Home-Grown Terrorism

The FBI has finally proclaimed white supremacist groups as our greatest domestic security threat, and the Department of Homeland Security has followed suit. They haven’t got around to adding “male supremacy” yet–after all, this part took them more than 30 years.

I write “more than 30 years” because 1989 was when I published the first and, regrettably, to date the only feminist analysis of terrorism, and one of the infinitesimally few analyses by women at all. This was a boys’ game with the solutions brought to you by the same folks who brought you the problem. I’m glad that I wrote The Demon Lover: The Roots of Terrorism when I did, because if I hadn’t I would have to do so again right now. Besides, I’ve updated it three times since then: as it went into paperback, then in 2001 after the Twin Towers fell, and again when it became an all-formats e-book. It’s a book about which I’m extremely proud—but also in an ongoing state of rage. It covers the waterfront, with chapters showing how “isolated incidents” form predictable patterns, how the merging of patriarchy and technology are creating a democratization of violence. It covers the glamour attendant on romanticizing the Hero and the ways that androcentric religion, philosophy, and aesthetics feed into the mix. It covers official terrorism (the state), and “wargasm,” the revolutionary high. It includes a “token terrorist” chapter about women’s participation (“cherchez l’homme”), and one called “Longing for Catastrophe,” about my own brief immersion into this politics. There’s a chapter on my visits to Middle East and the shock that the Palestinian women presented, titled “What Do Men Know About Life?” and the whole thing winds up with a normalization of terror, and what lies beyond terror and a death wish: a life affirming politics of eros.

I began The Demon Lover because of multiple terrorist attacks on US clinics and medical personnel who provide contraceptive and abortion services, leaving eight dead and 33 seriously wounded. It struck me that these bringers of death were busily proclaiming the value of life—although not, of course, for the women involved. There had been 20 arsons and attempted arson’s, 10 bombings and attempted bombings, and clinics in 23 states had received threats of anthrax and chemical offenses. Later, in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the American Life League ran page ads attacking Planned Parenthood, declaring “abortion is the ultimate terrorism.”

So abortion is where I began the book but not where I stopped, since it grew to exhaustively explore violent insurgency of all kinds. It was rooted, though, in the specific, in the flesh. Women have known this truth all along, experiencing it in our bodies, given domestic violence and the anti-choice movement, and so have Black and Brown communities, being shot down in the street or in their own bedrooms. But apparently it took a siege of the United States Capitol to bring the war home.

For myself, I realized that I was going certifiably sane when comparing statements like these: “Violence is not the exclusive preserve of the exploiters; the exploited can use it, and what’s more should use it.” And this one: “There is a violence that enslaves, and a violence that liberates.“ And thinking Well it’s awful but at least it’s consistent—and then discovering the first is a quote from Che Guevara and the second from Benito Mussolini.

Words really do matter. They flesh out into consequences. Arguably, as much or more than Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey have blood on their hands—because of words. The founders, respectively, of Facebook and Twitter (one owns the other), eagerly stepped up to become the propaganda wings for the politics of terror, claiming wide-eyed innocence in being “just a platform for the world community.“ Yet hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim villagers slaughtered in Myanmar would testify otherwise.

In 1994, 500,000 Rwandans were killed in the course of 100 days. In its “media case,” the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 2003 held political leaders and media accountable for the false propaganda and the promotion of ethnic hatred that led to the genocide of the Tutsi population, convicting the two founders and directors of the infamous radio station RTLM and the editor in chief of the newspaper Kangura for direct public incitement to commit genocide. Yes, speech has consequences, as Navi Pillay and Jessica Neuwirth wrote in Pass Blue, the journal of independent coverage of the United Nations. Pillay served as president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the media trial and subsequently as a judge on the International Criminal Court and as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights; Neuwirth is the Rita Houser Director of the Human Rights Program at Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, Hunter College. They compellingly write that the groundwork had been laid for genocide well both before the death of the Rwandan president in a downed airplane. If the plane was the trigger, RTLM and Kangura were the bullets waiting in the gun. In the days following, mobs rushed through Kigali, the capital, hunting down and massacring political leaders before the genocide spread to murdering ordinary citizens. Pillay and Neuwirth also argue that despite the misguided view of absolutists that the First Amendment is a blank check for incitement of violence, accountability may finally be emerging in the United States, beginning with social media and the belated actions taken by Twitter and Facebook–and with hopefully imminent regulations. Moreover, impeachment, whatever the result, was recognition of Trump’s responsibility for the attack. Seeing the direct causal link between the mobilization of fear and fury and the fatal actions readily taken thereafter is imperative.

We must push hard and repeatedly for such regulations, and for the passage of a domestic terrorism law, which the United States deplorably lacks. And we have to employ legislation already on the books: after the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan launched white-supremacist insurrections all across the South to stop Black citizens and their allies from voting, and 150 years ago, President Ulysses S. Grant and Congress responded to those vigilante attacks with a groundbreaking law. Known as the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, it still protects Americans from political intimidation today. This past week, the Klan Act was cited in a federal lawsuit aimed at those involved in the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Filed by House of Representatives Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the lawsuit accuses Donald Trump, his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers of conspiring to violate the Klan Act and prevent Congress certifying Biden’s electoral victory.

We also need to get past the idea that there is a quick fix to this. There isn’t. This monster is a many headed hydra.
* There’s the Q-anon element, fed by FoxNews and, according to a recent NPR-Ipsos poll, influencing nearly half of all white men and rural residents.
* There’s the way the virus feeds into terrorism, the same way the 1918 flu epidemic in Germany fed into the pressures of bankruptcy, unpaid bills and taxes, and virus-related shut downs and job losses, which in turn increased voting for the Nazi party.
* Meanwhile, zealous wings of the white Christian evangelical movement overlap with both antiabortion terrorism and with online funding sites like GiveSendGo, who have hidden “major sponsors” but claim most donations are grassroots, and who specialize in funding groups such as the Proud Boys to the tune of $200,000 per person.
* There’s the presence of police and law-enforcement officials, and members of the U.S. military—all of them combat-trained—in the Oath Keepers “militia.” (In recent years, police or related agencies in Virginia, Florida, Nebraska, Louisiana, Michigan, and Texas have all fired officers who are members of the Ku Klux Klan.)
* And there was the presence of state and other local elected officials at the Capitol assault: more than a dozen state representatives participated in the rally and the surge into Congress, Including a state rep from Missouri, a city council member from California, a state senator from Virginia, an incoming Nevada assembly woman, and the founder of a group called Cowboys for Trump who bragged that he had a front row seat for the “blood running out of the building,” before returning to his post as an Otero County Commissioner in southern New Mexico. Among the high-profile participants in the riot was Derek Evans, a newly elected member of the West Virginia House of delegates, who filmed himself entering the Capitol.
* Last, but probably most crucial, the dark money—the deep dark money—behind domestic terror, the Rebekah Mercer and Koch Brother and Adelson and De Vos money, the money that buys senators and congresspeople who are collaborators in the supremacies, the money that was ruled viable and legitimate by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, and which awaits drastic revisiting.

It will take time, education, compassion, severity, deprogramming, demographic shifts, and time. But addressing home-grown terror has nothing to do with the moronic oversimplification of the right in mis-blaming “antifa,” or of the left, in chalking it all up to working-class discontent. Furthermore, progressives tend to dismiss some of the insurrectionists as ridiculous. After all, the guy in the wolf-bear cloak wearing horns! The chest beating yowls of beer-belly rioters? The sheer idiocy of people by the hundreds videoing themselves proudly for social media, as they desecrated the United States Capitol?! Yes, it is all absurd, and staggeringly stupid. But we have to understand that they didn’t think there was anything wrong with being identified by law enforcement as intruders, because so many of them were law-enforcement officers. What’s more, hadn’t Trump himself told them to come? And besides, all the official eyes were trained on the filthy foreign terrorists, weren’t they? We have got to get beyond the idea that just because something is ridiculous it’s not also lethal.

The emotional quotient still and always comes down to hysterical—and yes I use the word intentionally—manhood. Hysterical manhood includes those women who identify, even at the peril of their lives, with such men. Terrorism is a politics of identity, marrying patriarchy to technology. Without propaganda romanticizing the Hero myth, murder is a sordid business. But with the Hero myth, any act of violence is made not only possible but inevitable: the rapist is transformed into the seducer, the tyrant rules by divine right, the terrorist reconstitutes the hero (and the patriot). This is madness, as best summed up perhaps by one insurrectionist’s tweet: “Live for nothing, die for something.“ That politics of identity is a politics of death, of someone who yearns to pull existence itself down into extinction, into his own despair.

Death is one thing; an end to birth is something else. An end to birth is what we cannot permit. But we have the power to change this, starting now. I’m not just mixing my metaphors when I notice that a few days ago we landed a small car with a mini helicopter attached to it on a surface almost 300 million miles away. We sent it through space, time, and innumerable destructive obstacles to land it, as lightly as if it were a butterfly, safely on the planet Mars—and we remain in touch with it. Its mission is to search for water and thus for signs of life. Its name is Perseverance. If we can do that, we can find life here at home.