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Op-Ed

Sliding toward terror

February 25, 2022

Russia’s state-sponsored terrorist invasion of Ukraine should not blind us to the fact that today’s Republican Party is sliding dangerously close to terrorism, aided and abetted by a terrorist wing.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

In the 59 weeks since Jan. 6, 2021, I’ve been reading up on the history of terrorism, and the more I read the clearer it is that the Republican Party is evolving into a terrorist organization.

This is not an exaggeration or a denunciation. It’s a description.

Terrorist groups display, in extreme degree, characteristics of “groupthink,” which is not really thought. In “Victims of Groupthink” (Boston, 1972), Irving Janis described some terrorist symptoms:

• One-dimensional perceptions of any opposing view as evil;
• Presumption of the “morality” of the terror group;
• Intolerance of challenges by any group member to the terrorists’ key beliefs

In “Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, States of Mind” (Woodrow Wilson Center, 1990), 14 distinguished scholars of terror describe other similarities between terrorist groups around the world and across the ages.

• If a member challenges a key belief, the group responds by casting out the doubter;
• In fighting against a perceived enemy, the group may “turn to an omnipotent leader for direction … who will rescue them and create a better world”;
• This omnipotent leader is likely to be a narcissistic extrovert;
• Few, if any, terror groups articulate what will happen should they “win”

In “Origins of Terrorism,” Jerrold M. Post calls this “the threat of success.”

Now let’s look at today’s Republicans in Congress:

• They demonstrate all the classic signs of groupthink;
• They presume to be pure and moral, while the “enemy,” Democrats, are wholly evil;
• They eject any member of their group who questions their claims, be they true or false (for example, that the 2020 presidential election was stolen);
• They have no plan — or have not presented one — about what they will do once they achieve their imagined “victory” and regain the White House — other than to continue their fantasy war against Democrats.

After all, there can be no war without an enemy — but how will life be different, for anyone, after Republicans’ imaginary “victory” is achieved?

Another excellent study of terrorism is Anna Geifman’s “Thou Shalt Kill: Revolutionary Terrorism in Russia, 1894-1917” (Princeton University Press, 1993).

Terrorism played a large part in Russia’s struggle to free itself from the rule of Czar Nicholas II. In that struggle, many quasi-legal opposition parties allowed or encouraged their terrorist wings to publish and distribute defenses (and rebuttals) of terrorism as a method in the quest for reform.

In the two years after the revolutionaries’ failed uprising of October 1905, nearly 4,500 state officials were killed or wounded in terrorist attacks, along with 4,700 private individuals, according to Geifman.

That’s why this period in Russian history provides the best look into arguments about terrorism: because it was being debated, quasi-openly, in the underground press, and by czarist officials and police forces, who were unable to stop it. 

Dozens of feuilletons were issued by the loosely allied but warring opposition parties, including Socialist Revolutionaries, Social Democrats, Anarchists, the Anarchist-Individualists, the Kadets, the Black Banner (anarchist communists) and the bezmotyivnyi terror — motiveless terrorists: (Any terror attack against anyone will weaken the czar). A major opposition party, the Socialist Revolutionaries, established a nominally independent wing, the Combat Organization, wholly dedicated to terrorist attacks.

In justification, the terrorists argued that when the party in power holds all the cards, and wields all the means of repression, terrorism is a legitimate form of resistance.

This “weak against the powerful” argument continues today, in the Middle East. Hezbollah and the Taliban, for instance, imagine a pure Muslim state — without Jews or Christians — but with no consideration of how day-to-day life might be conducted in this imaginary paradise, “cleansed” of other ideologies.

In other words, how will that “paradise” be different from today?

Today’s Republican Party’s follows that short-term, rigid unthinking about an election that’s come and gone. Yet the party has presented no plan for our country’s future, any more than have the terrorists in today’s Middle East. Except endless war. 

Consider the Taliban’s 2001 bombing of the Bamiyan Buddhas — which were erected before the birth of the Prophet Muhammad — so as to exorcise evidence of a pre-Muslim state. How does that differ, in ideology or intent, from Republicans’ efforts to stamp out teaching the history of Black people in America?

Ain’t no difference at all, except the Taliban used dynamite.

But more than 20 bomb threats have been delivered against historically Black U.S. colleges and universities this year. The intentions and underlying ideology of these threats indicate how far the Republican Party has slid toward terrorism, aided and abetted by its nominally independent terrorist wing, which invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and continues to plot terror today.

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