Are there lessons for progressives in the Christmas morning RV explosion in Nashville, Tennessee? Is there a connection to the Oklahoma City bombing? Or to the patriots who stormed the Malhuer Bird Sanctuary to protect the nation from invading Canadian Geese?
These events all have some things in common. Each was an act of “revolution.” Each represented what someone hoped would be the trigger for a new civil war, a trigger that would spark wider conflict and lead to a “new,” whiter, more violent America. And each may help us discern more clearly distinctions between revolution and merely revolting.
Both Oklahoma City and Nashville bombings were intended to initiate wider warfare by “patriots” seeking to overcome popular opinion. Within hours of the Christmas morning explosion, an Oregon-based anti-government activist put out an “analysis” of the bombing which included such salient points as:
“NASHVILLE BOMBING: FIRST SHOT FIRED IN CIVIL WAR!... those who did it wanted to target the ATT Building (which houses the 911 emergency dispatch center, causing a shutdown of that service) but they also did not want innocent people hurt... this was an act by patriots wanting to send a message”
The screed, all in boldface, goes on for five turgid paragraphs. The writer has long been a “liaison” between groups of gun nuts who espouse violence as a way of promoting rightwing political goals and police unions. During the 2020 demonstrations in Portland, news watchers got used to seeing police officers protecting heavily armed “Proud Prayer Boys” and similar groups from being harassed and frightened too much by sign-wielding Black Lives Matter and Antifa anti-violence demonstrators.
When some lone wolf acts out, as in Oklahoma City or Nashville, the violence fantasizers jump up shouting, “Here comes the revolution.”
It doesn’t matter whether the writer had any actual knowledge of the Nashville bomb, or its purpose or who did it. When some lone wolf acts out, as in Oklahoma City or Nashville, the violence fantasizers jump up shouting, “Here comes the revolution.” Then they sit down again, chug a beer and settle in to wait for someone ELSE to carry their revolution forward.
It’s important to note that even in the darkest days of the most openly racist administration since Woodrow Wilson’s almost all the violence has been by isolated amateurs, doing limited damage and drawing overwhelming condemnation even from conservative groups. While their orange messiah calls on his base to “stand by,” they mostly sit by the TV or computer screen and feast on fantasies.
It’s hard to work up motivation to fight for a cause that is self-contradictory. The Oregonian praises the Nashville bomber(s) for not causing injuries—for even warning people away from the incipient explosion. But he casts the bombing in the name of rightwing theology that ascribes more value and importance to property than to individual lives. It’s hard to make a bombing designed to destroy people’s small businesses and apartments seem very respectful of private property.
When the “revolution” is all about protecting the private individual from the depredations of the “deep state,” it’s hard to justify destroying individual and corporate private property, rather than some “deep state” infrastructure. John Brown attacked the Harper’s Ferry arsenal, not the Harper’s Ferry WalMart.
Alt-whitie “revolutionaries” know that attacks that damage private property will draw less intense government response than those that damage government facilities. Timothy McVeigh was executed for bombing a government building. Lavoy Finicum died when he pulled a gun to defend vandalism at a bird sanctuary. Red state prosecutors won’t be so harsh with whomever blew up a bunch of music-oriented bars and a few apartments in the nation’s capital of country & western music as they would be if a government facility had been attacked.
It is interesting to note that Republican bombers chose Oklahoma City and Nashville as targets. Both are in Red states, full of Donald base supporters, just as the bird sanctuary is in the deepest Red part of the more moderate Washington state. Perhaps it seems safer to vandalize and set off bombs in neighborhoods aligned with the bomber’s views?
But is taking that easier path good for long-term goals? Lots of country western music fans may have ambivalent feelings about the town that hosts wild music parties and is even letting black and LGBTQ+ musicians get into C&W music. But do they want the studios that make the music and the bars that celebrate it blown up?
Do they want the symbols of their favorite art destroyed? Do they want the “revolution” to destroy their pleasant, conservative, white neighborhoods, rather than the “bad” neighborhoods that give rise to BLM and Antifa?
We see this pattern on both sides of the street. In the 60s and 70s, the “Weathermen” set off bombs at the same universities that were teaching them to question and challenge authority. It was easier and safer to attack the educational institutions and facilities than the government they were criticizing. Today, we see that it is easier to attack an incoming administration than to articulate practical suggestions for how that administration might repair the damage done by the outgoing one. But the attacks don’t seem to garner much public support.
Such attacks are like bombings. They are intended to tear down what others have built. They do not offer anything as replacements. They contrast with the past four years of organized, efficient attacks against lots of government programs that do good for the people every day.
Recent LA Progressive articles by Joe Mathews, Robert Reich and Richard Wolff suggest that we need less tearing down and more building up. Wolff wants a whole new party, without saying how it will be different from any old party. New parties evolve when they offer something better.
Right now, we have a structure and the opportunity to push politicians to do better than they have been doing. “The Squad,” is part of an existing party. If we can’t get people to support their practical steps, then dressing those ideas in the cloth of a “new party” may well be like proclaiming that the new party is “The first shot in a civil war” that isn’t going to happen.