The Terrorist In The Mirror
There's a word for people who use outrageous violence to terrorize.
I am not an expert in terrorism, as defined in US law. I don’t know if members of the Capitol mob can be charged with terrorist acts, or whether there can be terrorism-related enhancements to the charges they will face. However, I do know a bit about terrorism as different political actors use it, and I can say with more certainty that Wednesday’s attack had the stink of terrorism all over it.
In a nutshell, terrorism is a strategy that political factions, often in the minority, use to intimidate their targets, or excite them into taking impulsive, counter-productive actions. Egregious violence, shattering all norms of what might otherwise be permissible, generates the ultimate goal, terror. The smaller the faction, the more outrageous the violence needs to be to get the desired effect. The horror generated by detonating a bomb in a busy public market, or crashing an airliner full of passengers into a skyscraper, is the point. If the target (usually a government) doesn’t accede to the terrorists’ demands, the terrorists hope that the government will heedlessly overreact. According to the tortured logic of the terrorists, this will lead to the alienation of the population (chafing under new security restrictions, for example) or some other pre-revolutionary condition.
Even though the Wednesday assault on the Capitol Building was not as horrific as, say, suicide bomb attacks, the intent was clearly to horrify and intimidate through egregiously violent action. The mob erected a gallows outside the Capitol, in a likely nod to the militant right-wing fantasies of The Turner Diaries. An insurrectionist left a threatening message on Nancy Pelosi’s desk. Battles with the police resulted in almost 60 police officers injured, 15 hospitalized, and one dead. Some members of the lumpenTrumpentariat talked openly about killing Vice President Mike Pence as they searched for him through the Capitol. Another carried zip ties, clearly intending to take legislators prisoner. (For trial? As hostages? Both are equally terroristic.) And many, many members of the mob talked about the Capitol assault being the first phase of revolution.
Immediately, people reading this will want to start parsing how many people in the mob actually supported this political strategy. My point here is not to count heads, because again, terrorism is the strategy of small groups. We just need to establish that terrorist thinking drove some of the people in that group. It didn’t take 5, 50, or 500 Timothy McVeighs to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
The network that supports terrorism is already in place. Most, if not all, of the crowd supported the effort to intimidate politicians through violence. No one tried to tear down the gallows. No one on the videos that we have seen objected to the trashing of the Capitol Building or argued with people shouting threats against lawmakers. That, in itself, is deeply disturbing.
The only question now is, how much worse will it get? From the statements of many would-be revolutionaries, during and after the event, they certainly believe that the Capitol attack was only the first step. Their posting of these statements, as well as their identities, on social media is not in all cases the result of stupidity. For some, the brazenness is, again, intended to show how fearless they are in committing horrifying acts, and either explicitly or implicitly, how willing they are to do something similar, perhaps worse, in the future.
We have also seen the creation of the terrorist ecosystem in which militants execute these actions. There is a network used to recruit, organize, and support militants. There are the propagandists who create the grievance-driven terrorist narrative of perpetual outrage. And there are the cynical leaders who point out targets, confident that even though the language is indirect, the intention is clear. In other societies, these political leaders might be sheiks or clerics. Here, they are now elected officials in Washington and state capitals. Just as their counterparts in other societies do, these American bosses plan to escape any direct connection between their words and the actions of militants.
It may be hard for some Americans in 2021 to accept that terrorism is a part of our political culture. Those people might benefit from a variety of mental exercises. Science fiction is, perhaps surprisingly, a good source, such as the long plot line in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in which sympathetic characters embrace terrorism, or Battlestar Galactica, in which humans revert to suicide attacks to fight their Cylon occupiers. But you don’t need to go to fictional extremes to visualize American terrorism. Just look at the history of post-Reconstruction oppression, often featuring horrifying violence designed to keep a population terrified. Read a book about the history of right-wing militancy, punctuated by both successful (Oklahoma City) and unsuccessful (kidnapping Gretchen Whitmer) terrorist operations. Conveniently, there is a terrorist symbol that bridges many of these moments in history: the Confederate battle flag.
Not in spite of the horror we felt at seeing the “temple of democracy” attacked on January 6, but because of the horror we felt, we can expect future actions like it. The only successful countermeasure is not a heated response, which often is counterproductive. (For example, the US invasion of Iraq arguably handed Al Qaeda a major victory.) Calm, deliberate prosecution is the best path. Following our own principles and laws, energetically find the culprits, charge them with crimes, and incarcerate them. Break up the terrorist network.
The truly hard part to deal with will be the fever dream in which a large number of Americans are lost. The generators of that delirium, Fox News, OANN, Newsmax, and the like, are more slippery targets than a disgruntled contractor who enjoyed having pictures taken of him while occupying Nancy Pelosi’s office and stealing her mail. However, the starting point for dealing with the sources of the the delirium — again, without abandoning our principles or laws — is the realization that these outlets occupy the same role as Hamas’ network, Al-Aqsa TV.
After a horrific moment like the Capitol attack, we struggle to find the right words. (We don’t even have a name for it yet. Capitol Attack? Black Wednesday? White Riot?) A few days later, we are less shaken by what we witnessed, and more capable of framing it effectively. Wednesday certainly was not just a protest. For some in the crowd, and others who agitated and directed them, it was a deliberate act of terror.
A large number of clowns used as cover by a small number of seriously bad and capable bad actors embedded.
The pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails are evidence of a plan for terroristic threats, but under US terrorism law, as I understand it, there is no accommodation for domestic terrorism. Again as I understand, a charge of terrorism would be an add on charge beyond the violent act, much as murder or an assault can have a ‘hate’ crime attached to it.
What we’ll be seeing are these Trumpkins charged with property crimes, but remember Trump signed an ex order this summer to the effect that damage to national monuments can incur an additional penalty of up to 10 years. Whether that EO can with stand a challenge is another question.
It is with relief that there have been many arrests to date and I hope to see far more.
I was initially quite frustrated that it appeared they were all going to walk away.
I also fear Trump issuing blanket pardons.
Things are already changing beyond the power of Trump terrorists to influence. Covid will be beaten. The economy will take off. Life will go on, and these people will fade, like Al Qaeda, like ISIS, like the IRA, like the Weathermen and the Baader-Meinhof et al. They won’t disappear, but they’ll quickly fall into internal rivalries and leadership battles. They’ll be ratting each other out left and right, and in a few years half the members will be undercover Feebs.
We have the tools. FBI. Homeland Security. The DOJ. We have tactics that have worked in the past: whenever they form legal entities those fronts will be sued and bankrupted. The country will survive and the world will move on, leaving these people in their squalor.
This is not the time for defeatism. We’re winning.
@Steven L. Taylor:
The FBI is separating the wheat from the chaff, focusing on identifying the serious bad actors like the flextie carrying guys.
@Steven L. Taylor: How does Trump issue “blanket pardons” when many of the insurrectionists haven’t been arrested or even identified?
The Tea Party apparently did spring up more or less spontaneously, but then was supported, organized, and trained by Americans for Prosperity (sic) and other entities. I fear the same thing may be happening behind the scenes with these groups. I’m not ready for American politics with Brown Shirts.
Adam Johnson, the bozo who carted off Nancy Pelosi’s lectern–and was filmed grinning and waving at the camera while so doing–has been arrested in Pinellas, Florida.
How abysmally moronic do you have to be that you think a viral photo of you won’t enable your identification? Or did he think Trump would save him?
While I appreciate your writings, I feel that you, like many of my fellow progressives, make the false assumption that Trump supporters have cognitive functioning like our own. You know, that they think. You say “Their posting of these statements, as well as their identities, on social media is not in all cases the result of stupidity.” Although it is painful to do, I suggest listening to these people talk or reading what they write. Your fear of a coordinated assault on our democracy is justified but it has been and will be led by opportunistic politicians like Sen. Hawley.
I can’t. I know I’m alone in this but I just can’t.
People keep referring to the guy(s) who carried zip ties, clearly intending to take legislators prisoner. (For trial? As hostages? Both are equally terroristic.) For some reason or other it’s not so clear to me. Did they have bad intentions? Yes. But maybe they just came across that abandoned CP bag we’ve all seen pictures of and grabbed the zip ties because in their minds, “They might come in handy.” Handy for what? I doubt very much they gave that much thought at all. Or maybe they really did bring them in with them with the full intent of taking hostages for what ever deluded purposes they may have dreamed up. I don’t know, probably never will.
As to, And many, many members of the mob talked about the Capitol assault being the first phase of revolution. Talk is cheap. Is there a danger of lone wolf actors? Always. Is it possible there are small groups who might do worse? I’d put money on it. But the vast majority of these guys spend most of their leisure time sitting in the La-Z-Boy watching Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson with the balance spent at the shooting range where they go thru a weeks worth of disposable income in a 15 minute blaze of glory.
Watch what happens as the FBI, the ATF, and US Marshall’s start picking these guys up and they are at threat of trading their middle class lifestyle for a 6×8 cell. It will be a chorus of canaries as they all start singing.
Will some of the “bad actors” evade apprehension? Probably. Almost without a doubt. Will they commit terrorist acts? Maybe. At the very least it’s possible and if I had to put money on it I’d bet that a few go on to carry out some horrific acts. But than again, they might just as well prefer to melt into the woodwork and hope the whole thing goes away.
Either way the chances are it won’t look all that different from any other day in America.
Thread with ID’s
I plan to write a longer post on this at some point but that’s where I am.
There were clearly some number of these people who had terroristic intent. There were pipe bombs and other explosives. Molotov cocktails. I don’t see any other rationale.
The “zip tie people” mentioned later in the thread are perhaps more murky and maybe they’re mixed in terms of intent but they’re at least terrorist-adjacent.
And then there were a whole lot of people who were, essentially, as a Facebook wag put it, “aggressive tourists.” The guys running around taking selfies probably had no idea that morning that they would be inside the Capitol that afternoon and joined the party once the gates were open. They were, at minimum, engaged in criminal tresspass and maybe vandalism. But I think lumping them in with the organized thugs is a mistake.
@dmichael: The same way Carter pardoned draft dodgers who had neither been arrested nor identified.
The pardon power is vast (and, quite frankly, needs to be seriously reformed).
@OzarkHillbilly: Could you clarify your point?
Or did he think, “I’m a white guy. They’ll plea bargain down to a misdemeanor and a thousand-dollar fine. It will cost me less than what it cost to fly to DC and stay in the hotel.”
Or he was thinking that he was totally justified in what he was doing.
@James Joyner: I think it may significantly alter what they can be charged with (based on intent), but the zip-cuffs in question look to be the same model as previously used by Capitol Police to shackle demonstrators (I noticed it this morning when footage was run of Reverend Warnock being arrested in the Rotunda exercising his First Amendment rights in 2017). If the insurrectionists brought the zip-cuffs it brings on a different level of seriousness than if they took the zip-cuffs from Capitol Police supplies. I oppose the death penalty, but would be happy to see these insurrectionists imprisoned for the rest of their natural lives as an example to their fellow travelers.
@James Joyner:..But I think lumping them in with the organized thugs is a mistake.
To all the goons who invaded the United States Capitol earlier this week:
Quoting A League of Their Own
@dmichael: The title of this post was almost The Stupid Terrorist in the Mirror. There’s a dimension of this week’s horrible events that is not understandable without acknowledging that the mob contained a lot of people who did not think through what was going to happen, who don’t have a detailed analysis of modern politics, and who really are running on gut feeling (America isn’t great, or it is now, but it could be better if it weren’t for People Not Like Us, etc.). It was hard to incorporate that dimension into the post, because I fight the impulse to write overly long blog postings. Shorter is better, especially if you can do a follow-up.
To give a sneak peek of what I might write this weekend, you don’t have to be smart to be a terrorist. Maybe of them are self-deluded clowns, running more on bloodlust and bravado than brilliance.
That, and they were thinking they were going to win.
Successful revolutionairies face no consequences.
Well, you know what I meant.
@OzarkHillbilly: I guess we have to disagree on whether some of the people in that mob are motivated enough not to be deterred. Certainly, some will be. The hilarious video of the woman from Knoxville, Tennessee who was shocked, shocked that she was maced while they tried to carry out a revolution is proof that many people in that crowd won’t happily ride this train to the hardest, most punishing destinations. But we’re also dealing with a lot of people living in an imaginary world of their preference, working really hard to stay there, with a lot of reinforcement from other sources. That’s not too far from the fictional constructs of Zionist conspiracies, and CIA plots that frame the world for many Islamists. That demographic doesn’t seem completely deterrable through normal prosecution, or even measures far beyond was the US legal system will inflict on them. What makes some of the MAGA diehards any different?
@James Joyner: I think you’re being far too kind, to the point of wishful thinking. Not one of those “aggressive tourists” voiced an objection. Quite the opposite, they were enthusiastically cheering their more destructive compatriots. Not everyone wanted to be a revolutionary soldier, but a lot of them certainly wanted to support the troops.
Reports are that five persons were killed during the Capitol siege, including a policeman.
Does DC have a “murder by association” felony provision, wherein a person can be charged, even if they are not the actual murderer, when they are participating in the commission of a crime (such as felonious trespass)?
But what about the terrorists wearing ties?
Reading about a lot of co-conspirators in the insurrection, who are in Congress, calling for unity…after spending months sowing division.
When they start getting charged, then I’ll believe the system is working.
In case you have not seen some of the more violent videos:
Oh, heck, they were pranksters having fun. Right?
Right, because everyone just knows what zip-ties look like when they see them. As opposed to, “what are those plastic round things?” And of course, since they might have been in a bag he knew wasn’t his, it was okay to steal them, whatever they might be, because MAGA, bitches!
You may find this image somewhat amusing:
More seriously, as per John Roman on his thread Charon linked to
It’s the minority who don’t post selfies on Instagram, and shout out their intentions on Twitter who you really want to worry about. It’s the one who know about and use proper security protocols. Whose background isn’t LARP-ing about with black gloves on, but real military and police experience. And you can be certain some of them do.
As @Michael Reynolds says, they’ll be beaten. Because even the smart ones are stupid in their own particular way.
But the quicker you stomp them the better. Let them get dug in, they can cause a lot of misery over the years.
The FBI has a lot on their plate from this.
True, but the fellow travelers and meatheads that go along provide cover and canon fodder for the dangerous ones. Make a spectacle of a few hundred of those and it will make others think twice about doing more than peaceably protesting. Then efforts by the dangerous ones will be easier to ascertain.
Kingdaddy, I used that photo in a letter to my idiot congressman this morning. Thanks.
@Sleeping Dog:..Make a spectacle of a few hundred of those and it will make others think twice about doing more than peaceably protesting.
“Like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children.” Jacques Mallet du Pan 1793
But not, normally, the common foot soldiers.
And it’s not like these rioters would have thought that far ahead, anyway.
We don’t like to apply a lot of those tools to the right. We’ve been very reluctant ever since Ruby Ridge and Waco. Ruby Ridge started with an attempt to turn Randy Weaver into an informant against white supremacists, and ended with a martyr who is a rallying point for the far right thirty years later.
Here in the great Pacific Northwest, we have folks like WANaziWatch on Twitter, tracking and following the Nazis, photographing them, collecting evidence, identifying them, and sometimes sending information of parole violations to their parole officers (many of them have had encounters with the law).
I’m not sure how I feel about private citizens taking on the role of secret police, but… it’s just Nazis.
If you’re wondering what 1930s Germany would have looked like with social media and cancel culture, I think you’re going to find out.
I was getting an error posting until I removed two “Nazis” from my previous post. We have a Nazi limit. I fear this limit will be tested in the coming months.
The events at the capital had been unfolding
over a significant amount of time. Most of the people there, as stupid as they may be, were there, locked and loaded, at the behest of the Comander in Chief of the United States. Because of this I don’t believe we can accurately label them as either terrorists, or revolutionaries. Their leadership, first and foremost, need to face trial for insurrection, ie. Trump, and his ministers of propaganda. Of course those that were arrested for the various crimes committed, need to face justice as well, they are easier to deal with, as most of their misdeeds fall under well established criminal codes. We have in our history, never had to deal with insurrection from a sitting president untill now,
and in dealing with this fiasco, I hope we don’t fall further into the trap of expanding, or politicizing criminal codes to deal with this unique crisis.
” They’ll be ratting each other out left and right, and in a few years half the members will be undercover Feebs.”
They do this already, via social media. The craving of instant fame, makes having investigative agencies almost unnecessary these days. It seems all the small players, have already provided enough evidence via Facebook to make their trials merely formalities. The likes of Trump, Flynn, Guiliani, ect. they are the ring leaders, and cooperation will be necessary. Housing them prior to trial, in a high security federal institution like adx Florence, would seem appropriate for their safety, and also would provide motivation for all but the strongest willed individuals to be forthcoming to authorities.
As I said earlier: it’s the minority who don’t post selfies, and shout out their intentions you need to worry about.
Those that use proper security protocols. Those with real military and police experience, not the cosplay clowns.
(You still pick the low hanging fruit, of course. Pour decourager les autres.)
The most complicit, are just as big of attention whores themselves. They are just sophisticated enough not to include all the elements of their crimes in their tweets and selfies. That is why a little adx Florence ( A terribly austere federal prison) motivation could help get cooperation and still be within currently accepted methods of inticement. Get to the bottom of all the fraud. Did you create the lie yourself or who, told you? Where are all the affidavits signed under the penalty of perjury? Who were the dominion expert witnesses that lead to all the alleged mechanical cheating by the machines? The misinformation had to come from somewhere, it lead to an insurrection, and needs to come out into the light, and the appropriate people held accountable.
Not sure it’ll help, if your representative is anything like this Minister of Silly Walks here in Oregon*
To the north a skosh, Seattle PD has placed officers who apparently took part in the US Capital riots on administrative leave.
Where’s my emoji for “loud, snarky sigh?”
*(or OreGUN) as a popular bumper sticker names us.
@flat earth luddite:
How safe is that persons seat?
@Steven L. Taylor: Much ado about really not that much at all. Basically, yes, we need to take this serious, but 95-98% of the people involved are numbnuts and the other 2-5% found themselves in a place they never dreamed of being and so had no real plan for what to do when they got there. Right now those 2-5% are fantasizing about there next stop in the revolution but when it comes to nut cracking time 80-90% of them will say, “Gimme another beer. I wanna watch the game.”
Which still leaves a small number that will in fact shoot up a synagogue or maybe a state capitol, which will in fact be a tragedy for folks who don’t deserve it at all, but not really all that different from any other random day in America when 22 grade school students get shot by a whacko with an assault weapon and a lot of ammo.
And most of us will say how horrible it all is and how we really must do something and the boy has a bad tooth and my HS daughter needs to bring her SAT scores up another 100 points or more….
Is it serious? Yes. Will they take over the govt? You gotta be kidding me. These people are dangerous to those they encounter. To people like you or me who most likely will never meet them? No. We have more immediate concerns. Me? I have an adult son who is suffering a depressive episode. That is where my focus is.
A good thing. Keep it short and sweet is my motto. Not that I ever succeed.
You’d be surprised how clarifying 20 hours in a jail cell can be for a person, never mind the checks for the lawyer.
@Not the IT Dept.: Anybody who has watched a BLM protest knows what zip ties are for.
That’s why my comments are always so concise.
Short and sweet; like a Brummie dipped in honey. 🙂
I think that when one goes to hear trump speak in late 2021, there will be a [ Two
DrinkNazi Minimum ]
Thanks, tip your waitresses, I’ll be here all week.
@dmichael: Regarding doubting that “Trump supporters have cognitive functioning like our own” – I have long considered modern conservatism to be a cognitive disorder. From the denial of man made climate change to the dangers of COVID, and fabricated election fraud conservatives have abandoned rational thinking. And from the hipocracy of supreme court nominations (Garland vs Gorsuch) to attempted dishonoring of election results, they have abandoned any sense of integrity.
I’m thinking it’s a coincidence or a glitch of some sort. I’ve previously had words that automatically put comments into moderation but there’s only one now and it’s to enforce a user ban.
Nazi Nazi Nazi Nazi Nazi
Different browser, not logged in as admin.
Nazi Nazi Nazi Nazi Nazi
@James Joyner: Plural?
Nazis Nazis Nazis Nazis Nazis Nazis Nazis Trump Nazis.
(Doesn’t matter much either way, but wanted to try)