When a fishy paramilitary firm run out of a Real Estate Agency in Scottsdale, Arizona shows up in the North Woods of Wisconsin to protect some mining equipment with a slew guards sporting Death Squad chic, that’s, I have to say, a story I want to know more about. But there’s more to it than just the gonzo freakishness of the story.It’s stories like this, I believe, where we see at the ground level some of the most interesting, terrifying and important trends in our society. This one reminds me of an amazing story from a few years back about a beleaguered town in Montana that got bamboozled by some Wall Street hucksters into floating a big loan to build their own prison. Only they couldn’t find any prisoners to fill it and ended up falling prey to a California based con-man who got them to sign a contract to make the prison profitable but also basically take over the town with his rent-a-goon police force.
So here we had the for-profit prison industry, dying, resource-starved small towns, the pump-and-dump era of toxic mortgages, the con-men and shysters endemic in every era mixed in with the ‘tactical’ gun culture and militarized security porn which is still blossoming throughout our society.
Similarly, in the Bulletproof security case you have the confluence of a number of trends, none of them good, most of them bizarre and some occasionally funny in a macabre sort of way. Part of it is the out of control gun culture, another is people with free floating angst about the direction of the country who feel the need – part as a business, part as an outlet for aggressive fantasies and at least some part arrested emotional development – to create their own little private armies for hire.
In a series of 2007 interviews explaining his motivation for launching Bulletproof Securities out of his existing real estate business, owner Tom Perrella (who we profile here) pointed to the example of 9/11. “We see things changing and the threats coming here. And it’s something that is going to be more frequent in the future … There’s no way our government can secure and protect with the situation we’re in. We’re trying to bridge the gaps between private security contractors and local government and law enforcement.”
Private security services are nothing new. But the trend to more paramilitary types of protection in an era of demonstrably diminished risk is something new. In addition, as our society becomes economically stratified, with a tiny segment living in a wildly different world than everyone else, you have some rational need for security but also the desire for security chic as another accoutrement of wealth or conspicuous consumption.
It was never really clear when looking at Bulletproof Securities quite how much armament they had or frankly how much business they had – whether the whole website is just sort of a Potemkin Village. But in the write ups we saw, by their own admission, what business they did have was less the going head to head with drug cartels or doing battle with terrorists than providing high profile mega-security to the super rich (allegedly, by their own account, a former Vice President) and if their training drills are any guide protecting them from fantasy kidnapping attempts and terrorist attacks.
This is, I admit, a knot of many different trends I haven’t been able to fully pull apart of make sense of yet, certainly not in this single post. But they are all part of a common thread, weaving together extreme wealth and financial stratification, the cult of private ownership of the tools of militarized mass-violence and the incubus of the crazy lurking under a rapidly changing society. I’d like your help in trying to piece it all together. So drop me a line.