Never again... but how?
When the right is controlled by the extremist Trump wing
Well, my friends, yesterday I promised a long post about the subject of yesterday’s January 6th Hearing, revolved around. It’s a topic worthy of a series of books. Still, this must be discussed. I will do my very best to limit this to what is essential.
In order to keep such a broad topic manageable, I will break this up into a handful of shorter sections. This will help focus, both me at the keyboard and you, wherever you’re reading on the ideas I would like you to take-away for future consideration.
It is not hyperbole to say that these hearings are historical in the American experience. Benedict Arnold at the top of the traitorous heap, has now been replaced by Trump.
Like every other American voter, the Trump era has been an emotional roller coaster for me too. I intentionally did not write yesterday while still under the influence of my emotions. I am angry. Well to be fully honest… I’m furious with so many people and organizations which you will find described in section 3 below. A colleague calls this “righteous anger” because it is grounded in my personal morality and my long history of believing in and protecting our nation and its values.
On the other side, the right-wing, currently dominated by extremists of all types, is angry too. Their anger though is mostly manufactured anger by immoral professional influencers who have molded their identity for years, decades actually. Like most anger, it spikes most when threatened. The US and the democracy, our brilliant founders foresaw for us, is currently at significant risk by selfish, ideological extremists trying to undo a couple of centuries of a “shining city on the hill.”
Two sides angry with each other is by definition, a threat. When one side is motivated by morally deficient extremism, the threat is far more severe. We spent four bloody years killing each other over slavery which politicians refused to settle in the runup to Fort Sumpter. The religious rhetoric and economic ramifications of giving up the “peculiar institution” were prime factors of the imminent war. Southern Christianity could not see past racial barriers and developed religious rhetoric to underpin their insistence on maintaining the slave trade. Today’s right has done the same.
How exactly the US right has been influenced to become a threat to our unique democracy, is a professional specialty of mine. Without going into how this happens, just know that I and my peers have been keeping track of our slide into extremism, for decades. Yes, I’m that old.
Every time I research this topic or watch a January 6th Hearing, it triggers my anger. Still, I find it difficult to sustain anger at my family, friends and fellow citizens who have “drunk the Trump/ extremism Kool-Aid.” It’s difficult because I professionally understand that they’ve been conned by professionals in my field who know how to achieve subservience to an immoral ideology.
My question and what today’s post is about, is what happened, who is responsible and where do we go from here? Please follow along as I weave a lot of critical information into my narrative.
One final admonition before starting is: there is no dispute that Trump and colleagues planned and executed a military-styled, armed rebellion meant to overthrow the US government. My long professional experience, in and outside the intelligence world paints an irrefutable picture of corrupt, traitorous behavior. This is not in dispute by true, non-politically compromised, professionals.
1st a little background from my point of view
2nd the severity of the threat
3rd Who is to blame
4th Where do we go… from here
Take a deep breath and let’s get started.
1st a little background from my point of view
My wife, friends and professional colleagues consider me a bit obsessive about the credibility of sources. They are spot on. Like math, you simply cannot plug in facts, numbers, half-lies and conspiracy theories and expect to come up with well-reasoned answers to a problem. In the last 3/4s of my career, faulty information could easily lead to lethal consequences for the wrong person, friend or foe. Having retired from the Army in 2015, I have carried over my obsessive caution about sources, into my current work. I may not be the sharpest knife in-the-drawer, but I have experience, research skills and good, ‘ole fashioned, midwestern common-sense. Most of all, raised by a lifelong Republican mom and Democratic dad (both crossed party lines when facts dictated it) I was raised to give my fellow citizens… the benefit of doubt.
After retiring in the fall of 2015 and like many retiring military members, began using LinkedIn during the heat of primary season for the 2016 general election, which will live in infamy. As a recognized expert in the field of influence, I immediately noted the relationship between the now infamous, Russian “troll factory” and the US mid and far right. By the summer of 2016 I had already written a substantial report to my congressman, a former CIA officer about what the US right, still mostly denies, Russian support for Donald Trump. The online battles with trolls and right-wing ideologues, sometimes both, were intense. My congressman’s staff ignored my reporting and never passed it to Congressman Hurd, all the while sending me spam letters on different topics. No one was listening.
Very few in government were raising alarms until Candidate Trump became President Trump. By then, it was too late. Both Russia and the right, defended every word uttered by the man who would go on to plan and lead, an armed rebellion, in an attempt to overthrow the US government. The threat still exists but is now expanded.
I do not make this claim about an existential threat to our democracy lightly. Above all else, I am a true believer in the tenets of our nation and its values. The Trump folks have neither. This isn’t meant to be an insult but as the next section will demonstrate, it is simply a hard truth, that we all, Trump supports too, must swallow. They had been professionally influenced to adopt a identity described as patriotic but was actually… traitorous.
Bear with me please. This first section’s relevance will make more sense as we go.
2nd the severity of the threat
Or… truth is what folks do, not what they say
Analysis of threats is intended to determine the level of risk to whatever it is that you’re trying to protect. In this case, it is precisely to protect our democracy from mafia-styled authoritarianism, built on the Russian model. There are plenty of excellent terms that people use in the national security world use to describe things like this depending on who is analyzing and from what perspective. Those distinctions are less important here as that the far right, with ongoing Russian support can less about their intended style of government, so long as the cult leadership “wins.” In most cases, this means Trump. so long as a great many of Trump’s followers are either now in the Mike Flynn camp or at least share allegiances between the two. Remember, it’s Mike Flynn who had the military/ operational control of the assault on our Capital, led the planning, tactics etc.
Flynn also leads an extremist, Christian Nationalism movement that is very similar to the theocracy in Iran. Authoritarian, dishonest based on an extremely rigid, false ideology. If you really wish to have a better understanding of Mike Flynn’s threat to our democratic republic, I highly recommend the joint investigation by the Associated Press and Frontline. If you believe in what our founders bequeathed us all, this should terrify you.
January 6th was just one of the most significant threats stemming from the Trump, far right and Russian collaboration. Their collective activities have capitalized on the right’s decades long attempt to redefine what American patriotism actually is. We’ve been through this before, during my youth in the 60s, thru the early 70s, where it was the US left’s extremism, that was the threat to government and its function. Even then, I never believed that the dominant movement within the left was trying to destroy our form of government. Still, the attacks, propaganda and disruptive events either bordered on or were defacto extremist acts. The pendulum has now swung to the exact opposite direction and the primary difference is, the right is trying to destroy our form of democracy and replace it with authoritarianism or as some claim, fascism. The goal, a pseudo democracy better described as a replica of Putin’s Russia where democracy is a show-horse, not actual and all power is consolidated in one dictator’s hands, along with a few close allies and colleagues.
The irrefutable truth is that the Trump, far right and Russian joint efforts, intend to destroy our democracy by exposing, then exploiting distinct social issues, long plaguing our republic. This will render the US as the antithesis of democracy.
“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”
- Maya Angelou
Besides the threat of destroying US constitutional democracy, there are countless associated threats to all those who don’t precisely align themselves with the extremists. There is racial, religious, ethnic, gender violence, the assault on every belief system other than theirs. Even Christianity would be excluded unless it was the far-right version that flies in the face of the teachings of Christianity. Intolerance, hate, exclusion, racism etc. are but some of the violations of what many said a decade or so ago, “what would Jesus do,” better known by its acronym, WWJD. Somehow, with extremists as the thought police, love, compassion, forgiveness and charity would go out the door. This is the antithesis of WWJD.
Economically, Fascism destroys economies. No historical dictatorial nation in modern history has survived with their economy intact, over the long run. Sure, the elite do well but the rest of us working folks… we experience a modern form of indentured servitude to our overlords, or what the Russians called serfdom. A simple look at the economies of nearly all, “red states” clearly demonstrates this serfdom for lower- and middle-class, working citizens. As an example, Texas, after 27 years of exclusive and progressively extreme, right-wing leadership, sees high levels of poverty, poor education, extremely limited access to healthcare for these two classes of citizens. This is playing out across the country in states dominated by today’s version of the Republican party or rather the GOP which is controlled by its extremist wing. My home state growing up, Ohio and the state my mom’s side hail from, Missouri, are representative of this as well.
There is a lot, maybe too much in this section but it highlights the difference allowed under true American democracy and the intended version by the Trump crowd. If you are lower or middle class, the Trump version is a nightmare for you and your family’s future.
3rd Who is to blame
There is a very long list that are invested in an extremist, right-wing government, so I will pare the list down to the most severe.
1. Trump (enabled by his family)
a. The alleged billionaire is and has long lied about his wealth, rarely paid his bills and has been penalized (along with his father) for racist practices in his businesses, all the while screaming that he, not the others persecuted is the victim. This is a very tired act used to manipulate people to do his bidding.
b. His organized crimes connections, especially in New York, New Jersey and Russia are legendary.
c. His dependence on extremist movements like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, III%ers and a large, diverse variety of white supremacist, anti-government, ethic/ religious haters etc. are long cultivated and employed to do his bidding. Jan 6th, 2021 is a perfect example.
e. He cares about nothing but his own classic narcissism
2. The GOP
b. This makes the party itself, a threat to the nation, until or if, principled conservatives regain control.
c. Every vote for the GOP by a principled conservative only serves to help Trump and his extremists. The party is dominated by and operates as a bloc, to enforce the extremist agenda of Trump. Yes, it’s that simple.
3. Right wing extremist movements and media
a. A simple glance at the banners, flags, tattoos, symbology on display during the January 6th armed insurrection is demonstrable of the absolute support for Trump by all manner of right-wing extremists
4. Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Tucker Carlson etc.
a. These names, especially Stone and Flynn are extreme threats to our democracy. Stone is infamous and is an admitted, “dirty trickster” with morality on the scale of an ameba. Flynn is a holy warrior operating a movement not unlike ISIS or AQ.
a. Russia and the Soviet Union have operated against the US and the West, especially NATO for decades in the realm of influence. They call this Active Measures. It is literally part of Russian doctrine. Beginning at the very earliest stages of the Cold War, the Soviets attempted to undermine the strength of the West, somewhat led by the US by finding cracks in our society and exploiting them to cause civil unrest and disunity.
d. One of the primary objectives of Active Measures is to divide US and Western democracies in order to weaken alliances and the unity built around national identity. One of the methods is to push an alternate, divisive identity that obliterates the highest unifying values of a nation. This is what FOX has been doing for decades.
e. The key to influencing audiences as with FOX and other extremist propaganda is to be able to predictably “trigger” your preferred response in that audience.
f. In Russia’s and the global right-wing movements/ populism we are currently experiencing, the same dynamics are present.
g. If you don’t understand an audience’s identity, the other way to influence is to “build your own identity in an audience.”
h. There are many narrative concepts that help understand identity but for the sake of simplicity, I will assert from a professional point of view, that Russian and global far-right movements have been working for decades to create an easily triggered audience. When I say predicably triggered, just assume that it is very much like “Pavlov’s dog.” This is called “conditioning” an audience
i. Finally, Russia played an extraordinary role in Trump winning the 2016 election. Despite the massive efforts by right-wing media to discredit this as a “hoax,” they have failed. Their efforts are well-documented in intelligence, research and professional writings, including the five volume report done by the SSCI, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The evidence within is beyond damning, including the overt threat to the US by Russia.
j. For the record, Russia is habitually involved in Active Measures around the globe, especially with US allies and partners by exploiting far right extremism.
a. One of the primary objectives of Active Measures is to divide US and Western democracies in order to weaken alliances and the unity built around national identity. One of the methods is to push an alternate, divisive identity that obliterates the highest unifying values of a nation. This is what FOX has been doing for decades.
b. The key to influencing audiences as with FOX and other extremist propaganda is to be able to predictably “trigger” your preferred response in that audience.
c. In Russia’s and the global right-wing movements/ populism we are currently experiencing, the same dynamics are present.
d. If you don’t understand an audience’s identity, the other way to influence is to “build your own identity in an audience.”
e. There are many narrative concepts that help understand identity but for the sake of simplicity, I will assert from a professional point of view, that Russian and global far-right movements have been working for decades to create an easily triggered audience. When I say predicably triggered, just assume that it is very much like “Pavlov’s dog.” This is called “conditioning” an audience
f. Finally, Russia played an extraordinary role in Trump winning the 2016 election. Despite the massive efforts by right-wing media to discredit this as a “hoax,” they have failed. Their efforts are well-documented in intelligence, research and professional writings, including the five volume report done by the SSCI, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The evidence within is beyond damning, including the overt threat to the US by Russia.
g. For the record, Russia is habitually involved in Active Measures around the globe, especially with US allies and partners by exploiting far right extremism.
4th Where do we go… from here
Yes, I am an optimist
Now for the most important piece of this article about the threat revolving around January 6th. Make no mistake about it, this will be tough. Altering the worldview of extremism can take decades, if it works at all. Like me, please check your anger at the door, take a deep breath and let’s see how we avert this lethal threat to our nation and all that it stands for.
First and foremost, we must stop permitting tribalized politics to be the most important part of our identity. This is tough and even with some success, will take a generation or more. Still, we must start somewhere and time is running out to get going. Secondly and as described above, those we’re closest to and that are still under the influence of right-wing extremist media, FOX included will need to be allowed back into our world, but with caution. They will not recover from their radical views completely. This means creating an America where it’s shameful to act on their beliefs.
In my long years in CT, Counterterrorism I learned a hard and painful fact; when people start down radical paths, they can normally only be “saved” up until the point that they cross the threshold into violent extremism. Violent extremism does not always mean actual violence but the willingness to put your crazy on public display, inciting more extremism. Even among the best professionals, keeping violent extremists from recurring adventures into it, are somewhat rare. Rabies being incurable, is a good comparison. My professional opinion is that no matter what they say, the January 6th crowd will never privately give up their extremism. They may be shamed into hiding their true beliefs, but they will never fully disappear. All Americans swallowing their pride a bit will allow us all to live by true American values instead of those willing opposed to those who won’t.
This last paragraph means that for family members, friends and others we know that jumped into the Trump movement will likely never change entirely. We must simply accept this. Don’t forget, the “pied pipers” who led our loved ones astray triggered behavior that was already susceptible to influence. A good saying here is, “a leopard doesn’t change its spots.”
Knowing that the vulnerabilities in the Trump crowd are still existent, even though increasingly hidden from shame imposed on them publicly, they are still vulnerable to triggering. This raises the basis for our first viable step to mitigate this extremism. Marginalize the fully radicalized crowd.
In the Civil Rights era, the Klan was marginalized, and they had to take their hate underground. This was the result of some very fine work by the FBI and the steadily increasing intolerance by most of America for such disturbing activities. Yes, the KLAN, like all extremist groups thrive on anti-American values. They are NOT patriots.
In the Newt Gingrich era, the right engaged in scorched earth politics, heralding an era where it was nearly impossible to cross party lines. That alone is as un-American as it gets. Our nation is built on the premise that we all get a voice and few if any, get their way exclusively. Extremists demand absolute control, not democracies. Have you noticed how the current version of the GOP always accuses the opposition of curtailing free speech? That is called projection or seeing their own sins in the opposition.
Once we accept that we cannot change the rigid ideologues, we must demand that both political parties stop their unwillingness to talk to and work with each other. It is absolutely in our power to have a far better crop of representatives. Both parties just tell you that this isn’t achievable so you must stick with them… exclusively.
Americans must demand, not ask that all media stops acting like the profit driven in the marketing industry, where there’s nothing, they won’t do to get a better, “bottom line.” Let’s remember that our founding document were grounded and built around morals, ethics and freedom.
This brings me to today’s final point. With the “Citizen’s United” decision by the US Supreme Court, they unleashed all the demons of crony capitalism. Elite corporations now buy the government they want. Candidates spend most of their time chasing those enormous campaign donations and then get something in return. Most often it means that they have a plethora of tax avoidance opportunities that we the people, don’t have. Corporate and other “1%” greed is the driving factor behind so much national level legislation. In a true democracy, this doesn’t occur but somehow, our SCOTUS did not or refused to see the human weakness for corruption.
Finally, as I come to the end, I will restate without equivocation, that Donald Trump is a most severe national security threat. When the entire story of the classified documents is revealed, or as least as much as can be made public, you will find a traitor. For those on the right with the courage, they will finally acknowledge that he did in fact conspire with Russia to steal the 2016 election. During his administration, not one true US value was supported. Trump and his cronies ran the US government the same as a mob boss runs their turf, decency be damned.
What I am most proud of are those on both sides who have scrupulously adhered to real American values and protected our 2020 election. It’s long overdue that US political parties come under intense public scrutiny. I would even go so far as to say that, any politician who does not support absolute transparency in campaign finance, is failing America’s true values. When money, like all of the other pillars of power are achieved by high political office, only the most insincere and corrupt will run for office. That is not what James Madison, the author of our Constitution envisioned. Many of our founders had their faults, especially by modern standards. What they did not lack was wisdom and the fire within to build something far better for humanity. I am fed up with those who are sworn to uphold those values, using our government as a piggy ban and embracing any set of values, no matter how extreme to maintain power.
Donald Trump and his minions are still that threat. That is irrefutable. The question is, who among us will demand integrity in November’s election, rather than loyalty to party, over country?
The best way to erode the influence of extremism is for the majority of our citizens to demonstrate at the polls that it’s not acceptable. We also must support accountability for those who attacked and still threaten our republic. We have an extraordinary set of national values bequeathed to us by our founders. Who will join me in protecting those values in the most American way possible? At the polls.
As a final note and as that this topic is a severe threat, I would be grateful for any sharing you feel comfortable with. The quickest way to dampen extremism is to remove leadership from office. This allows time to rebuild… the American way.