Following the 9/11 script, objections to government overreach in the name of 1/6 are demonized as sympathy for terrorists. But government abuses pose the greater threat.
When a population is placed in a state of sufficiently grave fear and anger regarding a perceived threat, concerns about the constitutionality, legality and morality of measures adopted in the name of punishing the enemy typically disappear. The first priority, indeed the sole priority, is to crush the threat. Questions about the legality of actions ostensibly undertaken against the guilty parties are brushed aside as trivial annoyances at best, or, worse, castigated as efforts to sympathize with and protect those responsible for the danger. When a population is subsumed with pulsating fear and rage, there is little patience for seemingly abstract quibbles about legality or ethics. The craving for punishment, for vengeance, for protection, is visceral and thus easily drowns out cerebral or rational impediments to satiating those primal impulses.
The aftermath of the 9/11 attack provided a vivid illustration of that dynamic. The consensus view, which formed immediately, was that anything and everything possible should be done to crush the terrorists who — directly or indirectly — were responsible for that traumatic attack. The few dissenters who attempted to raise doubts about the legality or morality of proposed responses were easily dismissed and marginalized, when not ignored entirely. Typically, they were vilified with the accusation that their constitutional and legal objections were frauds: mere pretexts to conceal their sympathy and even support for the terrorists. It took at least a year or two after that attack for there to be any space for questions about the legality, constitutionality, and morality of the U.S. response to 9/11 to be entertained at all.
For many liberals and Democrats in the U.S., 1/6 is the equivalent of 9/11. One need not speculate about that. Many have said this explicitly. Some prominent Democrats in politics and media have even insisted that 1/6 was worse than 9/11.
Joe Biden’s speechwriters, when preparing his script for his April address to the Joint Session of Congress, called the three-hour riot “the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.” Liberal icon Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), whose father’s legacy was cemented by years of casting 9/11 as the most barbaric attack ever seen, now serves as Vice Chair of the 1/6 Committee; in that role, she proclaimed that the forces behind 1/6 represent “a threat America has never seen before.” The enabling resolution that created the Select Committee calls 1/6 “one of the darkest days of our democracy.” USA Today’s editor David Mastio published an op-ed whose sole point was a defense of the hysterical thesis from MSNBC analysts that 1/6 is at least as bad as 9/11 if not worse. S.V. Date, the White House correspondent for America’s most nakedly partisan “news” outlet, The Huffington Post, published a series of tweets arguing that 1/6 was worse than 9/11 and that those behind it are more dangerous than Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda ever were.
Trump Apology Corps in full apology mode.
The 9/11 terrorists and Osama bin Laden never threatened the heart of the American experiment.
The 1/6 terrorists and Donald Trump absolutely did exactly that. Trump continues that effort today. https://t.co/cDcOkXFeio
— S.V. Dáte (@svdate) May 25, 2021
And ever since the pro-Trump crowd was dispersed at the Capitol after a few hours of protests and riots, the same repressive climate that arose after 9/11 has prevailed. Mainstream political and media sectors instantly consecrated the narrative, fully endorsed by the U.S. security state, that the United States was attacked on 1/6 by domestic terrorists bent on insurrection and a coup. They also claimed in unison that the ideology driving those right-wing domestic terrorists now poses the single most dangerous threat to the American homeland, a claim which the intelligence community was making even before 1/6 to argue for a new War on Terror (just as neocons wanted to invade and engineer regime change in Iraq prior to 9/11 and then exploited 9/11 to achieve that long-held goal).
With those extremist and alarming premises fully implanted, there has been little tolerance for questions about whether proposed responses for dealing with the 1/6 “domestic terrorists” and their incomparably dangerous ideology are excessive, illegal, unethical, or unconstitutional. Even before Joe Biden was inaugurated, his senior advisers made clear that one of their top priorities was to enact a bill from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) — now a member of the Select Committee on 1/6 — to import the first War on Terror onto domestic soil. Even without enactment of a new law, there is no doubt that a second War on Terror, this one domestic, has begun and is growing, all in the name of the 1/6 “Insurrection” and with little dissent or even public debate.
Following the post-9/11 script, anyone voicing such concerns about responses to 1/6 is reflexively accused of minimizing the gravity of the Capitol riot and, worse, of harboring sympathy for the plotters and their insurrectionary cause. Questions or doubts about the proportionality or legality of government actions in the name of 1/6 are depicted as insincere, proof that those voicing such doubts are acting not in defense of constitutional or legal principles but out of clandestine camaraderie with the right-wing domestic terrorists and their evil cause.
When it comes to 1/6 and those who were at the Capitol, there is no middle ground. That playbook is not new. “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” was the rigidly binary choice which President George W. Bush presented to Americans and the world when addressing Congress shortly after the 9/11 attack. With that framework in place, anything short of unquestioning support for the Bush/Cheney administration and all of its policies was, by definition, tantamount to providing aid and comfort to the terrorists and their allies. There was no middle ground, no third option, no such thing as ambivalence or reluctance: all of that uncertainty or doubt, insisted the new war president, was to be understood as standing with the terrorists.