The University Invests in Genocide

Taylor Miller
Published on
May 6, 2024
Tucson police forces destroy the second UA encampment (May 1, 2024). Photo: Julius Schlosburg - used with permission

University campus protests have erupted across the United States in opposition to the genocide in Gaza. Our author Taylor Miller recently graduated with a PhD from the University of Arizona. She gives a personal account of the repression students have faced – and the special place of arms giant RTX (Raytheon) in contaminating land from Turtle Island to Palestine.

[May 1, 2024] When I opened my phone at 6am, a barrage of text messages: UAlert Update [1-6] Police may deploy chemical irritant munitions. Follow the orders of police. Leave the area immediately. Updates to follow.

Toggling to other social media platforms, my screen fills with images of the Tucson Police Department in riot gear, state trooper and SWAT team trucks, as well as several unmarked white vans sealing off Park Avenue and University Boulevard—the entrance to and heartbeat of The University of Arizona (UA).

Figure 1: Tucson Police Department brandishing “non-lethal” weapons along Park Avenue. Photo: Ellie Wolfe, Arizona Daily Star, X: @elliew0lfe.

The initial version of the (UA) Palestine Solidarity Encampment/Liberated Zone bloomed on April 29, 2024 on the east end of the Old Main building in the center of campus, beginning with several tents and some rudimentary supplies. UA Police Department (UAPD), invoking various codes of conduct (such as A.R.S. 13-1502 “criminal trespass in the third degree”), shuttered this effort by nightfall, threatening student protestors with arrest. Emboldened by the administration’s callousness, the second encampment moved slightly west the following afternoon, nestled in a grove of olive trees. I spent a few hours at this second iteration as the cluster of tents were freshly erected—it was a tense but peaceful space stocked with water, a medic and communications station, and plentiful signage demanding permanent ceasefire, divestment and embargo. The perimeter of the encampment had several ad hoc layers of fencing—borrowed chain link sections, ropes, and a handful of volunteers for guidance/directions. I left before nightfall, returning to my tiny adobe home less than one mile away. It was a sleepless night; in between compulsively checking friends’ updates and looking for helicopter lights through the curtains, a cacophony of sirens and various booming noises rippled through the neighborhood. By early morning, testimonies and clips flooded in: fired into the crowd, locked arms, chemical agents, rubber bullets, ripped down, held the line, batons

[2am] Arrests begin on the orders of UA President Robert C. Robbins. 

“The UAPD is supported by members of the Tucson Police Department, Pima County Sheriff’s Office and the state’s Department of Public Safety. The University will continue to act in the best interests of our students, faculty and staff to ensure their safety.”

An omission: The University will continue to act in the best interest of Raytheon Missiles & Defense. 

Located eight miles from the UA campus on unceded Tohono O’odham land, the Raytheon Missiles & Defense headquarters is the largest employer in southern Arizona. This isn’t the particular place where I’ll parse the company’s predation on the land and community, nor the specifics of its partnership (rather, pipeline) with UA to funnel students into the products and processes of ceaseless war. But broadly, we can understand the intricate interweaving of this university with the ongoing genocide in Gaza and the 76+ year occupation of Palestine, through tacit architectural, environmental and ideological imperatives that prioritize profit above all else. 

 In addition to its main southside HQ, Raytheon now rents office space from UA, aiming to “help foster defense research collaborations and develop new UA talent.” The UA Applied Research Corp. (AARC) is the nonprofit corporation created by the university to education-wash the insatiability of this region’s border-military-industrial complex

On June 27, 2023, RTX Corporation (Raytheon’s new name as of July 17, 2023) was awarded a government contract as part of the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) program, with $1.15 billion awarded for AIM-120 D-3 and C-8 AMRAAM missiles for the U.S. Air Force and Navy. This follows the September 2022 AMRAAM contract for $972 million for hardware and software for AIM-120D3 and AIM-120C8 missiles—all part of the “Form, Fit, Function Refresh” (F3R) program. The $2 billion-plus deals to be executed in Tucson compound the US Army modifications contracts for the Javelin missile system (approx. $71 million), as well as May 2023’s $146,664,212 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for the Future Advanced Strike (FAST) for the Coyote Block 3 System. A quick skim through 2023’s reports, particularly Quarter 4 as well as 2024’s Quarter 1 make it clear: business is booming. Business, in Tucson, is bombing. 

These latest AMRAAM missiles are used by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) throughout this genocide in Gaza, and earlier iterations were used in prior onslaughts of the besieged land. Raytheon’s munitions, such as the GBU-28 “bunker buster”, the Paveway laser-guided kit, the TOW, AGM-65 Maverick, Sidewinder, and the AIM-120 AMRAAM, have perpetuated atrocity across Palestine. Moreover, “[Raytheon] provides weapon systems, components, and maintenance services to the Israeli Air Force’s fleet of F-15, F-16, and F-35 fighter jets. For example, the company and its subsidiary Pratt & Whitney have provided F100 engines—the ‘engine of choice’ for F-15 and F-16 aircraft—and APG-82(V)1 radars.”

These weapons have damaged the past/present/futures of the air, sea, waterways, soils and subsoils of Palestine and its people—“destruction is the constitutive experience of Palestinian life because the essence of the Zionist project is the destruction of Palestine.”

Raytheon’s munitions manufacture intimately connects the Sonoran Desert with Palestine and necessitates underscoring the decades-long settler colonial imperative of land theft by any name. In 1951, the Hughes Aircraft Co. built a missile plant south of the city, later purchased that same year by the US Air Force. Air Force Plant 44 (AFP-44) endures as the federally-owned plot occupying over two million square feet of land, primarily as structures, completed and/or in-progress. Raytheon, whose massive and ever-expanding operations also occupy this site, proves part of this palimpsest of desecration of fragile ecology; the collusion of corrupt multinational corporations poisoning Palestine, as well as these borderlands.

As the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality details, groundwater contamination in the area was first detected shortly after the missile site’s creation. Elevated levels of chromium were detected in a municipal water supply well near AFP-44, and nearby residents detected waning quality in private wells. It took until 1976 for The State of Arizona to close the AFP-44 well. By 1981, the US Environmental Protection Agency and Arizona Department of Health Services identified volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the upper zone of the regional aquifer below the airport. Trichloroethane (TCE) was the primary groundwater contaminant. While desultory remedial efforts–such as large-scale pumping, treating and injection systems construction–took place, metals-contaminated soils (chromium, lead, cadmium) persisted–poisoning the community’s present and future generations. 

Throughout the early 2000s, 1,4-dioxane contamination persisted in the area’s groundwater. While certainly not a toxicologist, my understanding is that 1,4-dioxane, a heterocyclic organic compound classified as an ether, is an eye and respiratory irritant. Exposure can cause damage to the liver, kidneys and nervous system: “In a 1978 mortality study conducted on workers exposed to 1,4-dioxane, the observed number of deaths from cancer was not significantly different from the expected number. Dioxane is classified by the National Toxicology Program as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”. It is also classified by the IARC as a Group 2B carcinogen: possibly carcinogenic to humans because it is a known carcinogen in other animals. The United States Environmental Protection Agency classifies dioxane as a probable human carcinogen (having observed an increased incidence of cancer in controlled animal studies, but not in epidemiological studies of workers using the compound), and a known irritant (with a no-observed-adverse-effects level of 400 milligrams per cubic meter) at concentrations significantly higher than those found in commercial products. Under California Proposition 65, dioxane is classified in the U.S. State of California to cause cancer.” 

More than a decade of dead-end requests for comments, monitoring, and evaluation/testing later, the Air Force and Raytheon continue to skirt accountability and account for demands of quantifiable progress. On Friday, May 26, 2023, Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes filed a lawsuit against Raytheon and other manufacturing companies for knowingly releasing “forever chemicals” into the environment: 

In the 48-page lawsuit filed in Maricopa County, Mayes wrote the companies “designed, manufactured, marketed” and sold thousands of products containing PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. This includes fire-fighting foam used for decades at airports and military installations. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality found PFAS in groundwater and public drinking water across the state, the lawsuit said, including signs the chemical has polluted groundwater near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. “When used as directed by the manufacturers, the products release PFAS into the environment, cause soil and water contamination, and bioaccumulate in humans and animals.”

Presumably, the case will be stuck in litigation for years to come–perhaps resulting in a million-ish dollar settlement for those families named as directly impacted. The poisoning-by-plume and tainted groundwater demand an understanding of Forever War–the ceaseless reproduction of an enemy, of territory//property to defend, of contracts to secure–as enmeshed, as cellularly possessed, and now inseparable, from living in the Sonoran Desert. Meanwhile, the munitions manufacture at Raytheon presses on at break-neck pace, with the communities both nearest to its production site and those thousands of miles away beneath the bombing as greatest impacted.

Figure 2: Tucson police forces destroy the second UA encampment (May 1, 2024). Photo: Julius Schlosburg

The repression that students face are but a small fraction of the harm inflicted on Palestinian communities for generations. Where Palestinians are slaughtered in their homes, students are targeted with so-called “non-lethal” weapons. Although Raytheon does not produce so-called “non-lethal weaponry”—such as skunk water, tear gas, Long-Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD), stun guns and rubber bullets, its vital for us to draw a through-line between the brute, disproportionate force wielded against the UA Palestine encampment, as authorized by Robert Robbins (“…law enforcement had little choice but to take significant measures…”), and the university’s investment in protecting, necessitating, and prolonging its lucrative contracts with one of the world’s largest munitions manufacturers. We can consider the inhalation of CS gas by students and its lasting effects. Similarly, we meditate on the poisoning of the desert, of the river to the sea, of the decimation of lifeworlds by blight, by bomb. We can connect the damages done—against bodies, against land, against community—it is a wall you must get through. Moreover, we can channel our rage, pain, mistrust, angst (and more! Any and all of it!) to continue co-envisioning forms of resistance.