So, I guess it’s finally time to talk about the last couple weeks.
On the morning of January 6th I had just posted an essay I’d rant-written over an hour or two the night prior about an op-ed on Military.com calling for war criminal Robert Bales to be pardoned by now former-President Donald Trump (thankfully, Bales does not appear to have been included in Trump’s last minute Pardonpalooza – sucks to suck Bobby Boy). I figured that would be the thing I’d be the angriest or distressed about that day, or even that week.
Yeah, so, we know what happened in the second half of the day.
I’ll be honest, I intended to write something about all this sooner. God knows that I’m a little late to the game on all this. A lot of my favorite analysts, podcasters, and other content creators have all already done their bits on the January 6th insurrection/riot/whatever by now. But I decided to sit tight before I put my thoughts down on “paper” as it were for a couple reasons.
The first reason was equal parts paranoia and selfishness. I held my fire because with the threats and increasingly tense situation surrounding the inauguration, I wanted to wait until after Biden was sworn in before I wrote anything because – much like my Bales essay being overcome by events – I was afraid I’d write something only to have an actual coup de tat kick off five minutes after posting it (Note: as of writing this, Biden has successfully been sworn in and is in the White House probably saying “listen Jack” to his staff repeatedly).
The second reason was, I honestly didn’t know what to write and didn’t know exactly how I felt about everything and I still am struggling. Since January 6th, I’ve felt just about every emotion I think is possible at least once a day – often more than once. I’ve mellowed out a lot since then and feel a lot better today, but I’ll be real with you all, I was kind of a wreck for a bit with everything going on (if you’re worried, I’m ok, and thank you).
This essay is going to be a bit disjointed compared to some of my other works, but this is just something I wanted to get off my chest and out of my head to help myself make sense of things, and maybe it’ll help other folks in that way too. I’ll try and follow it up with something approaching intelligent analysis on how we should think about this and deal with it going forward. Hopefully in the next few weeks I can get back to my usual fare. For now, let’s do this.
How Do I Feel?
I’ve spent most of my adult life learning and training to be a national security professional and then (finally) starting to work in the field. I’ve typically been what you’d call a generalist. I’ve dipped my toe in a bit of everything, but I’ve largely focused on conflict between states in all its various forms throughout my academic and professional career.
With that in mind, another reason I was slow to write about this was that I’m not the best person to. While I’ve always been aware of and concerned about the dangers of the far-right and white nationalism and all the other toxic elements in American politics, it wasn’t until the last four years – and the final stages of my radicalization as a leftist in the last year in particular – that I truly began to appreciate the gravity of the threat. I’ve never focused on any of this in my studies or work. I’ve never been an expert on far-right paramilitary violence and domestic terrorism and all of that. I’ve never even been an expert on terrorism and political violence in general. I watched what happened on the 6th unfold in real time over livestream, talking with my close friends and family as it occurred – which in a way, made it even harder and take even more time to process it. I’ve seen plenty of events unfold like that in other countries before, but it was just that: foreign. Something that happens over there, not back here.
In a way, I had a massive cognitive dissonance about the event as it was happening. On one hand, it was entirely shocking and surprising that this could happen in the United States of America of all places, in the 21st century. And yet, at the same time, I couldn’t help but think “well of course something like this finally happened, how could it not have?” We’ve been building up to something like this for years now. It didn’t help that while I now view the government and many institutions with a much more critical eye given my change in politics, I can’t deny the monuments and symbology still hold some kind of value to me emotionally, and seeing far-right Trump supporters bashing their way inside and running amok fucked me up some (this in addition to some personal connections I have to the Capitol that made it all hit a little close to home, but I don’t really want to get into that here).
So, where am I going with this? That’s a good question. I guess my point here is, amidst the mix of emotions I felt over the past week or two, the overriding one was fear. I was scared. And I’m here to tell you that if you were scared as well, that’s ok. That’s valid, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Was what happened at the Capitol as bad as it could have been? No. I’ve heard a lot of 9/11 comparisons and while I agree some are ham fisted, and while January 6th was nowhere near as deadly as 9/11, it still left me with the same sense of fear and uncertainty that event did when I was a kid. It was still a traumatic event in a lot of ways, and if you feel scared by it, don’t let anyone make you feel like shit for feeling what you feel.
I’ve seen a lot of people cracking jokes about what happened on twitter and elsewhere. That’s fine. Honestly, one reason it’s been hard to make sense of everything after the 6th has been the fact that while the insurrection was serious, it was also in many ways, laughable in its events. I mean, c’mon. You have the Q Shaman dressed up in a fur faux-Viking outfit. How can you not joke about this shit in some shape or form? It’s impossible not to.
I’ve absolutely made a lot of gallows humor among friends myself to deal with what happened. As Hawkeye Pierce once said on M*A*S*H, sometimes joking is the only way you can open your mouth without screaming. When this becomes unhelpful or hurtful is when the joking becomes less about working through something you’re feeling and more about trivializing it and dismissing it as something that is not worth your concern and attention. That is not fine, and it pisses me off in a major way. Not only does it feel like punching down, but it also feels like it misses the implications of what happened for us as leftists and the country as a whole.
Again, was this as bad is it could have been? No. Was it the worst thing ever to happen to or in America? Not by a long shot. But it is extremely concerning and should be a warning to us for what might come next. Even if the riots themselves didn’t amount to much, and in many places were laughable, it was also extremely fortunate they were not worse – as there are now plenty of indications that they could have been much, much worse.
While there are a lot of people on the left that have been keenly aware of the threat of right-wing violence for years now, this may be a wakeup call for many who either weren’t as aware or didn’t think it was as serious or extensive as it’s turned out to be. While we all may have been affected in different ways and to different degrees but the last few weeks, what we need to agree on is that far-right violence and extremism is a problem that is only going to get worse before it gets better, even now that Trump has left the White House. Trump was only the beginning. We need to brace ourselves because what has become clear is that the last few years if we want to stop things much worse than what happened on January 6th from occurring in the future.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Ok, so I just disgorged about a thousand words or more in change at you about my own jumble of personal feelings about all this. I feel like I owe you something a bit more thought out on what we should be trying to do from here on in to deal with the oncoming wave of chuddery.
First off, there are two important ideas that need to be understood in tandem – to some folks these may be obvious but I’m going to state them anyway to drive the point home: 1.) this is not a problem that cropped up overnight; and 2.) this is not a problem that will be taken care of in four years or eight years or even more than that. The current form of far-right extremism that we face is not one that suddenly cropped up after Trump became President. It has its roots going back more than thirty years. The problems of white supremacy in particular are entwined with the very founding of the nation. These are problems that are going to need to be dealt with over the course of a generation – more likely, multiple generations. It is going to require us to fundamentally change as a society, which I do not believe is impossible, but I do think it will be a long and hard effort with many twists and turns and missteps along the way.
Another key takeaway that I don’t think that a lot of people on the left are going to need convincing on is that this is not a problem that can or should be solved solely through arrests and imprisonment and violent crackdown from the state. I’ll say right now that some new Patriot Act II: The Patrioting, is 100% not the answer. As a national security professional, I can tell you right now that if the government can’t stop what happened on the 6th or any of the other incidences of far-right violence in recent years with the massive toolbox of domestic surveillance and counter-terrorism infrastructure it already has – and arguably shouldn’t have in the first place, there’s no way some new domestic version of the Patriot Act is going to do it (and it’ll just get turned against leftists and minorities anyway, let’s be real). Giving more money to cops certainly isn’t going to solve shit – especially when a number of them are part of these movements, as well as more than a few troops in the military).
That being said, another thing that the left may need more convincing on is that some of these people will never be convinced to give up what they believe. That is not to say that all of them are lost causes. I don’t believe that every person who voted for Trump is a QAnon adherent or a fascist in waiting, and they can’t be forgotten and need to be brought along for the ride in building a better world – after all, I became a socialist because I want life to be better for everyone, not just everyone I like who believes in my ideology. Likewise, I don’t believe that every person that gets caught up in far-right extremist movements is necessarily a lost cause. Some of them may be able to be helped through some kind of de-programming and de-radicalization effort (there’s a lot of discourse on how appropriate the cult comparison is QAnon, but I think this is an apt one), but we need to accept that some people are never going to surrender their beliefs and will always consider people like us as an existential threat.
Where am I going with this? Well, here’s that part that may not go over as well. I definitely fear state overreach and abuse of power in light of what happened on the sixth – which I hope was already demonstrated by my apprehension about any kind of new domestic terror law. But even with all of that in mind, some of these people are going to have to be arrested and go to prison.
Let me be clear: the criminal justice system and law enforcement in this country are fundamentally flawed. I think they need to be completely rebuilt – not reformed but torn down and rebuilt from scratch. Not only that, but they also need to be rebuilt as part of a system that prioritizes social services that prevent crime and violence from occurring long before it ever gets to the point of involving law enforcement or any form of detention or corrections – and that those need to be done in as humane a way as possible. But I still think they need to exist. Why? The same reason I think a military will still need to exist. Because no matter what, somehow, some way, there will always be someone who wishes to do harm for one reason or another. We can try and help as many people who have been drawn in by far-right movements as we can, but we need to come to terms before we get deeper into the struggle that we cannot help them all.
What that point gets across is that dealing with this problem in the years to come isn’t just going to be accomplished by doing all the good things we’ve always wanted to do. It is going to require us doing things that some leftists may be fundamentally uncomfortable with. Things that involve the use of force and wielding of power by the state. I wasn’t happy at all about the fact we deployed more troops in Washington D.C. than we have in both Iraq and Afghanistan combined in order to guarantee what normally should be a peaceful transfer of power. But as much as that made me uncomfortable and scared and angry, I can’t say that it wasn’t entirely necessary.
I am not saying we need to discard our own principles to deal with extremism. In fact, I would argue against that strongly and forcefully. If we acted in a way contrary to every concept of social justice and human rights and democracy that we claim to uphold, then we’d be no better than those who passed the Patriot Act, let alone any authoritarian police state that has existed past, present, or future – be it fascist or socialist. But there are things that we are going to need to address and come to terms with as a movement. I don’t begin to claim to have the answers, but I do know there are tough conversations that will need to be had. I believe in a better world, but not in a utopian one. We need to come to terms with that going forward.
Keep On Keeping On
I’ve been a little all over the map since the 6th, but as my mind has cleared some, if nothing else I’ve emerged with a renewed sense of purpose in the aftermath of what happened that day. It has reaffirmed the beliefs I started to be honest with myself about almost a year ago when the mask finally began to come off to me. It has made me more certain about what side I am on and the kind of future that I want to live in.
While I still believe things can and will get better, I also unfortunately believe they will likely get worse before they do. As Joe Biden is inaugurated, there are already signs that the disillusioned once-QAnon faithful who for so long “trusted the plan” only to be let down and questioning everything they believe, are being targeted by more violent and accelerationist far-right groups for recruitment. There are also plenty of people who will likely maintain their loyalty to the QAnon theory in some shape or form and that movement is in the process of an uncertain transformation. And while many Republican have tried to disconnect themselves from far-right elements, there are still more than a few who not only remain tied to them but court them as a power base. This is a problem that is going to stick around in multiple forms for a long time, whether it be QAnon, a Q offshoot, your basic white nationalism, outright fascism, and etc.
This all should give us a renewed sense of urgency, as well as purpose. If we didn’t believe it before, we have to believe now we are engaged in a political struggle for the future – our right to exist in a more just, safe, peaceful, democratic world. January 6th and the reactions and aftermath of it should drive home to you that the stakes are very much real. That we need to work even harder to organize and mobilize the people of this country to enact change for the better.
Moreover, as things will likely get worse before they get better, we need to be prepared for that. While we should never seek out violence, we need to be prepared if violence seeks us out – as it has been apt to do so far. Much has been said about the police response to the insurrection on the 6th. The bungled response appears to have not been due to any one factor, but that none of them bode well in sum. Police collusion and sympathy, a lack of taking the threat seriously, and a lack of the necessary skills or competence when it actually wants to deal with the far-right threat means that we cannot depend on law enforcement to protect us as it is currently structured.
Again – and I cannot stress this enough – this does not mean we should seek out violence. If anyone has fantasies about a Second Civil War, take it from someone who has spent their entire adult life watching still-ongoing civil wars in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and other places: you don’t fucking want that. Period. Full stop. But if anything has been made clear by the rise in right wing terrorism in the last decade, is a reality that we need to watch out for ourselves as we try to move forward. Simply put we can’t make a better world if we don’t live to see it through.
Its ok to be scared. Let yourself be scared for a bit if you feel the need. My Mom always has said you have to let yourself be sad or upset for a while before you can be not upset. But don’t despair. Don’t give in to hopelessness. Nothing is set in stone. Time is not a flat circle, despite what many might tell you. We can make a better world, but we need to be clear headed about the challenges we are going to face going forward in doing that, and we need to be ready for them. So, suit up for the long-haul kiddos. I’ll be here with you, contributing in my own way, going on about war and foreign policy and my usual hobby horses. I don’t plan on going anywhere and neither should you. If we have that resolve, that in itself is a starting victory.