A Force More Powerful: Promoting ‘Democracy’ through Civil Disobedience

By Michael Barker
January 19, 2007

For most activists, it is a given that the relentless propaganda machine known as the mainstream media is a clear and highly visible barrier to progressive social change. So it is more important than ever that the progressive community works in solidarity to both reform the mainstream media, and to strengthen the alternative media upon which activists rely for informative, empowering and entertaining stories. [1]

Support for the alternative media usually comes in the form of money, or voluntary aid: yet to my mind, it is equally, if not more important that readers, viewers and listeners, invigorate and fortify the alternative media’s intellectual standards by subjecting it to thoughtful (relentless) criticism. Groups like Medialens (a British based media watchdog) go some way towards promoting this societal goal, as for the last seven years they have been exposing the not-so-subtle mechanisations of Herman and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model within ‘progressive’ mainstream media outlets (the Guardian, Independent, and the BBC). [2] Similar watchdog groups are not necessarily required for the alternative media, but such ongoing critiques like those provided by Medialens and their citizen supporters could only help improve the quality of the alternative media. Unfortunately though, it seems that all too often activists devote nearly all of their energy and resources to rebutting and exposing the manipulation and lies of the Right, and not to maintaining the integrity of the Left. A case in point has been the progressive community’s fixation on the promotion of neoliberal policies by conservative philanthropists, which has left critics exposing the insidious antidemocratic activities of liberal foundations on the radical fringe of even the alternative media – which sadly also happens to be heavily reliant on funding from liberal foundations. [3]

The Right however, quickly picked up on the Left’s fundamental tactical weaknesses, and launched a two pronged pincer manoeuvre against them. The first and best documented prong might be described as the ‘bad’ one, and involved covert actions, disinformation, coercion and brute force; but perhaps the Right’s most effective weapon has been their (cynical) championing of peace, human rights and democracy, or what might be referred to as the ‘good’ or ‘democratic’ prong. A recent example of the success of this ‘democratic’ strategy recently revealed itself in the Fall 2006 issue of one of America’s most progressive magazines, Social Policy. The article in question was titled ‘Playing the Field: A Conversation with Ivan Marovic, Hardy Merriman, and Steve York’, and was based on the three interviewees’ involvement in the production of a progressive activist-orientated computer game (which was released in February 2006). Without prior knowledge of the interviewees’ institutional affiliations, a casual reader of the article would perhaps see nothing untoward in the subject matter. This is because for all intents and purposes the game in question appears to embody a pioneering effort to harness the (often anti-democratic) power and influence of computer games to encourage activists to think more strategically about their use of non-violent resistance. Thus the game appears to rank among only a handful of computer games that has been designed to strengthen democracy rather than bank balances.

The name of this new seemingly progressive game is A Force More Powerful: The Game of Nonviolent Strategy, which was based on the book A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000). The book was also preceded by the production of a two part documentary series, which was released in 1999, going by the same name, and aired on PBS the following year. Now assuming that the book, film, and game were historically accurate and were useful to progressive activists, does it then matter that the people involved in producing these resources are closely linked to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and much of the US-based ‘democracy promoting’ establishment? I would suggest that the answer to this question is yes, and that these links do matter a great deal.

For readers unfamiliar with the NED and its antidemocratic cohorts, then a brief introduction to the work of Professor William I. Robinson is in order. Simply put, he hypothesized that as a result of the public backlash against the US government’s repressive and covert foreign policies in the 1970s, foreign policy making elites elected to put a greater emphasis on overt means of overthrowing ‘problematic’ governments through the strategic manipulation of civil society. In 1984, this ‘new’ thinking was institutionalised with the creation of the quasi-nongovernmental organisation, the National Endowment for Democracy, which acts as the coordinating body for better funded ‘democracy promoting’ organisations like USAID and the CIA. Working closely together these ‘democratic’ organisations use a combination of both covert and overt strategies to intervene “in mass movements for democracy and endogenous democratization processes… through a multiplicity of political, economic, military, diplomatic, and ideological channels”. [4] Robinson notes the primary goal of such ‘democracy promoting’ groups is the promotion of polyarchy or low-intensity democracy over more substantive forms of democratic governance, enabling “the replacement of coercive means of social control with consensual ones.” [5] His pioneering book on this subject, Promoting Polyarchy (1996), provided a detailed examination of the role of US-based ‘democracy promoting’ groups in sabotaging democracy in Nicaragua, the Philippines, Chile and Haiti. Since then, many studies have supported his findings, furnishing further examples of unwanted ‘democratic’ interventions all over the world. [6]

So returning to the computer game, it is my contention that it does matter that the people involved in the various reincarnations of A Force More Powerful are intimately associated with the NED crowd.

A case could be made that it would be sensible to use the activist-orientated resources provided by the book and its spin-offs, so long as it was commonly understood by the activists using them who had produced them and why. Only then could the materials be critically evaluated and utilised appropriately. However, if the resources were used and promoted by activists who were unaware of their antidemocratic roots, those activists would be in danger of acting as unwitting ‘viral marketers’ for products of dubious origin, and of indirectly legitimising the activities of the ‘democracy promoting’ establishment.

Unfortunately, this is the situation Social Policy has found itself in, that is, acting as viral advertisers for ‘democracy promoters.’ However, in this regard Social Policy is not alone, as even one of the most progressive activist trainers, George Lakey (founder of US-based Training for Change), refers activists to the importance of A Force More Powerful and thus helps legitimise their work. [7] To date only Jonathan Mowat (2005) has drawn attention to the ‘democracy promoting’ credentials of A Force More Powerful’s authors. Therefore, this article will deepen his critique of the people linked to this book, in an attempt to expose how ‘democracy promoters’ have insinuated their way into the heart of progressive activist’s strategic thinking.

A Force More Powerful: The Book and its Authors

The two authors of A Force More Powerful are Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall. Linking both writers to the ‘democracy promoting’ community is fairly straightforward as the overt nature of most ‘democracy promoters” work means that the authors feel free to openly publicise their ‘democratic’ affiliations on the internet. Dr Ackerman is the founding chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), chairman of Freedom House, and a member of the U.S. Advisory Council of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). [8] His coauthor, Jack DuVall, is the president and founding Director of the ICNC, and is also a founding member of the Arlington Institute. [9]

The ICNC, of which both Ackerman and DuVall are founding directors, describes itself as “an independent, non-profit, educational foundation that develops and encourages the study and use of civilian-based, nonmilitary strategies to establish and defend human rights, democracy and justice worldwide.” [10] Yet as will become clearer later, the name of their organisation belies its actual unstated objective, which is to help promote revolutions in geostrategically useful countries. Bearing this in mind, it is not surprising that most of ICNC’s principals of nonviolence were trained within the heart of the military-industrial complex: ICNC Vice-chair Berel Rodal, was formerly Director-General of the Policy Secretariat in the Department of National Defence; ICNC Manager of Educational Initiatives, Dr. Maria J. Stephan, has worked “at the U.S. Department of Defense and with the international staff at NATO Headquarters in Brussels”; and Shaazka Beyerle (former vice-president turned Senior Advisor of ICNC), is a founding Vice President of the European Institute.

The European Institute’s most interesting affliates include: board member Dr R. Michael Gadbaw, who is a director of the NED/USIP funded Partners for Democratic Change; Director Emeriti, Robert B. Zoellick, who was a signatory of the January 26, 1998 Project for the New American Century letter sent to President Clinton; and Advisory Board member, Ambassador Robert E. Hunter, who is also Chairman of the Council for a Community of Democracies and acts as a Senior International Consultant to the largest arms manufacturer in the world, Lockheed Martin. [11]

Social Policy interviewee Hardy Merriman recently became the Director of Programs and Research at ICNC, coming fresh from a three year stint at the Albert Einstein Institution (AEI), a group at which Dr Ackerman was a former director. [12] Merriman’s former employer, the AEI, openly acknowledges the financial support they have received from the NED, USIP, and the International Republican Institute, and works closely with the ICNC providing the theoretical underpinnings for the ‘democracy promoting’ establishment’s work, helping them provide training courses all over the world for activists seeking to overthrow their governments. [13] Finally, Merriman’s predecessor at ICNC, Kim Hedge, has now joined Freedom House – the grandfather of neoconservative ‘democracy promoting’ organizations – as their Program Coordinator for the Civil Mobilization Program.

Writing in January 2007, Diana Barahona described Freedom House’s board of trustees – which Dr Ackerman also chairs – as a “Who’s Who of neoconservatives from government, business, academia, labor, and the press.” [14] Yet despite the overwhelmingly partisan nature of their trustees, the self-professed house of freedom still suggests that it has a “diverse Board of Trustees, which includes Democrats, Republicans and Independents.” Freedom House’s board of trustees is certainly ‘diverse’; yes they all hold different jobs, including “business and labor leaders, former senior government officials, scholars, writers, and journalists”, but in reality their diversity is limited to their job titles as they are all committed to a neoconservative agenda that, to quote their website, sees no irony in viewing “American leadership in international affairs [to be] essential to the cause of human rights and freedom.” [15] Clearly Freedom House, as far as self descriptors are concerned, are incapable of abiding by popularly-understood premises of truth and accuracy, which in itself provides a useful measure by which to judge the honesty of their advocacy of democracy and freedom.

The final ‘democracy promoting’ group to which Ackerman is directly linked, is the USIP, which like Freedom House is an integral member of the US ‘democracy promoting’ apparatus. In 1990, prempting (and perhaps inspiring) Diana Barahona’s article on Freedom House, Richard Hatch and Sara Diamond described the USIP as a “stomping ground for professional war-makers” with a board of directors that “looked like a who’s who of right-wing idealogues from academia and the Pentagon.” [16] They went on to note that:

Just as the National Endowment for Democracy has become a central tool for the promotion of political parties, labor unions, and media voices deemed acceptable by bipartisan foreign policymakers, the USIP, using the same rhetoric of ‘peace’ and ‘democracy’ and many of the same recycled defense intellectuals, seeks to control debate and decision-making on conflict resolution.

Today the USIP is still busy promoting its militarily-sanctioned form of ‘peace’, yet unlike the NED they have received next to no criticism from the progressive media. Amazingly, only the one aforementioned Hatch and Diamond article has criticized their work. This is in spite of the fact that their board of directors is presently home to ‘democratic’ savouries like former CIA director James R. Schlesinger; Chester A. Crocker, the James R. Schlesinger Chair in Strategic Studies at Georgetown University; Charles Horner, the Senior Fellow at the right-wing Hudson Institute; and until his recent death, Seymour Martin Lipset who was also at the Hudson Institute. (Clearly a study bringing Hatch and Diamond’s study up-to-date would serve a vital purpose in helping the antiwar movement oppose the USIP.)

In 1989, Dr Ackerman’s coauthor Jack Duvall helped found another notable non-profit ‘democracy promoting’ research center, the Arlington Institute. Like many of the people involved in the previous ‘democratic’ groups the main person behind this venture, John L. Petersen, is a military man through and through, [17] and the center boasts amongst its cofounders former head of the CIA, James Woolsey. [18] Furthermore, the Arlington Institute’s website notes that they specialize “in thinking about global futures and trying to influence rapid, positive change”, which ties in neatly with Jonathan Mowat’s description of the Arlington Institute as strategists for the new postmodern coup. [19]

In addition to both authors of A Force More Powerful being directly involved with a host of ‘democracy promoting’ organizations, Dr Ackerman also benefits from his wife’s vigourous ‘democratic’ connections. Joanne Leedom-Ackerman is a writer and journalist who has worked as an adviser on the documentary version of her husband’s book. She is currently a director of the International Center for Journalists (which receives funding from the NED, the Center for International Private Enterprise, Boeing and Coca-Cola, amongst many others), and has served on the board of the Albert Einstein Institution. [20] Joanne is also a director of a ‘nongovernmental’ organization called the International Crisis Group, which describes its primary role as “working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.” [21] Unlike the NED this group is a truly multilateral ‘democracy’ venture as evidenced by the wide variety of governments, foundations and corporations that fund their work. [22] At the International Crisis Group, Joanne rubs boardroom shoulders with ‘democratic’ notables like: Ayo Obe, Chair of the Steering Committee of the NED-founded World Movement for Democracy; Kenneth Adelman, fellow board member at Freedom House; NED director Morton Abramowitz; former NED directors, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Wesley Kanne Clark; George Soros of Open Society Institute fame; Douglas Schoen, founding partner of Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (a firm that works closely with the NED); and former president of the Philippines Fidel V. Ramos, who himself was a beneficiary of a NED hijacked revolution in the late 1980s. [23]

Despite Ackerman and DuVall’s clear acquaintance with the history of nonviolence and associations with the NED crowd, they evince a highly selective memory of their ‘democratic’ associates when it comes to their work – only mentioning the NED and USIP in passing in their book. The lonesome paragraph they devote to these groups is especially interesting, as they introduce four of the most prominent American ‘democracy promoters’ without indicating the integral role they play in implementing the US government’s foreign policy. The single paragraph in question also begins with a disingenuous statement concerning US support for Serbian dissidents, by noting that in 2000 “support, largely denied to the Serbian opposition before, now began to flow.” [24] Indeed, although direct support to groups like Otpor may have been strongest in 2000 (just prior to the revolution), support from the US and wider international ‘democracy promoting’ community had been flooding into Serbia throughout the 1990s. Ackerman and DuVall also provide the supporting evidence themselves within the same book, as they observe that in 1998 the US State Department “gave $15 million to independent media in Serbia” and by the time of the 2000 elections “[w]ith foreign support, some 30,000 poll-watchers were trained, mobilized, and fanned out to cover 10,000 polling places, to prevent Milosevic from stealing the September 24 election.” [25]

Many political commentators and media scholars have observed that it was clear that the independent media in Serbia “facilitated the regime change and paved the way for democracy.” [26] Therefore, international assistance for the creation of the Asocijacija Nezavisnih Elektronskih Medija (Association of Independent Electronic Media) which was formed in 1993, was crucial for the survival of the Serbian independent electronic media after 1998, as it helped protect many broadcasters from state repression. [27] In fact, during the early 1990s the international community provided between US$7-10 million to the former Yugoslavia for this goal, while after 1995 the US gave a further US$23 million and the European Union augmented this with another 17 million Euros. [28]

Ackerman and DuVall’s NED-related paragraph continued:

Otpor and other dissident groups received funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, affiliated with the U.S. government, and Otpor leaders sat down with Daniel Serwer, the program director for the Balkans at the U.S. Institute for Peace, whose story of having been tear-gassed during an anti-Vietnam War demonstration gave him special credibility in their eyes. The International Republican Institute, also financed by the U.S. government [as one of the NED’s four core grantees], channeled funding to the opposition and met with Otpor leaders several times. The U.S. Agency for International Development, the wellspring for most of this financing, was also the source of money that went for materials like t-shirts and stickers. [29]

To give the authors due credit, on the previous page they do note that Freedom House exists (although it is the only mention it receives in their book), as they write that Otpor’s:

…relatively sophisticated knowledge of how to develop nonviolent power was not intuitive. Miljenko Dereta, the director of a private group in Belgrade called Civics Initiatives, got funding from Freedom House in the U.S. to print and distribute 5,000 copies of Gene Sharp’s book, From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation. [30]

The two authors’ apparent lack of concern for interrogating the role of the principal backers of many successful revolutions since the early 1980s makes more sense when it is understood that the USIP helped fund the production of the documentary version of the book: a documentary that was co-produced for PBS by York Zimmerman, Inc. and WETA of Washington (of which Duvall had previously been Vice President for Program Resources). [31]

Revolutionary Films?

The award-winning PBS production of Ackerman and DuVall’s book A Force More Powerful was directed and produced by Steve York (one of the interviewees in the Social Policy article) of York Zimmerman, Inc. with a generous $3 million plus budget. [32] Steve York and his wife Miriam Zimmerman – both highly acclaimed documentary makers – head up York Zimmerman, which is a Washington based media company that “produce[s] documentaries about people and ideas which change the world – stories of war, faith, justice, revolution.” [33] York Zimmerman’s two most recent documentaries are A Force More Powerful (aired on PBS in September 2000) and Bringing Down A Dictator (shown on PBS in March 2002). As already mentioned, the first documentary, A Force More Powerful, received financial support from the USIP, but Ackerman and DuVall also acknowledge that the film was made possible by the “enlightened support of Susan and Perry Lerner, the Albert Einstein Institution, Elizabeth and John H. van Merkensteijn III, Abby and Alan Levy, and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.” [34]

Perry Lerner, who works with Ackerman at the private investment company Crown Capital Group, and John H. van Merkensteijn III are both associated with Lester Wunderman’s direct marketing database firm, I-Behavior Inc. – Lerner as an advisor and van Merkensteijn as a director. Lester Wunderman is best known for founding Wunderman, “the world’s leading global direct marketing advertising agency.” [35] It is therefore perhaps not surprising that their professional interest in democratic manipulation (I-Behavior boast of having a database containing 96 million US households) has led them to Ackerman’s work. [36]

Disturbingly, ever since its release, the film A Force More Powerful has been picked up with gusto by both genuine activists and the ‘democracy promoting’ establishment alike. For example, in 2005, Franklin Foer reported that “[t]hree years ago, [Ackerman’s] films were translated into Farsi” and “[f]or a brief moment, if you received the Los Angeles-based Iranian satellite networks, you couldn’t avoid Ackerman productions.” Foer’s article also expands on the Iranian connection, noting that Ackerman has also “worked with [the president of AEI] Bob Helvey to train IranianAmericans [sic], many of whom worked for Reza Pahlavi, the son of the deposed shah.” [37] Coincidentally, Pahlavi also happens to run the Foundation for the Promotion of Democracy, the organization that translated and disseminated the two documentaries, A Force More Powerful and Bringing Down a Dictator for an Iranian market. [38] Furthermore, although the Foundation’s website provides little further information, they do note that their “sister organization” the Iran Institute for Democracy aims to promote democracy, human rights and “a free market economy in Iran.” [39] This information ties in well with the US government’s recent efforts to oust the Iranian government from within (using civil disobedience) and without (using the threat of war). [40] Furthermore, Foer explains that Ackerman was “introduced… to the Iranian human rights community” by Dr. Azar Nafisi – a professor at Johns Hopkins University who is on the books of the neoconservative public relations firm, Benador Associates. [41] This is particularly interesting as Dr. Nafisi is a trustee of the Foundation for Iranian Studies, an organization whose executive director, Ms. Mahnaz Afkhami, is linked to the NED-supported Women’s Learning Partnership which she founded. Ms. Afkhami has also been the president of the Sisterhood is Global Institute, which has also received NED aid in the past.

York Zimmerman’s most recent revolutionary film, Bringing Down a Dictator, described on their website as a film documenting the “defeat of Slobodan Milosevic in October, 2000… by an ingenious nonviolent strategy of honest elections and massive civil disobedience.” [42] Intriguingly, the filmmakers acknowledge (on their website) that the revolutionary movements were “partially financed by the US and Western Europe” – a point that is also made within the film. This partial honestly, however, only serves to obscure how external support effectively guaranteed the success of the revolution, and ignores the effects of war on the revolution’s success. The significance of the NED and other allied ‘democracy promoting’ organisations in aiding the ouster of Milosevic has been well documented by this author elsewhere and will not be re-examined here, suffice to say that the revolution succeeded in large part because Milosevic was not a US friendly dictator.

Likewise, the so-called ‘colored revolutions’ which followed the Serbian template, also received significant support from the American and international ‘democracy promoters.’ Indeed in 2003 during the ‘Rose revolution’ in Georgia the film Bringing Down a Dictator:

…became a prime vehicle for indoctrinating the growing crowds in the principles of nonviolent struggle. Every Saturday for months, the independent TV network Rustavi 2 broadcast Bringing Down a Dictator, followed by a segment in which Georgians would discuss the film’s implications for their own movement. In the ten frenetic days leading up to Shevardnadze’s collapse, the network increased the frequency of broadcasts. And, when Shevardnadze surrendered power without a bullet fired, the Georgians weren’t selfish in acknowledging credit. One leader told The Washington Post, “Most important was the film. All the demonstrators knew the tactics of the revolution in Belgrade by heart because they showed [the film]…. Everyone knew what to do.” [43]

The importance of the media for successful revolutions is well understood by the ‘democracy promoters’: for example, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance even note that the “development of independent media is often considered to be the single greatest achievement of Georgia’s democratic transition.” [44] It is clearly significant then, that Rustavi 2 (“Georgia’s most popular independent TV station”) [45] screened Bringing Down a Dictator and provided “almost non-stop” protest coverage throughout the revolution “inform[ing] Georgians about upcoming demonstrations and actions.” [46] With this in mind, perhaps it is not surprising to learn that York Zimmerman are currently making another movie based on another NED-backed revolution, the working title of which is The Ukraine Project (which was scheduled for release in 2006). [47]

Like the two films that preceded it, it seems likely that The Ukraine Project will provide yet another whitewash of the NED’s work. This is all the more likely as shortly after the Ukraine’s so-called ‘Orange revolution’, Ackerman and Duvall wrote an article in the International Herald Tribune which suggested that the debate concerning the “propriety of U.S. and European funding for democracy-building in Ukraine” really “misse[d] the reality of how the Orange Revolution succeeded.” [48] They added that “Like all victories of people power in the past 25 years, it was achieved, not by foreign assistance, but by the indigenous force of ordinary citizens applying their own strategy to challenge autocratic power.” They even used the tried and tested method of labelling debaters, who questioned the motives of the ‘democracy promoters’ as “conspiracy theorists.” Of course they are not stupid and they acknowledged that “[e]xternal aid can help, but [they add that] its neither necessary nor sufficient” for a revolution to succeed. This interpretation of the events flies in the face of more critical research (not published in the mainstream media), like that of Professor William I. Robinson. Robinson’s polyarchal work – introduced earlier in this paper – has shown that many of the revolutions that have come to pass in the last 20 years had been thoroughly infiltrated by the NED (and their international cronies), and even then, their success in ousting their governments is only really guaranteed once the imperial powers that be give them the official nod. For example, although opposition groups are being courted by the NED in Uzbekistan, the nod has not come from foreign policy elites in the US, so instead of success in the streets protestors often meet death (even those ‘supported’ by the NED).

A Game of Nonviolent Strategy: “Serious games for educational purposes” [49]

The concept of serious games for educational purposes is much older than we see. It was actually in the military that they used educational games for years… [I]t was just a matter of time before these concepts would pull out of the military and be embraced by the rest of the world, and I’m glad that we were among the first dozen outside of the military who started using games this way. [50]

The above quote taken from the Social Policy article, illustrates that Ivan Marovic, considers A Force More Powerful’s transition from book to computer game to be following in the steps of military strategists. However, what isn’t made clear in the article is that many of the computer game’s producers are essentially ex-military strategists, and that ironically the game was co-produced by BreakAway Games (alongside ICNC and York Zimmerman), a company that specialises in producing simulation games for the military.

BreakAway openly admits that it has “strategic relationships” with a number of leading military contractors including “AAI, Boeing, Booz-Allen & Hamilton, GMA Industries, and General Dynamics among others” and in their CEO’s own words they obtain around 75% of their business from “Uncle Sam.” [51] Recent Federal Projects carried out through BreakAway Federal Systems include Virtual Convoy Trainer which “places Armed Forces in a Middle Eastern environment and enables them to quickly identify and respond to ambush tactics in urban terrain and during convoy operations”, and Incident Commander which prepares its gamers “for multiple scenarios including terrorist attacks, school shootings, and natural disasters.” [52] It is therefore no surprise that Deborah Tillett, the president of BreakAway, “sees no paradox in producing games that enable both warmakers and peaceful resisters.” In fact, she has even said that the “basic tenets of the ICNC are that using a strict doctrine of military strategy and applying it to your nonviolent resistance movement only gives you power.” [53]

Finally it is interesting to note that the three main architects of the film, A Force More Powerful, were also the key people involved in creating the computer game: Steve York was the Senior Producer; Mirriam Zimmerman was the Design Associate; and Peter Ackerman was the game’s Senior Advisor. To complete the ‘democratic’ line-up, Colonel Robert Helvey, who was responsible for running workshops in Budapest to train Otpor activists, was brought in as a consultant, and the leader of Otpor, Ivan Marovic, also worked with Mirriam Zimmerman as the computer game’s Design Associate. [54]

Concluding Thoughts

As this article has demonstrated, many of the polyarchal activities of those individuals and groups linked to the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict and Albert Einstein Institute, have for the most part been ignored by progressive activists (and their media). This is an intolerable and potentially catastrophic situation for all proponents of progressive social change, and the activist community needs to move quickly to combat such groups’ insidious hijacking of the discourse of democracy, peace and civil disobedience.

Ironically, the ‘democracy’ trainers discussed in this article, with their close ties to the military establishment, are also the ones who dismiss the strategic utility of uncivil disobedience. It is likely that many activists will disagree that there are in fact limits to the strategic utility of civil disobedience – most famously laid out by Ward Churchill in his essay ‘Pacifism as Pathology’ – but it seems eminently sensible that activists should still discuss the strategic implications of all available tactics. Progressive activist trainers, like George Lakey, have addressed the issues raised by Ward Churchill’s work in public debates, but many on the Left still childishly choose to dismiss Churchill’s views wholesale, with little or no critical engagement with his revolutionary ideas. [55] Part of this problem has certainly been amplified by the hegemonic position ‘democratic’ non-violent theorists have attained over the study of civil disobedience, which in many circles has rendered a truly open-minded discussion of social change next to impossible.

To change this situation, first and foremost, activists will have to educate themselves about the work of the ‘democracy promoters,’ a process which has been made easier by the launch last year of two groups which have made it their duty to expose the antidemocratic mechanisations of the NED and its buddies. These groups are the International Endowment for Democracy (http://www.iefd.org) and In the Name of Democracy (http://inthenameofdemocracy.org/). It seems that only when the wider progressive community has critically engaged with the work of the ‘democratic’ proponents of civil disobedience, can activists begin to be more sure that they are adopting the most suitable strategies to enable our planet to move toward a high-intensity participatory democracy, rather than a low-intensity neoliberal ‘democracy’ or polyarchy.


1. For more on the necessity for media reform, see Michael Barker, ‘Conform or Reform? Social Movements and the Mass Media’, Fifth-Estate-Online – International Journal of Radical Mass Media Criticism, February 2007.

2. Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988); See: http://www.medialens.org/; For resources relating to the propaganda model see:

3. For more on this subject see, Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003). A forthcoming paper on the links between liberal foundations and the media is provided by Michael Barker, ‘The Liberal Foundations of Media Reform? Creating Sustainable Funding Opportunities for Radical Media Reform’.

4. William I. Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention, and Hegemony (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 9.

5. Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy, 16. For more on alternative interpretations of democracy, see Paul Street, ‘What is a Democracy? The Empire and Inequality Report, no. 9’, Znet, February 03, 2007.

6. See Michael Barker, ‘Taking the Risk Out of Civil Society: Harnessing Social movements and Regulating Revolutions’, Refereed paper presented to the Australasian Political Studies Association Conference, University of Newcastle 25-27 September 2006.

7. George Lakey, ‘Nonviolent Action as the Sword that Heals’, Training for Change, March 2001, End Note 11.
In addition, in March 2005, William Domhoff also referenced Ackerman’s and Lakey’s work together, he wrote: “For good accounts of strategic nonviolence, see Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler, Strategic nonviolent conflict: The dynamics of people power in the twentieth century. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994; Ronald M. McCarthy and Gene Sharp, Nonviolent action: A research guide, New York: Garland Publishing, 1997; and George Lakey, Powerful peacemaking: A strategy for a living revolution, Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1987.” ‘Social Movements and Strategic Nonviolence’.

8. Dr Ackerman is also Managing Director of Crown Capital Groups, a private investment firm, Chairman of the Board of Overseers of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, board member of CARE, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. See ‘Board of Trustees’.

9. DuVall has been Vice President for Program Resources Washington Educational Television Association; “Director of Corporate Relations of the University of Chicago; Director of Industry Compliance, Cost of Living Council, Executive Office of the President; and an officer in the U.S. Air Force.” See ‘Speaker Biography’.

10. See: http://www.nonviolent-conflict.org/

11. See: http://www.europeaninstitute.org/content.php?section=boards

12. For two detailed examinations of the AEI’s ‘democratic’ activities, see Jonathan Mowat, ‘Coup d’État in Disguise: Washington’s New World Order “Democratization” Template’, Centre for Research on Globalisation, February 9, 2005;
And Thierry Meyssan, ‘Albert Einstein Institution: non-violence according to the CIA’, Voltaire, January 4, 2005;
Dr Ackerman has also been a director of the AEI, and in 1994 Ackerman coathored a book Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: The Dynamics of People Power in the Twentieth Century, with the then president of the AEI, Christopher Kruegler. See Albert Einstein Institute, ‘Biennial Report 1990-1992’.

13. Albert Einstein Institution, ‘Report on Activities 1993-1999’.

14. Diana Barahona, ‘The Freedom House Files’, Monthly Review, January 3, 2007.

15. See: http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=265;

16. Richard Hatch and Sara Diamond, ‘Operation Peace Institute’, Zmag, July/Aug 1990; Also see Right Web, ‘Group Watch: United States Institute of Peace’, Last updated September 1990.

17. According to his biography: “Mr. Petersen’s government and political experience includes stints at the National War College, the Institute for National Security Studies, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Council Staff at the White House. He was a naval flight officer and is a decorated veteran of both the Viet Nam and Persian Gulf wars.” See ‘Board of Directors’.

18. See: http://www.arlingtoninstitute.org/about_tai/bod_04.asp

19. See: http://www.arlingtoninstitute.org/

20. See: http://www.icfj.org/donors.html

21. See: http://www.crisisgroup.org

22. See: http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=1151&l=1

23. See: http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?l=1&id=1139
Michael Barker, ‘Fidel Ramos and the Australian Centre for Democratic Institutions’, Znet, April 16, 2006.

24. Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall, A Force More Powerful (New York: St Martins Press, 2000), 486.

25. Ackerman and DuVall, A Force More Powerful, 484, 488.

26. For example, see Krishna Kumar, ‘USAID’s media assistance: Policy and programmatic lessons’, Evaluation working paper 16, U.S. Agency for International Development, Bureau for Policy and Program Coordination, 2004, xiii.

27. Spasa Bosnjak, ‘Fight the power: the role of the Serbian independent electronic media in the democratization of Serbia’, Unpublished MA thesis, Simon Fraser University, 2005, 71.

28. Ellen Hume, Media missionaries: American support for journalism excellence and press freedom around the globe (Knight Foundation, 2004), accessed September, 2006, 37.

29. Ackerman and DuVall, A Force More Powerful, 486.

30. Ackerman and DuVall, A Force More Powerful, 485.

31. Ackerman and DuVall, A Force More Powerful, xv; ‘Jack Duvall’s Biography’.

32. ‘Pipeline 2000: Series in preparation for future public TV seasons, as of fall 1999’.

33. See: http://www.yorkzim.com/about/about.html

34. Ackerman and DuVall, A Force More Powerful, xv.

35. See: http://www.i-behavior.com/about/management/

36. The I-Behavior Co-operative database is “A Co-operative, transactional history database containing the buying behavior of over 96MM U.S. households, contributed by nearly 800 Member companies. The Co-op links on-line and off-line direct channel purchase history and is adding new Member companies and their customers every week.”;
See: http://www.i-behavior.com/faq
For a comprehensive treatment of the manipulation of democracy through database management, see Gerald Sussman, Global Electioneering: Campaign Consulting, Communications, and Corporate Financing (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005); For an examination of the problems of online surveillance for activists, see Michael Barker, ‘Online privacy? Surveillance of social movements on the Internet’.

37. Franklin Foer, ‘Regime Change, Inc.: Peter Ackerman’s quest to topple tyranny’, The New Republic, April 25, 2005.
For more details on Robert Helvey see Jonathan Mowat, ‘Who is Col. Bob Helvey?’.

38. http://www.ffpd.org/iran.html ; Eugene Bird, ‘Reza Pahlavi: A new/old approach to Iran’, (Diplomatic Doings), Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 1, 2002.

39. http://www.iraninstitutefordemocracy.org/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=1
It is also important to note that the Iran Institute for Democracy undertook what they described as “the first ever public opinion survey of Iranians throughout the Capital city of Tehran.” In 2004, the Foundation for the Promotion of Democracy also “hosted and sponsored a five day political activism training program, in Washington, attended by young Iranian political activists brought in from out of state and Europe.”
See: http://www.ffpd.org/iran.html

40. Michael Barker, ‘Catalyst for Iranian Resistance: US “democracy promoters” and regime change in Iran’, Znet, December 18, 2006.
Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, ‘Hegemony and Appeasement: Setting Up the Next U.S.-Israeli Target (Iran) For Another “Supreme International Crime”‘, Kafka Era Studies Number 4, January 27, 2007.

41. For an excellent critique of Dr. Nafisi’s work, which most famously includes Reading Lolita in Tehran, see Hamid Dabashi, ‘Native informers and the making of the American empire’, Al-Ahram Weekly Online, 1-7 June 2006.

42. See: http://www.yorkzim.com/pastProd/bringingDown.html

43. Franklin Foer, ‘Regime Change, Inc.’.

44. International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, ‘Building democracy in Georgia: Agenda for debate May 2003’.

45. George Sulkanishvili, ‘Freedom of Expression in the Republic of Georgia: Framing the Attempted Shut-down of the Independent TV Station’, Unpublished MSc thesis: Louisiana State University, 2003, 2.

46. Ilgar Khudiyev, ‘Coverage of the 2003 post-election protests in Azerbaijan: Impact of media ownership on objectivity’, Unpublished BA thesis: Louisiana State University, 2005, 60.

47. See: http://www.yorkzim.com/inProduction/inProduction.html

48. Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall, ‘The secret to success in Ukraine’, International Herald Tribune, December 29, 2004.

49. A project called The Serious Games Initiative, is currently being run by the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington.

50. Ivan Marovic cited in ‘Playing the Field: A Conversation with Ivan Marovic, Hardy Merriman, and Steve York’, Social Policy.

51. See: http://www.breakawayfederal.com/company.html
Brad Grimes, ‘Defense gaming fine-tunes soldiers’ skills’, PostNewsweek Tech Media, September 13, 2004.

52. See: http://www.breakawayfederal.com/

53. Bob Greiner, ‘Game Industry Finds Serious Outlet for Creative Energies’, Washington Post, October 31, 2005.

54. For a critical commentary on Robert Helvey’s ‘activist’ career, see Mowat, ‘Coup d’État in Disguise’, 2005.

55. Ward Churchill, Pacifism as Pathology (Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 1998); George Lakey, ‘Nonviolent Action as the Sword that Heals’, March 2001.

Michael Barker is a doctoral candidate at Griffith University, Australia. He can be reached at: mbarker@riseup.net