The Terrorists Among Us

In the aftermath of the massacre in a black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, on Saturday, it’s worth noting a study produced by the Anti-Defamation League. They found that in the ten years between 2012 and 2021, 75% of the murders in the US that were connected to political extremism were committed by the radical right (otherwise known as upstanding members of the Grand Old Party). From David Leonhardt of the NY Times:

Over the past decade, the Anti-Defamation League has counted about 450 U.S. murders committed by political extremists.

Of these 450 killings, right-wing extremists committed about 75 percent. Islamic extremists were responsible for about 20 percent, and left-wing extremists were responsible for 4 percent.

More than half of the murders were specifically tied to white supremacists:

As this data shows, the American political right has a violence problem that has no equivalent on the left. And the 10 victims in Buffalo this past weekend are now part of this toll. “Right-wing extremist violence is our biggest threat,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the ADL, has written. “The numbers don’t lie.”

The pattern extends to violence less severe than murder, like the Jan. 6 attack on Congress. It also extends to the language from some Republican politicians — including [the former president] — and conservative media figures that treats violence as a legitimate form of political expression. A much larger number of Republican officials do not use this language but also do not denounce it or punish politicians who do use it; Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, is a leading example.

. . . The precise explanation for any one attack can be murky, involving a mixture of ideology, mental illness, gun access and more. In the immediate aftermath of an attack, people are sometimes too quick to claim a direct cause and effect. But it is also incorrect to pretend that right-wing violence and left-wing violence are equivalent problems.

If you talk to members of Congress and their aides these days — especially off the record — you will often hear them mention their fears of violence being committed against them.

Some Republican members of Congress have said that they were reluctant to vote for [the ex-president’s] impeachment or conviction partly because of the threats against other members who had already denounced him. House Republicans who voted for President Biden’s infrastructure bill also received threats. Democrats say their offices receive a spike in phone calls and online messages threatening violence after they are criticized on conservative social media or cable television shows.

People who oversee elections report similar problems. “One in six elec­tion offi­cials have exper­i­enced threats because of their job,” the Brennan Center, a research group, reported this year. “Ranging from death threats that name offi­cials’ young chil­dren to racist and gendered harass­ment, these attacks have forced elec­tion offi­cials across the coun­try to take steps like hiring personal secur­ity, flee­ing their homes, and putting their chil­dren into coun­sel­ing.”

There is often overlap between these violent threats and white supremacist beliefs. White supremacy tends to treat people of color as un-American or even less than fully human, views that can make violence seem justifiable. The suspect in the Buffalo massacre evidently posted an online manifesto that discussed replacement theory, a racial conspiracy theory that Tucker Carlson promotes on his Fox News show.

“History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse,” Representative Liz Cheney, one of the few Republicans who have repeatedly and consistently denounced violence and talk of violence from the right, wrote on Twitter. “The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and antisemitism,” Cheney wrote, and called on Republican leaders to “renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.”

A few other Republicans, like Senator Mitt Romney, have taken a similar stance. But many other prominent Republicans have taken a more neutral stance or even embraced talk of violence.

Some have spoken openly about violence as a legitimate political tool — and not just [the party’s leader], who has done so frequently.

At the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 attack, Representative Mo Brooks suggested the crowd should “start taking down names and kicking ass.” Before she was elected to Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene supported the idea of executing Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats. Representative Paul Gosar once posted an animated video altered to depict himself killing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and swinging swords at Biden.

Rick Perry, a former Texas governor, once called the Federal Reserve “treasonous” and talked about treating its chairman “pretty ugly.” During Greg Gianforte’s campaign for Montana’s House seat, he went so far as to assault a reporter who asked him a question he didn’t like; Gianforte won and has since become Montana’s governor.

These Republicans have received no meaningful sanction from their party. McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, has been especially solicitous of Brooks and other members who use violent imagery.

This Republican comfort with violence is new. Republican leaders from past decades, like Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, Howard Baker and the Bushes, did not evoke violence.

“In a stable democracy,” Steven Levitsky, a Harvard political scientist, told me, “politicians unambiguously reject violence and unambiguously expel from their ranks antidemocratic forces.”

The Dangerous Extremists We’re Facing, Part 1

Paul Waldman of The Washington Post summarizes the Republican Party’s “violence problem”:

. . . Let’s take a quick tour around the day’s news.

In new audio released by . . .  ABC News, D____ T____ is asked about his supporters chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” on Jan. 6 as they rampaged through the Capitol in search of the vice president. T____ was unconcerned, both because he thought Pence was “well-protected” and because the protesters were justified in their rage: “It’s common sense” that Pence should have attempted to overturn the results of the election so T____ could remain president, he said, so the rioters’ pursuit of Pence was understandable. . . . .

In other news, members of the House are debating what to do about Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), who recently tweeted an animated video in which he is depicted killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Gosar’s defense is that the video was merely a symbolic representation “of a battle between lawful and unlawful policies.”

Meanwhile, in Kenosha, Wis., the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, who became a hero of the right after he went to a protest with an AR-15-style rifle and killed two people, is nearing its end.

And if you’re a Republican who does so much as vote for a bipartisan bill to bring infrastructure spending to your district, you can expect death threats. The quickest way for Republican candidates to demonstrate their bona fides is by shooting guns in an ad.

The thread running through all these events and controversies is the belief that liberals are so wicked that violence and the threat of violence are reasonable responses to the possibility of them getting their way. Right along with that belief is a fantasy, that of a man (almost always a man) who rather than being an ordinary schlub at the mercy of a world in which he has no power is actually bursting with testosterone and potency, someone who can and perhaps should become a killing machine.

That’s the story of the Jan. 6 rioters, who believed they could break down doors and smash windows and the American system of government would bend to their will.

It’s Rittenhouse’s story, too: When you go to a protest with a rifle, you’ve cast yourself as a potential killer in a righteous cause, and a killer was what he became. He’s now being cheered on by all those who stockpile weapons and say our country is headed for a civil war.

And, of course, no one embodies that fantasy more than T____ himself. He may be a corpulent senior citizen who dodged the draft, but in his own mind he’s Jack Bauer or Jason Bourne, just waiting for the opportunity to display his deadly skills and save the day. After the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., he mused that had he been on the scene, “I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon,” so brave and capable is he.

His most ardent supporters absolutely love that fantasy of T____ as someone who dishes out violence to their enemies. Check out the wares sold outside his rallies, and you’ll see him transformed on T-shirts and posters into a muscle-bound warrior wielding a rifle . . . 

There are moments when Republican politicians grow a bit uneasy at their supporters’ thirst for violence, particularly when it’s aimed at them. After Jan. 6, one Republican member of Congress wrote about a colleague who voted to overturn the election because they “feared for family members, and the danger the vote would put them in,” if they didn’t give in to the mob. The Republican leader in the Pennsylvania state Senate said last December that if she didn’t support T____’s efforts to overturn the state’s election results, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.”

But before the threats turn back on them, Republicans encourage those violent impulses and apocalyptic beliefs, figuring that they can be exploited without spinning out of control. Are local election officials and school board members being driven from their jobs by death threats? If it means they’ll be replaced by conspiracy theorists, Republicans are happy to watch it happen. . . . 

Unquote:

The New York Times has a report on the same topic. Some selections:

At a conservative rally in western Idaho last month, a young man stepped up to a microphone to ask when he could start killing Democrats. “When do we get to use the guns?” he said as the audience applauded. “How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?” The local state representative, a Republican, later called it a “fair” question.

In Ohio, the leading candidate in the Republican primary for Senate blasted out a video urging Republicans to resist the “tyranny” of a federal government that pushed them to wear masks and take F.D.A.-authorized vaccines. “When the Gestapo show up at your front door,” the candidate, Josh Mandel, a grandson of Holocaust survivors, said in the video in September, “you know what to do.”

 . . . School board members and public health officials have faced a wave of threats, prompting hundreds to leave their posts. A recent investigation by Reuters documented nearly 800 intimidating messages to election officials in 12 states. And threats against members of Congress have jumped by 107 percent compared with the same period in 2020, according to the Capitol Police

. . . Historians and those who study democracy say what has changed [in recent years] has been the embrace of violent speech by a sizable portion of one party, including some of its loudest voices inside government and most influential voices outside. In effect, they warn, the Republican Party is mainstreaming menace as a political tool. . . . 

Even with the former president largely out of the public eye and after a deadly attack on the Capitol where rioters tried to overturn the presidential election, the Republican acceptance of violence has only spread. Polling indicates that 30 percent of Republicans, and 40 percent of people who “most trust” far-right news sources, believe that “true patriots” may have to resort to violence to “save” the country — a statement that gets far less support among Democrats and independents.

Such views, routinely expressed in warlike or revolutionary terms, are often intertwined with white racial resentments and evangelical Christian religious fervor . . . as the most animated Republican voters increasingly see themselves as participants in a struggle, if not a kind of holy war, to preserve their idea of American culture and their place in society.

Notably few Republican leaders have spoken out against violent language or behavior since Jan. 6, suggesting with their silent acquiescence that doing so would put them at odds with a significant share of their party’s voters. . . .  The ranking Republican lawmakers, Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative Kevin McCarthy, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Unquote.

If that weren’t enough, the Times points out that the former president, who’s been accused of rape more than once, has endorsed several Republican candidates accused of domestic violence. Herschel Walker, running for the Senate in Georgia, “is accused of repeatedly threatening his ex-wife’s life”; Max Miller, running for congress in Ohio, “faces allegations of violence from his ex-girlfriend”; and Sean Parnell, a Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, has been accused by his “estranged wife . . .  of choking her and physically harming their children”.

This is today’s Republican Party.

America the Combustible

From Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times:

So many things make America combustible right now: mass unemployment, a pandemic that’s laid bare murderous health and economic inequalities, teenagers with little to do, police violence, right-wingers itching for a second civil war and a president eager to pour gasoline on every fire. “I think we’re indeed in a moment where things are going to get a lot more tense before they get more peaceful,” said the University of Michigan historian Heather Ann Thompson, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her 2016 book “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy.”

Already the Minneapolis protests have spread to other cities….

These demonstrations were sparked by specific instances of police violence, but they also take place in a context of widespread health and economic devastation that’s been disproportionately borne by people of color, especially those who are poor. “Sociologists have studied collective behavior, urban unrest for decades, and I think it’s safe to say that the consensus view is that it’s never just about a precipitating incident that resulted in the unrest,” Darnell Hunt, dean of social sciences at U.C.L.A., told me. “It’s always a collection of factors that make the situation ripe for collective behavior, unrest and mobilization.”

Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s progressive attorney general, told me that [many people] “have been cooped up for two months, and so now they’re in a different space and a different place. They’re restless. Some of them have been unemployed, some of them don’t have rent money, and they’re angry, they’re frustrated.”

That frustration is likely to build, because the economic ruin from the pandemic is just beginning. In some states, moratoriums on evictions have ended or will soon. The expanded unemployment benefits passed by Congress as part of the CARES Act run out at the end of July. State budgets have been ravaged, and Republicans in Washington have so far refused to come to states’ aid, meaning we’ll likely soon see painful cutbacks in public jobs and services.

“Where people are broke, and there doesn’t appear to be any assistance, there’s no leadership, there’s no clarity about what is going to happen, this creates the conditions for anger, rage, desperation and hopelessness, which can be a very volatile combination,” said Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton. “I would not at all be surprised to see this kind of reaction elsewhere over the course of the next several months.”

But if America feels like a tinderbox at the moment, it’s not just because of pressure coming from the dispossessed. On Wednesday, the journalists Robert Evans and Jason Wilson published a fascinating and disturbing look at the “boogaloo” movement — “an extremely online update of the militia movement” — on the investigative website Bellingcat. “The ‘boogaloo Bois’ expect, even hope, that the warmer weather will bring armed confrontations with law enforcement, and will build momentum towards a new civil war in the United States,” Evans and Wilson write… [they report that the “movement” has been facilitated by, of course, Facebook].

People associated with the subculture had a significant presence at the lockdown protests, but some, motivated by hatred of the police and a love of bedlam, took part in the Minneapolis demonstrations as well….

Most American presidents, faced with such domestic instability, would seek de-escalation. This is one reason civil unrest, for all the damage it can cause to communities where it breaks out, has often led to reform. Change has come, said Thompson, when activists have “created a situation where the people in power actually had to act in order to bring back some meaningful public peace.”

Now, however, we have a president who doesn’t much care about warding off chaos. “In every other time when protest has reached a fever pitch because injustices very much needed to be remedied, the country ultimately tried to find a new equilibrium, tried to address it enough to reach some sort of peace,” said Thompson. “We now have a leadership that’s been crystal clear that it’s perfectly OK if we descend into utter civil war.”

Some of the tropes are familiar, but we haven’t seen this movie before. No one knows how dark things could get, only that, in the T—- era, scenes that seem nightmarish one day come to look almost normal the next.

From The Hill:

St. Paul, Minn., Mayor Melvin Carter (D) said Saturday that all of the protesters who were arrested in his city the previous night were from out of state as demonstrations in and around Minneapolis over George Floyd’s death descended into violence.

Carter said there was not a high number of arrests in St. Paul on Friday night due in part to a curfew but suggested that out-of-staters were behind much of the agitation fueling the violence.

“… We didn’t make an enormous number of arrests, but every single person we arrested last night, I’m told, was from out of state. What we are seeing right now is a group of people who are not from here,” Carter said at a press conference.

“As I talk to my friends who have been in this movement for a very long time, who wake up in this movement every day, and I ask them what they’re seeing, what they’re feeling, what they’re hearing, to a person, I hear them say, ‘We don’t know these folks. We don’t know these folks who are agitating. We don’t know these folks who are inciting violence. We don’t know these folks who are first in to break a window,’” he added.

Unquote.

There are protests around the country with no violence at all. Those won’t be in the news (or on blogs) as much as the ones where there’s violence. Still, we’re looking at a long, hot, probably angry summer.

With fringe elements of whatever political persuasion possibly looking to make trouble, we shouldn’t assume who is behind any violence that occurs. We can assume, however, that the president, who just made up some crap about “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” being deployed at the White House, and who has the obscure Insurrection Act of 1807 (which allows him to call in the military) at his disposal, will only make things worse.

A Plan to Reduce Violence and Anger Throughout the World

All computer and phone manufacturers would include a link to the following video on their products. When anyone felt the urge to commit an act of violence or perform some other regrettable action in the heat of anger, they would first watch these gentlemen sing their song all the way through.