One of the groups that we have been dealing with in Iraq for the past sixteen years or so is a militia or militant group that goes by the acronym JAM. JAM stands for Jaish al Mahdi, which in turn translates from Iraqi Arabic to the Mahdi Army. JAM was the name for the militant/militia wing of the Sadrist movement led by Muqtada al Sadr and named for his father who is believed to have been assassinated or extrajudicially executed by Saddam Hussein. The Sadrist movement, modeled on how Hezbollah is organized, has two parts with three separate missions. The first part – the Office of the Martyr Sadr (or whatever it is being called today)- runs candidates for office at the local, provincial, and national level in Iraq and provides what we would think of as social welfare activities. Specifically, providing housing or housing assistance, food or food assistance, some education, and other social services that the Iraqi state, both working with the Coalition Provisional Authority and ultimately on its own, could not. The second part – Jaish al Mahdi – conducted the third mission: armed resistance against Sunni insurgents, as well as the US led military coalition.
The New York Times has taken a deep dive into how the Republican Party, driven farther and farther to the right as a revanchist insurgent outlier within American politics, has basically reorganized itself into an American version of what we see with the Sadrists, Hezbollah, and other political and social movements in less stable parts of the world that also have armed wings. From the NY Times‘ reporting: (emphasis mine):
Dozens of heavily armed militiamen crowded into the Michigan Statehouse last April to protest a stay-at-home order by the Democratic governor to slow the pandemic. Chanting and stomping their feet, they halted legislative business, tried to force their way onto the floor and brandished rifles from the gallery over lawmakers below.
Initially, Republican leaders had some misgivings about their new allies. “The optics weren’t good. Next time tell them not to bring guns,” complained Mike Shirkey, the State Senate majority leader, according to one of the protest organizers. But Michigan’s highest-ranking Republican came around after the planners threatened to return with weapons and “militia guys signing autographs and passing out blow-up AR-15s to the kiddies on the Capitol lawn.”
“To his credit,” Jason Howland, the organizer, wrote in a social media post, Mr. Shirkey agreed to help the cause and “spoke at our next event.”
Following signals from President Donald J. Trump — who had tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” after an earlier show of force in Lansing — Michigan’s Republican Party last year welcomed the support of newly emboldened paramilitary groups and other vigilantes. Prominent party members formed bonds with militias or gave tacit approval to armed activists using intimidation in a series of rallies and confrontations around the state. That intrusion into the Statehouse now looks like a portent of the assault halfway across the country months later at the United States Capitol.
Six Trump supporters from Michigan have been arrested in connection with the storming of the Capitol. One, a former Marine accused of beating a Capitol Police officer with a hockey stick, had previously joined armed militiamen in a protest organized by Michigan Republicans to try to disrupt ballot counting in Detroit.
The chief organizer of that protest, Meshawn Maddock, on Saturday was elected co-chair of the state Republican Party — one of four die-hard Trump loyalists who won top posts.
Ms. Maddock helped fill 19 buses to Washington for the Jan. 6 rally and defended the April armed intrusion into the Michigan Capitol. When Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, suggested at the time that Black demonstrators would never be allowed to threaten legislators like that, Ms. Maddock
“Oh that’s right you think anyone armed is threatening,” she continued. “It’s a right for a reason and the reason is YOU.”
The lead organizer of the April 30 armed protest, Ryan Kelley, a local Republican official, last week announced a bid for governor. “Becoming too closely aligned with militias — is that a bad thing?” he said in an interview. Londa Gatt, a pro-Trump activist close to him was named last month to a leadership position in a statewide Republican women’s group. She welcomed militias and Proud Boys at protests, posting on the social media site Parler: “While BLM destroy/murder people the Proud Boys are true patriots.” Prosecutors have accused members of the Proud Boys of playing a leading role in the Jan. 6 assault.
Two weeks after the Statehouse protest, Mr. Shirkey, the Republican leader, appeared at a rally by the same organizers, onstage with a militia member who would later be accused of conspiring to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
“Stand up and test that assertion of authority by the government,” Mr. Shirkey told the militiamen. “We need you now more than ever.”
After the riot in Washington, some argue such endorsements endanger the future of the party. “It is like the Republican Party has its own domestic army,” said Jeff Timmer, a former executive director of the Michigan party and a vocal Trump critic.
It’s worth giving the whole thing a read, even though it focuses largely on Michigan and the Michigan Republican Party. Especially as all the reporting, as well as other indicators such as what Federal, state, and municipal Republican officials say or tweet or post themselves, over the past several months clearly indicates that this problem is not limited to Michigan. Whether it is the Wyoming state Republican Party moving to censure Congresswoman Cheney, more members of the House GOP caucus voting to remove Congresswoman Cheney from her leadership post than voted to discipline Congresswoman Greene, the Arizona state Republican Party censuring Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake, and Doug Ducey for betraying Trump, Allen West in his new role as Texas GOP Party Chair supporting both secession, to Nebraska Republicans preparing to censure Senator Sasse for betraying Trump and thereby Republicans, what the NY Times reported about the Michigan Republican Party is happening with the Republican Party throughout the US.
I’ve seen several recent attempts to make a comparison between the Republican Party and Sinn Féin, especially in the immediate aftermath of the 6 January insurrection at the Capitol. I don’t think that’s the right comparison. The Irish Troubles was inextricably tied into the Catholic/republican and Protestant/loyalist dispute in Northern Ireland. While there are some similarities, that’s not what is going on with the Republican Party right now or what the Republican Party has been building too over the past several decades that got them to where they are today.
As I wrote here back in January 2019, the real political, social, economic, and religious disputes in America and among Americans for the better part of the past decade have not really been about nominal tax rates, the Defense budget, or the size of the safety net. Rather they have been much more like the disputes between Iraq’s Sunni and Shia, Arabs and Kurds, which is an often bloody fight over who gets to actually be an Iraqi and claim the full rights and privileges that come with doing so. The American dispute is similar. It is a fight over what American really means, what America really is, and who is and can be and who is not and cannot be an American citizen. This dispute is a long simmering low intensity war for America, which has comparatively been non-violent with only occasional violent spikes. It is related to the much more violent dispute throughout America over these same issues that were institutionalized in Jim Crow and segregation where the violence was targeted against Blacks.
The Republican Party at all levels from national to municipal has decided it wants this fight. It wants to have a sharp, permanent determination and delineation over just what American means, just what America is, and just who actually gets to be an American. The Republican Party is the political wing. The conservative movement organizations, including conservative Christian and traditionalist Catholic churches and organizations, as well as some orthodox and ultra-orthodox Jewish groups, the Church of Latter Day Saints, and some religiously conservative members and organizations of other religious and ethnic minorities* serve as the social welfare/social services wing. And the cosplay patriot (cosplatriot), militia, and other violent, armed paramilitary groups orbiting the Republican Party and the conservative movement are the militant armed wing.