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War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.
— General William Tecumseh Sherman

Fall 2011   Making War, Making Peace

Public Lecture - State Crimes Against Democracy: Moving Beyond "Conspiracy Theory"

Lance deHaven-SmithLance deHaven-Smith, Reubin O'D. Askew School of Public Administration and Policy, Florida State University

When: Thursday, October 13 @7:15-8:45 p.m.
Where: Jordan Hall 124

Departmental Sponsors:
College of Arts and Sciences, American Studies Program



This presentation examines the conceptual, methodological, and practical implications of research on State Crimes against Democracy (SCADs), especially as the research relates to 9/11.  In contrast to conspiracy theories, which speculate about each suspicious event in isolation, the SCAD construct delineates a general category of criminality and calls for crimes that fit this category to be examined comparatively for patterns in targets, timing, tactics, policy consequences, and other characteristics. 

Using this approach, a comparative analysis of SCADs and suspected SCADs in the post-World War II era reveals a number of commonalities: 

  • SCADs and suspected SCADs usually occur in clusters (e.g., the assassination of John Kennedy was followed by the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald; the attacks on Daniel Ellsberg were followed by Watergate);
  • They often appear where presidential politics and foreign policy intersect (e.g., the crimes of Watergate; the October Surprises of 1968 and 1980);
  • They frequently foment or clear the way for wars or the continuation of wars (e.g., the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Plame-gate, and most assassinations);
  • They often employ the skills and tactics of covert operations and psychological warfare (e.g., Watergate wiretapping, Iran-Contra “cutouts,” and forged documents on Iraqi acquisition of uranium);
  • SCAD crime scenes are investigated superficially and are cleaned up quickly (e.g., President Kennedy’s limousine was washed at Parkland Hospital; a doorframe riddled with bullets when Robert Kennedy was assassinated was “lost” by the Los Angeles Police Department); and
  • Incriminating photographic or documentary evidence is either sequestered or ignored (e.g., the Zapruder film was immediately purchased by Look Magazine; Iran-Contra documents were shredded by Oliver North; Howard Hunt’s safe in the White House was cleaned out; the hard drives on Katherine Harris’ computers were erased).

Many characteristics of 9/11 fit this profile.  9/11 was followed by anthrax mailings to media figures and U.S. Senators; the anthrax was from a strain developed by the U.S. military; the 9/11 attacks and anthrax mailings produced a rally-around-the-president effect and set the stage for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq; the date of 9/11 suggested sophisticated psychological planning because of its connection to the U.S. phone number for emergencies (9-1-1); videos from closed-circuit TV cameras at businesses near the Pentagon were confiscated; and debris at the World Trade Center was cleaned up quickly and not investigated for evidence of controlled explosives or incendiaries.   

Dr. Lance deHaven-Smith is a Professor in the Reubin O’D. Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University.  He received his B.A. degree from the University of Georgia, summa cum laude, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the Ohio State University.  A former President of the Florida Political Science Association, Dr. deHaven-Smith is the author of over a dozen books on topics ranging from policy analysis and political philosophy to American government and politics.  In a 2006 journal article, he coined the term “state crimes against democracy” (SCAD) to delineate a crime category for Watergate, Iran-Contra, Plame-gate, and other conspiracies in high office.  SCAD research has been highlighted in special issues of American Behavioral Scientist (February 2010) and Public Integrity (June 2011).

Background reading:

deHaven-Smith L. 2010. Beyond Conspiracy Theory: Patterns of High Crime in American Government. American Behavioral Scientist 53:795-825.