‘Free’ helicopter rides

There’s a passage from Kim Messick, a few years ago, that I have quoted repeatedly, even in my dissertation,[1] because Messick expresses so clearly how authoritarian populists, then the Tea Party,[2] now Trumpsters or MAGAts, who represent a tendency of conservatism that goes back 1,000 years,[3] view the rest of us:

[T]he Republican Party’s extremism can be traced to its increased dependence on an electorate that is largely rural, Southern and white. These voters, who figure prominently in the Tea Party, often decline to interpret political conflict as a struggle among interest groups or a good-faith clash of opinion. Instead, they tend to identify the country as a whole with an idealized version of themselves, and to equate any dissent from their values with disloyalty by alien, “un-American” forces. This paranoid vision of politics, I argued, makes them seek out opportunities for dramatic conflict and to shun negotiation and compromise.[4]

This passage takes on a new chill in light of Christopher Ketcham’s article on the ‘Hoppean Snake,’ a symbol embraced by right-wing extremists that hearkens to the Augusto Pinochet regime in Chile:[5]

Following [Augusto] Pinochet’s 1973 coup d’état, which ended the short-lived and turbulent administration of Chile’s democratically elected president Salvador Allende, an avowed Marxist, thousands of Allende’s supporters were killed, tens of thousands of perceived enemies of the putschist regime were tortured, and thousands of others were disappeared, often after being flown in a military helicopter and toppled from the sky. Sometimes this free helicopter ride included splitting open the guts of kidnapped victims while they were still alive so that their bodies wouldn’t float when dumped in the sea.[6]

It seems that right-wing extremists in this country are promoting this very idea, complete with “free helicopter rides,” explicitly referring to Pinochet’s paramilitary groups, as they say,[7] “I’m evil for throwing people out of helicopters? False. Commies aren’t people.”[8]

Fig. 1. Photograph by author, August 8, 2020.

What I’m seeing more and more is that the picture I had of right-wing militia groups, as including, sometimes informally and often in sympathy, members of police[9] and military forces,[10] and therefore—I assumed—militaristic and disciplined, misses a majority of right-wing extremism. A majority probably comprises the sort of toxic masculine assholes whom I see so often on the roads around southwestern Pennsylvania in their monster pickup trucks, driving aggressively and generally unmolested by the cops, carrying guns because they think it’s their right but mostly because they’re bullies who’ve never grown up from their bullying days on schoolyards and playgrounds and because they never know when they’ll manage to concoct an excuse to shoot Blacks.[11] The insurrection and attempted coup[12] is probably a more accurate picture: a large mob, undisciplined because this is their idea of a really wild party,[13] effectively providing cover for a much smaller number of somewhat better disciplined forces who executed a planned attack.[14]

Donald Trump may, for the moment at least, be vanquished. These people are still out there. With their offer of ‘free’ helicopter rides.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  2. [2]Kim Messick, “Modern GOP is still the party of Dixie,” Salon, October 12, 2013, https://www.salon.com/2013/10/12/modern_gop_is_still_the_party_of_dixie/
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Barack Obama asks, ‘Why is it that the folks that won the last election are so mad all the time?’ Not Housebroken, November 4, 2018, https://disunitedstates.org/2018/11/04/barack-obama-asks-why-is-it-that-the-folks-that-won-the-last-election-are-so-mad-all-the-time/
  4. [4]Kim Messick, “Modern GOP is still the party of Dixie,” Salon, October 12, 2013, https://www.salon.com/2013/10/12/modern_gop_is_still_the_party_of_dixie/
  5. [5]Christopher Ketcham, “What the Far-Right Fascination With Pinochet’s Death Squads Should Tell Us,” Intercept, February 4, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/02/04/pinochet-far-right-hoppean-snake/
  6. [6]Christopher Ketcham, “What the Far-Right Fascination With Pinochet’s Death Squads Should Tell Us,” Intercept, February 4, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/02/04/pinochet-far-right-hoppean-snake/
  7. [7]Christopher Ketcham, “What the Far-Right Fascination With Pinochet’s Death Squads Should Tell Us,” Intercept, February 4, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/02/04/pinochet-far-right-hoppean-snake/
  8. [8]unattributed, quoted in Christopher Ketcham, “What the Far-Right Fascination With Pinochet’s Death Squads Should Tell Us,” Intercept, February 4, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/02/04/pinochet-far-right-hoppean-snake/
  9. [9]Mark Berman et al., “Protests spread over police shootings. Police promised reforms. Every year, they still shoot and kill nearly 1,000 people,” Washington Post, June 8, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/protests-spread-over-police-shootings-police-promised-reforms-every-year-they-still-shoot-nearly-1000-people/2020/06/08/5c204f0c-a67c-11ea-b473-04905b1af82b_story.html; Kyle Cheney, Sarah Ferris, and Laura Barrón-López, “‘Inside job’: House Dems ask if Capitol rioters had hidden help,” Politico, January 8, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/01/08/congress-democrats-capitol-riot-inside-job-456725; Tim Craig, “Proud Boys and Black Lives Matter activists clashed in a Florida suburb. Only one side was charged,” Washington Post, February 2, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/florida-protest-bill-unequal-treatment/2021/02/01/415d1b02-6240-11eb-9061-07abcc1f9229_story.html; James Downie, “Time to toss the ‘bad apples’ excuse,” Washington Post, May 31, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/05/31/time-toss-bad-apples-excuse/; Kimberly Kindy, Mark Berman, and Kim Bellware, “After Capitol riot, police chiefs work to root out officers with ties to extremist groups,” Washington Post, January 24, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/police-capitol-riot-extremists/2021/01/24/16fdb2bc-5a7b-11eb-b8bd-ee36b1cd18bf_story.html; Maggie Koerth, “The Police’s Tepid Response To The Capitol Breach Wasn’t An Aberration,” FiveThirtyEight, January 7, 2021, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-polices-tepid-response-to-the-capitol-breach-wasnt-an-aberration/; Kurtis Lee, Jaweed Kaleem, and Laura King, “‘White supremacy was on full display.’ Double standard seen in police response to riot at Capitol,” Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-01-07/la-na-washington-capitol-police-attack-race; Wesley Lowery, “Aren’t more white people than black people killed by police? Yes, but no,” Washington Post, July 11, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/07/11/arent-more-white-people-than-black-people-killed-by-police-yes-but-no/; Brentin Mock, “What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings,” CityLab, August 6, 2019, https://www.citylab.com/equity/2019/08/police-officer-shootings-gun-violence-racial-bias-crime-data/595528/; Elie Mystal, “There’s Only One Possible Conclusion: White America Likes Its Killer Cops,” Nation, May 27, 2020, https://www.thenation.com/article/society/white-america-cops/; Ciara O’Rourke, “How Oath Keepers Are Quietly Infiltrating Local Government,” Politico, December 9, 2020, https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/12/09/oath-keepers-far-right-group-infiltrate-local-government-texas-443773; Matt Stieb, “Capitol Police Suspends Cops for Allegedly Siding With Pro-Trump Mob,” New York, January 11, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/01/two-capitol-cops-suspended-for-actions-during-capitol-riot.html; Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “How Do We Change America?” New Yorker, June 8, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/how-do-we-change-america
  10. [10]Lois Beckett, “How the US military has failed to address white supremacy in its ranks,” Guardian, June 24, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/24/us-military-white-supremacy-extremist-plot; Bryan Bender, “The military has a hate group problem. But it doesn’t know how bad it’s gotten,” Politico, January 11, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/01/11/military-right-wing-extremism-457861; Mike Giglio, “A Pro-Trump Militant Group Has Recruited Thousands of Police, Soldiers, and Veterans,” Atlantic, November 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/right-wing-militias-civil-war/616473/; Ed Pilkington, “Seditionaries: FBI net closes on Maga mob that stormed the Capitol,” Guardian, February 6, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/feb/06/us-capitol-insurrection-fbi-investigation; Leo Shane, III, “Signs of white supremacy, extremism up again in poll of active-duty troops,” Military Times, February 6, 2020, https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2020/02/06/signs-of-white-supremacy-extremism-up-again-in-poll-of-active-duty-troops/
  11. [11]David Benfell, “‘Gun rights’ as white supremacism,” Not Housebroken, August 4, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/08/04/gun-rights-as-white-supremacism/; David Benfell, “Militia territory,” Not Housebroken, November 22, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/11/22/militia-territory/; David Benfell, “The place where I live,” Not Housebroken, December 26, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/12/26/the-place-where-i-live/; David Benfell, “How am I to respond?” Not Housebroken, December 30, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/12/30/how-am-i-to-respond/; David Benfell, “The binary between ‘Black’ and ‘Blue’ Lives,” Not Housebroken, January 3, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/01/03/the-binary-between-black-and-blue-lives/; David Benfell, “Pittsburgh, race, and a threat to appropriated identity,” Not Housebroken, May 17, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/05/17/pittsburgh-race-and-a-threat-to-appropriated-identity/; David Benfell, “On patriotism,” Not Housebroken, June 27, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/06/27/on-patriotism/; David Benfell, “Donald Trump’s ‘brown shirts,’” Not Housebroken, August 30, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/08/30/donald-trumps-brown-shirts/; David Benfell, “On ‘freedom,’” Not Housebroken, September 13, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/13/on-freedom/; David Benfell, “Natural-born or trained killers,” Not Housebroken, October 25, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/10/25/natural-born-or-trained-killers/; David Benfell, “Dear Trumpsters: Fuck Your Feelings!” Not Housebroken, November 7, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/11/07/dear-trumpsters-fuck-your-feelings/ I analyze the second amendment, which so many interpret to mean an individual right to keep and bear arms, in David Benfell, “Deconstructing the second amendment,” Not Housebroken, October 4, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/10/04/deconstructing-the-second-amendment/
  12. [12]David Benfell, “Riot or insurrection? Lies or madness?” Not Housebroken, January 22, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/01/12/riot-or-insurrection-lies-or-madness/
  13. [13]Associated Press, “Gun-toting far-right protesters try to force their way into Oregon’s Capitol,” Los Angeles Times, December 22, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-12-22/tensions-rise-inside-and-outside-of-oregons-capitol; Ted Barrett, Manu Raju, and Peter Nickeas, “US Capitol secured, woman dead after rioters stormed the halls of Congress to block Biden’s win,” CNN, January 6, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/06/politics/us-capitol-lockdown/index.html; Peter Hermann, Marissa J. Lang, and Clarence Williams, “Pro-Trump rally descends into chaos as Proud Boys roam D.C. looking to fight,” Washington Post, December 13, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/proud-boys-protest-stabbing-arrest/2020/12/13/98c0f740-3d3f-11eb-8db8-395dedaaa036_story.html; Ron Kampeas, “Biden: Capitol marauders are ‘thugs, insurrectionists and anti-Semites’ who should be prosecuted,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, January 8, 2021, https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/biden-capitol-marauders-are-thugs-insurrectionists-and-anti-semites-who-should-be-prosecuted; Hannah Knowles, Annie Gowen, and Tom Hamburger, “‘A dark, empty place:’ Public officials face personal threats as tensions flare,” Washington Post, December 13, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/public-officials-threatened-covid-election/2020/12/13/680bd380-3be7-11eb-bc68-96af0daae728_story.html; Danielle Kurtzleben, “Macho Politics Defined Trump’s Presidency, Culminating With Capitol Riot,” National Public Radio, January 18, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/01/18/957617150/macho-politics-defined-trumps-presidency-culminating-with-capitol-riot; Talia Lavin, “The Violent Crescendo of the MAGA Conspiracies,” New Republic, January 6, 2021, https://newrepublic.com/article/160814/trump-protesters-attack-us-capital; Seren Morris, “What Does Insurrection or Sedition Mean? Definition of Words Used To Describe Capitol Riot,” Newsweek, January 7, 2021, https://www.newsweek.com/what-does-insurrection-sedition-mean-definition-capitol-riot-1559745; Robert A. Pape and Keven Ruby, “The Capitol Rioters Aren’t Like Other Extremists,” Atlantic, February 2, 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/02/the-capitol-rioters-arent-like-other-extremists/617895/; Ed Pilkington, “Seditionaries: FBI net closes on Maga mob that stormed the Capitol,” Guardian, February 6, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/feb/06/us-capitol-insurrection-fbi-investigation; Anne Quito and Amanda Shendruk, “Decoding the flags and banners seen at the Capitol Hill insurrection,” Quartz, January 7, 2021, https://qz.com/1953366/decoding-the-pro-trump-insurrectionist-flags-and-banners/; Nicolás Rivero, “Is America experiencing a coup?” Quartz, January 6, 2021, https://qz.com/1953602/is-america-experiencing-a-coup/; Rebecca Tan et al., “Trump supporters storm U.S. Capitol, with one woman killed and tear gas fired,” Washington Post, January 7, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trump-supporters-storm-capitol-dc/2021/01/06/58afc0b8-504b-11eb-83e3-322644d82356_story.html
  14. [14]Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky, “FBI report warned of ‘war’ at Capitol, contradicting claims there was no indication of looming violence,” Washington Post, January 12, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/capitol-riot-fbi-intelligence/2021/01/12/30d12748-546b-11eb-a817-e5e7f8a406d6_story.html; Brad Heath and Sarah N. Lynch, “U.S. says Capitol rioters meant to ‘capture and assassinate’ officials – filing,” Reuters, January 15, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-capitol-arrests/u-s-says-capitol-rioters-meant-to-capture-and-assassinate-officials-filing-idUSKBN29K0K7; Fiona Hill, “Yes, It Was a Coup. Here’s Why,” Politico, January 11, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/01/11/capitol-riot-self-coup-trump-fiona-hill-457549; Spencer S. Hsu, Tom Jackman, and Devlin Barrett, “Self-styled militia members planned on storming the U.S. Capitol days in advance of Jan. 6 attack, court documents say,” Washington Post, January 19, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/legal-issues/conspiracy-oath-keeper-arrest-capitol-riot/2021/01/19/fb84877a-5a4f-11eb-8bcf-3877871c819d_story.html; Spencer S. Hsu, Rachel Weiner, and Tom Jackman, “Self-styled militia members in three states began planning in November for recruits, weapons ahead of Capitol breach, U.S. alleges,” Washington Post, January 27, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/legal-issues/self-styled-militia-members-in-three-states-began-planning-in-novembe-for-recruits-weapons-ahead-of-capitol-breach-us-alleges/2021/01/27/f13b0bfc-60b9-11eb-9061-07abcc1f9229_story.html; Michael Kranish, Karoun Demirjian, and Devlin Barrett, “Democrats demand investigation of whether Republicans in Congress aided Capitol rioters,” Washington Post, January 13, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/republicans-capitol-rioters/2021/01/13/9737a336-55e2-11eb-a931-5b162d0d033d_story.html; Carol D. Leonnig, “Capitol Police intelligence report warned three days before attack that ‘Congress itself’ could be targeted,” Washington Post, January 15, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/capitol-police-intelligence-warning/2021/01/15/c8b50744-5742-11eb-a08b-f1381ef3d207_story.html; Ed Pilkington, “Seditionaries: FBI net closes on Maga mob that stormed the Capitol,” Guardian, February 6, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/feb/06/us-capitol-insurrection-fbi-investigation; Nicolás Rivero, “Is America experiencing a coup?” Quartz, January 6, 2021, https://qz.com/1953602/is-america-experiencing-a-coup/; Craig Timberg, Drew Harwell, and Marissa J. Lang, “Capitol siege was planned online. Trump supporters now planning the next one,” Washington Post, January 9, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/01/09/trump-twitter-protests/; Aruna Viswanatha, “Conspiracy Charges Filed Over Capitol Riot,” Wall Street Journal, January 19, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/first-conspiracy-charges-filed-over-capitol-riot-11611080191

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