Code Pink's Medea Benjamin at a rally in Washington, DC, October 2011 (via Flickr / markn3tel)
Here's a tip: The worst way to go about drawing attention to the use of flying robots that end lives is to stage the non-flight of a flying robot that, in theory, saves lives. But alas, this is exactly what went down late last week when the screaming-bright activist troupe Code Pink tried flying a
small-fry drone remotely-controlled toy plane over the oceanside SoCal digs of General Atomics chief executive Neal Blue, who apparently wasn't even home.
I get it. Americans should be hot pissed that the shadow wars, which are largely the preserve of hulking hunter-killer drones like the Predator and the Reaper--both manufactured by General Atomics--remain in the shadows. They should be fuming and agitated that the US government is washing its hands of that whole ugly enhanced-interrogations business by cutting right to the chase and targeting suspected bad dudes (and probably countless innocent civilians) for incineration straight away, as opposed to capturing and bringing choice militants before the courts. They should call bullshit on this notion that by moving all lethal drone activity from out of the hands of the CIA and into the Pentagon's court will somehow bring transparency to the US drone program abroad, as the military enjoys far more cloak-y privileges than the spy agency ever has.
And guess what? They are--at least some of them, anyway. This maybe even includes a rising tide of elected officials in an otherwise do-nothing Congress.
So I sort of get what Code Pink and its telegenic leader, Medea Benjamin, were going for out front of Blue's place. (And I take back saying "non-flight," as Code Pink was only stopped from flying the mini quadcopter over Blue's residence, and not, as the above video shows, on the streets of La Jolla, which is legal.) Or rather, I get what they've been going for--say, in leading a group of anti-drone activists through Pakistan to shed light on the whole bloody awful mess.
“What I want to see is a transparent, national discussion about our use of drones,” Benjamin told UT-San Diego. "This is not the kind of world we want to live in. We think we are beginning to turn the tide on public opinion.”
Fair enough. You're not alone, Medea. But is spinning up a harmless toy--the same kind of cheap thing being used to find lost hikers stranded deep in the bush, or to monitor crops, or to inspect cell-phone towers, or to protect endangered white rhinos on the African plain (Oh, the humanity!)--the best way to spur that national discussion? Of course it isn't. Conflating a $400 toy bought off the shelf with a $36.8 million precision kill-toy bought from a top-tier government contractor is as dangerous as it is misinformed as it is a shot in the foot of drone criticism writ large. If anything, it just looks silly.
A much better tactic would've been to loiter a goddamn Reaper over Blue's place. Right? But let's be real--that just isn't possible. The next best option? Urge citizens to ring up their local officials, to attend the FAA's near-empty virtual drone town hall last Wednesday, to otherwise mobilize to at least try and foster a national discussion on any number of facets of America's weaponized drones abroad and at home.
But nope. All we got here was a bunch of theatre. I'm sure Blue was just tickled pink.