Empires: rises and falls, so now what?

The US was the dominant world power after WWII but has been failing, compounded by desperate plans for hegemony and appalling errors and lies over a long period. Many other countries are complicit.

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Civil war in the US?

Civil war in the US  By David Kilcullen, The Australian, 30 May 2020

Coronavirus is threatening to ignite a tinderbox of grievances in the US. The growing parallels with Iraq, Lebanon and Somalia are real and disturbing.

By DAVID KILCULLEN

The rise of militias and armed protesters across the US is sometimes seen as a fringe right-wing issue, but it is much broader. Armed groups have formed across the political spectrum, worsening divisions the coronavirus has exposed in American society.

As I write, there are 1.7 million coronavirus cases in the US and more than 100,000 deaths. The little county where I live — only a half-million people, in a part-urban, part-wilderness area of the Rocky Mountains — has a death toll higher than Australia and New Zealand combined. And this is one of the safe places, positively benign compared with hot spots such as New York or New Jersey with deaths in the tens of thousands.

Second to its health impact, the economic crisis wrought by ­government-imposed lockdowns has grabbed the most attention: 40 million Americans were forced on to the dole in the past 10 weeks. The job market, strong until mid-March, has fallen off a cliff. A flood of bankruptcies is sweeping US business; analysts expect a wave of municipal bankruptcies as tax ­revenue collapses. Congress has committed $US2 trillion ($3 trillion) in crisis spending, even as public debt nears $US30 trillion, or roughly 120 per cent of gross domestic product. If the first wave of the coronavirus tsunami was its health effect, the second — economic devastation — may be worse. But there is a third wave coming: the possibility of armed conflict towards the end of this year, when the combined health and economic impacts of the crisis will peak amid the most violently contested presidential election in memory.

Protesters, some heavily armed, are out in force to demand reopening of the economy. The husband of one leader posted a Facebook video this week expressing his readiness to take up arms against the government to prevent a “new world order” being imposed through lockdowns.

READ MORE:President vows to send in army|Trump faces a dangerous test|Race riots spread after death of unarmed black man|Why the US is in serious trouble

There were already many militias of varying political complexions across America — one pro-militia website lists 361 groups across all 50 states. Membership surged after the 2008 financial crisis, then accelerated as thugs from both political extremes fought each other with baseball bats, ­bicycle chains and pepper spray in the streets of Washington, DC, Seattle, Portland and Detroit. The deadly “Unite the Right” rally in the normally sleepy university town of Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 brought the danger home to many Americans, but the trend was longstanding.

Rioting among groups such as Antifa (on the anarchist left), Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys (on the alt-right) and mass demonstrations by issue-motivated groups such as Black Lives Matter, ­Extinction Rebellion and the Women’s March kicked into high gear after Donald Trump’s election.

Far-left militias such as Redneck Revolt and the John Brown Gun Club emerged, copying the methods and military-style weapons of right-wing militias while opposing their politics. Both far-right and far-left armed groups were at Charlottesville, with ­cadres of gun-carrying militants guarding protesters on both sides and a third-party “constitutionalist” militia, the Oath Keepers — composed mainly of military and law-enforcement veterans — standing by as self-appointed umpires.

In the west, a separate rural militia movement had already coalesced around “sovereign citizen” groups that rejected federal authority. Despite media portrayals of its leaders as racially motivated, in fact the sovereign citizen ideology is neither left nor right in a traditional sense — it might better be described as a form of militant libertarianism with roots in the self-reliant cowboy culture of the old west. In April 2014, a dispute over grazing rights in Nevada triggered an armed stand-off between militia and federal agencies including the Bureau of Land Management and the FBI. This dispute — over federal attempts to impound the cattle of a rancher named Cliven Bundy — brought hundreds of militia members from across the country to Nevada where they surrounded federal agents, trained weapons on them and forced them to back down.

The 2014 stand-off ended in a bloodless militia victory, but almost two years later Bundy’s son Ammon led an armed occupation of the headquarters of a federal wildlife refuge in southeastern Oregon. This time, things went the other way. The occupation prompted a six-week siege by federal and state agencies in January-February 2016. It resulted in the death of LaVoy Finicum, a charismatic Arizona rancher whose killing, captured on government aerial-camera footage that appears to show him with hands raised in surrender before being shot, made him a martyr.

Though Trump is as much a symptom as a cause of America’s toxic polarisation, the passions he inspires among friend and foe alike have exacerbated it: during the 2016 election campaign, ­Arizona militias mounted armed patrols to support his border wall. In response, Redneck Revolt held a heavily armed show of force in Phoenix, Arizona, later posting a YouTube video showing members shooting semiautomatic rifles at targets displaying alt-right symbols. A few months later, Antifa convened an “anti-colonial anti-fascist community defence gathering” near Flagstaff, Arizona, that included weapons training and coaching in anti-police tactics. Today, far-left and far-right groups operate within close striking distance of each other in several border states and in “contested zones” including the Pacific Northwest, parts of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas.

A Youtube still of Neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division training outside Seattle.

The pandemic — and the grievances inspired by heavy-handed responses to it — have brought these tensions to a head. Camouflage-clad militia sporting semiautomatic rifles and body ­armour and riding in military-­surplus trucks joined an armed protest against the governor of Pennsylvania in April. Similar protests took place in Ohio and North Dakota. A week later demonstrators, some carrying AK-47 rifles, swarmed into the state ­capital in Lansing, Michigan, to confront politicians.

A racial edge also emerged: a week after the Lansing incident a group of African-Americans, armed with AR-15 rifles and automatic pistols, mounted a show of force outside the Michigan State Capitol building to support a black member of the legislature. Class inequities, which track closely with racial disparities here, have prompted socialist groups — notably Antifa but also traditionally nonviolent Trotskyist and anarchist networks — to arm themselves for an incipient revolutionary moment.

In Minneapolis, the killing by white police officers of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, brought thousands of protesters on to the streets for several nights of rioting, with multiple buildings and cars burned and shopping malls and restaurants looted. By Thursday, militarised police were on the streets firing tear gas and rubber bullets against vociferous opposition. At least one person has been killed in the riots and the Minnesota National Guard is expected to join the police in attempting to restore order.

Thus, far from being a purely right-wing phenomenon, rifts within US society that are most stressed by the coronavirus — urban versus rural interests, racial and class tensions, state overreach versus anti-government militancy, far left against alt-right, “collectivist” coastal elites versus rugged individualists in “flyover country” — align with pre-existing grievances. And heavily armed ­actors across the spectrum are poised to exploit them.

One reason for the overemphasis on right-wing extremism, I believe, is that analysts often mis­characterise armed actors as “hate groups”. It is absolutely true that the intense hatred from right-wing extremists dwarfs most other groups. But the focus on hate is a misunderstanding of what drives violence in internal conflicts.

As Stathis Kalyvas demonstrated a decade ago in The Logic of Violence in Civil War, the worst atrocities are driven not by hate but by fear. Fear of other groups, encroachment of those groups into one’s territory and collapse of confidence in government’s ability to impartially keep the peace are the key factors that provoke communal violence. Hate follows and rationalises fear, not the other way around. And fear of the coronavirus, alongside the demonstrable inability of government to keep people safe, is driving today’s growth in armed militancy.

To me, current conditions feel disturbingly similar to things I have seen in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and Colombia. Indeed, the theory of guerrilla and unconventional warfare fits today’s situation all too well.

If we visualise an armed movement as a pyramid, then the thousands of protesters on the street (and the tens of thousands who support and sympathise with them but stay home) represent the mass base. A smaller group of organisers and support networks (physical and virtual) plays an auxiliary role further up the pyramid. The armed, gun-toting element is smaller still, but higher in skill, weaponry, organisation and motivation. It’s worth remembering that almost three million Americans served in Iraq and Afghanistan, coming home familiar with urban and rural guerrilla warfare to a country where 41 per cent of people own a gun or live with someone who does.

The US has no national firearms register, so only estimates are possible, but analysts believe around 100 million firearms are in private hands in the US, and hundreds of billions of rounds of ammunition. Given widespread com­bat experience from the war on terror, this reservoir of military potential sets the US apart from any other Western democracy.

The pandemic has seen a surge in gun purchases, with background checks spiking to their highest number. Many of these are first-time buyers from the ­pro­gressive end of politics, who traditionally shun firearms and have little knowledge of weapon safety.

More worrying, on left and right, are underground groups including so-called “accelerationists”. These tend to be small, secretive and far more violent than the militias or mass movements. They follow a decentralised command-and-­control philosophy known as “leaderless resistance” that was pioneered by far-right groups in the 1980s but has since been taken up by terrorists across the political spectrum, including jihadists. Their goal is to accelerate the collapse of a social order they see as doomed, by bringing on a racial war, a class war or both.

Underground networks operate using a clandestine cell structure, and communicate via the deep web and tools such as Telegram or RocketChat, secure-messaging apps that have become havens for extremists as more open channels, including chat rooms such as the neo-Nazi forum Iron March, have been shut down.

Language policing on social media has not only pushed accelerationist groups underground; it has created a whole new language.

The term “Boogaloo” is widely used for the coming civil war. Variants — coined to avoid Twitter censors — include “The Big Igloo” or “The Big Luau”, the last explaining why Hawaiian shirts are popular among militias. Memes from television (“Winter is Coming”, “Cowabunga”) are popular, as are meme-based references such as “Spicy Time” or acronyms such as BAMN (“by any means necessary”) and BFYTW (“because f..k you, that’s why”). Some call the urban guerrilla aspect of the Boogaloo “Minecrafting”: Twitter threads seeming to discuss the game may actually refer to the coming conflict — context is everything. Some discussion hides in plain sight on social media: more open, practical and gruesome conversations are left to the deep web, Telegram or neo-Nazi sites such as Daily Stormer, which ­resides on the orphaned former Soviet “.su” internet domain as a way to avoid censorship. Doctoral dissertations could be written on the kaleidoscope of visual symbols used by groups, left and right, to signal allegiances.

Accelerationism has a long history on the Marxist left and among environmental activists such as Earth Liberation Front or Earth First! It has since been embraced by right-wing extremists including 2019 Christchurch killer Brenton Tarrant, whose manifesto included environmentalist ideology and was celebrated by neo-Nazi ecoterrorist group Green Brigade.

Other right-wing accelerationist groups include Atomwaffen ­Division (which has a presence in Australia) and The Base, a white-supremacist group founded in mid-2018 whose name is a play on al-Qa’ida (“the base” in Arabic). FBI agents targeted The Base after its members allegedly sought to ­attack a massive pro-gun rally outside the Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond in January. In a classic accelerationist move, they planned to infiltrate the rally, start shooting both protesters and law enforcement officers, provoke a massacre and thereby convert a peaceful ­(albeit armed) demonstration into a militant uprising.

The group’s leader, until recently known by his nom de guerre “Norman Spear”, was unmasked in January as Rinaldo Nazzaro, a New Jersey native based in St Peters­burg, Russia, from where he directed cells in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. There is no public evidence of any relationship between Nazzaro and Russian intelligence, though his presence in Russia triggered speculation in the media and within The Base itself. But this highlights another risk factor for 2020: the possibility of foreign interference astride the upcoming presidential election.

The US and China are fast descending into a new cold war, as recriminations over the pandemic heighten conflicts that were already acute. Each is seeking to improve its military position against the other: the Chinese navy has ramped up activity in the South China Sea, for example, while US forces mounted more incursions into the area in the past three months than in all of last year. China’s history of sponsoring agents of influence in the US and other Western countries (including Australia) and its track record of cyber-espionage and technology theft make it a reasonable assumption that some (with or without official backing) may be considering ways to exploit America’s internal tensions. Indeed, it would be intelligence malpractice if they were not.

Likewise, Iran — which lost Qassem Soleimani, head of its Revolutionary Guards covert action arm, the Quds Force, to a US drone strike in January — has been on a path of military confrontation with the US for years. A ­series of incidents in the Middle East and the increasing pain of US economic sanctions motivate Tehran to create internal distractions for the US, relieving pressure on itself. The regime has a history of sponsoring lethal covert action inside the US — most recently in 2011, when Quds Force members recruited a criminal gang in an ­attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador by bombing an upscale Washington, DC, restaurant.

Again, there is no public evidence of such activity at present, but ­Iranian operatives watching the US today would be remiss not to consider it.

If interference does occur, US armed groups probably would not know it. Just as members of The Base were dismayed to discover their leader living in Russia, militant groups in the US — many of which are patriotic, albeit opposed to the current character of government — would likely spurn any overt foreign approach. But anonymous funding, amplification of online messaging, offers of training or equipment through “cut-outs” such as tactical training companies or non-government organisations, or “false flag” operations (where agents of one organisation pretend to belong to another) would allow ­hostile foreign actors to inflame tensions.

It is, of course, impossible to say with certainty whether significant violence will occur this year. All we can conclude from the available evidence is that the risk is real and growing. We can also make some judgments about where and when violence might break out and what form it might take.

Given the pandemic health crisis, widespread economic disruption over the northern summer, then a predicted second wave of infection in October-November, peak compound impact — when the combined health, economic and security effects of the coronavirus will be at their worst — will likely run from late October until March-April next year, astride the next election and transition to the next presidential term.

Even without the virus, the election was already set to be a flashpoint; the combined health, economic and security effects of the pandemic could make it far worse. If Trump is re-elected, mass protests are a given, while factions within the militant left might undertake what they term “direct action”. As The Base’s targeting of January’s Richmond rally showed, street protests are fertile ground for provocations. If Trump is defeated, elements of the militia movement or street protesters might also engage in violence.

In “contested areas” — where the territories of left and right-wing militants overlap — we can expect violence irrespective of the outcome. Whether it spreads will depend on level-headed political leadership — and today’s hyper-partisan coronavirus debate offers little hope of that. If violence does spread, it will not be a re-run of the American Civil War. Rather, given the multiplicity of groups involved, their geographical overlap and loose structure, we can expect something much more diffuse.

Perhaps the best analogy is ­Colombia, which saw 10 years of amorphous conflict from 1948 to 1958, a decade known as La Violencia. Starting as rioting in Bogota — driven by pre-existing urban-rural, left-right, class and racial divisions — violence spread to the countryside as the two main political parties, the Colombian Liberal Party and the Conservative Party, mobilised rural supporters to attack each other’s communities. Local governments weaponised police to kill or expel political opponents. Extremists joined in and “conflict entrepreneurs” emerged to prolong and profit from the violence. In the end 200,000 people were killed, two million were displaced and the Colombian Army — after initially staying out of the conflict — eventually stepped in to end the violence, seizing control in a coup in 1953. External actors, including the Cold War superpowers, also interfered.

Colombia is not the only precedent. Last month marked the 25th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, the deadliest domestic terrorist attack in US history. The bomber, Gulf War veteran Timothy McVeigh, claimed to be enraged by government over­reactions at Ruby Ridge (1992) and Waco, Texas (1993), which between them saw law ­enforcement kill 78 civilians including 26 children. He bombed a building that housed the federal agencies he blamed, along with a childcare centre. His comment after his trial — that the 19 children killed, of 168 dead and 680 injured, were “collateral damage” — highlighted his military mindset and intent to trigger an anti-­government uprising. There was indeed a huge rise in militia ­activity. But the callousness of McVeigh’s attack made most militias condemn him, and — by ­tarnishing the self-perceived righteousness of their anti-­government cause — undermined the movement he hoped to inspire. He was executed a few months ­before 9/11.

In retrospect, the risk that Ruby Ridge and Waco would trigger a terrorist backlash seems obvious. Analysts warned this year that extremism poses as much risk today as it did in 1995. Ahead of time, McVeigh’s attack was far harder to foresee and its specifics impossible to predict. But far from a fringe issue of neo-Nazi nut cases, the pandemic has made the risk of ­violence in 2020 far more widespread, larger in scale and more militarily serious than we might imagine. America may well be in a “pre-McVeigh moment”.

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Trump Is A Normal US President. That’s The Problem.

Trump Is A Normal US President. That’s The Problem.  By Caitlin Johnstone, 15 May 2020

Biden Can’t Return Things To Normal, Because Trump Is A Normal US President. That’s The Problem.

“I am with Joe Biden all the way- let’s get this country back to where it was before the orange man started destroying it!!!”, reads a viral tweet by tennis legend Martina Navratilova that was going around recently.

This idea that Obama’s vice president will restore normality to a nation that has been ruined by a highly abnormal president has been a very common sentiment among Democrats for a long time now, and it’s silly for a number of reasons.

Firstly, wanting America to go back to how it was before Trump is wanting the conditions which gave rise to Trump. This is like landing at the bottom of a well and wishing you could go back in time to a few moments earlier when you were merely falling down the well. Wanting the same status quo austerity, exploitation, oppression and warmongering that made people so angry they wanted an obnoxious demagogue to come knock over the whole apple cart in the first place is just rewinding the same horror movie to the scene right before the scene that’s scaring you.

Secondly, this fabled “return to normality” that Biden is supposedly offering is literally impossible, since normality never actually left. Normality never left, because Donald Trump is a very normal US president.

Don’t yell at me, it’s true. This is something people who love Trump and people who hate him will be equally vehemently averse to hearing, but it’s just a fact: Donald Trump is a normal US president. If hearing this upsets you your gripe isn’t with me, it’s with reality.

To be clear, this is not a good thing. Trump has kept the bloodthirsty imperialism, corporate cronyism, Orwellian oppression, neoliberal exploitation and police militarization that holds the US empire together ticking along in basically the same way as his predecessors, in some ways more egregiously and in some ways less so. For all the evils he’s helped inflict on our world he still hasn’t done anything as bad as the two wars Bush launched during his first term, or arguably even Obama’s destruction of Libya and attempted destruction of Syria during his.

Trump hasn’t even matched Obama’s deportation numbers, but he has imprisoned Julian Assangere-started the Cold Warkilled tens of thousands of Venezuelans with starvation sanctions, vetoed attempts to save Yemen from US-backed genocide, is working to foment civil war in Iran using starvation sanctions and CIA ops with the stated goal of effecting regime change, occupied Syrian oil fields with the goal of preventing Syria’s reconstruction, greatly increased the number of troops in the Middle East and elsewhere, greatly increased the number of bombs dropped per day from the previous administration, killing record numbers of civilians, and reduced military accountability for those airstrikes. To name just a few of the ways Trump has continued and expanded upon the depravity of his predecessors just as they did theirs.

Trump is a very normal president, the media just yell about this president a lot more than usual because he puts an ugly face on the horrific normal that was already there. Sure he makes rude tweets and says dumb things and has made a mess of the pandemic response, but by and large when you strip away the narrative overlay Trump has been a reliable establishment lapdog advancing more or less all the same status quo imperialist and oligarchic agendas as the presidents who came before him. There are just a lot of establishment loyalists with a vested interest in spinning the ugliness his oafishness is exposing as caused by and unique to him.

So when they say “Biden 2020, for a return to normal”, all they’re really saying is “Biden 2020, for a depravity you can sleep through”.

“Biden 2020, for a return to normal. We can’t say exactly what ‘normal’ is; it will still definitely involve military expansionism, mass murder, ecocide, omnicidal cold war escalations, crushing austerity and economic, social and racial injustice. But by golly, it’ll feel normal.”

“Biden 2020, for a return to normal. Nothing will fundamentally change, but the media will stop screaming in your face all the time about how freakishly abnormal this particular presidency is.”

“Biden 2020, for a return to normal. No, not a return to sanity, peace, prosperity, democracy and equanimity in America; America never had those things, so there’s no returning to them. We just mean we’ll return to making it easier for you not to think about that.”

“Biden 2020, for a return to normal. To when you were able to sleep comfortably through the violence, insanity and depraved psychopathy of the status quo instead of having it unpleasantly drawn to your attention by rude tweets.”

“Biden 2020, for a return to normal. A return to the days where a competent president makes important decisions in accordance with the will of the electorate. That’s right, a return to a fictional fantasy land where you can live in your imagination.”

“Biden 2020, for a return to normal. A return to the days when you could happily pretend that freakish, murderous madness spanning the entire planet is normal.”

“Biden or Trump 2020, for a return to normal. Because ‘normal’ never bloody left.”

Trump is normal. Trump is normal. Trump. Is. Normal. Trump is the thing that normal is.

And that’s precisely the problem.

This is what your government is, America. This is what it’s always been. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, don’t just try to put a nicer mask on it so you can go back to sleep. Change it. Change your normal. Create a new normal.

Trump is everything America is. As one reader recently put it, “Trump didn’t make things the way they are, he is the personification of the situation. If the United States was a suit, then it was tailor made for Trump.”

Trump is normal. If you don’t like your normal, America, then push for real change, not cosmetic change. It’s not going to come from any president. It’s going to have to come from you.

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Is Poetic Justice Coming For The 1%?

Is Poetic Justice Coming For The 1%  By John Rubina, via DollarCollapse.com , 16 February 2020

 To understand just how grim the coming decade is likely to be for the world’s super-rich, let’s start with three premises:

1) Capitalist democracy — defined as free individuals managing their own property and periodically electing new leaders — is the only system of social organization that’s consistent with human nature and is, therefore, sustainable.

2) Capitalism inevitably produces inequality as a few participants — through energy, creativity, and (frequently) luck — do extremely well while the vast majority do okay and a few do very badly.

3) Since the big winners — now commonly known as the 1% — are vastly outnumbered by the rest of society, they can only keep their exulted position if they convince the 99% to let them be. If the rich fail to make their case, everyone else will simply vote to expropriate the most visible fortunes.

If you accept these assertions, it follows that enlightened elites would be all about fostering upward mobility, because when people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder know that by working hard and following the rules they can move their families to the next higher rung in a reasonable amount of time, they focus on their on improving prospects and don’t much care if a few billionaires live like princes and kings.

But that’s emphatically not the case these days. The current generation of corporate and political winners have blatantly and systematically exploited nearly everyone else. Amazon, for instance, staffs its hellscape warehouses with RV caravans of migrant senior citizens working long, hard days for subsistence wages. Apple makes its high-margin phones in Chinese sweatshop factories where suicide is the biggest occupational health hazard.

Manufacturing company CEOs close their domestic factories and ship the jobs overseas, then pay themselves massive year-end bonuses to reflect the resulting slight uptick in profit margins. Banks hijack the political process to get themselves deregulated and then pass laws that make borrowers lifetime slaves of creditors. Politicians enter public life with modest bank accounts and retire multi-millionaires. Pretty much the entire political/corporate class favors more-or-less open borders, guaranteeing themselves cheap nannies and gardeners while American wages stagnate.

And they do all this publicly, apparently so sure of their virtue that they see no need to hide their predation.

And now, as debts mount and anger builds, the typical response of this “breakaway civilization” is to buy compounds in New Zealand in which to weather the end of the financial world.

Populism becomes the new normal

Why would any voting majority put up with the above? Well, they wouldn’t if they have alternatives. And now the political system is offering plenty, in the form of left and right-wing populism. In virtually every major country there are movements, parties and individual politicians who point out that the system is rigged in favor of the rich an promise to claw back what was stolen. And they’re doing well. Donald Trump, Brexit, France’s Yellow Vest protesters and Bernie Sanders are examples of this process in action, but they’re just the beginning. Every major country will have its Trump or Sanders in the coming decade, which means globalism will be dismantled, marginal tax rates will soar, fortunes will be expropriated, and borders will be closed to free movement of people and/or capital. It will, in short, be open season on the aristocracy.

Imagine, for instance, President Bernie Sanders’ reaction to a mass migration of mega-fortunes to overseas end-of-the-world bunkers: “Oh, you’re leaving? Fine. Go. But your mansions, bank accounts and stock portfolios stay here to fund health care. And we’re talking to New Zealand about a bunker tax. Bon voyage.”

This of course will lead to an implosion of capitalist wealth creation right out of Atlas Shrugged. Which is to say the 1% will lose twice, first when governments take big chunks of their fortunes, and then when whatever is left evaporates in a global financial crisis.

To sum up, the coming decade will be bad for just about everyone except gold bugs. But it will be the fault of the people who should have seen it coming and could have prevented it.

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