Many US activists lament the disappearance of this year's National Conference on Organized Resistance. Its run might be over, but never fear, the State is here! The Alliance of Youth Movements Summit was revealed in December 2008, an ensemble of media corporations, electoral consultants, social network entrepreneurs, all sponsored by the State Department. To retool the Rand mantra, how does a social network fight a social network?
Mutation and mimicry, for starters. Information warfare meets youth culture: while the rhetoric is civil society, the tactics are military (we are given a field manual, after all). Co-optation, normally understood as capitalist absorption of alternatives, also has roots in counterinsurgency tactics.
More than incorporation, this is an injection of values and parameters into the very genesis of action. Grassroots or Astroturf? It might be more useful to think of these campaigns as GMGOs (genetically modified grassroots organizations). Through the How-to videos we are incessantly reminded about the code of this genetically modified activism: Make sure you avoid violent extremism. You will need permits. Respect property. Use leaders. Speak forcefully without being incendiary. Avoid obscenities and violent imagery. Use as your model Cold War Latin American anti-Communism (anti-Castro, -Chavez, -FARC). Embody American exceptionalism: these networks should proliferate elsewhere, since the US has reached network nirvana with the Obama election.
Meanwhile, back in Dreamland USA, police and civilian spies wield sovereign weapons against other networks (online and offline—see the 2008 Republican National Convention). Networks are distinguished by their criminalization or as unspecified enemies. The GMGOs determine when a social movement network tips into the intolerable, and pre-empt it. Otherwise, Facebook ‘em, Danno!
But controlling mutations is not so easy, as the history of warfare demonstrates. Exploits (to cite Alex Galloway and Eugene Thacker) abound, especially in conditions of homogeneity and excessive expulsion. The fictional enemy here is Cloud, which is what this entire project resembles: not just surveillance from above, but the toxic source that waters the genetically modified seeds. What would happen if this field manual sprouted US anti-surveillance groups? Forget the business cards and baseball caps. But bring your disposable cell phones and anonymizing software.