1/6, 9/11 and the threat of terrorism

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL January 17, 2021

World Trade Center, New York. Photo by Anthony Fomin on Unsplash

Could 1/6, the day of the Trump-incited US  Capitol siege, be the harbinger of a 9/11-type attempt to attack America?

I ask this in light of a fascinating piece I read the other day. Ed Luce, US editor of the Financial Times, quoted former FBI counter-terrorism agent Ali Soufan’s warning that January 6 could be “the beginning” not the end of the domestic terrorist threat and that it should be seen as comparable to Al Qaida’s 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Click here (paywall) for Mr Luce’s article. The US can’t “pretend nothing happened”, Mr Soufan told MSNBC, else “the chaos we’ve seen will come back more lethal and more dangerous than before”.

It’s a reasonable point. One that was also made by American University historian Michael Brenner in The Washington Post: “What at first blush looked like a failed coup proved successful in the long run because of a justice system that was blind in its right eye and conservative political leaders who fueled the myths that Hitler had tapped into, planted the seeds of political polarization and discredited the legitimacy of elected officials”.

Mr Brenner concluded that “The German example warns us … knocking down an insurrection does not yet mean winning the fight for democracy.”

But then consider what Mr Luce of the FT found on one corner of the far-right fringe. There was Richard Spencer, dismissive, almost jokey, about the threat posed by the Trumpist army of discontented. He told Mr Luce on a phone call that the January 6 mob had a violent hard core but was mostly composed of immature folks who “see politics as a kind of video game — like shooting Nazi zombies in some kind of world war two gaming scenario”.

There’s an element of truth in there – just think back to the amateurish milling around and posing for selfies by some of the Trump army that day at the Capitol.

That said, one has to wonder if Mr Spencer has mellowed too much and/or is too cut off from the far right echo chamber to know the nature of the threat posed by the Trump insurrectionists.

Once upon a time, Mr Spencer was in the midst of it all. Google his name and here’s the start of the suggested reading:

White supremacist Richard Spencer makes racist slurs on tape

How Richard Spencer Became an Icon for White … – The Atlantic

They don’t make pretty headlines. But then Mr Spencer became (in)famous in 2016 for shouting ‘Hail Trump!’ and being greeted with Nazi salutes at an event in Washington shortly after Mr Trump was elected president. Mr Luce describes him as “America’s best-known alt-righter”. In fact, Mr Spencer coined the term alt-right for his mindset.

But in four years, he has turned in his hate card. Somewhat.

He still describes himself as an “identitarian” but voted for Joe Biden on November 3, explaining it to Mr Luce as follows: “Trump brought out the worst aspects in me — that’s not what I want to be remembered for. I recognised the toxicity of rightwing populism and didn’t want America to go further down that road”.

It’s reasonable to wonder if Mr Spencer is sufficiently clued in to the dangerousness of the poisonous interwebbing of far-right, neofascist, QAnon and other conspiracy theorists who champion Mr Trump.

After all, on January 15, federal prosecutors offered a chilling description of the rioters’ intentions at the Capitol. They wanted, said the prosecutors, “to capture and assassinate elected officials”.

And at least one conservative Christian writer, David French, who fought in the Iraq war, has offered a plan to deal with domestic terrorism. It comes straight from the counterinsurgency handbook: Separate the insurgents from the population.