In the wake of the mail bombing campaign of the past week and the synagogue attack today, I think we all need to be prepared for a seriously increased threat level. Not necessarily from any specific person or group, but in what we generally refer to as stochastic terrorism. We know attacks will happen, we may even have a general idea of who and/or what the targets may be, but we can’t identity/specify specific targets, nor can we identity/specify when the attacks will happen, how they will be carried out, or who will undertake them. This increase is the result of several things. The first is that the President has decided to double down on not trying to lead the entire country, but rather rule on behalf of the 26% or so of the country that is his hard base/the Republican base, as well as another 13% or so consisting of Republicans who are willing to go along with this. The second is that the President’s most fervent supporters, the hard base of the Republican Party, have become so radicalized because of Fox News, talk radio, conservative social media and other conservative news and information sources, and frankly the Russian psychological and information warfare that seeks to leverage this for Putin’s own objectives of ripping American civil society apart, that they are now all in for an American version of herrenvolkism. Specifically, a herrenvolk system of white supremacy where white, (evangelical and some traditionalist Catholic*) Christians rule and everyone else is either tolerated in a less than first class citizenship status or is removed from American society. The third is the result that because of the President and his fervent base of supporters who are the base of the Republican Party, the official Republican Party institutions and structures, as well as the conservative movement institutions and structures that support and comprise it, have gone all in with the President’s and the President’s base’s vision of America.** Just today one of the official Republican Party campaign arms released another anti-George Soros/anti-globalist campaign ad negatively targeting a Democratic candidate.
This is all the result of a closed feedback loop of ideas have been created that encompasses the President, the Republican Party and the conservative movement, and their structures and institutions, Republican elected and appointed officials, conservative movement leaders, conservative news and social media, and the base of the Republican Party. That feedback loop inculcates and reinforces a belief that white, (evangelical and some traditionalist Catholic) Christians are the only actual victims in the US. That they’re oppressed. That ethnic and religious minorities, as well as other white Christians who are race traitors, seek to take away their rights and privileges as part of a nefarious, organized plan to destroy America. An America which they define as a white, Christian nation. Moreover, this closed informational loop is pulling the extremist right – the hard core white nationalist and supremacists, anti-Semites, Islamophobes, homophobes, xenophobes, and nativists – from the extreme fringes fully within the mainstream of conservative and Republican thought, action, and politics.
Because of the social learning dynamic of imitation, Sayoc’s bombing campaign and Bowers’ shooting spree, as well as the President’s blaming the victim this morning will provide permission for others to act. The President’s comments regarding both Sayoc’s and Bower’s acts of terrorism are classic examples of what criminologists call neutralization and drift. Specifically: 1) denial of responsibility; 2) denial of injury; 3) denial of victim; 4) condemnation of the condemners; and the 5) appeal to higher loyalties. The first three justifications all deal with denial. They allow the offender to rationalize his behavior as outside of his control. He or she is not really hurting anyone. And even if someone is hurt they may have deserved it. The fourth justification allows the offender to invert the knowledge of her wrongdoing back upon those criticizing it by asserting that the condemners are hypocrites, do equally bad things, or are out to get him. Finally, the fifth rationalization allows for the justification of behavior on the basis of loyalty to one’s group rather than one’s society.
The elections in two weeks will only make things worse. If the Democrats take at least the House and a number of state governorships and state legislatures as is currently forecast, let alone if they thread the needle and take the Senate, the terrorism will increase. It will be taken as actual evidence of the victimization of white, Christian (evangelical and some traditional Catholic) Christians. Conversely, and unfortunately, the President and his supporters who are the base of the Republican Party are the sorest winners since the southern slave power in the 1850s and 1860s kept refusing to take yes for an answer. So if the Republicans are able to maintain or expand their majorities in the House and the Senate, as well as in state governments, I fully expect that the terrorism and low intensity political violence will increase. Winning will be taken as a sign that the American people want more of what has been building for the past two years. As a result, the President, an even more extremist, radical, and revanchist set of Republican congressional majorities, the Republican Party and conservative movement, conservative news and social media, and the actual base of the Republican party will simply accelerate what we’ve been observing and responding to since January 2017.
Stay alert! Stay focused! And vote! Vote like your life and America’s life depends on it! Make sure everyone you know votes like their lives and America’s life depends on it. And prepare yourself for what’s coming regardless of the outcome of the mid-term elections.
* I fully expect that this marriage of convenience over a few theologically aligned political issues, such as abortion and homosexuality, will completely unravel where the Republican base get what it wants. At that point I expect that the evangelical community will turn first on the Catholics as papist apostates and then on each other as none of the three major divisions among white evangelicals in the US – evangelicals, charismatics, and fundamentalists – actually agree on how to apply their sectarian and denominational views to everyday life.
** I want to make it very clear that I take no pleasure in writing this. It is both a shame and a tragedy that we have reached a point where the President of the United States and one of the only two political parties we allow ourselves, as well as the political, social, and religious movements and communities that support both the President and the Republican Party, not only can be described this way, but need to be described this way. We are, unfortunately, no longer in a place where we are, as Americans, dealing with partisan disagreements over marginal tax rates or which level of government is best to oversee education policy. If we are very, very fortunate, we may once again get through this, establish a new normal, and find ourselves back in such a reality.