social justice and equality.

One of the key objectives in action of this nature is to engender a questioning of the authority and legitimacy of the state. A sense of righteousness pervades those who rise up in violent protest as the Dallas sniper did. Several hours later another police officer was shot by a member of the public in Baldwin. Simultaneously officers were targeted in Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee. Rather than being a single isolated incident this is the precursor to a change in the world as we know it. A silent tide is turning and justice will result. How unfortunate that in such respected democracies it is being channelled through the use of violence.    

A silent majority will agree with these actions viewing it as a form of justice on behalf of the affected community. The other characteristic to note is that members may act together but do not necessarily agree with all the ideas or goals of the group. The motives behind the attack in Dallas are clear but choosing a black lives matter protest as the occasion to mete out this particular form of justice is telling and not random. The movement does not have to agree with these actions and parts may condemn it but the fact that it has occurred in conjunction with a peaceful protest focused on injustices to a particular community cannot be escaped. The implications for future protests and how the police handle future protesting social movements will forever be changed.

The evolution of socially derived citizen centric warfare against the state is undeniable. Violence is increasingly becoming normalised. Specifically, violence by the state against citizens and citizens responding violently in turn. This is fifth generation warfare.

Violent transnational social movements are on the rise. Globalisation enables a high degree of interconnectedness between people. Shared common ideas connect via transnational advocacy networks and are implemented by transnational social movements in turn. These do not have to be transnational in nature; they may be state based and focused on state related political issues but what marks a change is the inclusion of violence amongst the choice of responsive options available to the protest groups. The action itself is not sufficient to label it ‘fifth generation’ but the inevitable escalation of force  by the state and the degree of resistance offered by the social movements as they try to recreate a more equitable  system does point in the direction of an evolution in the nature of warfare as we know it. Non-state actors with political and social objectives having access to weapons for war-making and permission to use them suggests that a line has been crossed. Ideas matter in the globalised era we live in. Ideas are powerful and shape our thinking and acting. It is impossible to kill an idea. The idea that one section of a community can be killed with seeming impunity by agents of the state meets equal measure with the idea that this community can and will react accordingly. Dallas was therefore inevitable and what comes next inevitably predictable.

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