It's Hard to Start a Revolution On An Empty Stomach

As the fallout from the Capitol Riots continues, politicians are pointing fingers in all the wrong faces.

Violent extremism is a middle class activity, despite what some politicians would have you believe. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is preparing a new ad campaign targeted at voters frightened of QAnon and other extremist groups. "[Republicans] can do QAnon, or they can do college-educated voters. They cannot do both,” DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney told Politico.

Maloney’s comment betrays a deep ignorance of how conspiracy theories and extremism work. It also shows how little Maloney has been following the news of the prosecutions of the Capitol Riots. As indictments and charges come down from the FBI, we’re getting a picture of the people who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. The protesters represented a wide-swath of the American public, many of them successful and college educated. 

These are, by and large, the kind of people who had the means to take off work for a week in the middle of a pandemic and attend a political rally. Famously, Texas real-estate broker Jenna Ryan flew to D.C. on a private jet before allegedly participating in the riot. Far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) is a graduate of the University of Georgia. Far from a bottom-tier college, UGA produces a massive number of Rhodes Scholars.

It’s a common refrain after extremists or terrorists do something awful. As the ashes cool, we look for someone to blame and seek easy answers in the lives of the perpetrators. We want to believe that anyone who would join the Islamic State is an uneducated fool, that all terrorists are poor people too ignorant to see the truth of the world, and that violent extremists are just ignorant. “If we could just educate people,” the libreral straw man I’ve constructed for this argument says, “then these kinds of things wouldn’t happen.”

But that’s not true. The sad truth is that most cult members are highly educated and that terrorists tend to have the means to execute their plans. We went through this same battle with the obvious truth after 9/11. Many of the hijackers were educated engineers. Osama Bin Laden came from SERIOUS money and used that cash to fund his jihad.

As terrorism reseacher Sarah Hightower has pointed out time and time again, the Japanse cult Aum Shinrikyo were highly educated people who used their special knowledge to manufacture and deploy sarin gas. Twice.

This is a pattern that persists across cultures and political ideologies. The founding members of the Weather Underground, a violent leftist group that carried out targeted bombings in America throughout the 1960s and 1970s, were university students from wealthy backgrounds. When they went on the run they often crashed in the homes of wealthy friends in New England.

Journalist Seth J. Frantzman has spent hours talking to current and former Islamic State members, many of whom had come from privileged backgrounds in wealthy countries. “They act like the experience of joining ISIS was a kind of cool genocide tourism,” he said in an interview.  “Their only remorse is that they didn’t think it was as cool as they wanted it to be.”

There are now, and have always been, threads of violent extremism running through America. The myth that only the poor and uneducated fall for cults, conspiracy theories, and other outlandish beliefs is a pernicious one. It allows people to avoid an obvious truth—that it’s easy for normal people to fall prey to bad and violent ideas. Cultic thinking isn’t the province of the lower classes who are too stpuid to understand what they’ve gotten themselves into. It’s a political game the middle class plays, often with horrifying results.

Angry Planet

Happy late Monday. We’re getting the week started with some Libyan funk.

Over at Wars of Future Past, Kelsey Atherton is dreaming of a world without the Space Force and explaining why Joe Biden didn’t abolish it. “The problem isn’t that Biden couldn’t win the fight on abolishing the Space Force if he wanted to. Instead, the problem with Space Force is that the returns on that fight are really, really low,” Atherton said. “And that sets up the second reason I think the Biden administration isn't moving to abolish Space Force: Air Force Space Command, the precursor to Space Force, did almost all the same stuff.”

The Pentagon has realized it has a horrifying problem with extremism in the military and it’s ordered a 60 day stand-down to assess the risks. “We don’t know how we’re going to be able to get after this in a meaningful, productive, tangible way and that is why he had this meeting today and that is why he certainly ordered this stand-down,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

In Myanmar, a PE teacher accidentally captured a coup in the background of her dance routine. Dissent around the coup is building in the country and the military has blocked portions of the internet

Over at Civil Beat, there’s a rage-inducing story about how the U.S. military handles domestic abuse in its ranks.

Years after a genocidal massacre, Yazidi families in Iraq are finally able to gather to bury the dead.

image: Jason Fields photo