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This Was Inevitable and Foreseeable

If Donald Trump didn’t exist, someone similar would have risen up to fill in the void eventually. We mentioned that the Great Man theory of history was largely debunked — though you can find some defenses of it and point-counterpoint articles, it is largely in the dustbin as a useful methodology for understanding history. One great place for this discussion is actually this Reddit thread from the AskHistorians subreddit.

Of course, living in the moment, one is compelled to revive the discourse. One can’t avoid other large figures, like Adolf Hitler, when thinking about support for this interpretation of history — though even that is fraught with mistakes.

Rioters planned the riot in public for weeks, not just on Parler, but on Twitter and Facebook, too. This wasn’t hard to find. That was weeks before the event. They even had several days of planning for January 6.

This escalation of violence towards public officials isn’t sudden, either. Ben reminded us of the Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping attempt. Ben also brought up the fact that the ringleader had been kicked out of a previous militia.

Of course, you couldn’t see this coming if you only had one view of Trump supporters.

But it’s become embedded in political culture, as Maggie Haberman’s own newspaper reported.

In Cleveland County, Okla., the chairman of the local Republican Party openly wondered “why violence is unacceptable,” just hours before a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol last week. “What the crap do you think the American revolution was?” he posted on Facebook. “A game of friggin pattycake?”

The falsehoods, white nationalism and baseless conspiracy theories he peddled for four years have become ingrained at the grass-roots level of the party, embraced by activists, local leaders and elected officials even as a handful of Republicans in Congress break with the president in the final hour.

Interviews with more than 40 Republican state and local leaders conducted after the siege at the Capitol show that a vocal wing of the party maintains an almost-religious devotion to the president, and that these supporters don’t hold him responsible for the mob violence last week. The opposition to him emerging among some Republicans has only bolstered their support of him.

The military had intelligence, according to their own documents. The Intercept has the full 422-page document, but their piece on it has the most important details quoted out.

But the U.S. military had its own intelligence that anticipated election-related unrest from individuals who viewed the presidential election as fraudulent — the same individuals who stormed the Capitol — according to an internal Defense Department intelligence assessment obtained exclusively by The Intercept.

“While the [presidential] election is finished, a large segment of the population views the results as invalid or fraudulent,” a section of the assessment titled “Election Related Unrest” states. “Conspiracy theories, amplified by social media echo chambers, are likely to both increase the potential for civil disturbance activity and intensify the level of civil disturbance activity as well.” It also makes specific mention of “QAnon,” the pro-Trump conspiracy theory whose adherents made up a large part of the Capitol mob.

While the report does not specifically mention Congress’s certification of the election results, which served as a catalyst for the Capitol attack, it does mention the inauguration. “As the results of the election were announced via several media outlets various protest groups around the country began protesting the media and their perceived role in the election. It is very likely that these protests will appear again as results of the election are cemented and inauguration day approaches,” the report states.

The intelligence report, an all-hazards threat assessment produced by the U.S. Navy, is dated December 21, 2020, and marked “Controlled Unclassified Information.” It is designated “FEDCON,” meaning that it is authorized for distribution to federal officials. While the document addresses threats relevant to a Navy installation in the Bethesda, Maryland, area, it makes frequent reference to the Capitol specifically as well as the National Capital Region, which encompasses Washington, D.C. “The NCR will likely continue to be a location for all major protest activity, and consequently a hotbed of civil disturbance activity,” the assessment states.

This Was Always Going to Escalate

Members of the Squad were targeted, including likely Ayanna Pressley — whose chief of staff reported that panic buttons were torn out of their sockets. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez feared for her life. The insurrection attempt was either meant to be an assassination attempt or happened to be a convenient cover. People there intended to capture and assassinate officials. Rioters were looking for Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence.

This was evidently steered by Republican lawmakers who were willing to provide tours of the building, though that remains an allegation. One that representative Lauren Boebert denied despite never having been named.

Even though unsuccessful in that attempt — possibly by mere minutes — this shouldn’t be considered the dying gasp of a fascist movement, but a potential thing of signs to come. Arif mentioned a Current Affairs article by Nathan Robinson about the German Beer Hall Putsch ten years before Hitler’s rise to power — a failed, disorganized coup attempt of a local government that resulted in jail time for Hitler. In jail, he wrote Mein Kampf.

In 1923, hundreds of Nazis attempted to seize control over the regional government in Bavaria. Their attempt was farcical. They surrounded a beer hall where local leaders were speaking and tried to take them hostage and seize government buildings. They were swiftly repelled by police and their leader, Adolf Hitler, was put on trial for treason. He was essentially given a slap on the wrist, writing his memoirs in prison and being released after nine months. It would be another decade before he unleashed the most hideous and systematic act of mass extermination in human history.

The “Beer Hall Putsch” was probably never going to succeed, because it was disorganized and the Nazi Party was weak in 1923. But it was a terrifying sign that a far-right element was gathering strength, one that did not respect the existing liberal regime’s right to rule and would use whatever means were at its disposal to take power. Not everyone recognized that sign at the time. The New York Times ran the headline “Hitler Virtually Eliminated” and suggesting that with Hitler’s jail sentence, the courts had put the far right out of commission once and for all.

This piece, which agrees with Ben’s characterization of fascism as “imperialism turned inward” goes into a lot of detail about how fascism can be exceedingly American and how our understanding of fascism as something foreign has put us at an enormous disadvantage when it comes to fighting it. He goes through the argument, citing fascism scholars and history but does make an interesting point about how it nearly occurred in the United States in the 1940s at the behest of the business class.

Major businessmen such as Henry Ford and the J.P. Morgan banker Thomas Lamont mutually admired and collaborated with Hitler and Benito Mussolini, respectively. The failed screenwriter William Dudley Pelley quit Hollywood to organize his proto-Proud Boys, the fascist Silver Shirts, who picked street fights with socialists and anti-fascists, and collaborated with police up and down the West Coast. A group of powerful financiers and industrial magnates even tried to organize a coup against President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934, in hopes of overturning the New Deal; it fell apart when the retired Marine general they picked to organize it, Smedley Butler, blew the whistle on them instead.

In other words, it was not inevitable that fascism did not become a ruling ideology in the United States in the 1930s or 1940s. It came down in part to luck, in part to Roosevelt’s success in ending the Great Depression using forms of democratic socialism, and ultimately to the country being on the winning side in World War II. That victory opened the door to unchecked capital expansion and consolidated the global territorial empire Americans had built to that point.

Presence of Military/LEOs

We talked a lot about the presence of former military members as well as members of various law enforcement agencies attending the protest in earnest. There’s a Politico story confirming this from the scene of the protest:

One current Metro D.C. police officer said in a public Facebook post that off-duty police officers and members of the military, who were among the rioters, flashed their badges and I.D. cards as they attempted to overrun the building. “If these people can storm the Capitol building with no regard to punishment, you have to wonder how much they abuse their powers when they put on their uniforms,” the officer wrote.

There’s also this thread from Patrick Claybon that details the number of police departments across the country confirming their own members participating in the protest.

And has a list here.

I also brought up a piece by Ronan Farrow at the New Yorker, diving into the story of Donovan Crowl, a former marine who was there.

Last week’s storming of the Capitol attracted a wide range of people, but at least some of the individuals who made it into the building’s inner chambers appear to be members of militia groups, acting with a degree of coördination. Wearing tactical gear, they moved in an organized fashion, using handheld radios and headsets to communicate. Far-right groups at the Capitol included the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, the Proud Boys, and the Boogaloo Bois, as well as smaller local organizations.

Donovan Crowl, a fifty-year-old former marine, who had served as a helicopter mechanic on an amphibious assault ship in the Persian Gulf, in 1990, was among the uniformed men.

In addition to his military attire, a patch on Crowl’s sleeve identified him as a member of the Oath Keepers. Founded in 2009, by Elmer Stewart Rhodes, a graduate of Yale Law School and a former Army paratrooper, the Oath Keepers is a loosely organized anti-government group with chapters around the country. It claims to have recruited tens of thousands of former law-enforcement and military officials into its ranks.

Along with the Oath Keepers, Crowl has participated in events organized by the Ohio State Regular Militia. Last November, he appeared with the group, whose members wore military fatigues and were armed with pistols and paintball guns, at an event at the Ohio Statehouse, where Biden supporters were celebrating his election. At the time, members of the militia declined to identify themselves to reporters, but said that they had voted for Trump and were attending to “protect people.” Mary McCord, a former acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security in the Justice Department, said that while “these types of modern unlawful militias have been around for decades, ever since Ruby Ridge and Waco,” Trump’s incitement had encouraged them.

There’s also this piece from Farrow, identifying an Air Force veteran.

One man, clad in a combat helmet, body armor, and other tactical gear, was among the group that made it to the inner reaches of the building. Carrying zip-tie handcuffs, he was captured in photographs and videos on the Senate floor and with a group that descended on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office suite.

A day after the riots, John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, at the University of Toronto’s Munk School, notified the F.B.I. that he suspected the man was retired Lieutenant Colonel Larry Rendall Brock, Jr., a Texas-based Air Force Academy graduate and combat veteran.

In recent years, Brock had become an increasingly committed supporter of Donald Trump, frequently wearing a Make America Great Again hat. In the days leading up to the siege of the Capitol, Brock had posted to social media about his plans to travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in Trump’s “Save America” rally. Brock’s family members said that he called himself a patriot, and that his expressions of that identity had become increasingly strident. One recalled “weird rage talk, basically, saying he’s willing to get in trouble to defend what he thinks is right, which is Trump being the President, I guess.” Both family members said that Brock had made racist remarks in their presence and that they believed white-supremacist views may have contributed to his motivations.

In an interview, Brock confirmed that he was the man in the photos and videos.

Also remember the woman who died, Ashli Babbit, was an Air Force veteran.

Racism and White Supremacy

Is it any surprise that the BLM protests and the Capitol insurrection were met with starkly different policing responses?

I mentioned a video from Renegade Cut that would be worth watching. You can find it here. It details a lot of the evidence indicating a high presence of white nationalists at the coup attempt.

It’s also worth mentioning the Capitol police in all of this. Their budget for this last year was raised by 11 percent, or $51 million over the previous $464 million budget to $515 million. They also are the subject of literally hundreds of racial discrimination lawsuits from members within their own force.

White expectation, entitlement or privilege — whatever word you want to use — was on full display.

The LA Times went a little further on the evidence of the makeup of the crowd, but they focused primarily on the Confederate flag, too. All the hits and a lot of the B Sides were there, as National Geographic pointed out.

Some were immediately identifiable by most Americans watching the chaos unfurl on their screens. The Confederate flag, first swung on the country’s battlefields by secessionist states who saw their future in the enslavement of others; the gallows and noose, shorthand for the terrorization of African-Americans under Jim Crow as well as quick and dirty frontier justice.

But there were other symbols, obscure visual handshakes that acted as a wink and a nod among the motley crews of Trump supporters, conspiracy theorists, and white supremacist groups that wreaked havoc and death upon the nation’s capital on January 6.

The self-styled “QAnon Shaman”—with his fur robes and horned helmet possibly the most photographed insurrectionist of the day—bore his position on his bare chest. Sloppy tattoos of Yggdrasil, or tree of life, covered his left pectoral. The Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer, emerged from his waistband. The valknut, the Viking “knot of the slain,”was inked over his heart. These are ancient Scandinavian symbols revived and twisted by 19th-century European nationalists and 20th-century Nazis, and their appropriation infuriates contemporary pagans and Heathens.

Some of the symbols on display at the Capitol insurrection—say, the Kekistan flag representing an imaginary country helmed by a white-supremacist cartoon frog, or the co-opting of the OK sign—understandably felt inscrutable to most Americans. But that doesn’t mean they’re harmless, says Lecia Brooks, chief of staff at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“The important thing to note is that whether or not the casual viewer can understand what it means, they need to know that it means something” Brooks says. “Because otherwise [the rioters] would not have it.”

Most Americans could also be confused by the bizarre appearance of some of the insurrectionists—for example, the QAnon Shaman, so visually remote from the disciplined masses we associate with, say, Hitler’s brownshirts. But this toxic combo of goofiness and fascism is implicitly American and has its roots in the Ku Klux Klan, whose members donned white hoods and robes as “ghosts” to intimidate African-Americans, who were seen as uneducated and superstitious. Klan members also dressed as jokers and even minstrels to mock their victims, says Talia Lavin, author of Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy.

In December, a photographer captured a Proud Boy marching through the streets of D.C. bearing a shirt emblazoned with 6MWE: Six Million Wasn’t Enough. The Holocaust, the man’s shirt announces, is unfinished business.

What struck Brooks and Lavin most was the visual convergence of so many varied political symbols—a man in a Camp Auschwitz sweatshirt, for example, standing next to someone waving an American flag. “What we’ve seen is like a real crossover between the MAGA right, the Trumpist right, and the more insurgent factions: the Boogaloo Boys, the openly avowed white supremacists, the tendencies on the extreme right that have—to this point—not been particularly mainstream,” says Lavin.

Be wary of a security state developing, as it will operate as a means of resecuring the status quo power structure. As Spencer Ackerman writes.

Before separating from the Army in 1991, Timothy McVeigh used to wear a T-shirt he got as part of a trial membership in the Ku Klux Klan. In his Army barracks, in full view of Black soldiers, McVeigh advertised his adherence to WHITE POWER. In his spare time, McVeigh frequented gun shows, where, in addition to amassing and selling weapons, he hawked copies of the seminal white terror-manifesto novel The Turner Diaries. The Army had regulations in place to ban “active participation” in terrorist groups like the KKK—its prohibitions on disorganized extremist activity were murkier—it just didn’t enforce them.

The reckoning that occurred after Oklahoma City is instructive. Congress passed a major piece of counterterrorism legislation the following year, one that anticipated the 2001 PATRIOT Act. It expanded the powers of the FBI and federal prosecutors to surveil, investigate, and charge the terrorist infrastructure in the United States, especially the financial and other “material support” from sympathizers that fueled it. Only the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act granted those authorities to go after not white American terrorists like McVeigh but “international terrorists”—meaning, in practice, Muslim organizations and their supporters.

Throughout the Trump era, there have been understandable but misguided calls to pass a domestic terrorism law expanding an investigative dragnet around Radical White Terror. Every law needed to combat Radical White Terror already exists. Further empowering law enforcement is more likely to give the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and local police tools to target people who meant to donate money to legitimate right-wing causes and religious charities—after which, in keeping with historical practice, they will have an expanded domestic ambit to target nonwhite and left-wing groups, causes and enterprises.

Those tools, the fruits of the 9/11 era, allowed the Pentagon to spy on antiwar activists; permitted the Department of Homeland Security to use drone surveillance on Black Lives Matter protesters; facilitated the FBI mapping entire American Muslim communities without suspicion of wrongdoing. The 20-year list is practically endless.

“There are more than 50 laws that Congress has passed that apply to domestic terrorists. In addition, garden variety criminal laws can be used to charge people like the rioters at the Capitol,” Patel explained. “There is no lack of authority. What we have seen so far is a lack of will.”

Other Notes

The Paradox of Tolerance is becoming famous and you can see a cute graphic below or read up on the Wikipedia page on the topic.

Ben mentioned a book, the End of the Myth by Greg Grandin. The New Yorker has a good summary.

I also mentioned the neo-Marxist view on White Supremacy. There’s a good discussion between Critical Race Theorists and Marxists on how compatible the views and explanations are. Sean Walton argues that they are coherent, while Mike Cole argues that Marxist analysis necessarily comes prior.