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The boogaloo president

If the word “boogaloo” is not yet in your vocabulary, it is time to put it there ASAP.

The Summer 2020 SPLC Report from the Southern Poverty Law Center describes it this way: “Many far-right extremists — including many in the anti-government movement — believe that the country is headed toward a civil war, one that they welcome because it would allow them to act on their anger toward leftists, ‘globalists,’ politicians and others. Often referred to as ‘the boogaloo,’ this outbreak of violence, they believe, would eventually purge the country of these forces and return America to a more ‘authentic’ version of itself. Extremists believe that the pandemic could be the spark to finally set the boogaloo in motion. According to the Tech Transparency Project, there are 125 boogaloo-themed groups on Facebook, most of which were created in the last three months.”

We are facing, in other words, a burgeoning domestic terrorist network ruthlessly determined to destroy civil society as we know it and to rebuild it in its own image by exterminating the two-thirds or so of the population who are not white, straight, Protestant, “conservative” and/or English-speaking (and hence not “real” Americans). This explosive situation has been developing for years. As Paul Krugman warned in 2005, “It seems clear to me that one should regard America’s right-wing movement … as a revolutionary power. … That is, it is a movement whose leaders do not accept the legitimacy of our current political system … and do not accept the rules that the rest of us have taken for granted.” Even more ominously, Krugman quotes from Henry Kissinger’s doctoral dissertation (1957), where he writes that, “Lulled by a period of stability which had seemed permanent, [people] find it nearly impossible to take at face value the assertion of the revolutionary power that it means to smash the existing framework.”

We must not be naive. This is not “normal” politics anymore. The Republican Party, as Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein point out (2012), has become “an insurgent outlier,” whose conservatism has “devolved into a new tribalism that value[s] neither principle nor truth” (Charles Sykes, 2017). For all their supposed hatred of “leftists,” they have taken a page straight out of Lenin’s Bolshevik playbook, as Ian Frazier makes clear in his article “What Ever Happened to the Russian Revolution?” (Smithsonian, October 2017): “Unlike Marxism-Leninism, Lenin’s tactics enjoy excellent health today. … Steve Bannon … who went on to become an adviser to the president, told a reporter in 2013, ‘I’m a Leninist … I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy today’s establishment.’ … Lenin’s methods have a powerfully modern appeal. Lenin showed how well not compromising can work” [p. 80].

This, of course, leaves out the rest of the story — the horrific legacy of those methods in terror, bloodshed, chaos and death. Under Lenin and Stalin, 66,000,000 people died in the camps of the Gulag between 1918 and 1956 — most of them “politicals” and “counter-revolutionaries.” During the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) hundreds of thousands more perished from atrocities perpetrated by both left and right. More recently have been the bloodlettings in Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Anyone who has visited, as I did three years ago, the S-21 Tuol Sleng torture center in Pnomh Penh and the Killing Fields just outside the city has seen what the boogaloo, if it comes, will look like: the indelible gray bloodstains on the tile floors, the photos of tortured people mutilated beyond recognition, the hundreds of government “mugshots” of individual victims covering every wall, the shards of human bone still coming up through the sand in the mass burial pits. Outside a memorial obelisk a plaque reads: “Would you please kindly show your respect to many million people who were killed under the genocidal Pol Pot regime?” Inside are several hundred skulls exhumed from the site, soaring to the ceiling in a tall glass case. The Khmer Rouge regime killed around 3 million people, about half the population of the country. And no one was safe from the murderous violence. The plaque outside S-21 lists “peasants, workers, technicians, engineers, doctors, teachers, students, Buddhist monks, Pol Pot’s Cadres, soldiers of all ranks, the Cambodian Diplomatic Corps, foreigners, etc. [who] were imprisoned and exterminated with their wives and children.” By the time the mayhem was over, it had set the ruined nation’s economic and social progress back 40 years, leaving emotional scars that will endure for generations.

That’s what “boogaloos” bring, especially those motivated by ideological or ethnic “cleansing.” Whether waged by the Khmer Rouge, Franco’s fascists, Serbian Chetniks, the Sendero Luminoso, Al-Shabab, the Janjaweed, or right-wing “patriots,” the results are always the same — widespread misery and death, with lasting damage to a country’s culture, infrastructure and future prospects. These consequences may be unintended and unanticipated by those who saw the ends as justifying the means. But violence, so easy to unleash, quickly becomes impossible to stop or control, and eventually incinerates everyone, both perpetrators and victims, in its raging fires. Just look at history.

From this perspective, President Trump’s irresponsible campaign to foment a new civil war/boogaloo is dangerous and frightening. Connect the dots: His simplistic polarizing rhetoric (“patriots” vs. “globalists” at the UN last year, “leftists” vs. “Americans” at his June 20 rally), his incitements to violence (“When the looting starts, the shooting starts”), his contempt for the Constitution (“this phony Emoluments Clause”) and a free press (“fake news!”), and his long trail of upended treaties, alliances and protocols are the marks not of a patriot who “loves America” but of a radical Leninist revolutionary. He speaks the language of right-wing extremists and is helping pave the way for an armed insurrection if defeated at the polls next fall, revenging himself on the country he pretends to revere.

If this behavior is unintentional, it’s inexcusable; if purposeful, it’s criminal reckless endangerment. A complicit Republican Senate refused to remove him from office in January. Now we’re facing the deadly consequences. Let’s not repeat the same mistake in November. These “fine people” are serious.

John Radigan lives in Saranac Lake.

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