Melissa V. Harris-Perry: In the town of Hoffman, North Carolina residents are kept up at night with the sound of artillery fire and explosions as a result of the military training complex that moved into their neighborhood.
The veteran journalist, Laura Flanders talked with some of the residents there for the Laura Flanders Show, which airs on PBS stations across the country.
Speaker 2: That's when the bombing started.
Speaker 3: It was one thing when they started shooting, we could deal with that but when they started doing the breaching, blowing up stuff to open doors, it's like living in a battle zone.
Speaker 4: Yes, it's explosion, yes it's noises.
Speaker 5: You are laying in the bed at night sleeping and all of a sudden it's boom.
Melissa V. Harris-Perry: Now North Carolina is home to eight military bases, including the largest base in the US, Fort Bragg and 700,000 military veterans, as well as multiple private tactical training centers. Some of which are open to civilians who want to learn survival skills and how to shoot guns and carry out explosion. According to Laura's reporting, some Black residents in the community are feeling on edge since these military-like training centers have opened up in their neighborhoods.
Especially after January 6th, when people began to wonder if some of the capital insurrectionists could have been trained at facilities just like these. Let's talk about it, we've got Laura Flanders host of Laura Flanders Show and Christina Davis-McCoy, secretary of the Hoke County NAACP. Laura and Christina, welcome to you both.
Laura Flanders: Good to be with you, Melissa.
Christina Davis-McCoy: Thank you, Melissa.
Melissa V. Harris-Perry: Laura, can you tell us about the Oak Grove Military Industrial Complex in North Carolina.
Laura Flanders: This is just one of many and I think while this is an important North Carolina story. It's one that has national implications and takes place within a national context. We have privatized our US military and in so doing, we have militarized our populace.
Think about it, when those troops came back from Afghanistan, private contractors outnumbered soldiers and so-called sworn professionals 10 to One. According to the cost of war project and others, more than half of the Pentagon spending that we've put into the military over the last 20 years has gone to private contractors, lots of them building, planes and tanks and so on. A lot of the rest offering everything from data and digital management and logistics training to tactical training and that has created this cash cow that is showing up at the end of the Browers Road.
There is a demand for all squatted up civilians, whether it's police or special services or secret service. Also through Madcap Militia who have drunk the Kool-Aid about defending the homeland, whether it's from Blacks and women and Muslims and Jews or, I don't know, from Democrats in the capital. The people we spoke to who were training at Oak Grove, this supposedly only for sworn professionals facility said to us, that when they saw January 6th was novice behavior. These are militarily trained professionals, some of them with roots in the military other civilians who were saying it will be very different next time. I think the people there in Hoffman, North Carolina have every right to be afraid.
Melissa V. Harris-Perry: Christina Davis-McCoy, help us out here a little bit. I live here in North Carolina, I've known the Fayetteville area for a long time, I know a lot of soldiers at Fort Bragg and they are truly ideologically partisanship racially quite a diverse crowd. Tell me what's going on here that makes you think it's something different or more concerning than the long-term military presence in these communities?
Christina Davis-McCoy: I think it's quite interesting that you say and mention the fact that those individuals who are connected militarily, we always have had high regard for the military and it's because we know who they are, what they do. There is this kind of structure around them that gives them this legitimacy, the concern and fear about these existing tactical training cultural centers, of course, is, we don't know them, they are privatized. What are the barriers? What are the standards that they hold in terms of making communities safe?
Melissa V. Harris-Perry: Christina, do you have a sense that the local governance structure, whether it's city council or county commissioners or the state representatives are aware of and setting any kinds of rules? If you want to open a restaurant or a barber shop in town, you have to go through certain kinds of rules and procedures. Do you have a sense of what the legislative practices are around this?
Christina Davis-McCoy: There certainly are structures in place that define and identify how businesses come into being and how they get the permitting through zoning ordinances. There are these questions about it, when, one, the citizens are not made aware of what those rules are and that the governing bodies aren't really clear as well or that there are these breaking points of communication and information where bodies make decisions and then of course, elected officials rubber stamp them because they believe, of course, that these individuals have made decisions in the best interest.
Best interests of the community, maybe not. Best interest of the municipality who are looking to benefit from the economic development piece. Those are the concerns is that's what we have to look at is, what's on the books? What regulates them? How well do people know them? Can they be challenged if they are not being correctly adhered to?
Melissa V. Harris-Perry: Have you had direct complaints or have you worked with resident, citizens who have directly complained about specific instances of these practices, feeling like a real threat to them?
Christina Davis-McCoy: I think that those are the most significant concerns for the community in Oak Grove. I think they feel that in Hoffman where Oak Grove is currently operating, is that they don't feel safe, they don't feel that they were given the opportunity to walk through this process or even object and when they attempted to, they were dismissed.
Melissa V. Harris-Perry: Laura, who do we know is behind these private training facilities and have you had an opportunity to hear from them what they claim their mission is?
Laura Flanders: That's a great question, Melissa. So many things in what we're talking about here yes, absolutely. We went down to Hoffman, North Carolina, it's a tiny town, Black town, just in Richmond county. We were told by the people that run this private military training camp, that they only work with so-called sworn professionals, police, military, veterans, so forth. On the day that we were there, actually the third day that I was there, I saw a flag for something called FieldCraft Survival. When I looked that up, that is a survival type training company that trains civilians to become in their own words, your own first responder.
Now, understand that as you will. I'm sure there are a lot of people just seeking to learn how to use their concealed carry permit properly or use their home protection device in the correct way. I also found that the people that head up Field Craft are the same people who created something called American Contingency in the summer of 2020. Among other things raised $6,000 for the defense team for a Kyle Rittenhouse who right now facing charges in the Kenosha killing.
These are not a political folks, they're longtime military, the guy who is the tactical commander officer in North Carolina has 30 years in special ops. He went straight out of the military into this work and that's not good for your brain, it's not good for your health, it's not good for your stress.
I have to say that while this part of the story, The Laura Flanders Show, we say, it's the place where the people who say it can't be done, take a back seat to the people who are doing it. We try to provide glimpses of how people can shift problems in their society for the better. In the county next door to Richmond county, in Hoke County, where Christina is, she's being very modest. She was part of a mobilization of local residents that did dig in to the use permits of another private military tactical training facility that wanted to move in close to the capital town of Raeford.
They stopped that through working with the majority Black county commissioners, who said, "We don't want this in our town." They did it through legal means, looking at zoning ordinances, contesting some of the claims put in the permit request by the company. They stopped that facility by paying attention to what was happening at the local level. The message that I received from all this was, we all of us need to pay much more attention to what is happening at our planning boards and pay attention to zoning rules. Also when people seem to be in violation of them, because we don't know where that could go. Especially in a militarized state like North Carolina, but it's not just there, it's everywhere.
Melissa V. Harris-Perry: Laura, that's so helpful, because that's precisely where I wanted to come to with you Mrs. Davis-McCoy next, is just this idea of, okay, so we see this happening and I wanted to know how communities are responding. Certainly again, being an African-American southerner, living in North Carolina, I know that there's also a tradition of self-defense that goes back to a period of Jim Crow. It's not a tradition of violence, it is truly about the concern about white supremacy or about armed whites who might, for example, violently overthrow one's government as literally happened in Wilmington, North Carolina at the turn of the 20th century.
I'm wondering about how communities there are thinking about what self-defense looks like in a 2021 context.
Christina Davis McCoy: Interesting question, Melissa. I think that more and more people are becoming aware that self-defense is largely going to depend on being aware of what's going on around you. Making sure that you're talking to, one, the officials that you elect to be aware of what's going on in their communities to make the kinds of decisions that are going to ensure that the development that happens doesn't happen on them, but happens in concert with what will ensure that the communities will be safe and secure.
Self-defense looks like being aware of what's written in terms of zoning laws, zoning regulations, zoning rules, determines how people can get permits to come in and do any kind of business in these communities. Being in a highly militarized community, for me here in Hoke, which neighbors Cumberland, which neighbors, of course, in Hoke bears the brunt in terms of the sides of the military reservation of Fort Bragg.
One-third of our county, of course, is on base. It's important for us to honor and respect the military, but also be aware of individuals who threaten harm simply because they are privatized and we don't know who they are. The best tactic of defense is awareness, being aware, talking to individuals who you've elected, talking to your neighbors, making sure that you understand what's going on in the community and when flags are raised then you have to respond positively in terms of becoming more informed and making sure that you're spreading the message about that.
Melissa V. Harris-Perry: Laura, I'm wondering if these private training sites are offering a message of economic development. Are they making claims that by existing there, they're bringing some kind of either community good or economic good? If they are making those claims, I'm wondering if you can adjudicate those a bit.
Laura Flanders: They sure are making those claims, Melissa, and for the local community economic development people, training camps like these are cheap money because they don't require a lot of infrastructure. Backwoods training sites don't need you to lay broadband and payroll or roads. It's a cheap facility that promises to bring money back to the county. In many instances it does. Oak Grove in last year as I understand, it goes something like 55 contracts from the military worth something like $90 million. Now how much goes to the county versus the little town, again, majority Black town in a white county.
In that one instance of Hoffman, Hoffman over the last 20 years had got something like, I don't know, $10,000 in one contract. I think that's actually the number. We're not talking huge amounts of money for the county either, and when it comes to tax income, the county commission has told us, he'd asked that question many times and simply got no answer. I should say for the TV show, I called both FieldCraft Survival and Oak Grove. They both hung up on me, but you can meet them both on the show.
Melissa V. Harris-Perry: Laura Flanders is the host of The Laura Flanders Show and you can find that on public television. Also, of course, over on YouTube. Christina Davis-McCoy is the secretary of the Hoke County chapter of the NAACP. She just redefined self-defense for the 21st century. Thank you both for your time.
Laura Flanders: Thank you.
Christina Davis McCoy: Thank you.
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