FBI Director Christopher Wray testified today before Congress on the violent insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January, what the FBI did in advance of it, and what it has been doing since then. You can find a synopsis of his testimony at The Associated Press. During the question and answer portions of his appearance today, the usual Republican suspects decided to continue to muddy the water, make the clear confusing, change the subject, push the now branded big lie that the presidential election was stolen, and blamed the insurrection on leftist extremists instead of the actual perpetrators on the extreme right, which I would call the other big lie. Senator Grassley (R-IA), long known as the most experienced county commissioner to serve in the US Senate, provides a great example of the lies and falsehoods:
Wray says repeatedly no anarchists on Jan 6 – it was all militia and white supremacist – and yet @ChuckGrassley stays on Antifa threat. It’s another case of literally no information and no answer can alter the messaging.
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) March 2, 2021
I’d like to say that what the Republicans participating in the hearing did today was something new and unusual, but I can’t. I’ve been studying domestic and foreign extremism, terrorism, and low intensity warfare and political violence since I was doing my first masters in 1994. As far back as I can remember some Republican members of Congress have been doing this exact thing whenever a major domestic terrorist attack is perpetrated by someone on the extreme right. In the early 1990s two Republican members of the House of Representatives ran point on this. Helen Chenoweth-Hage and Larry Craig of Idaho. Craig latter would eventually take his show to the Senate after 18 years in the House. Chenoweth-Hage died in a car accident in 2006. Craig got run out of the Senate by his Republican colleagues not because he was a conspiracy mongering nut, but because he was alleged to be soliciting illicit homosexual sex in airport restrooms. However, before they left Congress they were the leading members in what was referred to as the Black Helicopter Caucus, which included a number of other Republicans.
Chenoweth-Hage was actually featured by the Militia of Montana. Their Fall 1994 catalogue – think Sears & Roebuck, but for white supremacists and anti-government extremists – featured videos of one of Congresswoman Chenoweth-Hage’s speeches about the New World Order. While Congresswoman Chenoweth-Hage’s spokesperson stated the video was being sold without her permission, the reality is that as far as the Militia of Montana was concerned she was not just a fellow traveler, but a political visionary whose message they wanted to promote. Her obituary in The Washington Post includes this interesting bit (emphasis mine):
Ms. Chenoweth-Hage, who served from 1995 to 2001 as an unabashed opponent of laws that limited personal freedom, attracted much support from the militia fringe movement that found a home in the interior West during the 1990s.
In turn, she scolded Congress after the Oklahoma City federal building bombing for not trying to understand anti-government activists. She also held hearings on “black helicopters,” which militia members believed were filled with United Nations-sponsored storm troopers eager to swoop into the broken-down ranches of the rural West and impose international law.
Chenoweth-Hage, along with Craig, turned the hearings into the incidents at Ruby Ridge and Waco into a circus. James Ridgeway*, the long time Village Voice reporter who documented the extreme right and passed away two week’s ago, described their antics this way at the time in August 1995:
Meanwhile, Helen Chenoweth in the House and Larry Craig in the Senate continue to run wild, attacking the effrontery of federal agents and invoking the specter of the dreaded black helicopters.
The Waco hearings have provided little substance. Unlike Watergate, or even the Iran-contra investigation, there has been little or no effort by the Republican chairmen to figure out why the raid was staged, and the hearings have largely omitted the ludicrous attempts of the ATF to woo the press that played a major role in the timing of the first raid. From start to finish, the hearings have been a PR move, basically an effort to publicly attack the ATF in order to revoke the assault-weapon ban. More subtly, the hearings have played to the Christian right, key supporters of the Republican majority, and an entity everyone in Congress fears. But more than anything, the hearings have provided a dazzling display of farce and hypocrisy. Republicans who had been slashing away at the Fourth Amendment on the House floor earlier this spring in their determination to pass a tough crime bill have now been portraying themselves as feel-good liberals, invoking the rights of the Constitution on behalf of Koresh and the other “individualistic” Christians within the compound.
Aside from the desire to pander to Christian conservatives and the gun lobby, the Waco hearings are also an attempt to play to the libertarian-anarchist wing of the party. Behind the attack on the ATF is anarchist frothing for the role of county sheriff in government. In Waco, the sheriff was on friendly terms with Koresh and clearly had no intention of challenging the Davidians, despite the accusations made against the group. Indeed, various Republicans at the hearings came awfully close to suggesting that the sanctity of private property should have acted as a barrier against any federal intrusion. The argument that what Koresh was doing was his business and nobody else’s will get any politician, Christian right or other, firmly clobbered in the polls.
As we’ve seen in the past five weeks, the only thing that has changed since the mid 1990s and today is that today the majority of the House Republican and at least a third, if not more of the Senate Republican caucuses are now behaving like Congresswoman Chenoweth-Hage, Senator Craig, and a small handful of their Republican colleagues in the House back in the 1990s. When you see Senators Grassley and Johnson pushing the completely fact free and repeatedly debunked lies that the attack on the Capitol was a false flag conducted by extreme leftists like Antifa and Black Lives Matter in order to create a casus belli for American Federal law enforcement to go after white, at least nominally Christian Republicans, Republican leaning Independents, and conservatives or Senator Hawley suddenly very concerned about just how the FBI is going about collecting evidence from the cell phones and smart phones and social media accounts of those involved in the 6th January attack, and Senator Cotton unequivocally stating he would like MS13 to be arrested, all you’re seeing is the 2021 version of Chenoweth-Hage’s and Craig’s mid 1990s canine and equine extravaganza.
There are a couple of differences between then and now. Social and digital media is one. Fox News and its even more fact free and more extreme competitors in conservative “news” media is another. The sheer numbers of Republican elected and appointed officials at the Federal, state, and municipal levels of government that have all embraced the fact free, conspiracy driven empirically sealed information system that undergirds modern conservatism – to both drive the information and to benefit from it – is a third. We are now fully in a place where the ideological extremists who operate within the system (elected and appointed Republican officials, conservative movement leaders, conservative “news” media personalities, conservative religious leaders, etc) are leveraging the threats of and actual acts of domestic terrorism by the violent extremists to achieve the same objectives. This too is not new in the US or in other places. In the US this occurred to both overthrow Reconstruction and to then implement, expand, and consolidate Jim Crow and to keep it place for almost a hundred years. It was used in Germany, Italy, and Spain to bring fascists to power either before or during World War II. It was used in Vichy France and Quisling’s Norway as excuses to capitulate to and collaborate with the NAZIs.
It is important to use a fine brush to ensure that an appropriate distinction is made between the actual domestic extremists who are domestic terrorists, promote domestic terrorism, and support domestic terrorism and Americans who do not. However, we can’t let being empirically accurate in defining, delineating, and conceptualizing this problem and problem set blind us to the fact that the objectives of the ideological extremists in Congress like Senators Hawley, Cruz, Johnson, Lee, and Cotton and Representatives Greene, Boebert, Gaetz, Cawthorne, Jordan, and far, far too many others in their caucuses, as well as their counterparts at the state and local levels, and the people that support them as long as they support Trump’s America First agenda are the exact same objectives as the domestic extremists who seek to overthrow the small “l” liberal self-governing democratic-republic established by the US Constitution and replace it with a revanchist, white Christian herrenvolk. The real problem facing America is that if the ideological extremists working within the system have the same objectives as the domestic extremists seeking to use violence to achieve those same goals, how do you protect against the latter without destroying the constitutional order in trying to contain the former? That’s what makes this a very wicked problem.
* I highly recommend Ridgeway’s 1991 documentary Blood In the Face.