Letter to the editor
From Max Brooks
Let me first say how deeply moved I was by your one-year-anniversary coverage of the horrific events of June 5, 2031. Your graphic description of the terrorist attack, your in-depth interviews with survivors, and your cover photograph of the dust-covered National Guard medic holding that small, bloody, blanket-covered body brought me and my family to tears.
However, I do take issue with the article’s last section on who is to blame. While you clearly identified each of the white supremacist insurgent cells, your backstory only went as far as the birth of their alliance. But where did these individual killers come from? How were they recruited, armed, trained, and ultimately permitted (and yes, I use that word deliberately) permitted to commit the greatest act of domestic terror in US history?
Hopefully, your paper will delve deeper into the root cause of this insurgency, and hopefully, it will have the courage to turn the mirror on all of us. Because when it comes to understanding the road to 6/5, the inconvenient truth is that we—Right, Left, and Center—share in the blame.
Conservatives have always known that there was a dark side to American populism and, for decades, conservatives of conscience worked tirelessly, and vigilantly, to contain it. But that was a long time ago. There’s no more John McCain who defended his opponent, Barack Obama, by calling him “a decent, family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with.” There’s no more Colin Powell who publicly followed up on McCain’s statement by asking “Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim kid believing that he or she could be president?” And, sadly, there’s no more George H.W. Bush, who bravely resigned his lifetime membership from the NRA after it called federal agents “jack-booted thugs.”
In 2016, the current generation of Republicans utterly abandoned its core principles by carrying the catalyst of the insurgency, a morally bankrupt, mentally unbalanced, megalomaniacal monster, all the way to the White House. And why? Because they thought they could control him, just like the German military-industrial establishment who thought that little Austrian street barker and his gang of brown-shirted orcs might be useful. And they were, for a time. Today’s Republicans got their tax cuts and their judges, and the reflected glow of the cheering mob. But, just like in Germany, it wasn’t long before self-congratulation turned to self-preservation. Today’s Republicans soon found themselves cringing, cowering, and crawling behind every slouching step of their self-made monster. And even when the monster was legitimately voted out of office, self-preservation drove those in his party to continue parroting the great lie that that election was illegitimate.
These were the very same Republicans who were, themselves, targets of the January 6, 2021, Capitol Insurrection, what we now call the “Fort Sumter” of modern domestic terror. But by refusing to condemn, or even investigate this treasonous riot, they opened the floodgates for acts of violence that have plagued every subsequent election right up to the bloodbath of 6/5.
By cozying up to the NRA and gunmakers, America’s right-wing politicians made sure that these acts of violence were executed with the same high-grade, rapid-firing, combat-multiplying assault rifles carried by the US military. And thanks to a shocking betrayal of our previously apolitical military, the American Right allowed some radicalized veterans to train the insurgents.
We all remember when Gen. Mark Milley fought to defuse the growing radicalization within his ranks by trying to “understand white rage.” But what did he get in response? “He’s not just a pig, he’s stupid.” That was the response from Tucker Carlson, the highest-paid, highest-rated pundit on Fox News. And barely anyone from the Republican Party—the pro-military, flag-waving, yellow-ribbon-wearing, “I support our troops” party—dared to stand against him. Because, just like the rest of right-wing media, and the gun lobby, and the mob-rallying monster, they both needed and feared him.
While America’s conservatives must own this radical revolt, the truth is that America’s liberals must also acknowledge their share in helping to push too many recruits toward radicalization. Like so many previous liberal failures, this was just another well-intentioned cock-up.
How do you convince people that giving something to one group doesn’t automatically mean you’re taking from another group?Share this quote
How do you convince people that giving something to one group doesn’t automatically mean you’re taking from another group?
That is the question that has also vexed agents of change. Previous Democrats, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Lyndon B. Johnson, used to struggle with this question every time they tried to make America live up to its ideals. But, somehow, today’s Left either forgot about finding an answer, or else just did not care. Since the 1990s, when “political correctness” birthed the backlash of right-wing media, willfully ignorant, self-righteous liberals have been consistently alienating large swaths of American citizens.
Sometimes this alienation was typical of the suicidal messaging Democrats are famous for. Defunding the police should have been positioned as the legitimate need for reform. Instead, Tucker Carlson got to show looting on a loop with his favorite phrase “they’re coming for you.” Likewise, “critical race theory” should have been more accurately called complete American history. But it wasn’t. And what should have been a better-late-than-never attempt to teach America’s youth the whole story of our past was, instead, spun by the Right as some kind of lefty attempt to shame our children with “anti-white mania.”
And, let’s be honest, too many liberals turned a blind eye when some of that shaming turned out to be real. In pop culture, political speeches, classrooms, and, especially, on social media, too many young white men were accused of being racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and, above all, “privileged.”
And where did these accusations come from? In most cases, from fellow white people, urban elites who, themselves, were privileged. And they knew. And they felt guilty about it. And they felt that the best way to assuage their guilt was to vomit it on anyone who looked like them, regardless of individual circumstance or eventual outcome. As one Twitter troll once told me, “I’m sure today’s white kids can handle a little name calling.”
Turns out, some white kids could not, just like some black kids or Middle Eastern kids or any kids with the right nature/nurture chemistry that left them vulnerable to radical recruitment. Which is the ultimate failure of today’s American Left. After twenty years of fighting Islamophobia, how could they fail to learn the critical lesson of their own crusade? Prejudice isn’t just immoral, it’s also dangerous. Because when you isolate and demonize any group of people, eventually some members of that group will become exactly what you fear.
That fear metastasized right before our eyes, thanks to the final culprit on the road to 6/5: social media.
“We just make the carton, we’re not responsible for the eggs.” These words were spoken by a former government official turned tech industry lobbyist at a DC forum on online radicalization. His statement typifies the supposed neutrality of today’s tech barons. They all dove for cover behind the defense of free speech, but what they really stood for was cheap speech. We could have pushed them to police the digital town squares they had built, but that would have cost them money. And who were we to ask the job creators to create jobs, even though we had done it before?
Two generations ago, when the world’s auto industry tried to argue that it was our driving, not their cars, that was killing so many people, consumer advocates forced CEOs to spend their yacht money on seat belts, airbags, crash tests, and a host of other safety measures that saved numerous lives (including mine). We could have done the same with online platforms. We could have forced CEOs to invest in the technology and regulations that would have kept extremism from festering on the Internet. But we didn’t. And every day more and more young, vulnerable men dropped out of society and into the arms of the hate. And then came 6/5.
Left, Right, and Center. Incompetence, fear, and greed. If there is any hope of preventing another 6/5, and defusing the smoldering rebellion behind it, we must first admit that we are all to blame.
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Max Brooks is a nonresident senior fellow with the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security’s Art of the Future project. Mr. Brooks is a New York Times bestselling author. His fiction, while undeniably entertaining, works to raise awareness on the issues of disaster preparedness, crisis management, and survival for the common reader—all under the thematic guise of a zombie apocalypse. He has devoted much of his life to the study and development of “anti-ghoul” security, culminating in a genuine interest in the fundamentals and logistics that go into keeping our world safe from natural and man-made disaster threats. Mr. Brooks worked as a writer for Saturday Night Live and after working for the BBC in Great Britain and East Africa, Brooks began writing The Zombie Survival Guide. Brooks’ New York Times best-seller, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, has been made into a major motion picture starring Brad Pitt. The book tells the story of the world’s desperate battle against the zombie threat with a series of first-person accounts “as told to the author” by various characters around the world. Publishers Weekly called the novel “surprisingly hard to put down.”
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