Friday, January 15, 2021

Why the Riots Must Be Called an Insurgency

    It was just two Wednesdays ago when our government was under attack in a way we hadn't seen since 9/11. Mention the word "riot" and anyone in North America who hasn't been living under a rock since January 6th will automatically know to which riot you're referring.
    As scholar Steven Metz wrote nine years ago, "The enduring nature of insurgency includes three core functions: an insurgency must survive, it must strengthen itself, and it must weaken the power structure or state." There are three major types of insurgencies in the world today. The first is what he calls "the gold standard"- The proto-state. The supreme example of this is Mao's revolution of the late 40s (and I would add the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917).
    The overarching goal is a proto-state insurgency, as its name suggests, is to replace the existing state through acts of subversion, terrorism, psyops and guerilla warfare. Again, the examples that most readily spring to mind are the Chinese and Russian revolutions of the first half of the 20th century.
    The second is the non-political, which seeks not to supplant the state but to sufficiently weaken it to the point where the perceived yokes suppressing personal liberties of the insurgents are cast off. This is the very definition of libertarianism. Fewer taxes, fewer regulation, fewer laws.
    The third model most closely resembles the Civil War of 1861-1865- It seeks to replace the existing state but is limited to gradual gains on account of an inability to gain large amounts of territory. This was the ultimate goal of the confederacy as it had made several attempts to take Washington, DC.
    What we saw on January 6th was a confusing and confused hodge-podge containing elements of all three. The current fury of the radical right wing against the government is long-standing but one largely if not entirely based on a pack of lies advanced by one man- Donald Trump.
    The result was the bizarre spectacle of tens of thousands of parttime rioters marching on the Capitol and literally tearing it apart with their bare hands ostensibly in the interests of saving our democratic system of government and its institutions (in this case, elections).  It was the classic case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, the baby being our electoral integrity and the bathwater being Democratic and Republican elected officials who sought to certify the Electoral College results that same day.
    Adding an element of bizarreness to the whole thing was the man who'd spearhaded and drove the insurgency to its intended and logical conclusion just happened to be the more or less elected head of one of our three branches of government. Again, that man was Donald Trump.
   That automatically pulls out the rug from January 6th's riots being labelled a proto-state, unless Trump's ultimate aim was to actually supplant our democratic system of government with a fascist, autocratic one (and one can make a pretty good case that that's what Trump had intended to do since riding down that escalator in 2015.).
    Yet all insurgencies have one thing in common- It depends on the disaffection of a powerless and voiceless working class that seeks to grab power through abrupt, chaotic means, gradual incremental change or even not supplanting the state but to wrest freedom from it and to hell with those who don't prize their personal liberties enough to fight for them.
    But one thing is clear, if nothing else- They had help, they had financing, they were given intelligence from within and the riot didn't just spontaneously begin. We had warning signs. Let's look at the third model again. Metz writes:
They use a dispersed, networked organization and rely on the swarming method of attacks dominated by terrorism rather than guerrilla or conventional military operations. To augment their ability to survive and increase their own strength, they develop an important transnational dimension. Since traditional, Maoist style insurgencies seek to carve out, administer, and govern “liberated areas,” they are intimately connected to specific locales and populations in those locales.
     The latest model for that is the takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon five years ago. It was a 41 day-long siege that was more comical than anything else and, unlike the riots that happened five years later almost to the day, this one had piss poor prior planning written all over it and was (despite one man being shot dead by federal authorities) more comical than anything.
    But beyond the bathos, the anti-government sentiment behind the siege was anything but funny. Virtually every person there was armed and their intent was to show they could take over federal property as they saw fit if the government wasn't willing to turn over that land on demand. This more closely resembles the second, more passive and unnamed type of insurgency that seeks not to replace the government but to wrest back some self-perceived liberties and properties. And even this all started with militant leader Ammon Bundy's father's fight with federal authorities over grazing rights in Nevada.
    We'd gotten signs as recently as last year when last spring saw protests at state capitols run by both Democratic and Republican governors, most notably in Lansing, Michigan. In fact, the screaming hordes calling for Mike Pence to be hung were eerily presaged by the arrest of a self-styled militia whose ultimate aim was to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer, make her stand for a kangaroo court trial, behead her on live national tv and burn down the state capitol building while it was at full occupancy. During the worst day of the Lansing riots, screaming rioters were stopped at the very doors of the legislative chambers by Michigan state police.
     And, as we'd seen in the anti-mask/anti-lockdown protests in many states, this showed "a dispersed, networked organization and rel(ied) on the swarming method of attacks" that had finally found its nexus in our nation's Capitol and, at the center of that, one Donald John Trump.
    With little, if any, plausible deniability, Trump had called on his information-starved supporters to march on the Capitol at the exact moment the Congress and his own vice president were about to officially announce once and for all that he lost the 2020 election (It was to certify Biden's win but Trump saw it, as usual, in purely personal terms).
     To guarantee their passion and determination, Trump even said he'd march alongside them as if he was Zapata or Pancho Villa or some other tinpot wouldbe dictator in a proto-state revolution. They had blood in their eyes and no one apparently noted that the New York oligarch promising to march beside them from behind a plexiglass shield, instead, slunk back indoors to watch the results from the safety and security of the White House. The fact that Pence and not Trump was evacuated to a safe, remote location in itself speaks volumes.
     As Andrew Perez and David Sirota wrote last week, "Last week’s right-wing riot at the Capitol was egged on by politicians and organizations that have received substantial dark-money funding from corporate interests. It's past time to enact reforms to end the era of dark money — and find out who exactly is bankrolling the anti-democratic far right."
     If we want to avoid situations like January 6th in the future, we need to do many things. But, as it's always smarter to fight a fire at its base, the first thing we should do is starve right wing politicians and insurgency/terrorist groups of the funding that made January 6th possible, to begin with. Yes, we need to harden security at the Capitol but that's just a stopgap measure that addresses only the symptoms and not the disease itself. 
     Law enforcement needs to get smarter and take more seriously a clear and present danger (After all, it can't be said the rioters are averse to social media or announcing their intentions beforehand). And they need to weed out right wing political extremists within their ranks and keep only those who will enforce the law through an apolitical prism.


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