The Reactionary Tradition Out To Annihilate American Liberty

“For portions of the MAGA right, the stakes in politics seem unbearably high. They imagine their elections stolen without consequences, their children menaced by transsexuals in the schools, their fathers’ manufacturing jobs shipped away by globalist corporations that mock their values. People whose worldviews sicken them seem to control every citadel of political and cultural power and to brook no opposition.

Even President Donald Trump seemed powerless to shift America back to the country they wanted. And so several institutions and thinkers of the intellectual right have declared that it’s time to take the gloves off in a way even Trump would not. It’s time, they argue, to fight against “liberalism”—not just the attitudes associated with the Democratic Party, but the historical idea of a social order based on people’s ability to make their own choices about what to do with their lives and property, to live and travel where they wish, to choose meanings, family structures, attitudes, and lifeways freed of any obligation to national or ethnic traditions. They want the American right to get tough and to crush progressivism at its root.

Thus, there has been a small intellectual revival of mostly forgotten or despised thinkers often dubbed “reactionary.” In A World After Liberalism, Matthew Rose of the Morningside Institute assesses five of them”

“These reactionary writers see, in Rose’s words, “humans as naturally tribal, not autonomous; individuals as inherently unequal, not equal; politics as grounded in authority, not consent; societies as properly closed, not open.””

Jan. 6 Didn’t Set Off A Wave of Right-Wing Terrorism. Here’s What Happened Instead.

“Rather than a spate of attacks by organized groups — largely what the Biden administration has prepared for — instead we have seen a massive expansion of the broader ecosystem of far-right extremism. I study terrorism and regularly monitor the rhetoric traversing Telegram and other platforms frequented by far-right extremists. Over the past year, it’s become clear that the violence underpinning the Capitol rioters’ ideology has seeped into mainstream culture and politics. As a result, many more people can — and do — engage in extremist thoughts and actions, not just members of groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. This raises risks of violence by radicalized “lone wolves,” who are much harder to track and thwart.”

“Remarkably for a year that started off with an unprecedented display of political violence, 2021 saw zero major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, nor did we experience anything resembling the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. One reason is that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has artificially suppressed terrorism plots and attacks that we might have seen otherwise. At the same time, lockdowns, isolation and stress have exacerbated many of the underlying factors that contribute to extremism, while also making mental health matters more acute. Meanwhile, 2020 and 2021 were record years for the sale of weapons and ammunition. Americans are anxious, angry and well-armed — a combustible combination.

Another reason for fewer incidents of domestic terrorism during 2021 is that far-right extremists, both individuals and formal organizations, have likely been cowed by an aggressive law enforcement response to Jan. 6. To date, more than 700 individuals have been charged with federal crimes for their role in the insurrection. The city of Washington, D.C., has sued the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, seeking severe financial penalties. Given how paranoid many far-right extremist groups are about being infiltrated by law enforcement, many have gone underground and attempted to drop off the grid to avoid further entanglement with the authorities.

However, it would be a mistake to conclude that the problem has faded away. Though we haven’t seen the most visible signs of growing extremism, a more extreme climate is permeating our society, culture and politics. Far-right talking points about election interference and comparisons of public health officials to Nazis are now part of mainstream political dialogue among Republicans.”

“Trump’s unique role in sending extremism mainstream helps explain the most salient domestic terrorism we face in 2022: political violence by those who are convinced the 2020 election was stolen. Many of the calls for violence I’ve observed denigrate Biden’s presidency as illegitimate and refer directly to the falsehood that his victory was “rigged.” A University of Massachusetts Amherst poll revealed that nearly 71 percent of Republican voters still contest the 2020 election results, falling victim to Trump’s “Big Lie.” When almost three-quarters of a political party believe an election was stolen, and that party’s leader continuously reinforces the belief, it lowers the bar for violence.”

“To date, the vast majority of those charged with crimes stemming from the Jan. 6 insurrection, approximately 87 percent, do not belong to formal organizations. In fact, although these groups were busy organizing in the weeks before Jan. 6, the makeup of the rioters on the actual day was far broader. This means there is a massive throng of “free agents,” the most radicalized of whom have the potential to become “lone wolves,” while others may seek to join existing groups or opt to form new ones.”

“Perhaps the most notorious lone wolf terrorist is Timothy McVeigh, who was responsible for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people. McVeigh was the product of the far-right ecosystem of the 1990s, which was far smaller and less radicalized than the equivalent today. It’s certainly plausible that the next McVeigh (or McVeighs) could emerge from the murky online extremist landscape that is increasingly blending with mainstream politics.”

The intellectual right’s war on America’s institutions

“It’s easy to dismiss this kind of illiberal language as purely rhetorical: radical posturing with few practical implications. But the past year of conservative politics, from the January 6 riot to the spread of voting restrictions and extreme gerrymandering to the rise of Rufo’s war on the education system, has shown that the right’s illiberal impulses are actually shaping our reality.

Conservatism, in theory, is supposed to be an ideology of preservation. But the current right is increasingly being shaped by a reactionary impulse bent on the radical transformation — if not the outright destruction — of America’s leading institutions.”

Police, soldiers bring lethal skill to militia campaigns against US government

“Thousands of police and soldiers – people professionally trained in the use of violence and familiar with military protocols – are part of an extremist effort to undermine the U.S. government and subvert the democratic process.

According to an investigative report published in the Atlantic in November into a leaked database kept by the Oath Keepers – one of several far-right and white supremacist militias that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 – 10% of Oath Keepers are current police officers or military members. Another significant portion of the group’s membership is retired military and law enforcement personnel.”

“The Three Percenters, another militia present at the Capitol on Jan. 6, also draws a substantial portion of its members from law enforcement, both military and civilian. Larry Brock, a pro-Trump rioter arrested with zip-tie handcuffs, allegedly for taking hostages, is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who posted content from the Three Percenters online.”

“Far-right elements have always had some presence in U.S. security forces.

Throughout the 20th century, many local police departments were heavily populated with Ku Klux Klan members. The connections between terror groups and law enforcement enabled discrimination and violence against African Americans, Jews and other minorities.

In 1923, all the Black residents of Blandford, Indiana were forced out of town to an unknown location following accusations that an African American man assaulted a young girl. The unlawful “deportation” was conducted and organized by the local sheriff, a Klansman, with the assistance of local Klan chapters.

Many U.S. military bases have also had cells of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups throughout the 20th century.

In 1995, three paratroopers from Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, were arrested and charged in the killing of a Black couple in Fayetteville. Two were sentenced to life in prison for the murders. The Army initiated an investigation at the base, which was known for being a hub of the National Alliance, then the country’s most influential American neo-Nazi group.

The Army identified and discharged 19 paratroopers for participating in hate activities. One went on to kill six worshipers in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in August 2012. He died in a police shootout.”

“The militias’ success secretly infiltrating police departments contributed to the emergence of new far-right associations that openly recruit law enforcement, like the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers of America.

Founded in 2011 by former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack, the group promotes the notion – contrary to the Constitution – that the federal government authorities should be subordinated to local law enforcement. It has more than 500 sheriffs nationwide. Just over half are currently in office.

The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers of America has pushed its members not to enforce gun control laws and pandemic-related mask regulations that they believe infringe on civil liberties.”

Labeling groups like the Proud Boys “domestic terrorists” won’t fix anything

“Canada recently designated the Proud Boys, a far-right hate group, as a terrorist organization, a move that has put pressure on President Joe Biden’s administration to take similar punitive action against the group and others who participated in January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

The Congressional Research Service has asserted that the Capitol insurrection was an act of domestic terrorism, as defined by federal regulations and law. The FBI has identified the criminal activity by the Proud Boys as a domestic terrorism threat.

But while the federal government maintains a list of foreign terrorist organizations, it does not have a mechanism to formally designate domestic terrorist organizations. National security experts argue that creating one would not only invite legal challenges, but would do little to improve law enforcement’s response to the nascent threat of domestic terrorism.

Creating such a list would raise legitimate First Amendment concerns because it could potentially be used to target political dissidents on both the left and the right. Experts also say it’s ill-suited to address the kind of domestic terrorist attacks and plots that the US is facing, which according to the Department of Homeland Security, primarily come from right-wing extremists acting as individuals, rather than as organized groups.

The best way forward, they say, is for the federal government to better employ existing tools to combat domestic terrorism — a threat that was not prioritized by former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly refused to denounce white nationalists and told those who stormed the Capitol, “We love you.”

“Violent white supremacists are not a new problem,” Faiza Patel, the director of liberty and national security at the Brennan Center for Justice, said. “Law enforcement has dealt with them before and can do so again. The FBI’s robust response to the attack on the Capitol shows that these groups can be investigated and prosecuted under existing law, undercutting any argument for new tools.””

Trump is gone. But the threat of right-wing violence that arose under his watch remains.

“The most successful terrorist campaign in American political history took place after the Civil War.

Ex-Confederate soldiers and ordinary Southerners unwilling to give up on white supremacy formed a series of violent cells aimed at undermining Reconstruction. Their attacks, the most infamous of which were lynchings of recently freed Black people, aimed to disrupt racially egalitarian governments and impose costs on the North for continuing to occupy Southern land. The violence increased after Reconstruction ended, working to intimidate local Black populations while Southern states created new regimes that would render them second-class citizens.”

“We do not actually need a huge spike in far-right violence for it to be politically impactful. The mere threat of future violence can poison a democracy.”

“If more moderate Republicans are afraid to speak up, extremists will increasingly speak for the party. The more the extremists speak for the party, the more they will push Republicans voters to the far right and embolden violent far-right actors, further intimidating moderate voices from speaking out.

This is one key difference from the political dynamics of the 1970s. Back then, no significant faction of the Democratic Party was aligned with the violent radicals. Today, large sections of the far right see themselves as acting on behalf of or in conjunction with the Trumpist forces in the Republican Party. In footage of Capitol Hill mobbers ransacking the Senate floor, one attacker justifies his actions by saying “[Ted] Cruz would want us to do this.”

“There seem to be enough guns, political support, and rhetorical space to sustain at least some degree of mobilization by violence-curious radicals,” says Paul Staniland, a political scientist at the University of Chicago. “It’s a lot easier to unleash carnage than to pack it back away.””

What the history of the Ku Klux Klan can teach us about the Capitol riot

“It all goes back to a larger truth about white supremacist movements in America: They haven’t been composed, as some claim, of poor white people disenfranchised by society. Instead, they’ve often included supposed pillars of the community — professionals, businesspeople, and especially law enforcement officials.

Indeed, all these were represented in one of the best-known white supremacist groups in American history, the Ku Klux Klan. Linda Gordon, a history professor at New York University and the author of The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition, has studied the makeup of the group, especially during the 1920s when its activities became much more overt and open. And, she told Vox, the Klan, which at one point required the payment of significant entry fees, was “not an organization of poor people.””

“the roots of white supremacy, then and now, are more complex, and to understand them, we have to look at where groups like the Klan and the Capitol rioters get their information and why they believe what they believe.”

“One thing it did have in common with white supremacist groups today is that probably the single largest occupational group in the Klan were police, or other officers of law and order, like sheriff’s deputies.”

The online far right is angry, exultant, and ready for more

“On Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, the message board TheDonald, and Parler, a “free speech social network” created in opposition to Twitter, some users blamed antifa for the attack while others claimed credit for it. Meanwhile, others were angry at the president for posting a video Thursday acknowledging a “new administration” would take over.

Even as the online right is divided about how to react to the events of this week, loyalty to President Donald Trump is still strong. Many online supporters refer to him as “GEOTUS,” or Grand Emperor of the United States, and have called fellow members to stand by him.

But there is fracturing within the movement: Some are confused about why they were asked to come to the January 6 rally if not to take extreme action, others are angry at Trump’s concession video posted on Twitter Thursday night where he described Wednesday’s events as a “heinous attack,” and others still are developing new conspiracy theories.”

“It’s hard to know how seriously to take any individual threat or comment made by members of these forums. Distinguishing between legitimate threats and trolling is difficult — and that reality is mirrored by the president himself. Trump will make “jokes” that target groups or individuals and undermine democratic norms. His supporters casually dismissed criticisms of these comments, or chastised observers for taking the president literally.”

“While the effort to remove extremism from mainstream social media companies could help curb the spread of extreme ideas to casual users of the internet, the ever-evolving web of right-wing social media and messaging boards will likely defy the control of these tech giants. Just take a look at TheDonald, formerly a part of Reddit; once banned there, it managed to migrate to its own outpost on the internet.”