When the string is pulled on this, it turns out that the US. Navy training guide in question has a point. There is a terrorist ideological category that can, depending on definitions, include “anarchists, socialists and neo-nazis.” The Navy guide refers to the category as “political terrorists.”
That doesn’t mean there’s no criticizing the Navy guide. Strictly speaking, all terrorism is inherently political, which is why it’s called terrorism. Its purpose is to have politically kinetic effects on peoples, their preferences and arrangements, and societal will, through destruction, fear, and intimidation.
So the Navy guide can perhaps be criticized for using terminology too loosely, and leaving some confusion in its wake. Terrorism is political, but there is also “political terrorism.”
We all intuitively understand that anarchists, socialists, and neo-Nazis direct their energies explicitly at the political organization of society (as opposed to the economic organization, or the spirit of the people and their sense of well-being), and that makes the “political terrorists” distinctive. But they don’t “protest” or necessarily attack the same things.
And — importantly — recognizing that a category of terrorism includes such actors doesn’t mean all anarchists, socialists, or neo-Nazis engage in terrorism. Very few do.
But that’s the case with every category of terrorist: the political motives come from ideologies, like Islamism and eco-activism, that are embraced by far more people than the terrorists themselves represent. Most of the activists and sympathizers don’t commit terrorist acts. Indeed, the activist movements themselves are a subset of the even larger, more mainstream segments of society that embrace a structured sets of beliefs, but engage in little or no activism. Someone who donates to the Wildlife Fund and follows environmental politics isn’t necessarily an “activist,” and certainly isn’t to be branded a terrorist, any more than an observant Muslim believer is, ipso facto, an ideological activist or a terrorist.
That’s really the crux of the matter. The point of the Navy distinctions is that, as terrorism, the occasional terrorist act by the different categories used in the Navy guide manifests itself differently. Eco-terrorists have a very distinctive M.O. It has never, as far as I’m aware, included loading vehicles with explosives and trying to kill people by detonating them in heavily-trafficked locations.
Neo-Nazis, for their part, are seldom if ever caught messing with the public water supply (more like eco-terrorists) or engaging in suicide bombings (more like Islamists). If Islamist extremists have spiked trees to injure loggers, there’s no report of it. In some cases there’s overlap among groups on one terrorist tactic; e.g., mass shootings, in which both Islamists and gunmen with demonstrable “white supremacist” (or, more accurately, “white identitarian”) affinities have engaged.
It may arguably be sloppy or largely inaccurate to group anarchists, socialists, and neo-Nazis in a single category, but that would be if their tactics when they turn to terrorism are meaningfully different. It’s not because any of them doesn’t belong in a treatment of “terrorist ideological categories.”
But The Intercept wants to make that the issue. The Intercept article on the Navy training guide basically seeks to wipe out the entire year 2020, with its endless parade of evidence that the self-identified anarchists and socialists torching and vandalizing cities, inflicting mayhem and fear on local populations, causing billions in business and property losses, and attacking police do, in fact, have a pattern of terrorism by some in their ranks.
The Intercept’s wedge for such gaslighting is — well, the wedge is the gaslighting, lightly and sloppily syllogized from the supposed logical enormity of “conflating socialists with terrorists.” The Navy guide doesn’t conflate the two. It doesn’t say or imply that socialists are terrorists. Its premise is that one category of terrorist may include socialists, among others.
But author Ken Klippenstein plows ahead based on the allegation of “conflation,” and laments that the FBI seems to be doing something similar to Black Lives Matter.
In 2019, I obtained internal documents revealing the FBI’s counterterrorism priorities in the fiscal years 2018-2020. While the bureau’s 2018 priorities included right-wing groups like “Militia Extremists,” “Sovereign Citizen Extremists,” and “White Supremacy Extremists,” it also included “Black Identity Extremists” and “Anarchist Extremists.” The FBI documents suggest without evidence that the term “Black Identity Extremist” grew out of the Black Lives Matter movement, which is not typically associated with violence.
If there’s one thing 2020 did, it’s associate Black Lives Matter with violence. I’m not even sure I’m on board with conflating Black Identity Extremism with BLM, as regards violence, because Black Identity Extremism long preceded BLM (which arose as a political force in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014), and it’s BIE that has less of a history of systematic violence.
There are, of course, more people who turned out for mere protests under BLM’s banner than who engaged in the violence. In some places in 2020 it was a lot more. That point may be useful for security administration; i.e., security personnel should wait and see what people with BLM banners do, rather than being combative from the outset on the assumption that they’re there for violence.
But to make the leap to claiming that BLM is “not typically associated with violence” is to simply lie.
The Guardian, highlighting the Intercept article, depicts what the Navy guide does even more inaccurately: “A US military training document has described the political philosophy of socialism – a relatively mainstream term in politics around the world – as a ‘terrorist ideology’ akin to neo-Nazism.”
No, the Navy guide treats socialism as a political ideology — which it is, along with being a theory of economics and politics — and indicates that its adherents may be a source of terrorist acts.
The Guardian succeeds, however, in putting the adjective “mainstream” in the sentence, if in a logically messy way. There are all kinds of mainstream terms that don’t describe mainstream beliefs or behavior; socialism happens to be both a mainstream term and a relatively mainstream element of conventional politics in most of the world. The latter is what the Guardian meant.
But the relentless, de-focused impressionism of the concepts deployed by both the Guardian and The Intercept is characteristic of propaganda-argument, and the main thing the Guardian piece wanted to do is what it accomplished: get a passage that says, in effect, “socialism = mainstream” into the opening sentence. How could anyone suggest a mainstream thing like “socialism” is “terrorism”?
What’s equally true, of course, is that being white and not being a socialist is at least as mainstream, and indeed is more so. It’s perfectly mainstream to be a white person — or in fact a person of any race, creed, or background — who holds a host of non-socialist beliefs that are every bit as systematic as, and actually more grounded in societal tradition than, the beliefs of socialism.
But as discussed in a previous piece, it’s precisely the project of the Biden administration’s new National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism to tar all such mainstream Americans as terrorists-in-waiting: probable “White Supremacy Extremists” or “Militia Extremists” or “Sovereign Citizen Extremists.” And sure enough, the Intercept article is thematic in just that way.
It’s interesting to note that while “socialism” has a relatively set, conventional definition, recognized by most, the categories of “white extremists” now being slung around by the federal agencies are either so specialized as to apply to practically no one, or so garbled as to have no good-faith cognitive or predictive value. (As for the people such terms do legitimately apply to, keep them under tight surveillance, with my goodwill.)
But the takeaway from the emerging trend in mainstream media “extremism” commentary is that no extremism may be imputed to — in shorthand — groups on the political Left, whereas it’s open season on the political Right, extremism-imputing-wise.
I think most readers know that. This article you’re reading at LU is the token of the point I want to leave with you. It’s possible to take apart each propaganda-argument and knock down its little battalion of straw-man premises. But unless you just enjoy doing that, you’re wasting your own time, and probably most of the attention span of others. I wouldn’t get into disputes on The Intercept’s or the Guardian‘s terms. If you feel it coming on, check back with this article (or similar ones written by others) for a reminder that, yes, the logical dismantling can be done; it’s up to you how much you want to put into it.
Because the game is protecting the Left from all criticism while making up ways to vilify the Right, and that’s intuitively obvious to auditors. Most people can hear the special pleading, even if they can’t readily parse it out clause by clause. It’s not a basis for policy or due process of law. It’s one-sided, unjust, and to be deplored.