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Occupy Groups Evolve, Begin a New Season and Explore New Roles

2012 April 2
by Jason Nairn, CPP, CISSP

As across the country Occupy groups are beginning a new season of occupying, or not occupying, two questions come to mind:

  1. How has the movement changed / evolved since it began?
  2. What has law enforcement done to better prepare to manage this and other similar movements?

According to my observations of several midwestern Occupy groups at least two things are happening that speak to the evolution of the movement.  First, Occupy groups all across the country are developing “Good Neighbor Policies” to deal with individuals and groups within the movement that are either disrespectful or hazardous to their members.  The widespread adoption of this approach is indicative of the movement’s hierarchy, which begins in New York, and also the degree to which Occupy groups all across the country dealt with the infiltration of their encampments by the criminal and the under-served mentally-ill.  Occupy meetings have had lively debates in the off-season about what to do about threats to their safety.  The answer was call the police, which is interesting.

Local Occupy groups have been feeling around in the off-season for some other, fresher, issues to adopt that might revitalize numbers and refocus attention on the movement.  This may be a regional phenomenon, as certain Occupy groups, such as the “Occupy the SEC” group in New York, are making substantive contributions to the conversation about our financial system which is at the core of the original movement. But Occupy groups in northern and midwestern states and Canadian cities have disbanded or broken up due to lack of focus, lack of interest, lack of resources, and lack of a reason to continue.

Debates have ensued over the prudence of losing focus on the 1%.  Some Occupiers have suggested taking up hydraulic fracking, the controversial process of rock fracturing for oil and gas extraction that has become a boon for northeastern shale deposit owners.  Indeed a “Stop Hydraulic Fracking” banner was unfurled by Occupy Lansing members at Michigan’s Capitol during a State of the State Address protest activity.  Others have set their sights on “Occupy the Homes”-type scenarios where foreclosed homes can be occupied as a way to bring attention to the foreclosure crisis and back to the banks.  One thing is certain, some of the energy of last summer has waned, and the movement can no longer support individual groups in every city in the country.

Another interesting question that stems from all of this is, “Is the Occupy Movement over when the tents come down?”

Another trend of note is that some Occupy groups are attempting to incorporate, seeking the protections and rights and permanence of corporate entities, mostly in the non-profit vein.  Occupy Detroit, for instance, has a fiduciary.  That is the United Auto Worker’s Union (UAW) which shares a joint bank account with Occupy Detroit.  Occupy Detroit has investigated the possibilities of incorporating in order to access the resources necessary to expand their movement.  These relationships cause one to wonder how the movement will navigate the conflicts of interest generated by working both against and with financial institutions and governments.  Look for taglines like “We’re not just a protestor, we’re also a customer!”

It is as yet unclear how law enforcement has used the lull in action to learn the lessons of 2011.  The Occupy Movement has an unpredictable relationship with the police.  Many in the movement feel that the police are part of the 99%, and have consequentially been cooperative with authorities.  Others, as stated in this article, note that the police are the “face of 1% power”.

But one thing is certain, law enforcement can and should learn something from the last year’s events.  This article is a good start…  As is this document.


6 Responses leave one →
  1. April 3, 2012

    Good luck with the new blog. Send an e-mail to you and will send a chart that might well be of interest. I own the copyright and you may utilize freely!

    Bill Cumming

  2. April 3, 2012

    Correction: Send e-mail to me obviously.

  3. Jason Nairn permalink*
    April 3, 2012


    I always enjoy your insightful commentary on hlswatch, and I am grateful to Chris for helping me kick off this blog. If you send an email to I will get your email directly. Thanks for your comments! Also, I found your comments on the hlswatch blog fascinating – especially the second section. Thanks again!

  4. April 3, 2012

    Welcome aboard. There are few voices talking about the homeland security issues at the state and local level so this is a welcome addition to the field.

    I was just thinking about this subject the other day and would suggest that many in the HLS community (at the state and local level) have viewed Occupy as a threat. In part, I suspect that’s because the community is generally (small ‘c’) conservative and any challenge to the status quo will be viewed with suspicion. In that regard, the old cliche that when all you have is a hammer, all your problems look like a nail seems to fit.

    But, we’re also in a time of tightening budgets and reduced terrorist activity (at least compared to the early 2000s). I’d suggest that Occupy filled a threat void by giving all these centers and units something to do during the Fall/Winter of 2011.

    Gawker (of all places) has an interesting article ( and accompanying docs regarding to DHS’s response to state/local requests about the Occupy movement and they seemed (generally) like the voice of reason. I think the event goes a long way to demonstrating that there remains a great deal of confusion about what the role of the community is when people are engaged in constitutionally protected activities, even if there is some incidental criminal activity associated with it.

    • Jason Nairn permalink*
      April 3, 2012

      Great points! It is critical for security professionals to remain focused on maintaining public safety/responding to criminal activity not reacting to lawful protest activity. Seasoned professionals understand the need to exercise restraint and protect individual liberty and privacy. I have seen competent security managers send out guidance to their constituents reminding them of the rights of groups like occupy to lawfully conduct their activities, defining what is acceptable and unacceptable. This is a great approach. Fusion centers and other intelligence collection agencies were right to exercise caution around these groups. They have no right to monitor citizens (protestors or not) without probable cause, and I think the vast majority of professionals in these roles understand that. They are well aware that a single misstep can cause a program to lose the trust of its partners and the public. The UC Davis pepper spray incident and the associated imagery will haunt that program for a long time…

      Incidental criminal activity is an issue, but is often predictable, detectable, and driven by one or a few individuals who are often known (i.e. criminal history, group or gang affiliations, etc). The professionals with whom I have operated understand these nuances and are careful to protect the innocent and their rights to free speech. The last link in my blog post is a pretty good primer on these issues. I have been sharing it often.

      Discussion about these issues, what we can learn from each other, and how we can better respond is one reason I started this blog! I thank you for your insightful post on our new blog! I look forward to future discussions!

  5. April 5, 2012

    Turns out that I posted the document, a WENN Diagram on my website long ago. Go to and click on documents. Thanks! Bill

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