Ashton Wesner

Cultures of Settler Militarism: Race, Environmental Masulinity, and the Ecologization of Drone Warfare

As Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area counties faced decline in extractive natural resource economies at the end of the 20th century, the emergence of a local entrepreneurial unmanned aerial systems (UAS) company—Insitu Inc—was lauded for its contributions to a burgeoning surveillance industry-hub, local ecotourism, and recreation. Insitu Inc’s ScanEagle Drone has garnered multi-million dollar defense contracts and use in border security and counter-terrorist operations. But the ScanEagle is a derivative of the SeaScan, originally designed to collect weather data and track schools of tuna for dolphin-safe commercial catch. In this project I ask, how are military-environmental politics produced in and through iterative translations between watching whales and targeting racialized subjects? To what extent does rural tech-culture naturalize the expansion of defense industry by enrolling long-standing settler imaginaries of the Gorge as an accessible, whitewashed landscape of play? Through ethnographic and discursive analysis of ScanEagle production and representation, I examine contemporary articulations of environmentalism, recreation, whiteness, and the policing of racialized human “targets” at global scales. This research will shed light on the enrollment of environmental technologies in global US militarism, and how algorithmic logics of securitization and ecological sciences coproduce one another.

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