Saturday, September 11, 2021


Spencer Ackerman, author of the recent book Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump, continues to find a receptive audience for his revelation of the One Weird Trick that allows everyone to understand the politics of the past twenty years: It's all 9/11's fault! In The New York Times this week, he told us that we can blame January 6 on 9/11.
Ever since insurrectionists invaded the Capitol, we’ve heard that Jan. 6 closed a chapter in American history. No longer should America’s most threatening enemies be understood as foreign — a euphemism for Muslim — but instead as domestic, a euphemism for primarily white Americans on the far right. “The ‘post-9/11’ era, where our greatest threats to national security were external, is over,” said Representative Elissa Slotkin, Democrat of Michigan and a former C.I.A. and Pentagon official.
Actually, we didn't all decide on January 6 that Islamist terrorism had ceased to be our #1 problem. Liberals have been worried about domestc right-wing terrorism for quite a while, and began to be particluarly worried during the Trump years. And the right has been obsessed with Latin-American border crossers, while Black Lives Matter and Antifa became the feared evildoers of choice during the Trump years.

But go on, Spencer.
... Jan. 6 is less a bookend to the Sept. 11 era than a manifestation of it.

The war on terror accustomed white Americans to seeing themselves as counterterrorists. Armed white Americans on the far right could assemble in militias, whether in Northern states like Michigan or on the southern border, and face little in the way of law enforcement reprisal.
Really? I know that Ackerman was a teenager in the 1990s, but has he done any reasearch on the history of right-wing militias in America? Does he understand that groups such as the Michigan Militia formed in the mid-1990s, in the aftermath of law enforcement clashes with armed groups in Waco and Ruby Ridge? Does he know that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols attended Michigan Militia meetings before bombing the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995? Does he understand that, despite occasional conflicts with law enforcement, many militias have been on reasonably good terms with the authorities? This is from a 1994 news story:
The Northern Michigan Regional Militia is ready to whip government tyrants, defend the Constitution or help the local sheriff in emergencies, if he'll let them.

This mix of civic mindedness, ultrapatriotism and a strong distaste for the federal government characterizes a 1994 phenomenon: armed militia movements in at least five states from Florida to Montana.

"These militias are popping up all over the place as manifestations of grass-roots outrage at what politicians are doing," said John Snyder, chief Washington lobbyist for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms....

Although he is not inclined to accept their offers of assistance in disaster relief or criminal matters, Emmet County Sheriff Jeffrey Bodzick says, "They're not violating any Michigan or federal law at this point, and I don't expect them to."
As for border vigilantes, here's an excerpt from a 1997 New York Times Magazine story by Ted Conover. Conover is writing about the rural parts of San Diego County, California:
[Bob] Maupin and several friends have started a campaign of citizen’s arrests. Dressed in camouflage fatigues, they carry semiautomatic rifles, their own Vietnam-era seismic sensors and zip ties for handcuffing. “We get together at night and make a game out of it, who can catch the most,” he says. “If you dress properly, they don’t know who you are, so we get really, really good cooperation.” Always? “We live in an earthquake zone, and the last guy who got in my face, the ground shook so hard it knocked him on his back, if you see what I mean.”

The arrests are legal, according to Deputy Sheriff Robert Novak. Once Maupin and his friends–Maupin says the Border Patrol agents call them “Bob’s boys”–have detained a group for trespassing, they call the Border Patrol.
This was years before 9/11.

Ackerman tells us that we can see a throughline from 9/11 to January 6 because most of the 1/6 were either ex-military or military wannabes:
Skirmishes with the Washington police ahead of the insurrection revealed how the insurrectionists saw themselves. “We’re the veterans!” one yelled. There were 22 people with military experience among the first 176 people charged with insurrection-related crimes. Ashli Babbitt, the MAGA martyr and a devotee of QAnon — a conspiracy theory that fantasizes about locking up liberals at Guantánamo Bay — had deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. But many others were just cosplay warriors, wearing body armor, helmets and hard-knuckle gloves, in emulation of those whom the war on terror had valorized for 20 years as the truest American heroes. “This is war,” a California yoga instructor participating in the insurrection allegedly declared.
But Timothy McVeigh was a veteran. So was Randy Weaver, who fought with federal agents at his armed encampment in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992, an incident that inspired many subsequent militia members and other right-wing extremists.

These people didn't need 9/11 to put the thought of militarized violence into their heads. Many of them just needed to read right-wing propaganda like The Turner Diaries (a book that inspired McVeigh, among many other extremists).

The mainstreaming of insurrectionism had nothing to do with 9/11. It happened during the Obama presidency, when right-wing billionaires such as the Koch brothers bankrolled the Tea Party, while Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media valorized the movement. Tea Party cosplay featured Minuteman costumes, not War on Terror gear. (There was also a border vigilante group called the Minuteman Project, whoase founder, Jim Gilchrist, was a veteran, but of the Vietnam War, not the wars in the Middle East.)

I understand the appeal of "9/11 got us here" as the One Big Idea that explains all of America's present-days troubles. But it's wrong.

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