After DV revealed that the police had just acquired some 150 submachine guns from Norway, Chief Superintendent Jón Bjartmarz—who refused to answer any of the newspaper’s questions—explained on RÚV’s Kastljós that they have possessed machine guns “ever since after the Gúttó-fight.”
“The Gúttó-fight” was a violent clash between police and workers, who were protesting announced wage reductions, back in 1932.
The reference is as significant as they get. An Icelandic State Police authority, as opposed to a municipal one, was established in the aftermath of that fight, to ensure that authorities would henceforth have the upper hand against demonstrators. This process was initiated and led by the Independence Party. During the sequence of protests in 2008-2009, it is known that Jón Bjartmarz did press for greater use of force against the public.
The point that Jón wanted to make was that, since the police have been equipped with lethal weapons for such a long time, nothing is really changing. The point that many people heard instead was: these things are intended to keep us down.
330 machine guns at the top of the peace index
For years, a debate has surfaced from time to time, about whether or not tasers should be part of Icelandic police’s standard equipment. It seemed that several governments in a row sided with those who opposed such weaponry. Meanwhile, someone, somewhere, silently had his or her way with a much more efficient plan. Tasers are, of course, only occasionally lethal. Meanwhile, no one argues with a Heckler & Koch MP5, which can be seen in action in films like ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, wielded by Osama Bin Laden’s henchmen, and in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, employed by Gotham’s SWAT teams. In reality, armies use them, as well as special forces. Until recently, you would not have seen such weapons in the hands of regular police officers. Two years ago, however, the Ferguson, Missouri, police department reportedly bought four pieces.
And now they are here. A shipload.
The shipment, still locked up in a warehouse, reportedly consists of 250 MP5s, of which 150 are to be disseminated to police departments around Iceland. Iceland’s SWAT teams have had access to such weapons before, but these will be distributed to every precinct. Each precinct is free to estimate how many they need, and to decide if they will keep the guns in patrol cars or at the station. Since the news broke out, it has been revealed that the Coast Guard has actually been stockpiling weapons, since at least 2013. They have disclosed nothing of their own volition, but according to their less secretive business partners abroad, they acquired 50 unspecified machine guns from Norway last year, and 30 MG3s from Norway and Denmark. That’s 330 machine guns in two years.
“Renewal of equipment, nothing else”
The Prime Minister’s assistant, Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, was the first government affiliate to comment on the story when it broke, mocking DV’s journalists on Facebook: We didn’t buy these guns, he said, Norway gave them to us! As a present. His boss Sigmundur Davíð also quipped on Facebook: “Some people should stop shooting first and asking questions later, especially when it comes to machine guns.”
The Interior Minister and Foreign Minister both seem to agree that any public discussion is unnecessary and have remained mostly mute. The Interior Minister remarked, “This is a renewal of equipment, nothing else.”
Meanwhile, minor figures have spoken up on behalf of the guns. While the Coast Guard still pretended that the guns were “a gift,” former police officer Vilhjálmur Árnason—currently an Independence Party MP—went on the radio to explain why the chief of police had accepted those presents: “Because he has Glock handguns all over the place. And it’s harder to take aim, perhaps you are going to a school where there is an attack, and then you want to hit the right man. […] So it’s just, the police just decided to buy a four-wheel drive instead of a rear-wheel drive.” The officer-cum-MP then took to the podium in Alþingi to scold the media for reporting about the guns at all. Literally: “I want to tell some of the media and members of Alþingi that they should be ashamed for their conduct. They talk of things they do not have 100% knowledge about…”
Another Independence Party MP noted that, contrary to what the Left thinks, “We don’t live in Disneyland.”
When the government and its herd were done deriding journalists for “not having their facts straight,” we learned that the facts they reported had, indeed, been straight: The Norwegian army confirmed DV’s original report; Iceland had purchased those weapons, for money. Iceland denied, Norway insisted, and so back and forth until Norway provided the invoice as evidence. As if to provide comic relief, Icelandic toll authorities subsequently sealed the warehouse where the guns are kept, until the Coast Guard either pays the applicable import fees, or, alternately, proves that the guns were, in fact, a present.
The frantic, rioting mob
For what it’s worth, Iceland has resided at the very top of the Global Peace Index for seven years in a row. Why would police officers in such a country feel a need to carry weapons worthy of an Iron Man sequel through their daily routine? While authorities remain either mute or nonsensical, their father figures do not. Last Saturday, an editorial by Davíð Oddsson clarified any possible ambiguity left by Jón Bjartmarz’s somewhat ambiguous utterances. In case you’re new here, that is Davíð Oddsson the former Independence Party Chair, Mayor, Prime Minister and Central Bank Manager, not to mention psalm poet, and now chief editor of daily newspaper Morgunblaðið. Defending the weaponization, he wrote:
“Only six years ago, a rioting mob attacked Iceland’s house of parliament and other public buildings… What would those frantic hordes have done if they had reached their goal and broken into Alþingi? Perhaps most would rather not think that through. ” He concluded the passage with the words, given a whole paragraph for emphasis: “The Nation was then in grave danger.”
The will to protest was demonstrated most recently last Monday, when police confirm that 4,500 protesters gathered in front of Alþingi, which, according to unofficial protocol, means that the actual numbers were rather higher.
The only recent incident of protesters taking up arms against authorities was when stones were thrown at officers in riot gear in January of 2009. The police were exhausted and had depleted their pepper spray supplies. Thus left defenceless, they had, de facto, been conquered.
The question that, according to the psalm poet, “most would rather not think through” was then in fact answered in action: When police officers found themselves in this frightening position, protesters themselves formed a human shield around them, to protect them from any rocks that might be thrown. That frantic mob.
That is not to say that, back in 2009, no one meant to frighten authorities. The clear intention of the whole movement was to demonstrate that the people would not tolerate a government accepting no responsibility for lies, corruption, failed plans, a failed ideology, and predictably dire consequences. We are all still living out the consequences of the economic crash. We will for a while.
That winter, however, for weeks upon weeks, every single can of skyr and raw egg hurled at the house of Alþingi was a logical demonstration of the peaceful means employed to demand change: I am not a stone, every commodity shouted as it flew. I could be a stone, I am angry enough to be a stone, and I am right enough to be a stone, and still I am not. This has been called a revolution. It was not, but it was an effective uprising. The skyr really scared them.
There is, however, more than one side to fear. Our current dilemma mirrors the third stage in the familiar sequence of responses to fear: First authorities froze, then they fled. Now they want to fight.
A conservative’s mojo lies in easily equalling their own preservation with the preservation of civilization as such: the preservation of actual and innocent people leading their honest, peaceful and prosperous lives, against a nameless, unholy and frantic mob, ready to harm those creatures of delight at any opportunity. The Left. Morgunblaðið provides this worldview. In spades. It is too coherent and too self-assured to ignore. The editor speaks on behalf of those in power, only a little more freely than they do, now that he doesn’t share their responsibilities.
If Iceland had not already accepted a chronic state of cognitive dissonance as its predicament, Davíð Oddsson and his opinions would have no currency today. When the country’s wealthiest woman bought Morgunblaðið at a post-crash discount from a nationalized—that is, publicly owned—bank, and handed the reigns to Davíð, not every reader cancelled their subscription. Hardcore Independence Party members remain. Morgunblaðið is their mouthpiece.
Obviously, Morgunblaðið’s editorial is factually wrong. It is also politically wrong, and not in the traditional sense.
Davíð Oddsson used to consider himself liberal. He now expresses a desire for the state to be invincible. Only failed states harbour such desires. Such states have come and gone. There was one in Germany a while back. It had more in common with Iceland than data collection and police surveillance of people’s political views. This coming Sunday, the West will celebrate November 9 as the 25th anniversary of a rebellion against the authority of concrete slabs known as the Berlin Wall. That wall was supposed to defend the State’s integrity and good intentions against dissidents.
Incidentally, November 9 is also the day of the above-mentioned Gúttó-fight. This coming Sunday marks its 82nd anniversary. That day, the workers won. Then, they went home. No one was killed. Subsequently, the workers’ demands were met. Wages were not reduced, as had been proposed. That was good. As Jón Baldvinsson, socialist and member of Alþingi in 1932, noted after the fight, there is nothing wrong about the police being defeated every now and then.
It happened again January 21, 2009. That was not merely good, it was necessary. A state by the people and for the people cannot be armed to the teeth against the people. A state that aims at invincibility against its own population, and will tolerate protests only as long as they are sure not to achieve anything, is not, fundamentally, a democratic state, but a fascist one.
Return the guns.