“I want the entire world to burn until the last cop is strangled with the intestines of the last capitalist, who is strangled in turn with the intestines of the last politician.”
— Nathan Jun, Midwestern State University philosophy professor and “mild-mannered and conscientious member of his local community.”
We’re back in “Up against the wall, motherfucker!” territory, last visited in the spasm of ideologically-motivated violence spawned in the 1960s and ’70s. You don’t need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
That tear in the social fabric keeps getting wider. A hot civil war isn’t inevitable, but we’re probably closer to it right now than we’ve been in half a century.
A week ago, Politico published a piece that attempts to quantify the lean toward political violence in America. It’s sobering:
“Among Americans who identify as Democrat or Republican, 1 in 3 now believe that violence could be justified to advance their parties’ political goals—a substantial increase over the last three years.”
That won’t surprise anybody who is paying attention. And, also unsurprisingly, hyper-partisanship turns up the heat:
“These numbers are even higher among the most ideological partisans. Of Democrats who identify as ‘very liberal,’ 26 percent said there would be ‘a great deal’ of justification for violence if their candidate loses the presidency compared to 7 percent of those identifying as simply ‘liberal.’ Of Republicans who identify as ‘very conservative,’ 16 percent said they believe there would be ‘a great deal’ of justification for violence if the GOP candidate loses compared to 7 percent of those identifying as simply ‘conservative.’ This means the ideological extremes of each party are two to four times more apt to see violence as justified than their party’s mainstream members.”
A lot of this is just tough talk of course, mostly coming from people who have never been punched in the face. Twitter and other forms of social media is a direct conduit to the unfiltered id — you get a lot of fantasizing and wanking, which is doubtless what the mild-mannered professor was indulging in.
“(E)xpressing approval of partisan violence does not mean someone is ready to pick up a gun. The steps from attitudes to actions are prohibitive for all but a tiny minority because of the legal, social, and physical risks of acting violently.”
Problem is, it doesn’t take too many people deciding to actually act on their ecstatic fantasies to create a real mess.
“But even a shift of 1 percent in these surveys would represent the views of over a million Americans. Furthermore, two of us have found in our research that violent events tend to increase public approval of political violence—potentially creating a vicious cycle even if violence is sparked in only a few spots.”
There is an Overton Window effect, where radical ideas and actions are “mainstreamed.” “Defund the police” becomes “All cops are bastards,” and pretty soon you have a couple of L.A. County deputies ambushed and shot and a crowd gathered at the hospital chanting “Death to the police!”
Extremist rhetoric that breeds extreme action is not the province of a particular ideology — unless you count extremism as its own form of ideology, which I do (see below). Right-wingers have a much higher body count than even the most lurid lefties. For now, anyway.
Steven Carrillo, the U.S. Air Force sergeant who allegedly murdered law enforcement officers in California during protests last summer, is a Boogaloo puke, part of a right-wing extremist movement that wants to see a civil war.
Carrillo ambushed Santa Cruz sheriff’s deputies and threw pipe bombs at police on June 6, killing Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller and wounding four other officers. He is also charged with the murder of federal security officer Pat Underwood, killed in a drive-by shooting on May 29 in Oakland.
Carrillo wrote “boog” and “I became unreasonable” in blood on the hood of a car before he was caught.
The San Jose Mercury-News reports that:
“‘I became unreasonable” has become a meme in Boogaloo social media. It refers to a statement by Marvin Heemeyer, an icon in extremist anti-government groups because of the 2004 rampage in which he bulldozed 13 buildings in a Colorado mountain town over a zoning dispute. Heemeyer — aka “Killdozer” — fatally shot himself when the heavily armored bulldozer became stuck in the basement of a store he was destroying. A note he left behind included the line, ‘I was always willing to be reasonable until I had to be unreasonable.’”
The Hill recently posted on a report titled Network-Enabled Anarchy, from the independent Network Contagion Research Institute, which tracks hate speech across social media, in collaboration with the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience at Rutgers University.
The report notes that right-wing groups have enacted more violence than their left-wing counterparts:
“But as the NCRI report found, the online structure supporting what it calls ‘anarcho-socialist extremism’ is expanding rapidly. In the last few months, coinciding with the overwhelmingly peaceful social justice protests following the death of George Floyd, Twitter posts with anti-police outrage and/or memes and coded language with hateful rhetoric increased 1000 percent.”
Among the noted anarcho-socialists was Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter, who opined that:
“Me-first capitalists who think you can separate society from business are going to be the first people lined up against the wall and shot in the revolution… I’ll happily provide video commentary.”
Another jerk-off. Go get ’em Dick.
This sort of thing is excused away, especially when it’s coming from the left. Somehow, being anti-capitalist and woke gets you a pass on “hate speech.” Instead of roundly condemning Professor Jun’s lurid murder fantasies, the grad students’ association at his university rallied to him — in an unintentionally hilarious manner:
“The Graduate Employees’ Organization at the University of Urbana-Champaign, IFT/AFT Local 6300 stands in solidarity with Midwestern State University philosophy Professor Dr. Nathan Jun. Dr. Jun is a published, respected academic in his field, a well-liked professor, and a mild-mannered and conscientious member of his local community. He is not a terrorist or anything of the kind.”
C’mon man, he’s published!
Just as I was putting this together the news broke about 13 men being arrested for plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The men have generally been portrayed as right-wing militia types, though at least one of them said mean things about Donald Trump as an anarchist symbol loomed in the background of an online rant.
With ringing oratory that hearkens back to the stirring revolutionary rhetoric of Leon Trotsky, Brandon Caserta said:
“Trump is not your friend, dude. It amazes me that people actually, like, believe that when he’s shown over and over and over again that he’s a tyrant. Every single person that works for government is your enemy, dude.”
Not surprising, really. The spectrum of extremism bends and the farthest ends come close enough to at least shake hands. Horst Mahler comes to mind. He was a social democrat lawyer who became a radical lefitst member of the German Red Army Faction (aka Baader-Meinhof Gang), then became a Maoist and then shifted over to neo-Nazism.
When you’re that far out on the fringes, the ecstatic act is the ideology. Well, that and virulent antisemitism. When Mahler was asked about his changes in ideology, he said:
“You have to see it dialectically. One changes, and at the same time one remains the same.” Dude.
The Wolverine Watchmen apparently failed to learn the lesson 1960s and ’70s radicals learned the hard way: When five of you meet, three of you are informants.
Extensive recordings and surveillance described in the court papers show how deeply the FBI had infiltrated the alleged plotters — sometimes with more than one informant or undercover operative at the same event. Investigators were inside encrypted chats where the suspects allegedly communicated in code, using “baker” and a “cake” in reference to an explosives provider and a bomb. They were along for a car ride to case the vacation home where the suspects allegedly planned to kidnap the governor and spirit her to Wisconsin for a “trial.”
There is some hope that the current tensions will abate when Election 2020 is decided, but I wouldn’t bet on it. There are scenarios under which election controversies could further stoke the flames. And, in any case, the fundamental social and cultural faultlines that threaten to slip in a major way were not created solely by politics, though they may be exacerbated by partisanship. Those faultlines will continue to exist regardless of the outcome on November 3, and if the multitude of dislocations we have seen in 2020 continue — as they are likely to do — the real earthquake is yet to come.
Mind your topknot and keep your powder dry.