In the Time of the Witch-Hunters

Remember the post-9/11 hysteria?

by , November 20, 2013

I see Andrew Sullivan has just published an e-book of his post-/9/11 blogging, a collection of hysterical imprecations aimed at an alleged "fifth column" on "both coasts" out to undermine America’s moral certainty. It is appropriately titled "I Was Wrong."

You have to give the guy some credit: what other writer would do this? As an exercise in narcissism, Sullivan’s blog-tome has few rivals. I’m afraid, however, that this literary mea culpa, rather than provoking forgiveness, merely underscores the sheer depth of Sullivan’s faults as a writer and thinker, reminding us what an insufferable ass he is. And I see he’s omitted the blog post in which he attacks Antiwar.com as part of a pro-terrorist "fifth column." Oh well, sleeping dogs and all that – but still …

… But still, reading this compendium of moral preening and bloodthirsty calls for nuking Iraq yanked me back to that dark era, when the world seemed to have gone mad. I started browsing through my columns written at the time, re-living my astonishment at the level of irrationality running rampant through the country – and my certainty that the consequences would soon come back to haunt us. Check out this October 1, 2001 column, devoted to Peter Beinart’s call for a moratorium on antiwar protests. Yes, he actually did call for a moratorium:

"This nation is now at war. And in such an environment, domestic political dissent is immoral without a prior statement of national solidarity, a choosing of sides. By canceling the upcoming protests – and acknowledging that it is less important to ruin the meetings of the IMF and the World Bank than to let Washington recover – that is exactly the statement the anti-globalization movement would be making. And when peace returned and it came time to resume the globalization debate once more, their fellow citizens would remember.”

People actually got away with writing such nonsense back in those days: what’s even more astonishing is that these same people are still at the same old stand, dispensing sage advice on matters great and small. They aren’t embarrassed by their puffed-up self-righteousness, their absurd sloganeering, their shameful eagerness to pounce on anyone who deviated from the requisite groupthink. That was then, this is now.

But I remember: in some ways, I’ll always live in that atmosphere of all-pervasive fear – genuine fear of another terrorist attack, and what it would mean for the country, and fear for my own life. I couldn’t register to vote for several years because it’s public record and Antiwar.com had received so many death threats that it just wasn’t a good idea to advertise my home address. And then there was the threat to Antiwar.com from the US government, which we didn’t know about at the time: we hadn’t yet seen the April 2004 FBI memo calling for a "preliminary" investigation of this site and its principals on the grounds that we might very well be "agents of a foreign power."

We did, however, note determined efforts to link us to illegal acts: David Horowitz’s Frontpagemag.com made quite a to-do over the arrest of one Ismail Royer on charges of violating the Neutrality Act for conspiring to join an obscure anti-Indian guerrilla group in Kashmir. Among his alleged crimes: playing paintball in the course of "training" exercises. Royer, it seems, had written an article published on this site, and the inference was that we were all part of some Vast Terrorist Paintball Conspiracy. Sullivan dutifully picked up on this in a January 18, 2004 blog item:

"FIFTH COLUMN WATCH: An Anti-War.com writer pleaded guilty to federal weapons and explosives charges. He was planning to fight for ‘Muslim causes.’"

A few months later, we now know, the FBI launched their investigation into Antiwar.com.

I remember those times: when strutting demagogues, emboldened by the post-9/11 hysteria, bestrode the stage, demanding a moratorium on protests – and on thinking. "You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists." With few exceptions, the very people one would expect to resist this mad Manicheanism – the "public intellectuals" – took up Bush’s war cry with ill-concealed gusto, with Sullivan the loudest and most obnoxious. Sullivan, at this point, was hob-nobbing with his friends in the White House, having become the administration’s Internet champion. His rhetoric and those of his fellow laptop bombardiers was clearly aimed at criminalizing dissent in wartime, and, in Antiwar.com’s case, specifically linking this webs site to support for terrorism.

Aside from the threatening rhetorical style that imbued the prose of our ideological opponents, I knew that, given the prevailing atmosphere, there was a very real danger of outright state repression. And from the safe distance of the year 2013, I look back and see there is no safety: we are just one terrorist attack away from the same "don’t you know there’s a war on?" militarism that afflicted this country twelve years ago.

In that sense, then, I’ll always be living in those dark times, or at least a part of me will remain there, forever refusing to give out my address – and refusing, as well, to forgive the bullies who took advantage of the sickness of those days to lord it over the rest of us. Even today, when everyone who supported the Iraq war is too embarrassed to admit it, and the anti-interventionist point of view is increasingly popular on the right as well as the left, I can’t forget the sheer overwhelming unrelenting hatred directed at anyone who dared challenge the wisdom of invading and occupying two Muslim countries in the midst of the world’s most volatile region.

There were plenty of would-be intellectual enforcers out and about, including Sullivan and Beinart, eager to squeeze expressions of "national solidarity" out of anyone they suspected of having impure thoughts. One such enforcer, former Bush speechwriter David Frum, wrote an entire article for National Review describing in detail the "treason" of such personages as Robert Novak, Pat Buchanan, Chronicles editor Tom Fleming, myself, and half a dozen or so others on the right for predicting that the Iraq and Afghan wars would end in disaster. Of course, what Frum wasn’t counting on was that the wars would indeed turn out to be catastrophic for the US, as well as for Iraq and Afghanistan, and so reading his polemic today is quite a pleasure for me, as it demonstrates how right I was back then and how often pretentious blowhards like Frum are so very wrong.

Frum’s essay was meant to expel us from the conservative-libertarian movement: "We turn our backs on you," he wrote, urging the rest of the world to do the same. Now he’s turned his back on his former comrades at National Review, and taken up a lucrative career as a professional ex-conservative, dutifully detailing the shortcomings of his former colleagues to the delight of liberal TV anchors.

History is just full of these little ironies, now isn’t it? Instead of turning their backs on us, the conservatives we have always sought to address have increasingly turned toward peace in their efforts to roll back Big Government. Instead of falling in line with the authoritarian guff Frum and his fellow neocons have been spouting since 9/11, constitutional conservatives are in the vanguard of the movement to preserve civil liberties in this country.

Yes, we’ve made progress over the years: our anti-interventionism, instead of being marginalized, is now the default position for All Reasonable People. Confronted with the question "Do we really want to go to war over this," these days the default answer is no. And yet …

Let me take you back in my time machine, back to the winter of 2001, and a bitter one it was. Anthrax had suddenly appeared in the mail system, and the pundits, led by the Andrew Sullivan types, were screaming for vengeance – against someone, anyone, preferably with a Muslim-sounding name. "I Was Wrong" reprints Sullivan’s blog post stating with near certitude that Iraq was behind the anthrax attacks and demanding a nuclear response.

It could all happen again. People who seem, on the surface, to be reasonable and intelligent, can easily – with a simple turn of events – turn into irrational monsters. Another terrorist attack that provokes a similar outpouring of all that is rotten and contemptible in human beings – that’s all it’ll take, and we’ll be right back there again, in a world where to question our foreign policy of perpetual war is to smeared as a "terrorist" or an "agent of a foreign power."

Yet one thing reassures me, and it ought to reassure you, too: in a world where the ostensible friends of peace are liable to scatter at the first sign of trouble, and where partisan considerations regularly trump matters of supposed high principle, you can always count on Antiwar.com to stand up for peace and reason. It doesn’t matter what party holds the White House, or what rules of political correctness have to be violated in order to speak truth to power. In a world of maddening inconsistency and fly-by-night Internet sensations, you can count on Antiwar.com to debunk the War Party’s latest lies – and we’re doing it 24/7!

However, we can’t continue to do it without your help. Unlike the War Party, which has bundles of cash courtesy of its corporate keepers, we don’t have an unlimited budget handed to us by wealthy patrons. We depend on you, our readers, for the hundreds of small donations that keep us going through the year.

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NOTES IN THE MARGIN

You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Read more by Justin Raimondo