New Orleans was one of the first towns to feel the grip of the post-9/11 security state, when the newly-minted Department of Homeland Security took charge of protecting 2002’s Super Bowl XXXVI, held here just five months after the planes hit the towers. That tradition has continued through to 2013’s Super Bowl XLVII, designated a SEAR 1 event, which requires safety measures on par with the UN General Assembly.
New Orleans’s Carnival season—which this year shuts down for nine days to make way for the NFL—never warrants this same concern. “There is actually a bigger crowd here for Mardi Gras,” Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Jerry Sneed told me. “But Carnival is spread over several miles of parade routes, whereas the Super Bowl is concentrated in a much smaller area in and around the Superdome.” Meaning one terrorist-controlled plane could conceivably wipe out every single wealthy sports fan and NFL bigwig in attendance, whereas a Carnival parade would require an old-fashioned carpet-bombing. “We could never secure the parade route in this same way,” admitted Sneed.
The Superdome has been locked down for weeks. Its security zone has grown like a tumor in the city’s Central Business District, blooming finally with intimidating cement barricades along its perimeter. Though this year’s list of prohibited items is shorter than 2002’s (foam “We’re #1!” fingers are once again permitted), Sunday’s ticket-holders will be patted down, run through metal detectors, and maybe treated to some face-recognition software. Sneed even helped push for a crowd-monitoring aerial drone, an idea only recently nixed.
Even more of a libertarian’s nightmare is the “Clean Zone,” which extends far beyond the cement barricades. From January 28 to February 5, the city, under direct orders from the NFL, will strictly regulate commerce and expression within a vast area encompassing the entire French Quarter, Frenchmen Street’s music district, even the West Bank levee across the Mississippi River, and all the water in-between.
Also, what this guy says: