Agency of Crisis: The Chaos and Reordering of Presidential Security

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Virginia Tech

Crisis situations have the power to restructure knowledge, norms, rules and discourse. The status quo can be changed, transformed, and revolutionized through shocks to a system. These events often lead to chaos and reordering. Deflecting blame, assigning praise and guilt, transcending the situation, and corrective actions are secondary concerns when an organization is trying to change its core identity and epistemic reality. These shocks to the system provide a momentary break in time in which new discursive spaces open and become available. In particular, crisis situations that become marked by high probability/high consequence events enable organizations to establish new meaning. In these moments, a Foucauldian framework that focuses on power as production is able to illuminate certain aspects about crisis situations and crisis response. This thesis delves into the process of how external shocks created opportunities for an organization like the Secret Service to mold a crisis moment through the production of knowledge and meaning. To examine how the Secret Service responded to these shocks, this thesis examines a series of case studies ranging from the attempted assassination of Roland Reagan to the Oklahoma City bombing. In these moments, the Secret Service relied on its ability to create authoritative meaning, discipline the president, and make declarative statements about potential threats and safety precautions. In its ability to formulate these concepts, the president becomes tied to the Secret Service's apparatus of truth production. This allows the Secret Service to produce new meaning that disciplines presidential movement and action. Due to these conditions, the Service pivots on an unstable foundation, which allows it to reformulate and create new protective measures to protect the president in an ever changing environment.

Foucault, Secret Service, crisis communication, power