The Boomerang


As to be expected, following Foucault’s Boomerang, the repressive technique (thermal fogging) developed by a country (USA) to control colonial territories (Vietnam) will be used by the same country (USA) on its own people (Graham 2013).

Indeed, it took only (and exactly) three years from initial deployment in Vietnam on August 8 1965 to first application in the United States to gas Black racial justice protesters in Miami on August 8th 1968 (Tschenschlok 1995, Lorentzen 2018).

The return of the boomerang was aided significantly by the weapons industry, militarization of US police forces, the transition of veterans to law enforcement occupations upon returning home, and substantial propaganda in a variety of specialized and generalized outlets.

General Ordnance Equipment Corporation

The General Ordnance Equipment Corporation (GOEC), who developed and trademarked Chemical Mace the year prior, began using the phrase “Pepper Fog” in July 1968 on their thermal fogger line and applied for a trademark on the phrase in October of the same year (USTPO 2018). By the end of August 1969, GOEC had received the trademark on “Pepper Fog”, which they (and their subsequent owners including Smith and Wesson, Federal Laboratories, and Safariland) retained until it expired in 1991 (USTPO 2018).

yellow-ish scan of a b/w image: black box shape tool with a handle on top, a label that says pepper fog, and some gauges on top. The back of the box has some wires and such sticking out and appears to have switches and controls. Coming out of the front is a long tube that narrows at the end. The tube has a wire cage surrounding it.
Product image for thermal fogger; GOEC 1968

Indeed, to this day, the current owner of the legacy branding (Safariland subsidiary Defense Technology) continues to sell items under a “Pepper Fog” line, including a “pepper fog generator” that utilizes the same pulse-jet generation technique:

Yellow-gold box shape tool with a handle on top, an image of an eagle in flight on the side, and some gauges on top.The back of the box tapers and appears to have switches and controls. Coming out of the front is a long tube that narrows at the end. The tube has a wire cage surrounding it.
Product image for thermal fogger; 2021 Defense Technology

Rex Applegate

A major figure in the translation of military “riot suppression” tactics to domestic law enforcement in the 1960s and 1970s was a former US Army Lt. Colonel named Rex Applegate. Applegate took a commission as a second leuitenant, but had a lung ailment kept him from serving in combat in World War II and so was assigned to Military Police Company before being tapped by Col. William Donovan to build and run the School for Spies and Assassins in the Office of Strategic Services (Goldstein 1998). Larger than life, Rex even served as bodyguard to President Franklin Roosevelt, before retiring and moving to Mexico at the end of World War II to consult with Central and South American governments on “riot control” (Goldstein 1998).

Applegate returned to the US in the 1960s during the civil rights and anti-war protest era and began prosthelytizing the good word of the thermal fogger (Applegate 1969, Applegate 1970). Indeed, Rex published what can only be described as a long-form written sales pitch for the GOEC Pepper Fog thermal fogger in the highly circulated Guns magazine in 1970 (Applegate 1970)

B/W photo of a demo of a pepper fogger where one person is gassing the heck out of some railroad lines.
Demo image from Guns article; 1970 Rex Applegate

Gary Willis

Alongside the more overtly pro-police-use-of-chemical-weapons propaganda of Rex Applegate were other, perhaps more subtle forms. For example, Pulitizer Prize-winning Garry Wills (who at the time was considerably more conservative than he became to be later) penned an op-ed that ran in (at least) The Herald Statesman (Yonkers, New York) and The Charlotte News (Charlotte, North Carolina) in April 1971 titled “Tear Gas Tears” in which he basically tells all the cry babies (pun intended) to suck it up because he “would not be afraid to undergo such experiences [as being pepper fogged] again” (Wills 1971). Notably, he touts the leading belief at the time that somehow thermal fogging is a “safe immobilizer of individuals” (Wills 1971), despite the weapon not being demonstrably safer than gas grenades and notonly not “immobolizing” but explicitly designed to mobilize immobile resisters. Interesting, Wills compares indiscriminate and uncontrollable chemical weapons as “safer than dogs, which get out of control, bit bystanders (and even other cops) as well as ‘the bad guys’” (Wills 1971). He concludes his piece by calling tear gas “human in … foreign wars [and] domestic encounters” (Wills 1971), speaking clearly to the boomerang’s return.