Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Martial Law Is Their Business, And Business Sure Is Swell (SPECIAL UPDATE, 10/2)
The "dream" realized: The Two Rivers Detention Facility, the proudest achievement of Hardin, Montana's political class. Sure, it's empty now, but I'm sure those nice men in the black SUVs can do something about that....
UPDATE, October 2
Hardin, Montana -- For an on-the-scene report on developments in the Hardin scandal, please go to LibertyNewsRadio.com and listen to this evening's program. I'll have a more detailed report here on Pro Libertate as soon as feasible.
If you build it, they will come.
That would appear to be the business plan of an enigmatic California company called American Police Force (APF), which appears to be effectively taking over the town of Hardin, Montana.
The "it" in question is a large jail facility outside Hardin, Montana, that was built several years ago but thus far remains unused. "They" refers to prisoners to fill said jail -- a 114,000 square foot, 464-bed facility. APF has yet to become firmly established in Hardin (pop. 3,400), but the company's representatives are confident "the place [meaning the jail] would start filling up by 2010."
At present, the firm is said to be doing "market research," an ominous prospect, given that it's in the business of detention. And it has even spoken about the possibility of expanding the jail within a few years.
Say, that is good news -- at least for the people on AFP's payroll. Since last Thursday, when company personnel rolled into town in a convoy of black Mercedes SUVs embossed with seals advertising a non-existent "City of Hardin Police Department,"the company's payroll has increased by at least one, and possibly two, key local figures.
The first to be snapped up was Becky Shay, a former Billings Gazette reporter whose beat included the Hardin jail. Within a day of AFP's arrival, she was hired away from the paper to serve as a $60,000-a-year spokesperson for the company (a pretty hefty salary increase for a local reporter in Montana). So quickly and slickly was this career change made that Shay's editor didn't even know she had talked with AFP about the position.
Yes, that logo just screams "America!" to me: There's nothing like the combination of a crown and a double-headed imperial eagle to summon the memory of the Revolutionary War patriots who fought to free themselves from an imperial monarch. Hey, wait a minute....
Also in "discussions" with AFP is Kerri Smith, a finalist in Hardin's mayoral race and wife of Greg Smith, Executive Director of the Two Rivers Authority (TRA). The TRA is Hardin's economic development agency, which issued $27 million in bonds to build the jail as a public works project.
In what must be the most ill-conceived piece of civic boosterism ever to assault my senses, the TRA's webpage presents the Hardin jail -- that's a structure intended to deprive people of their freedom, remember -- as the poetic expression of a cherished dream: A YouTube video proudly displays slides of the jail set to the unbearable strains of Russell Watson's wretched ballad "Faith of the Heart" (the musical accompaniment is heard on the TRA's "Detention Center" webpage):
Yes, there's nothing quite like an effeminate power ballad to capture the pure aesthetic grace of a detention camp ringed by barbed wire.
Apparently, the "long road" to building that jail didn't end in prosperity. Since the finished jail has remained empty, the bonds have gone into default. At one point, Hardin's city government indicated it would accept relocated detainees from Gitmo; this prompted a legal battle between the city and the Montana state government.
Yeah, these guys look legit: What could possibly go wrong here?
Last March, AFP was incorporated in California. Shortly thereafter it began talks with Hardin city officials and the TRA.
City officials eventually announced an agreement with the mysterious firm that would bring in $2.6 million for use of the jail, in addition to an "investment" of $23 million to build a new training facility for military and police (which are assumed to be part of one integrated coercive apparatus, of course) on the same TRA-owned property.
The deal -- which was publicly announced although the specifics were never publicly disclosed -- is supposedly a cornucopia of civic benefits: New computers for the schools; a homeless shelter; a fleet of Mercedes patrol cars for the envisioned city police force; donations to the local food pantry; an animal shelter; gold-plated fixtures for the Mayor's executive washroom. OK, I made that last one up. I think.
Have you seen this man? Greg Smith, Executive Director of Hardin's Two Rivers Authority, negotiated a deal to turn over his town to what appeared to be a Blackwater front group, then made himself scarce.
TRA Executive Director Greg Smith, whose wife is in discussions for a position with AFP, helped negotiate the deal. Immediately after it was finished, he was put on "administrative leave," and went to ground. (Calls from Pro Libertate to Mr. Smith's number at the TRA were not returned.)
What appears to be happening here -- and until relevant details are pried out of the prehensile grip of the people running things, we can't know for sure -- is nothing less than a corporatist-style military coup: the takeover of a small town in Montana by a politically connected, federally subsidized paramilitary organization.
They're talking, but saying nothing: APF spokeswoman Becky Shay (left) and corporate official "Captain" Michael Hilton.
At a press conference a few days ago, Becky Shay grandly announced that "The decision is the name of the parent company will not be released."
Suspicions were immediately aroused that APF is a tentacle of the corporatist mercenary company formerly known as Blackwater, but now doing business under the odd name Xe (pronounced "Zee"). However, a press spokeswoman for Xe informed Pro Libertate that "We have no connection to that company, and had never heard of it" prior to recent developments in Montana.
Hardin may well be the first of many economically devastated communities to be given a lifeline by the burgeoning military-homeland security-prison-industrial complex. Lifelines of that kind can quickly become nooses.
(Watch this space for more details as they become available....)
UPDATE: Is the Balloon Going Up -- or is the Curtain Rising on a Farce?
My first reaction when I read a write-up of recent events in Hardin was that it was a retread of every "Blue Scare" story I had dealt with more than a decade and a half ago as a researcher at The New American magazine. (Here's a link to the radio program I did on Monday in which I first addressed the developments in Hardin.)
Right up until the OKC bombing there was a steady stream of alarmist rumors -- many of them provoked by events at Waco and Ruby Ridge -- of various paramilitary forces gathering in obscure, distant locations to wreak havoc on innocent people. Often the accounts would include vague but insistent references to the involvement of foreign troops wearing UN insignia (hence the expression "Blue Scare" as a generic description).
What made those stories credible at all was the fact that the government ruling us had displayed an uncanny ability to exceed our lowest expectations. There's certainly an element of that at work regarding the Hardin story: The militarization of law enforcement is a documentable menace, as is the increasing impunity with which police inflict lethal or near-lethal violence on innocent citizens. The preparations for outright military rule are likewise very real, and disturbing.
Still, there is something utterly surreal about the Hardin case; it's as if some kind of martial law melodrama were being played out as an enhanced "reality" program -- something like Red Dawn meets Jericho with a touch of the Orson Welles "War of the Worlds" broadcast added for good measure.
As much as it would pain me to have been played in this fashion, I'm hoping that's what we're dealing with here. In any case, I intend to visit Hardin, find out what I can, and publish what I learn. Perhaps by then this whole thing will have proven to be an elaborate version of "Punk'd." We'll soon see....
One last thought.
Shortly before the brilliant and principled people* running The New American decided they'd be better off without my services, I wrote a piece in which I made the following prediction:
"[E]ver-mounting debt, the impendingcollapse of the dollar, and the unfolding garrison state--could lead to some exceptionally unpleasant outcomes. For instance: it is possible that someday in the not too distant future a foreign interest like China, Russia, or Saudi Arabia could be in charge of our prison system....
Foreign lenders are preparing to buy our country out from underneath us, taking advantage of the dollar's decline and the desperation of cash-strapped state and local governments. Notes a recent USA Today front page story: "States and local governments across the USA are preparing to cash in valuable public assets for one-time windfalls that could reap tens of billions of dollars. The deals would let governments collect billions of extra dollars without raising taxes but would reduce their future revenue."
Highways, airports, state student-loan portfolios, sewer systems, state-run lotteries--all of these are being put up for sale. Could jails and prisons be put on the auction block, as well--as post-9/11 America takes an ominous turn in the direction of a police state? With more than two million residing behind bars in the United States, and states and municipalities increasingly turning to private, for-profit entities to run these facilities, the possibility really can't be dismissed outright. Beijing, Moscow, and Riyadh all have large dollar reserves and a lot of experience in the field of incarceration. This scenario is just one of several ugly possibilities arising from our present circumstances. "
("21st Century Feudalism," TNA, August 7, 2006; don't look for it on the magazine's website, since the folks in charge are busy scrubbing it of any evidence that someone named William Norman Grigg once wrote for that publication).
Assuming that the American Police Force isn't some kind of farcical reality theater road troupe, there's reason to believe its parent company has connections with some interesting people in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Once again, I'll keep looking, so please keep reading.
Second Update: Should We Call Him "Captain" Harold Hill?
Here's a significant piece of background info on "Captain Michael Hilton," the Montenegrin Mountebank running AFP:
[...] [W]hen Hilton came to town last week — wearing a military-style uniform and offering three Mercedes SUVs for use by local law enforcement — he was greeted with hugs by some grateful residents. The promise of more than 200 new jobs for a community struggling long before the recession hit had won them over.
But public documents and interviews with Hilton's associates and legal adversaries offer a different picture, that of a convicted felon with a number of aliases, a string of legal judgments against him, two bankruptcies and a decades-long reputation for deals gone bad.
American Police Force is the company Hilton formed in March to take over the Hardin jail.
"Such schemes you cannot believe," said Joseph Carella, an Orange County, Calif. doctor and co-defendant with Hilton in a real estate fraud case that resulted in a civil judgment against Hilton and several others.
"The guy's brilliant. If he had been able to do honest work, he probably would have been a gazillionaire," Carella said.
Court documents show Hilton has outstanding judgments against him in three civil cases totaling more than $1.1 million.
As for Hilton's military expertise, including his claim to have advised forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, those interviewed knew of no such feats. Instead, Hilton was described alternately by those who know him as an arts dealer, cook, restaurant owner, land developer, loan broker and car salesman — always with a moneymaking scheme in the works.
Hilton did not return several calls seeking comment. American Police Force attorney Maziar Mafi referred questions to company spokeswoman Becky Shay.
When asked about court records detailing Hilton's past, Shay replied, "The documents speak for themselves. If anyone has found public documents, the documents are what they are."
Shay declined comment on Hilton's military experience....
Hilton, 55, uses the title "captain" when introducing himself and on his business cards. But he acknowledged it was not a military rank.
He said he is naturalized U.S. citizen and native of Montenegro. Aliases for Hilton that appear in court documents include Miodrag Dokovich, Michael Hamilton, Hristian Djokich and Michael Djokovich.
One attorney who dealt with Hilton in a fraud lawsuit referred to him as a "chameleon" and he has a reputation for winning people over with his charm.
His criminal record goes back to at least 1988, when Hilton was arrested in Santa Ana, Calif. for writing bad checks.
Beginning in 1993, Hilton spent six years in prison in California on a dozen counts of grand theft and other charges including illegal diversion of construction funds.
The charges included stealing $20,000 in a real estate swindle in which Hilton convinced an associate to give him a deed on property in Long Beach, Calif., ostensibly as collateral on a loan. Hilton turned around and sold the property to another party but was caught when the buyer contacted the original owner.
After his release, he got entangled in at least three civil lawsuits alleging fraud or misrepresentation. Those included luring investors to sink money into gold and silver collectible coins; posing as a fine arts dealer in Utah in order to convince a co uple to give him a $100,000 silver statue; and, in the case involving co-defendant Carella, seeking investors for an assisted living complex in Southern California that was never built.
Carella said he was duped into becoming a partner in the development project and that Hilton used Carella's status as a physician to lure others into the scheme. He was described in court testimony as a "pawn" used by Hilton to lure investors.
Those involved with Hilton say he is an accomplished cook with a flair for the extravagant — wining and dining potential partners, showing up at the Utah couple's house to negotiate for the silver statue in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes.
"This is the way we got taken," said Carolyn Call of Provo, Utah, who said she gave Hilton her family's silver statue to sell on the open market.
According to court documents, Hilton turned around and gave the statue to an attorney to pay for his services.
Two California attorneys said Wednesday that after learning of Hilton's latest activities they planned to follow him to Montana to seek payment on the outstanding judgments against him.
"Once I know that there is an asset or some sort of funds to go after, we'll go after it," said Call's attorney, Roger Naghash.
This doesn't answer everything, but it does suggest that we can stand down from General Quarters -- even though we should still keep our powder dry, as it were.
I think it's appropriate, once again, to refer to my radio program from Monday night in which I first dealt with the news out of Hardin.
(Thanks to "piglipstick" for the link.)
*Need I say that I was being sarcastic?
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Dum spiro, pugno!