What's the endgame for the party of violence?
Sunday morning we all woke up to the news that an explosion and fire beneath I-95 in Philadelphia had snarled traffic for miles, disrupting both travel and commerce.
My first thought went to Congressman Clay Higgins’ (R-Putin) tweet days earlier calling for armed America-haters to:
“1/50K know your bridges.”
Military maps, particularly those describing military installations in the US, are standardized to a scale of 1:50,000, like this one of Ft. Rucker in Alabama or this one of Ft. Campbell in Tennessee. It’s referred to as “1/50K.”
The last time America was attacked by home-grown fascists — the Confederacy during the Civil War — blowing up bridges to create chaos and stop the advance of American forces was a common tactic.
Similarly, the last time terrorists aimed assault rifles at federal police, successfully standing them down, was when Cliven Bundy’s defenders took a bridge near Bunkerville, Nevada on April 12, 2014 and threatened to fire down onto the federal and state agents below. (The gunman later ran for office as a MAGA Republican.)
In the bible of the white supremacist movement, The Turner Diaries, when the hero begins his war to exterminate Black people and Jews and the US government fights back, one of their main strategies to bring down the US government and replace it with a fascist white Christian ethnostate was taking out power substations and strategic bridges:
“Five later explosions closed the Houston airport, destroyed the city's main power-generating station, and collapsed two strategically located overpasses and a bridge, making two of the most heavily traveled freeways in the area impassable. Houston became an instant disaster area, and the Federal government rushed in thousands of troops — as much to keep an angry and panic-stricken public under control as to counter the Organization.
“The Houston action … thoroughly dispelled the growing notion that our revolution had been stifled. And, after Houston, there was Wilmington, then Providence, then Racine. … It became apparent to us … that the revolution had entered a new and more decisive phase.”
We’ve already seen multiple power substations in different parts of the country attacked and taken out of commission by right-wing terrorists in the past year, and now a bridge connecting one of America’s largest and most important thoroughfares has gone up.
In his tweet, Higgins referred to Trump as “rPOTUS” or the “real President of the United States” and told his followers, “This is a perimeter probe from the oppressors.”
Turner Diaries also contains numerous references to perimeters being defended or breached (I’ve already quoted too much from it); “perimeter probe” is military-speak for testing the strength and resilience of an enemy’s lines.
Tim McVeigh was both a huge fan of the Turner Diaries as well as an evangelist for the cause, giving out copies of the book to friends and acquaintances and selling them at Waco during the Branch Davidian siege.
When he blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, he was following the playbook of that novel, when the hero kicks off the modern-day civil war by blowing up a federal building with a truck bomb.
The collapse of the I-95 bridge was the result of a horrible accident, but violent destruction of America’s infrastructure is still solidly within the goals of Trump’s most fervent followers: America and American democracy are currently under attack on a multi-pronged and multi-faceted basis.
Higgins’ tweet and the bridge explosion were followed by Jim Jordan appearing on CNN to recite a litany of lies, accusing President Biden of orchestrating a political hit job on Trump just to win the 2024 election.
This is exactly the sort of rhetoric that will motivate individuals to violence and McVeigh-like attacks on American infrastructure, and Jordan knows it. Clearly, like Higgins, he’s fine with it.
In Jordan’s bizarre replay of Trump’s CNN town hall, the lies and false accusations came so fast and furious that Bash couldn’t keep track of them and therefore ended up, essentially, humiliated by Jordan. (Which is why many media outlets have stopped inviting known GOP inciters-to-violence on their air.)
What all this demonstrates is that fascism is the political system now most vigorously embraced by the GOP, from rigging elections to using naked threats of violence and even the murder of a police officer (and attempted murder of the Vice President) to try to stop the peaceful transfer of the presidency from Trump to Biden on January 6th.
Over the weekend, both Donald Trump and Congressman Andrew Clyde (R-Confederacy) publicly named Jack Smith’s wife, Katy Chevigny, putting a target on her back and implicitly encouraging her harassment or even murder.
As former Secretary of State Madeline Albright wrote in her book Fascism: A Warning:
“Decades ago, George Orwell suggested that the best one-word description of a Fascist was ‘bully.’”
If we don’t take on bullies — particularly fascist bullies — they keep going further and further until either they win or you fight back and defeat them.
The best political example of this writ large was Hitler. He pushed around most of Europe and they kept giving in or trying to appease him, thinking at some point he’d have gotten enough.
Neville Chamberlain thought he could negotiate with a bully and came back from his meetings with Hitler believing he’d achieved “peace in our time.” But, of course, you can never actually negotiate with a bully: you can only contain or defeat them. Which is what FDR, Churchill, and Stalin ended up having to do.
From that experience, Europe learned a lesson about dealing with fascist bullies, which is why the governments of the continent are united in their support of Ukraine against the murderous bullying of Russia’s fascist leader.
It’s also why Germany today uses the legal violence of the state — arrests and prosecutions — to stop today’s fascists who persist in unveiling Nazi flags, using Nazi memes, or intimidating gays and Jews the way the Nazis did.
Bullies never stop until they’re confronted with greater violence than they have at their own disposal. Giving in to their demands only creates a newer and more elaborate set of demands, as Dana Bash found on Sunday with Jim Jordan and we are seeing played out in real time with Donald Trump and his followers.
Therefore, before today’s fascist movement starts intentionally blowing up bridges or returns to exploding federal buildings, it’s imperative that the US government use its own legal violence — police and prisons — against this growing movement.
They must, however, do so within clear and transparent constraints, lest our government become what it’s trying to stop.
When I was in SDS at MSU in 1968, the state used violence against us by imprisoning 13 members on trumped-up drug charges. This illegitimate use of state violence was, as John Ehrlichman famously said, the explicit strategy of the Nixon administration.
“You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and Black people. Do you understand what I’m saying?
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.
“Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.“
That persecution of both SDS and the Black community was totally unjustified and revealed the fascist streak buried deep within the psyche of both Nixon and the GOP. America must be rigorous about never repeating it (and ending the phony “war on drugs,” which is still sending people to prison in Red states for minor marijuana offenses).
That said, when some of my peers split off from SDS and formed the Weather Underground, bombing buildings and killing people, the legalized violence of the state to find, arrest, prosecute, and imprison them was entirely justified.
When illegitimate movements use violence, the only option of a nation that wants to remain democratic is to employ legal violence against them.
This becomes particularly problematic and confusing for many citizens when a political party itself embraces state violence — legal persecution, as Donald Trump tried to get his justice department to do against the Clinton foundation throughout his presidency — as a political weapon.
Tragically, persecution and violence have been at the heart of the fascist movement within the GOP since Nixon pioneered it in the 1960s.
On May 1, 1970, then-Governor Ronald Reagan called students protesting the Vietnam war across America “brats,” “freaks” and “cowardly fascists,” adding, as The New York Times noted at the time:
“If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with. No more appeasement!”
Four days later, on May 5, 1970, Reagan got his bloodbath at Kent State University.
During the George W. Bush administration, the government prepared two reports on violent movements within the US. The first, released in 2001, dealt with left-wing and Black political violence with emphasis on the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front. A later report in 2008 delved into Black and politically-motivated “socialist” terrorism. Nobody objected.
When the FBI’s report on right-wing terror was released during President Obama’s first year in office (having been written during Bush’s last year), however, the GOP freaked out so loudly that Obama, in a tragic and cowardly move, withdrew the report.
Had it been taken seriously, the extraordinary level of coordination around January 6th involving rightwing militia groups, leading to the recent successful prosecutions of Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, may not have happened.
Instead, government efforts to infiltrate, monitor, or stop right-wing violent movements across America were largely put on hold for over a decade.
Thus, the calls for violence from the right are getting louder every day. Just this past week Kari Lake threatened our nation, saying:
“I have a message tonight for Merrick Garland, and Jack Smith, and Joe Biden. And the guys back there in the fake news media, you should listen up as well, this one’s for you.
“If you want to get to President Trump, you’re going to have to go through me, and you’re going to have to go through 75 million Americans just like me.
“And I’m going to tell you, most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA. That’s not a threat, that’s a public service announcement.”
Clearly it was a threat, and a threat of violent death at the hands of gun owners.
The Republican Party continues to refuse to excise the cancer of violence and violent rhetoric designed to incite stochastic (lone wolf) terrorism from its ranks.
Given the First Amendment’s free-speech protections, this throws America into a crisis: only members of our political class and the media can adequately challenge such incitement without violations of the Bill of Rights.
So far, the majority of elected Republicans are not only are the failing at that, but media groups like CNN are platforming such calls and the lies that inflame them.
If we continue to allow those who incited violence (like Trump and the politicians who stood with him on that stage on January 6th) to walk free, and tolerate the spread of violent rhetoric through the American body politic, we stand a very real chance of losing our republic.
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