It doesn’t come up very often on here because its not one of my primary interests personally or professionally, but a major part of my work back when I was at the U.S. Department of State was the study of and working around issues related to violent extremism and the countering thereof. Specifically, I was tasked with using the history and cultural understandings of political theory that existed in the Central Asian region to come up with more constructive ways of combatting extremist groups recruitment strategies than simple state repression. The reason for this was that finally, over a decade after 9/11, people were coming around to the idea that the ‘cure’ to an extremism problem can often be just as bad as the disease.
The United States may have started to learn this lesson for other countries, but I don’t thing it has learned it for itself. Indeed, given the present media climate, I expect that any attempts to understand and diagnose the Miller Lite Militia’s storming of Capitol Hill will be met with the same kind of anti-thought rhetoric we saw immediately after 9/11. ‘How dare you sympathize with these people?’ Etc. Of course, never once in my entire life have I sympathized with Islamists (or republicans). In fact, I loathe them so much that when forced into a binary between corrupt and oppressive state security vs Islamists I always go with state security. I even hosted an extra-haram food themed BBQ party the day Osama Bin Laden was killed in celebration of the event. He deserved his comeuppance, but not at the cost of the polices enacted in response to his attacks. I would prefer societies not have to degenerate to that point in the first place if we can help it. And if it does we can still punish our worst assailants without giving way to cowardice by signing away our rights. It is a common tactic of governments everywhere to force a security state vs extremist Manichean binary as it will more easily enable them to divide and crush opposition. So too are we going to see this here now more than before. It would be best to inject some nuance in now before the opportunity is lost, or as, in the case of 9/11, only comes over a decade later after all the damage has been done.
I don’t really want to talk about MAGAMaidan itself as numerous takes on it can be found elsewhere. I will only point out that Trump is a moron and incited his followers to go to the capitol, but, as can clearly be seen by his immediate backing down and chickening out, did not in fact plan on the capitol police failing so epically and actually letting them storm into the place. This confirms my long held suspicion that everything he does it meant to boost his next reality show/talk show media career, which indeed is why he ran for president in the first place. The fact that they made it that far was as unplanned as the failure of the capitol’s security forces. Now this, and other antics, have helped cost his party the senate, possibly the next mid term election, and probably any attempts of his to run again for the presidency. He even finally conceded. A coup this was not. Trust not any historically illiterate dweller of frantic jazz laden NPR echo chambers who uses that word. A botched putsch? Maybe. A riot? Definitely. Everyone involved should be punished. If you want the best take I have seen which I could not surpass, check out Sam Kriss‘. But realize that Trump’s Twitter being taken away is probably the funniest and most punishing thing its possible to do to him.
Q Anon people have a lot of similarities with the kind of disaffected losers who get swept up into Al Qaeda and the Islamic State and thus do in fact present a security challenge. They believe their miseries are often caused by the government and elites (true) but invent elaborate self-flattering conspiracies to avoid having to understand structural forces so they can focus instead of simplistic moralism and clear good guy/bad guy narratives. Their groups need to be investigated and at their worst thwarted, but are rarely worth restructuring society and our civil rights around doing so. Such people are responding to serious grievances in unserious ways. Islamists, for instance, thrive in societies that limit acceptable expression so severely that the only socially sanctioned way to get out of mandatory loyalty is to join the clergy.
Already the monotonous blob of elite identifying media/academic/government worker groupthink is treating this as their very own Lanyard 9/11 and Reichstag fire in one, even though four people died, three of them chuds, and seems so far to be one grand gesture of self-sabotage. One of the fatalities accidentally tazered themselves and had a heart attack which is just….so the entire event in microcosm. It isn’t even the 1954 shooting attack on the capitol when Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire on congressmen on the house floor (showing that this has indeed happened before). But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say it is a new 9/11. Do you think our response to 9/11 was a good one? Do you think the Patriot Act and unchecked NSA surveillance was a good thing for the country? Do you think the culture of paranoia, warmongering, and xenophobia that descended in waves on this country was worth ‘bringing us together’ for a grand total of two years was worth it? Post-Cold War history has no lesson stronger than that Bipartisan Consensus is more often to be feared than embraced so long as these leadership cliques are in charge.
Here is what will most likely happen: the already existing pro censorship positions of many liberals, journalists, and many of the dumber leftists will accelerate to new heights. The FBI’s record of entrapping the dumber Muslim teenagers into fake bombing plots in order to drive up their terrorism prevention stats will be partially redirected towards white and right wing teenagers. Being conservative in a non-Brett Stephens approved way in any capacity will be conflated with ‘white supremacy’, because, as we know, Americans are incapable of imagining politics outside of a very narrow and parochial framework, and ‘incitement to violence’ will take on new meanings (that will somehow never include the calls of politicians to bomb and sanction small and weak nations abroad, of course).
To see this coming is not to take the side of MAGA any more than to have a nuanced view of the Patriot Act after 9/11 was to take the side of Al Qaeda. One can in fact have multiple different enemies at the same time. But the currently dominant trends in our society are not as much that of Trump’s bizarre and incoherent cult of personality, but rather a Silicon Valley neofedualism that has opportunistically adopted the rhetoric of left wing culture warriors and the priorities of the centrist security state. Both are threats, but one is far better poised to effect our immediate future. And if people who are not right wing already give up and roll over for this binary, then they will be the first to be shut out of relevance as the only valid opposition to our new dystopia is (incorrectly) rewritten to be MAGAMaidan. We already saw this process beginning before the clown car of reactionary ‘revolutionaries’ stormed the capitol when factually correct allegations about Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine were softly excluded from major media narratives despite their merit as a story. We have seen it in the career trajectories of threatened journalists seeing gatekeeping as the only way to hold on to their positions, voluntarily becoming like the media is forced to be in countries like Russia.
Political instability and even violence is not abnormal in America, it is all too normal. Four sitting presidents have been assassinated. A senator once assaulted and crippled a colleague in the capitol building. There were anarchist bomb throwers and the Battle of Blair Mountain. There was the militia movements of the 1990s and the Oklahoma City bombing. There was the aforementioned shooting of the capitol building itself in 50s. There were the riots than spun out of the George Floyd protests this summer. And this is to say nothing of how frequent protests that degenerate into riots are in other countries, including developed ones. France has them more often, and has a somewhat higher standard of living for its average citizens too. Did all of these events necessitate an expansion of the security state? No. In many cases there was no such thing at all. Tragedies happen, you seek out egregious perpetrators for punishment, then people move on.
As a friend of mine said recently when we were discussing how MAGA and the liberal establishment share common assumptions about the religion of American Exceptionalism and setting them above and beyond the forces of history, ‘This country has a lot of growing up to do all across the ideological spectrum.’ It certainly does. The people who stormed the capitol have no coherent ideology but that they live in this world and they don’t like it. They see one incredibly dumb and opportunistic man as their salvation. They see the world as children. Their partisan opposite has more fancy words to hide behind but is deeply invested in maintaining the rhetoric of setting their views above those of others not by historical fact but by theoretical assumption that the dominant ideology of our society evolves us out of the chaos of unplanned for events. This too is childish, if less overtly so.
To grow up, Americans could start by learning the real lesson of 9/11…that to give in to the temptations of censorious security state expansion for dramatic outlier events is one of the worst things you can do. You can hold people accountable and punish criminals without making life worse for everyone who isn’t a criminal. ‘Blame fundamentalists, not all Muslims’ was a common cry among liberals in the Bush years. Can they be made receptive to hearing it again in a more domestic context or do they now want their turn playing Cheney? As happened with extraordinary rendition and military surplus feeding police militarization, the War on Terror’s true legacy was that its effects will always be coming home to roost. I fear that the censorious scolds of the media and administrative classes will lead the way to continue this trend.