Incarceration Won’t Stop the Escalation and Spread of QAnon and American Fascism
Connor Sheets at AL.com has a good piece out about the man who had a heart attack and died at the Capitol riot, with a specific focus on his transformation from union vice president and Obama supporter to gun-touting MAGA diehard. One of Greeson’s former coworkers at the Goodyear plant in Northern Alabama made an interesting observation about why she thinks people like Greeson have been radicalized in the last decade: “I believe the Obama policies caused a lot of soreness in this area and I honestly think people thought Trump was going to make them wealthy.”
Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden is responding to the Capitol riot in a very different way. The soon-to-be President has been one of the more vocal proponents of labeling the protesters as “domestic terrorists.” This is not just a rhetorical flare — the label is connected to Biden’s support for a law creating a domestic terrorism crime that essentially would be the domestic counterpart to the “Acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries” law created in 1996 as Islamic fundamentalist attacks on U.S. soldiers were increasing. Critical responses to this move have mainly focused on (1) the law being unnecessary as there are already severe criminal punishments for what some of those at the Capitol riots did, (2) it is of questionable constitutional validity as policing power is generally reserved to the states and most federal crimes, like the “Acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries” law, are about interstate and international crimes, and (3) the law will wind up being used against groups and movements like Black Lives Matters who the FBI has been notoriously biased against.
Those are all important criticism but I want to touch on one that the aforementioned AL.com article really gets: (1) on a moral level, should the Capitol protesters as a whole be treated as domestic terrorists, and (2) would treating them as domestic terrorists prevent further incidents like the Capitol riots? My answer to both questions is no. The Capitol protesters may have deranged and hateful views, but the fact that so many of them are former Obama supporters like Greeson indicates that their political positions are more flexible than may be apparent from their garish cult-like behavior.
And perhaps more importantly, if the government treats them as enemy combatants, censoring their political speech and incarcerating them, it will feed into the narrative driving their whole movement: that they are noble revolutionaries fighting for their rights. It legitimizes them as a political force to treat them this way, when in actuality it is millions of people being brainwashed and exploited by a handful of narcissists (like Trump), Christian Dominionists (like Ted Cruz and Mike Pompeo), and white nationalists (like Stephen Miller and Tom Cotton). Not even the U.S. carceral system has the capacity to lock up all the people who support the Capitol riot, and if it actually tried there would be little accomplished beyond probably creating a QAnon prison gang. As some more savvy reporters have noted, QAnon essentially operates like a religion. History is full of failed attempts to stamp out religion by physical force, most recently the “War on Terror” that sought to, and utterly failed at, stamping out fundamentalist forms of Islam.
People need to be provided a different narrative. As mentioned at the beginning, what swayed Obama supporters and other progressives to move to the right and become Trump supporters was the harm created by Obama era policies and a solution offered by Trump — to make people wealthy. The idea that Trump, a likely-fake-billionaire who has far more failed business ventures than successful ones, could make people wealthy might seem outlandish at first. But of course we had a society, and in particular a media, that was all too willingly to push the narrative that Trump was a master businessman, and that was even before he had a popular show on TV perpetuating the myth that he was a master businessman. And more importantly, President Obama discarded “Hope” and “Change” soon after entering office to perpetuate business as usual, and business as usual means the only solution to life’s problems is wealth.
Starting with Jimmy Carter (yes Jimmy Carter, not Reagan), the federal government has constantly and fervently pushed the idea that government cannot and does not solve problems except in moments of crisis, and then the solution is bailing out banks and major corporations. What few things the federal government has done in the last five decades (compared to the ambitious federal programs of the New Deal and Great Society) have been focused on creating private markets to solve the problem, and of course in those private markets like any other, wealth is the key to power. From forcing people to use private attorneys to assert their rights to the Affordable Care Act providing insurance to insurance companies rather than to people, the last five decades have shown the American people consistently that wealth is the solution to their problems rather than democratically creating solutions. So really none of us should be surprised that people turned to a get-rich-quick huckster promising “good deals,” especially when the government has also been facilitating the destruction of unions that used to give people like Greeson a say in the circumstances of their economic life. The only way to have that control and power now is personal wealth.
For all their irrational beliefs about climate change and some mythical behind the scenes action movie plot to save America from a shadowy cabal of pedophiles, Trump supporters’ political beliefs are in fact quite rational after five decades of neoliberalism. As Mindy Isser noted in her great article on union members who support Trump, “84% of Trump voters rated the economy as “very important” in 2020, compared to Biden supporters’ 66%.” One of the Trump supporters she interviewed put it even more plainly: “You can’t care about other policies if you’re worried about losing your house or if your children don’t have food or if your heat may get turned off; having shelter and food is everyone’s number one concern.”
Now of course none of this is a moral excuse of the xenophobia and other hatred espoused by Trump supporters. But to again draw from Mindy’s interviews, People’s Action leader George Goehl brings up a truth that some just don’t want to hear: “[T]he largest group of people living in poverty are white people and a Left saying, ‘We are not going to be in relationship with the largest group of people living in poverty’ … seems nuts.”
What socialists want is a government run by and for working class people. That fundamental belief means that we do not have the convenience of neoliberal oligarchs like Joe Biden to be able to cast aside working class people when they behave in disappointing and ugly ways. Our duty is to unite working class people to see their common interest and that if they ran things there would be an alternative to the world of “wealth is power” that they have suffered so severely under.
The first and most important step to creating that reconciliation is providing people with the ability and means to have a fulfilling life regardless of whether they are wealthy. The two biggest roadblocks to this in the modern U.S. have never been more apparent in the time of COVID-19: the need for universal singlepayer healthcare and for living wage jobs. Medicare For All and a Job Guarantee, if successfully implemented and not watered down, can show people that, when the working class organizes and wins, we don’t need to depend on individual wealth to get by.
Prisons, surveillance, and other policing will not disarm and deprogram the millions stuck in the alternative universe of QAnon — only a better world will.