Why Security Forces Repress instead of Joining “el Pueblo”

People who are not psychopaths find it hard to administer violence. How does the National Guard and the Bolivarian Police overcome that reticence?

We love to hate the National Guard. The Bolivarian Police, too. After experiencing their violent repression of peaceful civilian protesters, it’s little wonder. We see them as brutes or malandros that almost relish violence. It’s almost as if they couldn’t help their sadistic selves. It seems so easy for them to dole out violence. But why?

Violence is always difficult to dole out. We have hard-wired, instinctive reasons to shy away from it. You cringe at the sound of a gunshot or at the sight of a madman attacking someone with a knife —even if he isn’t attacking you. That cringe is your survival instinct telling you to get out of the dangerous situation, quick, or act against the threat if you can. Some people become paralyzed by fear when a violent threat arises. If this happens, don’t beat yourself up; it means you are not a psychopath. If you do not even cringe at the sound of a gunshot or other threat, chances are you have a personality disorder and your nearest military recruiter would love to hear from you!

Normal people have to be coaxed to overcome that shyness, so they’re able to effectively dole out violence. The National Guard and National Police, as institutions, are designed to do exactly that: to lower the inhibitions of people when it comes to administering violence.
Because they find themselves in an institution and a situation that’s finely tuned to make violence easier to dole out, if you’re going up against these guys, you owe it to yourself to understand how that institution and those situations work.

Going against security forces nude, might be more effective than throwing Molotov cocktails (or “Puputov” cocktails for that matter).

The training of security forces is actually designed to wring this survival instinct out of the soldiers or policemen. Training consists of exposing them to constant loud explosions and gunshots during grueling obstacle courses, so they get used to reacting “calmly” in situations of physical threat. The thing is, unless a member of the security forces is a true psychopath, the part of our survival instinct making violence difficult never goes away. Not entirely.

The most common way to trump this survival instinct making violence difficult to dole out may also be the ugliest: attacking the weak. In WWI some fighter pilot aces shot down dozens of enemy pilots because they chose to attack the ones that were not in complete control of their aircraft: novices.

Probably the best recent example of circumventing fear in attacking the weak during the Venezuelan protests was the infamous footage of a National Guard APC plowing through a group of protesters.

Charging through protesters’ bodies, the guardia is massively protected. They can throw Molotov cocktails at his rinoceronte, but that’s a gesture of defiance, not a real threat. He appears to come in defense of a peer of his–who was better protected than the protesters–and he does not keep on plowing more people, as he retreated (did he realize what he had just done?).

Another less dramatic and more commonly found example is this one from a “fight” between mostly young protesters and the National Guard on the 3rd of May in Caracas.

These are typical student protesters; armed mainly with rocks. The police are clearly better armed and protected. They have proper shields, protection from the “bats,” helmets, and guns. Yet, they do not seem completely at ease. They fire at what are mostly dispersed students with rocks at a distance (another pathway around the instinctual fear of carrying out violence). The targets are clearly weaker than they are, still they need to take steps to tamp down on the paralyzing fear of engaging in violence.

Something similar happens in the following example.

Here we can see the protesters are armed with some cheap motorcycle helmets, rocks, and makeshift, Age-of-Empires-style painted shields. The National Guards fire rubber pellets at a distance. They advance slowly behind the cover of their APCs, while firing tear gas canisters at the protesters and with the infamous water cannons. In this case they are attacking targets that are clearly weaker than them, at a distance, and they are immersing themselves in a group identity and technique.

The uniforms, helmets, shields, guns, APCs do more than provide a fighting advantage. They create a group identity that makes the guardsmen anonymous. This goes a long way to disarming the fear of committing violence. Throughout history warriors went into battle with their faces painted or wearing garments, in uniform with their fellow combatants, as this immersion in a common fighting technique controls the natural instinct to run away from the very dangerous place that is a battle. Some of the protesters are doing the same, as seen in the last video, by the use of makeshift shields and formations. This allows them to circumvent the fear of engaging a much better equipped opponent.

Group identity sets in: that’s another key ingredient if you want to dole out violence or even to resist it. It becomes the new “normal.” It creates a sort of social inertia. Once this happens, it is very difficult to break. From the point of view of the guardias and the pacos, what started out as orders from above to repress political opponents becomes into a fight to protect us from them. Repressing protesters violently becomes normal, because now they’re the other.

The most common way to trump this survival instinct making violence difficult to dole out may also be the ugliest: attacking the weak.

I am not trying to excuse the personal responsibility of security forces, or that of their superiors. My aim is just to explain why we should not expect any of them to be a hero, and join “el Pueblo” against the authoritarian government. Just like most of them are not going full Rambo against protesters, they are very unlikely to denounce the political regime and switch sides.

Going against security forces nude, might be more effective than throwing Molotov cocktails (or “Puputov” cocktails for that matter). Demonizing security forces as brutes or malandros dehumanizes them. It makes violence against them easier, which in turn lowers the emotional barriers for them to attack protesters more easily.

For the last 15 years, the training the security forces receive has gone out of its way to demonize political opponents. They’re significantly better equipped and armed than protesters, so this seems to be a pretty bad proposition. If there is a divisive break within the security forces my bet is that it might have to do more with the cash running out than with increasing confrontation between protesters and the National Guard.

I am not arguing in favor of running away when the tear gas rains down at a protest. But engaging security forces violently makes them more cohesive, the same happens to the brave young protesters up front in the protests. This dynamic assure that repression continues.

Daniel León

Political scientist and political economist that traded the mountains of Mérida for those of Germany. News junkie, beer enthusiast, and die-hard fan of La Vinotinto and Die Mannschaft.