The War on Terror, Redux: Now with more domestic spying and improved censorship

US citizens are now al-Qaida or Lost Causers after the Civil War.  A former President is bin Laden or perhaps Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, maybe the founder of the KKK.  His supporters are all suspects, where they gather and communicate needs to be infiltrated, and this is just the beginning.

They say all that’s old is new again, but perhaps some things should be confined to the dustbin of history.  In this case, the War on Terror is back, it’s now domestic, and the government has better surveillance powers than ever.  Also, aided by private companies, they can censor more content and people than anyone ever imagined.

What could go wrong?

Full disclosure:  I originally supported the actions taken after 9-11 including the War on Terror and the Patriot Act.  I was young and believed the government was trying to do it’s best to deal with a never before seen threat.  As a result, I found arguments from both classical liberals and libertarians unpersuasive.

Twenty years later, however, I admit I was wrong, completely wrong.

Never did I imagine that the Patriot Act, for example, would lead to the collection of every cell phone record, or that we would still be in Afghanistan, in fact ultimately returning it to the Taliban.  You could say I learned my lesson.  Unfortunately, it seems I am one of the few:  This time around, liberals are the ones proposing the most radical policies, buoyed by a few conservatives.

First, however, let’s take a step back and look at what is driving this.

The renewed focus on domestic terrorism and the need to vastly incease the government’s power to stop it has been prompted by the attack on the Capitol Building on January 6.  The event is already being compared to the JFK assassination and 9-11.

Myra Adams, a former McCain speechwriter, writing for RealClearPolitics, claims these are events that changed “everything.”  By everything, she means “I mean events that so dramatically altered the course of history in one 24-hour period that the ‘day after’ ushered in a new era.”

Though Ms. Adams admits that “many facts, villains, perpetrators, and collaborators are to be determined, Ms. Adams asks, rhetorically, “Have we met the enemy, and he is ‘us,’ chanting ‘USA, USA’?”  She continues, “The Capitol remains a fortress and a crime scene. Hence, it is too early for grand conclusions about precisely how Jan. 6 will alter and impact U.S. history, except to say that it will.”

How she knows that is left unsaid, but she isn’t alone in this belief.

After the attack on the Capitol, Washington DC was turned into a “green zone” with over 20,000 National Guard troops in place for an inauguration with less attendees than soldiers.  The mainstream media breathlessly repeated reports that other attacks were imminent, both in the capital and in every state house in the country.  There were even rumors, promulgated by our own military, that members of the National Guard itself might try to assassinate Joe Biden.  Big Tech responded by blocking accounts, policing content, and clamping down on anything even tangentially related.

Yahoo! News reports that counter terrorism experts are warning the “Attack on the Capitol was the beginning of an American insurgency.”  Comparisons, without evidence to the use the phrase of the day, are being made to al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.

Retired Army General Stanley McChrystal, former head of Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq, claimed “I did see a similar dynamic in the evolution of al-Qaida in Iraq, where a whole generation of angry Arab youth with very poor prospects followed a powerful leader who promised to take them back in time to a better place, and he led them to embrace an ideology that justified their violence. This is now happening in America.”

Trump, of course, is bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi  in this scenario. 

“It will be a generational challenge for us,” says Elizabeth Neumann, who served former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security under President Trump.  “We have to go after the people doing the incitement, the people who are very serious about doing these attacks, with the same intensity that we did with Al Qaeda.”  “This might be a slight overstep,” she said about comparisons between Trump and bin Laden, but still the former President “was that spiritual leader that bin Laden was for Al Qaeda. He was that face, and that spokesperson, that rallied the troops.”

Not satisfied merely with unfounded comparisons to international terrorism, McChrystal went all the way back to the post Civil War period and the unrest caused by the future Ku Klux Klan.  “Only President Trump has updated Lost Cause with his ‘Stop the Steal’ narrative that they lost because of a stolen election, and that is the only thing holding these people down and stopping them from assuming their rightful place in society.  That gives them legitimacy to become even more radical. I think we’re much further along in this radicalization process, and facing a much deeper problem as a country, than most Americans realize.”

“The entire movement read Trump’s tweet — ‘Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!’ — as another green light,” further explains Bruce Hoffman, a senior fellow for counterterrorism and homeland security at the Council on Foreign Relations. “With these constant green lights, Trump has unleashed very powerful forces that he nor anyone else can control. In that sense, what happened in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 was a beginning, not an end. In the minds of Trump’s hard-core supporters it was the beginning of a revolution.”

The experts warn these extremist groups are organizing for coordinated, concerted action. “The United States today is basically the Mecca of white supremacist ideologues,”  said Ali Soufan, a former FBI supervisory special agent and counterterrorism expert.  “I worked with the State Department to designate as terrorists an extreme white supremacist group in Russia that has many ties to U.S.-based groups…If the Nordic Front is a threat to the U.S., that means they have some connection to activities here. There are also [right-wing] extremist groups in Canada designated as terrorist organizations by our ‘Five Eyes’ allies, but they still operate with impunity here in the United States. That has to stop.”  

That no real evidence has been presented for these claims, that Trump himself has insisted many, many times protests must be peaceful and violence has no place in the movement, nor is any prominent voice anywhere advocating overthrowing the American government, much less funding and coordinating such a thing, or even that the attack on the Capitol was likely the result of poor security and planning more than anything else is irrelevant.

The big-E establishment has determined some segment of Trump voters is the new threat, and the government must have the powers to crush it.

The vehicle to do the crushing, or at least the first step in the crushing, is a potential domestic terrorism bill, The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2019. Note this bill was somehow drafted two years ago, long before the attack on the Capitol, making it more than a little odd that Congress just happened to have the perfect remedy ready in advance.  The purpose of the bill is “To authorize dedicated domestic terrorism offices within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to analyze and monitor domestic terrorist activity and require the Federal Government to take steps to prevent domestic terrorism.”

After thundering, once again without evidence, that “White supremacists and other far-right-wing extremists are the most significant domestic terrorism threat facing the United States,” the bill organizes new domestic terrorism offices and requires annual reporting on domestic threats and hate crimes, which are now apparently terrorist acts without explicitly saying so.  Then we get to the good stuff, listed almost as an afterthought towards the end, the bill enables FBI, state, local, and other authorities to “share intelligence to address domestic terrorism activities,” “conduct an annual, intelligence-based assessment of domestic terrorism activities, and “formulate and execute a plan to address and combat domestic terrorism activities.”

What does this mean?

As Glenn Greenwald reports on Substack, Tom Elliot, a former CIA and Pentagon employee, explained to MSNBC that we need “reset our entire intelligence approach,” “looking at greater surveillance of them,” and even that the FBI is “going to have to run confidential sources” against American citizens.

Big Tech is also a critical player in the proceedings:  Alex Stamos, a former Facebook official, expects social media companies “in collaboration with law enforcement” to shut down “conservative influencers.”  “Press freedoms are being abused by these actors…We have given a lot of leeway — both in the traditional media and in social media — to people with a very broad range of views,” Stamos explained.  Now, however, we need to “get us all back in the same consensual reality.”

This reality will, necessarily, be dictated exclusively by them in their munificent wisdom. They decide how much leeway you have to speak your mind, and you will surely be judged on even your tangential associations.  “Who you associate with matters,” Neumann says. “If you don’t want the violence, then don’t provide the cover for the violence.”

Translation:  Be careful what page or posts you like on Facebook.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Texas Democrat, agrees. “On January 6, terrorists attacked the United States of America,” she said on the House floor during the debate to impeach Trump a second time. “Those who came and participated must be found and prosecuted.  Those who aided and abetted must be found and prosecuted.”

What form that aiding and abetting needs to have taken is left unsaid.  Is she referencing material support or just moral support, as in I think changes to election law affected the outcome and I’m concerned about the integrity of our elections? How about Senators and Congressman who exercised their lawful right to object? Is the free exercise of our Constitutional rights now subject to arrest?

At least for the time being, citizens of the United States remain protected by the Bill of Rights and it’s unclear how easily the intrusive techniques used against foreign adversaries could be ported home.  “You could monitor overseas terrorists for what they were saying, even if they hadn’t yet radicalized to violence. Domestically, it’s a different story,” explains Thomas Warrick, a counterterrorism expert at the Department of Homeland Security from 2008 to 2019.  “Constitutional boundaries have to be respected.”

How far those protections extend remains an open question, however.  Soufan, for example, believes Biden can designate far-right extremist groups as terrorist organizations to unleash the full force of the government.  “They are on par with the jihadis, if not worse,” he explains.  Like Ms. Adams, he compares the attack on the Capitol to 9-11. “I look at it as one of these events in our history like Pearl Harbor, like 9/11, that woke up a sleeping giant.”

Who exactly is the sleeping giant in this scenario?  A massively empowered, clearly unconstitutional police state spying on everyone at home and swooping in anytime someone says something objectionable, armed with the tools to crush political opponents?  Does any reasonable person truly believe anything good can come from this?

US citizens are now al-Qaida or Lost Causers after the Civil War.  A former President is bin Laden or perhaps Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, maybe the founder of the KKK.  His supporters are all suspects, where they gather and communicate needs to be infiltrated, and this is just the beginning.

Don’t believe me?  “This is the first step in a long procession of actions we have to take to make sure we address the issue of other Americans terrorizing other Americans in this great country,.” explains Lou Correa, Democrat from California.

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