James T. Hodgkinson, the would-be assassin of Republican congressmen, wasn’t a radical. If you look at his published output – a series of letters to his local newspaper in Belleville, Illinois, as well as the majority of his Internet postings – it’s mostly about matters nearly every progressive cares about: taxes (the rich don’t pay enough), healthcare (the government must provide), income inequality (it’s all a Republican plot). All in all, a pretty unremarkable worldview that any partisan Democrat – either a Bernie Sanders supporter, as Hodginkinson was, or a Hillary fan – could sign on to.
So what drove him over the edge?
One of his more recent Facebook posts was a link to a petition that called for “the legal removal of the President and Vice-President, et. al., for Misprision of Treason.” Hodgkinson had signed it and he was asking his readers to follow suit: “Trump is a Traitor,” he wrote, “Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.” He was also a big fan of Rachel Maddow, who – incredibly — has spent the majority of her airtime ranting about “The Russian Connection,” as this Intercept piece documents. Hodgkinson was also a member of a Facebook group ominously dubbing itself “Terminate the Republican Party,” an appellation Hodgkinson apparently took quite literally. The group has over 13,000 members. The main page of the Terminators is adorned with a cartoon of Putin manipulating Trump like a puppet.
When Hodgkinson left his home and his job to travel to Alexandria, Virginia, he told his wife he was going to “work on tax issues.” But is that what motivated his murderous spree? Do “tax issues” really seem like something that would inspire someone to plan and carry out an assassination attempt that, but for the presence of Capitol police on the scene, would have certainly resulted in a massacre?
Hodgkinson clearly believed that the President of the United States was an agent of a foreign power. He had signed on to the idea that Trump not only benefited from a Russian campaign to discredit Hillary Clinton, but that he is engaged in a war against his own country. As Maddow put it in one of her more unhinged broadcasts:
“If the presidency is effectively a Russian op, right, if the American Presidency right now is the product of collusion between the Russian Intelligence Services, and an American campaign, I mean, that is so profoundly big. This is not part of American politics; this is not, you know, partisan warfare between Republicans and Democrats. This is international warfare against our country.”
“International warfare” – and Hodgkinson, a soldier in that fight, saw it as his duty to use the sort of weapons that are commonly used in international warfare. That’s why he sprayed that baseball field with a hail of gunfire – over fifty rounds. And when his rifle ran out of ammunition, he took out his handgun and continued firing. Because “this is not, you know, partisan warfare between Republicans and Democrats. This is international warfare against our country” – and it’s the obligation of patriotic citizens to take up that fight and take out the enemy.
This sort of craziness is usually reserved for the farther fringes of the American polity. Back in the 1960s, far-right groups like the Minutemen – who believed the United States government was effectively under the Kremlin’s control – armed themselves to prepare for the day when they would “liberate” America. Indeed, this sort of lunacy has traditionally been a fixture of extreme right-wing politics in this country: that it has now appeared on the left – and not the far-left, but in the “mainstream” of the Democratic party, which has taken up the Russia-gate conspiracy theory to the virtual exclusion of all else — is the proximate cause of what I call Hodgkinson’s Disease: the radicalization of formerly anodyne Democrats into a twenty-first century version of the Weathermen.
How did this happen? Democratic party leaders, in tandem with their journalistic camarilla, have validated an unconvincing conspiracy theory for which not a lick of definitive evidence has been provided: the idea that the Russians “stole” the election on behalf of Trump, and that the Trump campaign cooperated in this treasonous effort.
Yet that hasn’t stopped the Democratic party leadership from taking this ball and running with it. As Jennifer Palmieri, a top official in the Clinton campaign, put it, Democrats should push the “collusion” issue “relentlessly and above all else. They should talk about it in every interview.” The New York Times writes about this conspiracy theory as if it is uncontested fact. Democratic officeholders have declared that the alleged “hacking” of the election was an “act of war” – with the NeverTrump Republicans echoing the party line – and the Twitterverse’s conspiracy theorists are having a field day with the dangerously loony contention that we are at war with Russia. What’s more, the wildest imaginings of the nutjob crowd are being taken up and amplified by “respectable” people like constitutional lawyer Laurence Tribe.
In this way Hodgkinson’s Disease was incubated, its toxicity penetrating the mind of a suggestible and embittered little man until the poison had accumulated to such an extent that it burst through to the surface in an explosion of uncontrollable rage. Rachel Maddow is the theory: James T. Hodgkinson is the practice. The ultimate result is civil war.
That such a conflict would be born out of a full-scale delusional system that resembles a third-rate cold war era thriller just adds a Bizarro World cast to the whole sorry spectacle. The “Russia-gate” conspiracy theory that has consumed the energies of the media, the Congress, and President Trump is an elaborate hoax. This farrago of falsehood rests on a fallacious assumption: that the Russians necessarily “hacked” the DNC and John Podesta’s emails. The contention is that the methods supposedly utilized by the alleged hackers were similar to those used in the past by “suspected” Russian hackers, and that this makes the case. Yet this argument ignores the fact that these tools and methods were already out there, available for anyone to use. This is a textbook example of what cyber-security expert Jeffrey Carr calls “faith-based attribution,” which amounts to, at best, an educated guess, and at worst is the end result of confirmation bias combined with the economic incentive to tell a client what they want to hear. In the case of the DNC/Podesta “hacks,” the company hired to investigate, CrowdStrike, had every reason to echo Hillary Clinton’s contention that the Russians were the guilty party. CrowdStrike, by the way, never gave US law enforcement authorities access to the DNC’s servers: indeed, the FBI’s request for access was rebuffed.
The “Russia-gate” hoax has injected a pernicious and highly dangerous theme into our political discourse: the accusation that the Trump administration is a traitorous cabal intent on “destroying democracy,” as Hodgkinson put it, and handing over the country to the tender mercies of a foreign power. Taken seriously, this theme necessarily and inevitably leads to violence, which means there’s a good chance we’ll see more Hodgkinsons in the headlines.
And standing behind it all is the Deep State – the leakers (with access to all our communications) who are feeding disinformation to the Washington Post and the New York Times in order to bring down this presidency. One prong of this operation is embodied in the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, whose investigation was provoked and fueled by Deep State leakage. The other prong consists of the useful idiot crowd, those who believe the propaganda and can be mobilized to take to the streets.
The Deep State types don’t have to get in direct contact with people like Hodgkinson in order to provoke violence against this administration or Trump’s supporters. They have only to continue to do what they’ve been doing since before Trump even took office, covertly spreading the idea that Trump is “Putin’s puppet,” as Mrs. Clinton put it: radicalized useful idiots like Hodgkinson will do the rest. It is eerily similar to the methods the CIA has used to overthrow foreign governments: spread rumors, utilizing their journalistic sock-puppets, and indirectly motivate and mobilize mobs to carry out their “regime-change” agenda. The only difference now is that they’re doing what they’ve always done on the home front instead of in, say, Lower Slobbovia.
Yes, that’s where we are right now – we’ve become Lower Slobbovia. Get used to it, folks, because it won’t end until the Deep State is defeated and dismantled.
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.