When They Fantasize About Killing You, Believe ThemRoundup
tags: far right, extremism, Middle Eastern History
Hussein Ibish is a Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
Decades of living in, studying, and writing about the Middle East have taught me that whenever a political faction becomes obsessed with violent rhetoric and fantasies, brutal acts aren’t far behind. And while there’s always been a strain of militancy on the American right and left fringes, there is something unmistakably new, and profoundly alarming, about the casual, florid, and sadistic rhetoric that is metastasizing from the Republican fringe into the party’s mainstream.
For sheer pornographic sadism, it’s tough to beat Jesse Kelly’s encomium to murder and torture published by the right-wing website The Federalist. Kelly doesn’t make any real arguments, other than declaring liberals terrible authoritarians. Instead, in language that the Islamic State would envy, he describes the visceral, almost orgasmic, joy of scalping a dying enemy:
Close your eyes and imagine holding someone’s scalp in your hands. I don’t mean cradling his skull as you thousand-yard-stare at his lifeless face. I mean a real scalp, Indian-style, of some enemy you just killed on the battlefield; somebody you hated and who hated you back.
You killed him, won the day, carved off the top of his skull, and now you’re standing over him victorious on the now-quiet field of battle, with a quiet breeze blowing through your hair. Your adrenaline is still pumping with that primal feeling of victory and the elation of having survived when others didn’t.
Kelly hastens to add that he is discussing “not a real scalping, but a metaphorical one.” But he concludes the essay by warning readers that when they are stuck in a “liberal utopian nightmare,” they will want to know that before the leftists prevailed, they “rode out onto the plains and made them feel pain.”
Again, the unmistakable lesson from the modern Middle East is: When people keep saying they’re fantasizing about how great it would be, and feel, to kill you, believe them.
Most Republican leaders still don’t personally indulge in bloodthirsty reveries. But, with equal consistency, most are going out of their way to tolerate them. There’s no question that the right’s Overton window, which establishes what ideas a constituency will regard as legitimate, regarding political violence dramatically expanded during Donald Trump’s presidency and, especially, after his defeat by Joe Biden.
There was already a racial and cultural panic on the far right in the run-up to Trump’s election. In a notorious essay for the Claremont Review of Books in September 2016, “The Flight 93 Election,” the Claremont Institute’s Michael Anton described the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency as so dire that Americans needed to back a candidate as manifestly unfit and unstable as Trump. “Charge the cockpit or you die,” he wrote, because “if you don’t try, death is certain.”
Anton never said why and how the election of Hillary Clinton would mean national suicide. But he inveighed against “the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners,” and in the eighth year of Barack Obama’s presidency, the racial subtext was clear.
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