Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Andrew Calabrese

Second Advisor

Janice Peck

Third Advisor

Michael Tracey

Fourth Advisor

Timothy Oakes

Fifth Advisor

Elizabeth Skewes


President George W. Bush and his administration reacted to the attacks on September 11, 2001 by declaring a “war on terrorism” and enacting policies that expanded executive power, restricted civil liberties, violated civil rights, and increased surveillance powers. These processes can be described as a state of exception (Agamben, 2005; Ericson, 2007; Scheppele, 2004). During a state of exception, it is believed, or at least proclaimed, that the exceptional nature of the times defies the ability of the normal legal order to cope with the crisis, requiring exceptional and extra-legal measures

Despite the centrality and indispensability of communication to a state of exception, the role of communication has received little in-depth scholarly analysis. Communication is the process through which the state of exception gains hegemonic and ideological power and the symbolic means through which it is challenged. This dissertation explores the relationship between media and communications and a state of exception by investigating the police militarization at protests, one trend that was accelerated, funded, and justified by appeals to a national emergency and the so-called global war on terrorism.

The case study of the Republican National Convention protests in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2008, a case par excellence of police militarization, shows how police and intelligence agencies used new surveillance laws and new communications technologies to create a narrative of anarchist threat and terrorism. It also describes how police militarization involved pre-emptive raids of media offices, intimidation of media workers, the arrest of journalists, and confiscation of communications and media equipment. A textual analysis of newspaper coverage of the 2008 RNC protests analyzes how media narratives coincided, questioned, and countered militarized policing and the police narrative, arguing that the mainstream news media, by covering the protests in the way that they did, worked to legitimize and, ultimately, normalize militarized modes of protest policing. This dissertation concludes by discussing the centrality of communication to the legal and political theory of the exception and how appeals to an emergency have functioned to normalize anti-democratic laws, policies, and practices during the war on terror.