Posted by Brad @ 1:51 pm on January 15th 2013

Predict the First Murder-Drone Strike Against an American Citizen on American Soil

I think we installed a poll plugin at some point years ago, but darned if I can find it.

In any case, as President Obama has followed and expanded the Bushian steps of declaring that the label “terrorist” any any of its mushy variants (“enemy combatant”, “material supporter”, “enemy of the state”, whatever) supersedes due process both domestically and internationally, as the lag between war powers being granted, fiated, or just willed into existence, and their eventual application to domestic crime (see, Patriot Act, warrantless wiretapping, etc.), as the now total lack of distinction between American citizen and not as far as these powers are applied has been accepted and normalized, as the military and executive branch has increasingly fallen in love with asymmetrical application of force (regularly striking in countries we are not at war with ala Pakistan, Somalia, etc.) and the incumbent tools of basically just pressing a button to kill somebody (or, the general area of somebody), and as these theories, tools, and practices are already trickling into domestic law enforcement (see, the beginning stages of a “run on drones” by police departments), simple question:

When do you think the first American citizen, in America, will be murdered via remote operated drone by a law enforcement agent of the American government?

“Never” is a perfectly acceptable answer, btw. But it occurs to me that the more our lines are blurred, and the more mission creep accelerates, it will be very hard, when the time comes, to make any distinction between killing a suspect via drone versus using deadly force with, say, a sidearm. I can easily imagine a scenario wherein an armed suspect of a botched robbery or hit and run is being followed via drone, and looks to head into a school or whatever so is taken out before he can reach it. Or a bank robbery where the hostages are presumably downstairs and the the robber in a corner room on the phone, and rather than risk a breach they just blow the room to shit. Or a heavily arm cultist compound firing on advancing ATF agents, wherein they just decide to send in the drones and strafe the living hell out of whoever they see standing around with a gun (ala). When the technology becomes ubiquitous and the practice becomes day-to-day in other contexts, what boundary are we going to be able to cry foul on being crossed?

Think it will happen? If so, when-ish?

I am voting for 2016.


  1. Are the specific forms of armament typically found on military drones really conducive to domestic law enforcement? I mean, I don’t rule out the possibility that the technology might advance to the point at which more precise weapons could be mechanized; it just seems like at present the most likely application of drone tech to domestic uses is in recon/surveillance.

    Best guess on the answer to your question involves a Waco/Ruby Ridge scenario, and those don’t arise all that often.

    Comment by Rojas — 1/15/2013 @ 4:42 pm

  2. While LEA drones in their present form most consusive to recon/surveillance, there are inumarable proposals for arming them. You can stick a small caliber projectile weapon on nearly anything, to include those little tracked crawler devices. Given the flexiblity of Brad’s definitions as to what counts, I think 2016 or sooner is perfectly reasonable. I will go with 2015 just to play a Price is Right strategy.

    Comment by Jack — 1/16/2013 @ 4:28 pm

  3. Again, not that drones can’t be cool (one application mentioned is forest fires), but the quickening of their normalization sure is troubling.

    Colleges are now training potential domestic drone pilots in anticipation of a sudden market surge.

    Comment by Brad — 1/29/2013 @ 10:07 am

  4. Damn man – did anyone have February 2013? Because it looks like they’re using drones to try to hunt down the LAPD dude.

    Yesterday, as a task force of 125 officers, some riding Snowcats in the rugged terrain, continued their search, it was revealed that Dorner has become the first human target for remotely-controlled airborne drones on US soil.

    A senior police source said: “The thermal imaging cameras the drones use may be our only hope of finding him. On the ground, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

    Asked directly if drones have already been deployed, Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz, who is jointly leading the task force, said: “We are using all the tools at our disposal.”

    The use of drones was later confirmed by Customs and Border Patrol spokesman Ralph DeSio, who revealed agents have been prepared for Dorner to make a dash for the Mexican border since his rampage began.

    He said: “This agency has been at the forefront of domestic use of drones by law enforcement. That’s all I can say at the moment.”

    Granted, no mention of them being weaponized (this seems purely a recon thing), but still – be the easiest thing in the world to do, and if he’s armed and already shown a willingness to shoot at cops (or is on his way to Mexico), what’s the difference, right?

    Comment by Brad — 2/11/2013 @ 12:05 pm

  5. And for once I beat Glenn to the punch.

    My own hunch is that killing him with a drone would not only be approved of, but relatively uncontroversial

    Comment by Brad — 2/11/2013 @ 3:06 pm

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