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Desert Sage Column

Maybe that is who we are, after all


“That’s not who we are” is the pleading cry we so often hear in the wake of extremist political violence in the U.S.

The gallows brought to the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 by crowds calling for the vice president to be hanged, invaders equipped to capture members of Congress, a coordinated effort to disrupt the peaceful transition of elected power in the midst of chaos — that wasn’t us.

No more so than incidents of violence or terror aimed at the first Black president (hanged in effigy outside the White House); the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville that turned deadly; a presidential candidate (and former president) claiming that unauthorized immigrants from certain regions are “poisoning the blood” of America; armed civilians turning up at public demonstrations a few years ago to keep an eye on progressive activists; threats made against election workers, shots fired into lawmakers’ homes; and more in that vein are not, we lament, who we are.

Yet history shows that this has been, and is, part of us. “Gods, Guns and Sedition: Far-Right Terrorism in America,” a recent book from Columbia University Press by two scholars of domestic terrorism, Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware, does an admirable job of putting these and similar events into context extending back to the failed post-Civil-War Reconstruction.

Strains of white supremacy, paranoid conspiracism and agitation for the overthrow of republican governance have exploded, the authors write, thanks to the present-day internet, highly permissive laws regulating weapons and the uniquely infectious anti-establishment movement on which Donald Trump tenuously rides.

Helping us understand this side of our history, the authors lay out recommendations, from new domestic terrorism laws to assessing the penetration of our armed forces and police by extremists to regulating anti-personnel weapons and confronting disinformation on social media sites.

This is a book that talks frankly about a particular strain in American history, situating it as a condition we can address for the sake of justice and civic health.

Moving into the post-January 6 presidential election, Hoffman and Ware offer edification and some hope for public awareness, even if the current Congress seems unlikely to act with urgency on the current malaise.

extremist political violence, insurrection, Gods, Guns and Sedition: Far-Right Terrorism in America