Occupying Reality: The Truth about Occupy Wall Street
November 15, 2011, 1:30 a.m.
Zuccotti Park, New York City I sidled up behind a mob of about fifty furious Occupiers. It was the night of their eviction from the park. Police floodlights lit up the sidewalk like a movie set, and two surveillance helicopters hovered in the blackness above the Manhattan skyline. Occupiers, mostly white twenty-somethings, stood face-to-face with a phalanx of helmeted NYPD officers with batons at the ready. They alternated between screaming profanity at the cops and encouraging them to switch sides. Hundreds of them had already been arrested. In a coordinated police sweep, the City of New York had taken away the Occupiers’ Zuccotti Park home base earlier that night. OWS distress calls shot out across Twitter and Facebook around midnight. After a core group of about two hundred had been arrested for refusing to leave the park, the remaining Occupiers had gathered on its outskirts. They were determined to “take back” the private property that never belonged to them in the first place. I maneuvered just behind the groups as they looked for an opening back into Zuccotti. Moments later, more Occupiers were thrown onto the hoods of police cars and the pavement. Others moved corner to corner, hoping to out maneuver the police and then make a last charge on the now cordoned-off Zuccotti Park—but it never happened. After hours of roaming the streets of lower Manhattan with the mob, I followed them to nearby Foley Square as the sun began to rise. They held a “General Assembly” meeting and decided to regroup. It was time, they decided, to process video clips and get the word out across the globe about what had happened that night. After two months of political theater, their physical eviction had finally come, but they knew well that the real battle—the one of public opinion—was only just beginning.What Do They Want?
On September 17, 2011, a ragtag rabble of left-wing protesters gathered in lower Manhattan to protest Wall Street excess and restore fairness to the system. In a matter of weeks, the small group had spawned a global protest movement that eventually became known as Occupy Wall Street. It now seeks to steer American political discourse under the banner of the “99 percent.”
Most Americans were led to believe that the Occupy movement was spontaneous, nonpartisan, and primarily the result of public anger at Wall Street banks and economic inequality.
As someone who has been with Occupiers at every major event in New York City and has spent countless hours among them, I can tell you this: All of those claims are completely false.
When you dig down a few layers, you see that Occupy Wall Street is largely a Trojan Horse political movement. Its true agenda is driven by the deepest ambitions of the political left, rallying its factions to go all-in. The anti–Wall Street rhetoric is a smokescreen—a very effective one—for a much bigger and more radical slew of political objectives that elevate the state over the individual.
This is not to say that the financial sector hasn’t let Main Street down, or that Americans shouldn’t be upset about Wall Street corruption. There is genuine and justifiable anger over the role that Wall Street and the U.S. government played in the financial collapse. We still haven’t gotten to the bottom of that story. But that’s not what the OWS movement is really all about—at least not when the ubiquitous livestream cameras are turned off and the media has gone home to sleep.
What Occupiers see at stake is not so much Wall Street “reform,” but the entire progressive agenda of the post–World War II era. They believe that the anger and hardship of the masses can be focused and used to power a great leap forward, a “New, New Deal,” and they feel that now is the time for that leap to happen.
That’s the simple truth about the Wall Street Occupiers: They know the Nanny State is at a tipping point. Statist regimes around the globe are collapsing under the weight of outsized entitlements. This has spurred a fundamental transformation in the way Western democracies view their own future. Does the economic collapse signify that the welfare state is a failed experiment; or does it prove that the government needs to do more, that the safety nets need to be expanded even further?
OWS very much wants to provide a simple answer to that question. Yet, once you get past the signs and talking points and bumper sticker slogans, you begin to realize that its solution is not simple at all.
First and foremost, the Occupiers want stuff. The movement is less about what bankers have than what the Occupiers think they
should have, courtesy of Uncle Sam and U.S. taxpayers.
While the Occupiers themselves are a diverse bunch—at least when it comes to their motivations for standing in a park—the one thing that nearly all of them agree on is that government should redistribute more goodies to people like them. The complaints over the “1 percent” are just a convenient pretext to demand more benefits from Washington, D.C.More Is Not Enough
To really understand what OWS wants and why its demands are so unreasonable, it’s helpful to first take a step back. Our government has become a giant grab bag, a massive system of carrots and sticks that serves primarily to punish success and reward the lack of it. Those who create, earn, and prosper are continually and increasingly vilified at the hands of those who want more stuff: Unions want to keep their unsustainable contracts, students want their loan debts erased, homeowners want their underwater mortgages forgiven, and socialists want “free” healthcare, housing, and education. The list goes on forever.
What does not go on forever is giving much thought to who will pay for any of it. The answer, as it has been throughout history, is obvious: the rich.
Does any of this seem far-fetched yet?
The Occupiers have clearly been watching what is been happening in Europe. The EU over promised to its citizens, who in turn became dependent on the long, cold embrace of cradle-to-grave social welfare programs. That entire Euro way of life is suffering a long, slow death, yet OWS wants to recreate the socialist welfare state in America.
The consequences of that would be enormous. A stifled economy is just the tip of the iceberg. If the EU collapses, major financial spasms and possibly social unrest in the United States would not be too far behind. Bank failure contagion could spread. A great reordering of our society would ensue, with government in control of huge sectors of the economy.
This state of affairs simultaneously terrifies and encourages the Occupiers. America is standing at the precipice of massive change, and OWS views our precarious situation as a zero-sum game. Somebody is going to take the helm of the global economic and social forces shocking the world right now.
Statism is momentum-driven, so either the ball moves forward toward authoritarianism, or it slowly rolls back toward liberty. Whoever drives U.S. decision-making in the next couple of years could set policies in motion that affect—or dictate—the lives of generations to come.
That’s assuming, of course, that a precipitous collapse is avoided in the meantime.
What’s really at stake is nothing less than the nature and character of Western civilization—and the Occupiers know it. If they didn’t, what were they doing down on Wall Street for months? Why have they expressed solidarity with Cairo, Athens, and Madrid?
Occupy Wall Street is playing for the global audience of societies in various stages of unrest. “[I]t’s revolution, not reform,”1
they say. We should take them at their word.
If this all seems crazy to you, something out of a thriller novel that has no basis in reality, then just take a look at the Arab world over the past twelve months. Then look at Europe. Maybe Greeks throwing Molotov cocktails at police doesn’t frighten you. Hey, they work four hours a week and pay no taxes. It’s a weird place.
Fine. But how about lootings and rampant arson in London last summer? Or those Occupy-induced tear gas and Taser showdowns with police in Oakland and Denver that resemble newsreel footage of some tumultuous banana republic?
It’s not that all this might
happen here, it is
already happening here, slowly, in increments. Like it or not, Occupy is our new reality.
So, if it’s already here, you might be wondering what the point of this book is. Well, the truth is that I’ve analyzed insurgencies in two wars for the CIA, and I’ve helped the NYPD Intelligence Division combat terrorism with domestic and international nodes. And while I’m not saying New York is about to turn into Baghdad, I am saying that if we don’t take control of the situation soon, it could definitely turn into Athens. A quick YouTube search of “Greeks” and “riots” should prove that that scenario is worthy of your time and attention.
The reason I spent so much time observing the Occupiers and writing this book is simple: This thing isn’t over yet. America can still win. Freedom of opportunity can still be preserved. But, to win we must first take a serious look at the Occupy Wall Street argument and agenda. Americans need to know where this techno-statist movement came from, how it operates, who’s in it, and where it’s likely to go in the short term.
The protesters themselves might look harmless enough when viewed on the evening news, but their larger points cannot be so easily dismissed. We must tackle the issues that have led angry and embattled Americans to be sympathetic or apathetic to the Occupy protests. That’s where the real debate is happening, and that’s where you need to engage. We must isolate the legitimate Wall Street crony capitalism critiques from the rest of the leftist agenda. Don’t let them shoehorn socialism into a free market system that simply needs some commonsense reform. You don’t kill a patient simply because he has a wound; you focus on fixing the problem at hand.
I hope this brief treatment of Occupy Wall Street will give you context and facts to win the arguments that lie ahead for all of us who continue to believe that maximum freedom and minimum government is the best way forward for America. With the truth in hand, we can chip away at the media mythology surrounding the Occupy movement, and expose the motivations of the politicians and intellectuals who have embraced the Occupiers as a nonviolent movement focused on “income equality.”
Armed with knowledge, courage, and facts, America can stop Occupy Wall Street, and return to economic prosperity.
Let’s get to it.