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When stochastic political violence spirals out of control

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Sobering thread from Brynn Tannehill, who has seen a country unravel under the pressure of a spiral of retaliatory political violence (Iraq, after we gave them their Freedom):

The credible, close-call attempt to kill or maim Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a second time, and the GOP response, signals how close the US is to the end of the road as a Democracy. It also tells us about what comes after the fall. 1/n 

The GOP has generally treated it as a joke, denied that DePape was conservative, or spread conspiracy theories that it was a gay quarrel during a hookup. There’s been a lot of wink and nudge, “Sure it was bad, but whatever gets Nancy out, amiright?” comments like Youngkin’s. 2/n 

There has been almost NOTHING done to deter other would be assassins from killing Democratic officials. When people protested outside homes of SCOTUS justices, security was immediately increased. Dead silence now. 3/n 

The difference is that Dems and Republicans are willing to protect conservative officials, but Republicans aren’t willing to protect Dems, because they know that actual violence against officials is driven by the right wing base. 4/n

“We” Don’t Have a Political Violence Problem. Republicans Do.The Paul Pelosi attack was no aberration. Only one party counts violent insurrectionists as a constituency it dare not alienate.https://newrepublic.com/article/168391/political-violence-is-republicans-problem

There is the implicit assumption by Republican leaders that violence will come for their opponents, and not for them.

And at the moment, they’re correct.

But, most of them weren’t in Iraq from 2004-2006. 5/n 

I had a front row seat as Sunnis, cut off from power, formed AQI and started launching a campaign of terror aimed at government officials, particularly judges. Targeting family members was very much part of their CONOPS.

It didn’t take long before retaliations began. 6/n 

Baghdad segregated rapidly, as mixed neighborhoods forced out people who were the local minority. Similar (violent) sorting happened among Iraqi Kurds in the north. 7/n 

One lesson I took away is that once political murders are normalized, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. It turns into an accelerating cycle of violence, particularly when both sides feel like it’s a matter of group survival. 8/n 

Part of the violence in Iraq in that period was the settling of old scores. Saddam had displaced, gassed, and murdered innumerable Kurds. He had kept Shiites (who form a plurality of the population) powerless and second class citizens for decades. 9/n 

In the US, the GOP intends to seize power, and never let go, much as Saddam did with the Ba’ath Party. They’re not hiding it. I’m not engaging in hyperbole or putting words in people’s mouths. This is coming straight from their candidates. 10/n

If the GOP does win, they’re promising to settle scores. Here we have the former President, and likely the next administration, promising to lock up journalists and have them raped until they give up confidential sources. 11/n

Trump Threatens Journalists With Prison Rape for Not Revealing Supreme Court Leak (Video)“When this person realizes he’s going to be the bride of another prisoner very shortly he will…’tell you exactly who that leaker is!'” Trump warnedhttps://www.yahoo.com/video/trump-threatens-journalists-prison-rape-182417235.html

The repeated violence against Pelosi, and ongoing stochastic terror, is a promise of what is to come. If the GOP seizes power, you can be sure that they will do as little as possible to prevent, stop, deter, or prosecute political killings. 12/n 

The DoJ will become a tool for imprisoning political opponents. It also won’t lift a finger to do anything about assassinations of Democrats, journalists, or political enemies or disfavored minorities (like trans people or doctors treating them). 13/n 

They’ll claw back control of the City of DC, and prevent prosecutions of violence against Dems there, while blaming the murders on the victims for being soft on crime. 14/n 

Most Republican leaders are smart enough to know that it isn’t really leftists driving the political violence. They’ll yell about Antifa and BLM, but they’re not stupid (Ok, true believers like MTG, Jordan, and Boebert are), but Cotton and Cruz can do math. 15/n 

The problem with their thinking is that they assume that the status quo will hold: that their opponents will continue to feel like they can vote their way out of the problem, the threat is not perceived as existential, and they will eschew targeted violence. 16/n 

I’ve had front row seats when a country tears itself apart. I also learned that an insurgent group only needs maybe 10-15% of the population supporting it for it to be self sustaining.

And, like Iraq, it’s about religion. 17/n 

45% of Americans are ready to end democracy to make the US an explicitly Christian nation. People under the age of 40 are much more likely to be secular. 18/n

45% of Americans Say U.S. Should Be a ‘Christian Nation’But they hold differing opinions about what that phrase means, and two-thirds of U.S. adults say churches should keep out of politics.https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2022/10/27/45-of-americans-say-u-s-should-be-a-christian-nation/

This creates a situation in which the unaccountable theocratic government engaging in stochastic terror against political enemies is hated by the largely secular majority of young people who have little economic prospects, no say in government, and no hope of peaceful change 19/n 

WTF do you think is going to happen? Because this is pretty much an exact description of the situation in Iran, except there are ~390 million guns just lying around. 20/n 

Republican leaders by and large tend to believe that they can manage whatever response happens to their complete take-over of government, and institution of theocratic rule, or that people will quietly accept it the way they have in Hungary, Russia, Turkey, and Poland. 21/n 

The semblance of democracy, using elections rigged against the opposition as an anesthetic for the population, pretending “vote harder” might remove the authoritarians from office, or simply presenting it as a fait accompli, has worked elsewhere to prevent unrest. 22/n 

So maybe it’s even better than 50-50 bet.

But it’s not a sure one: they’re creating the necessary conditions.

It’s worth remembering that in Iraq, once the toothpaste was out, 150k US troops struggled for almost a decade to restore some semblance of order. 23/n 

Thus, by tolerating or encouraging political assassinations, the GOP is raising the risks, and the potential consequences, of their authoritarian drive to end democracy and punish those they see as political enemies. 24/n 

Take it from someone who spent most of the aughts studying insurgency, counter insurgency, destabilized countries, hybrid governments, and evaluating the risks of civil war: what is happening with Pelosi is playing with fire. 25/n 

Of course the overwhelming majority of Americans aren’t in favor of settling political scores via violence, or at least informal violence as opposed to that of the state. As Tannehill points out, that isn’t necessarily all that relevant, once the dogs of doom are howling more.

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