Restraining Domestic Terrorists
Like many Americans, I have been thinking a lot about the fragility of our democratic republic since the 6th of January. What worries me most is the set of anti-democratic subcultures gaining ground in the institutions charged with protecting us — particularly within law enforcement (all levels) and the military. If the people we rely on to protect us, to defend our institutions, and to safeguard the rule of law, hold allegiances to subcultures contrary to the rule of law, we are in a world of hurt. Put another way: if those who have the bulk of weapons in our society believe our laws are unconstitutional, we are fools to rely on them to protect us, our laws, and the constitution. Four currents are converging on our executive institutions (the police and military) creating a tragic mix of anti-government sentiment, access to weapons, and formal training in tactical assault. Here I will name the four currents and suggest a way of bringing law enforcement back to their generally recognized duty of defending and protecting the constitution, the laws, and the institutions we created for making and changing the law peacefully. Our liberty and peace under rule of law are at stake.
A hodge-podge of right-wing militias, white nationalists, fascists, and Q-Anon cultists are currently actively working to create a race war couched as a patriotic revolution. January 6th was the first shot; “an unsuccessful coup is just a training exercise,” as Ari Melber put it on MSNBC. The main players are familiar: Proud Boys, Boogaloos, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, Q-Anon etc. Loud and proud, openly militant, claiming to be true patriots, they are emboldened by the support and new-found voice in politics provided by Donald Trump and a significant portion of the Republican Party. The rub is that they are, and have been for some time, recruiting followers from within the ranks of the military and law enforcement at all levels of government. They use social media to shape the contours of the conspiracy landscape, molding current events to fit the terrain of hate and bigotry, scapegoating anyone who stands up for the unconditional respect of others, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender identity and sexuality. Liberals must shed their illusions of propriety and good governance; this attack on progressive values may well end with what far right populist groups have stated as a goal: the public execution of Democrats, liberals, immigrants, black and brown people, members of the news media and media stars who voice support for liberal and progressive causes.
What are the four currents threatening our democratic republic? The first runs deep in our history: naked, unabashed, racism. It is the belief that white “Christian” people founded this country, kept it from collapsing, and are the ultimate source of all that is good in our government. Black and brown people, “Muslims and Mexicans” (by which they mean Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, all Latinos, regardless of national origin, and indeed all Asians and even Native Americans), are genetically incapable of operating the machinery of our government. Immigration and multi-culturalism are not just bad ideas, according to this group, but truly evil. By extending voting rights to non-whites, diluting the white voting bloc, sanctioning race-mixing, etc. liberals and progressives are attacking the privilege of God’s chosen (white) people to rule the land as they see fit, a right they have enjoyed from the founding of the republic.
The second current runs deep as well: Second Amendment activism and its sibling of survivalist culture — particularly entrenched in rural parts of America from the founding of the republic. This current has always found adherents among law enforcement and the military; there is a congruence of interests between law enforcement and gun advocation. Our police and military use firearms regularly, they offer training in weapons operation and tactical strategy, instilling reverence for weaponry and attracting people who take pride in gun ownership and collection. This current becomes problematic when gun advocacy conflicts with a public interest in gun regulation. Consider the transformation of the NRA from a gun-safety and hunting club to gun manufacturer voice in American culture. Selling weapons is easier when you can stimulate demand by fostering insecurity (survivalist ideology) and promoting militia organization. Second Amendment activists have in fact created a subculture around the supposed right to own, operate, and display weapons of any caliber as they see fit. Many see it as a sacred right to train and exercise in private militias. Gun culture creates a grievance with government in proportion as the government attempts to restrict or regulate guns in the name of public interest. They see liberals as out to take their guns and commonly vow to defend their 2nd Amendment rights to the death.
The third current is the transformation of conspiracy theory from fringe and relatively benign beliefs (bigfoot is real, aliens are being kept at Area 51, a moon-landing never really happened, 9/11 was an inside job, and so forth) to a politically targeted weaponizing of ambiguity and disinformation to take down truth, distort fact, and undercut public trust in democratic governance. This current is relatively new. Its roots lie in the post-modernist “deconstruction” of truth and reality. If nothing can be pointed to as a foundation for truth and accurate description, then we are free to fabricate whatever story we want to tell. It becomes a war of acceptance among competing descriptions of realty; if “Q” is able to fabricate and successfully market a story divorced entirely from reality then so be it. The belief itself is animating, and so it is “true.” This transformation of conspiracy to an epistemological free-for-all is incredibly dangerous as it is nothing less than a frontal assault on science, perception, fact, truth, and public trust in language as a medium for effectively communicating an accurate description of reality. It becomes near impossible to democratically coordinate public activity in reference to accepted facts and relations. Truth is nothing but good marketing: playing on fears, lusts, and insecurities, its child’s play to construct a story where Democrats and mainstream media are Satan worshipers trafficking our children for food and sex.
The fourth and last current is the rise of populist nationalism and the cult of personality centered on the person of Donald J. Trump. Trump himself has become a ‘story’ successfully competing in the hearts and minds of many Americans — mostly rural, white, and under-educated Americans. This story weaves together conspiracy, survivalism and racism, accounting to its adherents for the felt reality of insecurity in a rapidly changing, increasingly globalized, market economy. The Democrats are dominant in urban areas, they are the political face of the black and brown people who, according to Trump’s minions, would love to take the jobs and land in rural America, they are the political arm of the Jews who rule Wall Street and make billions by deceiving Americans through media ownership and corporate domination. The “libtards” in the cities support the “Muslims and Mexicans” then, because they know that appeals to “multiculturalism” are the only way they maintain control of government. It is the Muslims who want to take down Christian culture and so the Dems are siding with Satan — they eat kids, after all! Real Americans, the story of Trump goes, are the true believers in law and order, allegiant to white Christian culture, uncompromising in their defense of the Second Amendment and the might of the American military.
What Trump’s conspiracy driven army of racists and nationalists is really about (because it is what they really are doing), is fomenting an all-out war against the political history of the United States of America and all we have fought to build: a common project of voicing opinions on what is in the public interest, and an agreed upon set of institutions for deciding right and wrong and amending the law according to constitutional processes, institutions of democratic self-governance, the equality of all citizens before the rule of law, the separation of powers, and the separation of Church and State. This is why a convergence of anti-democratic currents in our law enforcement apparatus is so dangerous. These subcultures find fertile ground in active and retired personnel throughout the land — in the rural sheriff’s departments, in urban police forces, in all Federal law enforcement agencies, the National Guard, and in all branches of the armed services. Even a small but significant portion of law enforcement and military personnel that feel a stronger allegiance to anti-democratic subcultures than they feel to the rule of law and the equality of citizens before the law becomes a weak link, a vulnerability, in the bulwark against tyranny. This is why police reform (not “defunding the police”) is of such critical importance today.
Preventing a violent revolution by right-wing radicals (or repeated and bloody attempts to instigate one) depends on our ability to identify and root out anti-government elements from within law enforcement and the Armed Forces. Because these institutions instill loyalty to a chain of command, and in the use of force to accomplish their objectives, and because they are our last defense when violation or insurrection occurs, it is critical to ensure loyalty to democratic institutions and the rule of law. What can be done? I have been thinking about this question (a lot) and came up with a simple idea of passing a law requiring a particular type of oath of allegiance that provides a tool to help spot and root out individuals who may not come to the defense of our institutions when faced with competing allegiances. The idea presented is not a cure to racism, unhinged conspiracy theories, or nationalist populism and a cult of Trump. It is simply an obstacle to these subcultures further entrenching themselves in the minds of those people our public weal employs for its own protection — a way of preventing the wolves from taking charge of the henhouse, to paraphrase T. Jefferson.
Please review the following proposed legislation and its rationale with an open mind. I include the possible text of an oath that I believe would provide a powerful tool for stopping the advance of anti-democratic sentiments in the section of the population with the greatest affinity for weapons and the training to effectively use them.
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To ascertain and secure the allegiance of law enforcement personnel to the rule of law and the institutions of government as developed by the will of the people expressed in free and fair elections, and specifically to bar law enforcement personnel in the United States of America from holding allegiance to entities, militias, or subcultures whose goals and purposes are antagonistic to the rule of law and the democratic processes through which law is constitutionally codified.
This proposed bill would require anyone charged with law enforcement to take an explicit oath to protect and defend all people equally, the rule of law generally, and the democratic institutions which create and enforce the law. Moreover, the oath would require law enforcement personnel to positively renounce affiliation with any organization, subculture, or ideology that advocates insurrection, revolution, or the arbitrary privilege of a section of the population over any or all others based on any protected status. It would, in short, consecrate the equality of citizens before the law in the eyes of those who enforce the law and compel allegiance among law enforcement personnel to institutions over ideologies. It would bar active participation in militias or paramilitary organizations whose stated aim is to challenge the authority of constitutionally established state and federal governments. This oath would be taken when initially assuming the duties of protecting the public and on an annual basis thereafter to ensure the radicalization of law enforcement personnel has no foothold throughout the policing apparatus.
If passed into law, this bill would provide penalties such as fines for violations of the oath, additional penalties for repeated violations up to and including termination. It would also provide enhanced penalties for violations of the law conducted in conjunction with a violation of the sworn oath of allegiance to protect and defend all citizens equally, the rule of law, and the institutions established by law. With such an oath in place, the preeminence of legal means of changing law and institutions (as opposed to militant means), would be re-asserted. The oath would be administered to law enforcement at the state and local levels (perhaps as part of a national police reform bill) as well as law enforcement at the federal level, including the National Guard, the FBI, ATF, DEA, and all active-duty military service members.
While Federal statutes cannot legislate for states, such statutes can use the power of the purse to incentivize the adoption of such an oath of allegiance to equality and democratic institutions in the same way that funding was withheld from states refusing to adopt uniform policies around drinking age, speed limits and the like. Law enforcement departments at all levels would then have a tool to ferret out elements within their departments harboring sentiments and ideologies antithetical to the equal treatment of citizens or, worse, with ideas of sedition and revolution which would tempt them to side with those hoping to install authoritarian and undemocratic institutions. There could be a tip-line, for example, for existing personnel to flag individuals to an investigative body, to identify “supremacist” individuals within a department, especially if biased law enforcement tactics or private militia membership was witnessed or suspected. This would provide a positive means of disciplining and ultimately removing personnel who are not committed to the rule of law, equality before the law, and the institutions which bind our United States together.
Here is one example of how such an oath might be worded:
I, __NAME___, swear:
• To protect and defend all citizens equally according to the law and to protect and defend the rule of law in all my actions as a representative of the law in my jurisdiction.
• I swear my allegiance to all constitutionally established state and federal governmental institutions because they have been established and amended by the will of the people expressed through their duly elected officials in free and fair elections.
• I swear that I am not affiliated in any way with, nor do I harbor any allegiance to, any organization(s), militia(s), or subculture(s) with stated goals and purposes in conflict with the equal treatment of all citizens before the law and/or the rule of law as currently codified by constitutionally established institutions at the local, state, and federal levels of governance in these United States of America.
• I swear that if I come to believe anything that could cause me to fail in my duty to protect and defend all citizens equally, or could cause me to oppose with force, or to advocate force in opposition to the institutions to which I am currently swearing allegiance, I will immediately renounce my position in law enforcement recognizing that I can no longer faithfully discharge my duties.
• I recognize and accept that I am subject to penalties established by law if I violate this oath and duty to equal treatment, law enforcement, and the protection of governing institutions.
• I further recognize and accept that I will be subject to enhanced penalties established by law if I commit other violations of law which are proven in a court of law to have been animated by beliefs for which I, in accordance with this oath, should have renounced my position in law enforcement.
I, __NAME___, understand and swear to each of the above points, so help me God.
This proposed legislation is not an encroachment on the civil liberties of those groups which have ample reason to fear giving additional enforcement powers to law enforcement. It can only be implemented as a limit on the abuse of authority and a reminder to the oath taker of his or her obligations as an employee of the public to the people and interests of the republic. I urge you to share and support this proposed legislation because I am convinced that while it does not solve the root cause of anti-democratic sentiments, it does make it harder for these elements to be used by fringe groups to take control of the government and wield the power of the state for private purposes. Our political liberty and the peace we have enjoyed under a democratic constitution is at stake.