Fast & Furious: Tragedy and Public Perception.

Operation Fast & Furious, a gun-running operation in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) allowed and even facilitated the smuggling of weapons from the USA to drug cartels in Mexico, seems to remain ripe with new developments every few months.

Three Mexican police officers and four cartel members were killed during a raging gun battle last week in the city of Guadalajara. Following the battle, Mexican police recovered a small cache of weapons and ammo from the cartel members; this cache included a number of hand grenades.

According to an intra-ATF “Significant Incident Report” obtained by CBS News, one of the recovered hand grenades was designated as a “Kingery” grenade; a hand grenade provided to the cartel by illegal arms dealer and smuggler Jean Baptiste Kingery. U.S. authorities had been tracking Kingery for years and had sufficient evidence to make an arrest, but purposely did not do so until nearly a decade later. Because of this, Kingery was able supply Mexican drug cartels with thousands of weapons for nearly a decade while U.S. authorities stood by and watched.

As CBS reports:

The Kingery case was overseen by the same Arizona U.S. Attorney and ATF office that let suspects traffic thousands of weapons to Mexican drug cartels in the operation dubbed Fast and Furious. The strategy was to try to get to the cartel kingpins, but it was halted after CBS News reported that Fast and Furious weapons were used by cartel thugs in the murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry on December 15, 2010. Weapons trafficked by other ATF suspects under surveillance were used two months later in the cartel murder of Immigration and Customs Agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico on February 15, 2011.

In 2009, ATF also learned Kingery was dealing in grenades; weapons of choice for Mexico’s killer cartels. Documents show they developed a secret plan to let him smuggle parts to Mexico in early 2010 and follow him to his factory. Some ATF agents vehemently objected, worried that Kingery would disappear once he crossed the border into Mexico. That’s exactly what happened.

The big question, of course, is this: What other weapons have U.S. authorities purposefully allowed to fall into the hands of drug cartels? How many people have been killed by weapons that U.S. authorities allowed to seep into criminal hands?

Fast & Furious indeed continues to be somewhat a thorn in the side of U.S. authorities, especially Attorney General Eric Holder, and it certainly deserves attention and outrage from the public. How would you feel if you found out the Mexican Government was allowing and in some cases funneling weapons over the US border into the hands of local criminal gangs? Unfortunately, the operation continues to remain pretty far from the public consciousness. Once in a while, some new piece of evidence may briefly make a headline somewhere before being quickly replaced with something else.

Almost all confirmed fatalities stemming from Fast & Furious have been Mexican nationals. Many of those killed have been members of the Mexican military and police forces, and many killed have been innocent Mexican civilians. If Americans were being killed like this, the scandal would be much larger and more severely prosecuted. Because most of those killed happened to be born over the imaginary line called a “border”, that seems to make the deaths less important in the eyes of much of the American public.

At least two Americans have been confirmed killed by Fast & Furious weapons: Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, and Immigration and Customs agent Jaime Zapata. The deaths of these individuals did at least begin to generate some serious talk over the failed operation. Even still, the issue remains a distant one in most circles, typically worthy of only a few words of indignation and feigned outrage before being glossed over. I can think of only 3 politicians who have spent significant effort trying to bring attention and accountability to the issue: Congressmen Darrell Issa and Rand Paul, and former Congressman Ron Paul. Otherwise, not much is heard of the issue on Capitol Hill. Attorney General Holder has managed to sweep the operation under the rug.

This illustrates something that needs to be understood about the American public: as long as the public does not perceive the direct negative impacts of what the U.S. government is doing, the public does not really care what the U.S. government does. This probably seems like a no-brainer to most people, but it is a trait often forgotten. The State bailed out crooked bankers and CEOs with taxpayer money in 2008, but the public does not really care.  Vast amounts of money and numerous lives continue to be wasted in an ultimately fruitless occupation of Afghanistan, but the public does not really care. The State illegally tested psychedelic drugs on involuntary subjects for years (resulting in the deaths of more than a few people), and also allowed hundreds of black people to die from Syphilis while lying about treating them; the public did not care or show much interest. In all of the above situations, the majority middle-class population has not or did not feel much in the way of direct negative impacts.  It is the same with Fast & Furious. Unless drug cartels begin threatening the American public with the obtained weapons on a large scale, the public will probably not pay much attention to the scandal.

I oppose the draft, but on it I will say this one positive thing: at least it made the public feel some type of alarm. During the Vietnam War years, the possibility of being drafted and sent into the bloody conflict was very real. Most middle-class American males were at risk of being drafted. This made the war an ever-present hobgoblin in the public eye. The public could not afford to ignore the issue, because they felt the direct impacts. This placed pressure on Washington. It still took years to end the conflict, but at least it was obvious the pressure was there. It played a role in speeding the final withdrawal. The War in Afghanistan, however, has raged for more than a decade and still no concrete end is in sight. Most of the public does not perceive any direct negative impacts, so they do not care.

When thinking about issues in America, whether present or yet-to-come, this is the key thing to remember: It is very unlikely that anything will change unless the middle-class public begins to feel directly threatened. Unless that condition becomes true, it is unlikely any issue will make it far beyond the political periphery.

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