Thursday, September 01, 2022

World's Largest Purveyor Of State Sponsored Terrorism And Political Assassination

warontherocks |  today’s growing wave of assassination attempts has crossed ideologies. Certain adherents of the far left have been responsible for attempts on the Republican baseball practice and more recently Justice Kavanaugh. But the far-right is also active in this space and was responsible for the most recent successful high-level political assassination in the country: the killing of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, state senator of South Carolina, at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015. Jihadists often place prominent figures in their crosshairs, as demonstrated by a recently disrupted plot against George W. Bush. Even the more nascent male supremacist movement has its targets: A so-called “men’s rights activist” attacked the home of U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas in July 2020, killing her son.

The emerging trend is due in no small part to the reemergence of so-called “accelerationism” as a distinct violent extremist strategy. For extremists seeking to sow chaos and speed up some cataclysmic societal collapse, high-profile politicians provide an attractive target, as symbols of the mainstream liberal political order. “We need to kill the HVT’s,” one poster wrote on Telegram in August 2019, using a military acronym for high-value target. “When a popular HVT is gunned down, it inspires hope and dreams.” The COVID pandemic then added fuel to the fire as public officials were blamed and then threatened for the lockdowns and enforced quarantines. Targets ranged from prominent health officials like cerebral National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, as well as many other lower-level state officials responsible for the imposition of these extraordinary public health measures. Fauci was forced into constant law enforcement protection because of threats against his life — which was only a prelude to the death threats and serial harassment that now routinely are directed against local and state election officials.

Political assassinations are uniquely suited to tear at the country’s social fabric. For starters, they force opposing politicians and voters into an apparently awkward dilemma between condemning hatred and violence and seeming to renege on their own political positions — a situation Democrats did not handle particularly well after the attempt on Kavanaugh’s life. As Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco stated in June in response to that attempted attack, “We can’t come together on this topic without acknowledging and condemning the appalling rise in violence that we have seen from a range of ideologies directed at public officials.” But they also risk dissuading good people, across the political spectrum, from running for public office and participating in a vibrant American democracy. Indeed, perhaps the most damning element of the January 6 commission hearings has been the broadcasting of the threats issued against everyday public servants, such as Georgia’s election workers. The Department of Justice recently announced it has opened around 110 federal criminal investigations into “contacts reported as hostile or harassing by the election community.” “A common refrain I hear from my members is that nobody is going to take this seriously until something bad happens, and we are all braced for the worst,” the National Association of State Election Directors executive director warned in recent written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Until recently, this was not a field you went into thinking it could cost you your life.”

Heightening the threat yet further is a growing tendency for assailants to use untraceable or even homemade weaponry as part of violent plots — as seen in the assassination of Abe, in which the assassin used a fully homemade shotgun to evade Japan’s stringent gun laws. The crude attack was reminiscent of failed drone attacks against political leaders in Venezuela and Iraq and may be indicative of an emerging era in which more widely accessible tools are weaponized in these strikes against individuals — again, regardless of the motivating ideology. Cruder technology lowers the barriers to entry for attackers, allowing even untrained or unprepared extremists — such as Zeldin’s assailant, who, despite being an Army veteran, used a personal protection device disguised as a cat-shaped keychain in his assault — to attempt serious plots. As Colin Clarke and Joseph Shelzi write, “The proliferation of emerging personal technologies like drones, 3-D-printed weapons, and other innovations will likely open the door for more attacks against high-profile figures in the future.”

We live in an age of heightened political tensions, when political decisions are often seen as existential crises, and where elections, therefore, carry perceived life-or-death stakes. With a midterm around the corner, a former president under investigation, and major upheavals occurring on hot-button issues such as abortion and gun control, extremists inclined to violence will be increasingly likely to lash out. The situation is only made more serious by the seeming consent a faction of the political right has offered to would-be assassins, including a Florida State House candidate who was recently expelled from Twitter for writing, “Under my plan, all Floridians will have permission to shoot FBI, IRS, ATF and all other feds on sight! Let freedom ring!” The conceit that fuels these would-be assassins’ fanaticism and feeds their egos poses a considerable and growing danger to civil servants and political figures across the political spectrum — at a time when mass shootings at schools, shopping malls, cinemas, and other public venues have already become an increasingly frequent occurrence. “The system was blinking red,” Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet famously told the 9/11 Commission describing the months before September 2001 — a sentiment which feels pertinent again now.

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