In an effort to encourage unity after a more than usual fractious four years, newly minted and freshly inaugurated President Biden announced he would be cracking down on the evil-doing terrorists lurking among the body politic. To be sure, I’m taking liberties with the text of his speech; but not with the meaning.
I have to admit, I was surprised to hear it. I wasn’t aware of any terror attacks recently. I’m still not. I just saw a riot destined to fail take place at Capitol Hill two weeks before, involving a Walmart Road Warrior and a bunch of angry, stupid people relying on violence as a form of self-expression. The rioters seem like fairly weak-sauce terrorists, really. True junior varsity. Still, junior varsity basketball teams have troubled us before.
Perhaps this is the crisis the State has been waiting for.
An Obama acolyte, Congressperson, and Mayor of Chicago by the name of Rahm Emanuel is infamous for a particular quip he made once upon a time regarding the financial crisis of 2008, wherein vast sums of money were handed out to failing bankers and financiers. This helped usher in the era of Too Big To Fail, which later would lend itself to the era of Too Big To Jail.
You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.
Rahm Emanuel, Wall Street Journal
Winston Churchill, the drunkenly stout and stubbornly charming Prime Minister of Britain during the second world war supposedly said much the same.
What both of these individuals meant is during times of great uncertainty, political leaders can get away with more than they normally would during times of peace. Calls to expand the State’s authority during a period of stability fall on deaf ears. There is no urgency, no threat to authorize action against. No dire necessity, no Tony Montana to point a finger at and say he’s the bad guy.
A good, solid, and catastrophic crisis is generally followed by extraordinary new powers for the State. For Emanuel, that meant regulatory powers. For Churchill, that meant war powers. For Biden, that also means war powers, though perhaps waged as a domestic war.
After three thousand deaths on September 11th, 2001, the United States were, for probably the only time in my life, almost absolutely unified. Aghast, appalled, confused, and burning with righteous indignant fury, we were told by our politicians the attack could have been prevented, if only the State had the authority to do something about it. Many of us agreed. The intensity of the attack on that day coupled with a constantly rising body count as the day and weeks went on, short-circuited our cognitive reasoning centers, and we wanted revenge, damn the collateral.
Both an authorized use of military force effectively conceding Congress’ constitutional duty to approve or disapprove of executive branch military adventures and the USA PATRIOT Act, a backronym screaming for a bill title, were stuffed through Congress with very little debate. This authorization for military force (AUMF) has more or less been in use since then, enabling the United States to legally engage in forever wars and places the country in a legal and perpetual state of war. PATRIOT enabled the State to obliterate individual American’s rights and expectations to privacy and traditional due process by granting the Acronym Mafia (CIA, NSA, etc) new powers to behave like the mafia.
An opportunity for a boring English lesson arises here.
Normally, acronyms are based on a string of words which already exist. The acronym AFK for instance, is short hand for away from keyboard. PATRIOT, on the other hand, is a backronym. The shayatan who wrote the bill had to torture USA PATRIOT into something, so they came up with, Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. In this instance, the acronym existed before the phrase it refers to. So while an acronym is given life by a phrase which already exists, a phrase is given life by a backronym which already exists.
Backronyms are mostly used and abused by bureaucrats, middle managers, and humor writers. For those familiar with the Marvel movies, SHIELD is another backronym, representing Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. For those familiar with humor, SCOTUS represents Sad Cooters On The Universe’s Sandwiches. I know, it isn’t terribly funny, but this article isn’t terribly funny, either I’m afraid to say.
But to return to the year 2001, we saw a solid crisis birth a backronym called PATRIOT, which then resulted in legally sanctioned torture, indefinite detention of human beings, massive dragnet data collection campaigns, and foreign heads of state having their phone calls recorded. The CIA was given a blank check by nearly every single member of Congress to simply go nuts on the rest of the world. Collateral damage was not considered, and if it was, Congress wagered those innocents deserved what they got, I suppose.
PATRIOT, these days, is generally considered a mistake. In retrospect, it definitely looks like a mistake, because it was. Epimetheus, the Greek Titan of Afterthought, is only ever good at determining the best course of action after suffering the results of a mistake. In this case, two decades of the State disappearing people in the name of security, waging wars which never end, executing people for American interests, etc, etc, forever ignoring the fact these things are never in the American public’s interests, only in the State’s.
Epimetheus saw no harm in opening Pandora’s Box, by the way. He was warned and the idiot allowed it anyway.
PATRIOT was the kind of thing so against traditional American ideals it could only have happened during a catastrophic crisis. Both the Republican and the Democratic Parties took advantage of 9/11 and vastly expanded the power of the State to seek out evil-doers. Custodians of public opinion, many of whom are still listened to today for no good reason, wrote breathlessly on the need for the State to take broad, sweeping action. All of this was done to combat terrorism, a term which would further expand over the decades, becoming broader and broader over the years until at last, we began to seriously use it to describe rioters in 2021.
Adam Schiff, the fellow who had it on very good authority Donald Trump was a Russian Manchurian Candidate, filed this bill with the House a year or two back. It claims it has provisions preventing its misuse, but it doesn’t. It relies on the same source that brings the charges (prosecuting office) to justify why it brought the charges. That’s something they have to do anyway and have no trouble trumping up some sort of justification.
They’re lawyers, for crying out loud.
The events of January 6th, 2021, involved a riotous mob of right-wing nutjobs storming into the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., occupying the House chamber for a moment, and forcing the pampered politicians to scurry and scuttle into their safety holes. No Congress persons were harmed, but you wouldn’t know that from the way they spoke about it the next day.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said:
It is very, very difficult to put into words what has transpired today. I have never lived through or even imagined an experience like the one we have just witnessed in this Capitol. President Franklin Roosevelt set aside Dec. 7, 1941, as a day that will live in infamy. Unfortunately, we can now add Jan. 6, 2021, to that very short list of dates in American history that will live forever in infamy.
It doesn’t seem that difficult to put in words, honestly. Rioters busted into the Capitol building and made a mess of the place. In terms of method, this was much the same thing that went on for months in the United States in cities across the country. The stated intent and target set it apart from the police brutality riots of 2020, but it took the same form they did. Mass hysteria and brutal violence.
It should also be mentioned, over two thousand people died at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Five people died during the Capitol riots. They were both targeted against the State, of course.
The difference between these two events, other than one being an act of war resulting in two-thousand some deaths anyway, is the former occurred to people who weren’t Chuck Schumer while the latter did. Two weeks after this exposure of his immense sense of personal privilege, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer became Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. He’ll be setting the schedule for the Senate for the next two years, at least.
But his rhetoric and commentary on the riot wasn’t isolated.
Once again, I saw members of the United States Congress competing with each other to show who agreed with the other the most. As already mentioned, I hadn’t seen this kind of unity in Congress since PATRIOT, almost exactly twenty years previously. The President of the United States agrees, of course. Although he is too feeble to carry a forceful show of agreement, he has promised to crack down on ‘domestic terrorists’ and has met with applause for doing so; both from the halls of Congress, now newly scrubbed, and from various talking heads in the media eager to exhibit their outrage at the defacement of their golden calf in D.C.
Some folks cry and whine about gridlock in Congress and a hyper-partisan media, but I get nervous when these lizards all agree with each other.
Then, as now, some small handful of Americans wonder at the term terrorist. What does it mean? Who is a terrorist? What implications does the term carry for prosecution?
Let’s backpedal a bit to some of the violence which occurred in 2019 and 2020 across the United States. The left-wing of the United States appears to be the most supportive of expanding the War on Terror to include domestic threats, whatever that means exactly, so I’ll include a few left-wing examples of what could be considered terrorism under any rationally formed new powers the incoming Biden administration would like to assign itself.
A loose collective of groups, who generally refer to themselves as Antifa, engaged in a variety of violent forms of protests. They euphemistically refer to violence as direct action, which aids them in attempts to justify their violence and attempts to incite further violence in society. Antifa is short hand for anti-fascist, a designation no right minded individual could oppose if not for the fact Antifa exists and attempts to monopolize the term. I have some small, personal experience with Antifa, having been one of them in my late teens back in the 90's.
These people are usually just dumb kids who have fallen in love with Marxist conspiracy theories regarding class war and exploitative capitalists. They believe things which have been demonstrated to be false intellectually and are shown to be untrue via experience they generally lack. Yet, they persist. The ideas, however, are not the problem. Ideas aren’t problems, actions are.
Encouraged by American political rhetoric painting the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency as a fascist and racist organization, an individual who considered themselves Antifa tossed a few incendiary devices at an ICE facility in Tacoma, WA. He was shot for his trouble after setting a vehicle on fire and subsequently died. His Antifa comrades supported his direct action and lobbied to put together donations to handle his funeral and enshrine him as a hero whose life was lost for the cause.
This was an isolated incident, of course, and the usual suspects both supported the action and encouraged such things from a distance. It could easily be read as a lone-wolf acting without orders, because that was the case so far as anyone can tell. But the environment this occurred within was encouraged by prominent politicians and media mouthpieces tossing the word fascist around as if they knew what it meant. Once you’ve painted a political opponent as fascist, you’re no longer inviting reasoned discourse or disagreement. Fascism cannot be reformed, it can only be destroyed.
But so far as larger scale direct action, a trend is quite easily visible and would become very interesting to the FBI, as if it isn’t already. Anyone who thinks an organization like Rose City Antifa, for example, isn’t under serious scrutiny by at least local law enforcement officials is huffing the gasoline they use to make their Molotovs or the nail polish they use to get high.
Protests against police brutality kicked off mid-2020 amid a viral pandemic with a backdrop of rhetoric accusing President Trump of being a vile fascist based on essentially no evidence unique to his administration. While Trump had very little to do with individual police officers brutally murdering a fellow in Minneapolis, for whatever reason he was pointed at as a contributing factor to the thing. Protests erupted all over the United States, in most major cities, and Federal courthouses became targets.
During these protests, one could easily find black-hooded individuals wearing masks (they tend to wear masks even without a viral pandemic going on, that’s how committed to public health they are) attempting to set Federal property on fire and succeeded in some cases. This is yet another instance of direct action, again a euphemism for violence, in the furtherance of a political aim. These events were so common during July 2020, only the most absurd of politicos bother to deny them anymore. Everyone has a cell phone these days, so direct action is broadcast out into the world by everyone around it. Its presence is incontrovertible.
There are some, such as myself, who both oppose the brutal expression of casual violence and authority of the State one finds in the George Floyd murder while also opposing attempts to incinerate the Federal government. So if the United States Congress determines to grant the FBI, NSA, CIA, or the other army of acronyms which wish to invade every aspect of our private lives, with new and expanding powers to combat terrorism, Antifa will be quite high on that list. Organizations which are not technically Antifa, but merely Antifa-adjacent, whatever the hell that means exactly, would also be objects of interest. Your mother’s knitting circle, provided they were also involved in a protest over the last couple years, may also be included.
As the most recent riot in Washington D.C. shows us, the State does not take kindly to being attacked and apparently anyone who attacks the State is considered a terrorist. To attack the State is inherently political. It is a bad idea, but Americans love a good bad idea.
In a political democracy, sedition seems to be baked into the cake. Since those in power at any given time tend to view opposition as sedition — that is opposition taking a more direct and active form than a sternly worded editorial in the New York Times anyway — there is little doubt in my mind the State will use new powers to suppress opposition to its schemes. Abuses of these as of now hypothetical new powers are guaranteed, as the State has never existed anywhere without also pursuing policies which abuse the rights of the citizenry. It doesn’t get brownie points for asking for permission to abuse those rights, first.
So I ask now, why are new powers needed?
Lobbing firebombs at Federal courthouses is already most assuredly a crime, as is forcefully storming and terrorizing our dear leaders at the Capitol building. What possible obstruction is there in our current, back breaking volume of legal traps and authoritarian power grabs already established which prevents law enforcement and the courts from pursuing individuals who engage in violent, direct action?
There are none. All that is missing is a motivation to prosecute. So, the motivation behind calls for expansions of State power appear to be in question. In a practical sense, this expansion is unnecessary. But in a political sense, it is something else entirely.
I don’t know, precisely, what these motivations are in the minds of the authoritarian advocates who hold them. But if we examine the historical trend of expansion, abuse, and the supposedly desired but somehow never enacted retractions, we find the State simply holds these powers at hand in order to apply them against politically inconvenient actors. Much like a North Idaho recluse perhaps accrues and holds one hundred thousand rounds of ammunition, just in case, so the State grants itself the legal right to obliterate the American citizenry’s right to assemble and freely associate with each other.
Freedom of assembly and freedom of speech always seem like sedition to the powers that be.
In a rather dark and amusing turn of phrase, perhaps the best turns of phrase possible, a fellow once referred to Guy Fawkes as the last man to have entered Parliament with honest intent. Guy Fawkes, of course, was a part of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. He was absolutely and perfectly intent on blowing the entire place to smithereens. Since then, only liars, opportunists, and cheats have legally entered the place.
I don’t condone Mr. Fawkes’ actions, but his example is one which perfectly illustrates the idea one simply cannot trust Parliament, nor can they trust Congress, being deliberative bodies cut of similar cloth from similar cultures, behaving in decidedly similar manners. One saw with the AUMF of 2001 and 2002, in addition to the USA PATRIOT Act, gross abuses and expansions of State power and authority. There is very little reason to believe that very same State would not perfectly abuse the new powers it would assign itself in furtherance of the United States War on Terror.
Only, the focus on domestic terrorism has the ring of a war on the American people themselves.
This idea appears to enjoy quite a bit of consensus in Washington D.C., but I doubt the same holds true among the American citizenry. Perhaps, as Americans, we could tolerate savaging the rest of the world in the pursuit of destroying each and every one of those we have identified as our enemies. But also perhaps, as Americans, even if we tolerate this against others, we should not tolerate the same when turned upon ourselves.
That line can only be drawn if expansions of power are resisted. The State already enjoys too much freedom, the citizenry should jealously guard their own. That’s what the United States is about.