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    Guccifer, the Hacker Who Launched Clinton Email Flap, Speaks Out After Nearly a Decade Behind Bars

    news.movim.eu / TheIntercept · Sunday, 15 January - 11:00 · 13 minutes

M arcel Lehel Lazar walked out of Federal Correctional Institute Schuylkill, a Pennsylvania prison, in August 2021. The 51-year-old formerly known only as Guccifer had spent over four years incarcerated for an email hacking spree against America’s elite. Though these inbox disclosures arguably changed the course of the nation’s recent history, Lazar himself remains an obscure figure. This month, in a series of phone interviews with The Intercept, Lazar opened up for the first time about his new life and strange legacy.

Lazar is not a household name by unauthorized access standards — no Edward Snowden nor Chelsea Manning — but people will be familiar with his work. Throughout 2013, Lazar stole the private correspondence of everyone from a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to “Sex and the City” author Candace Bushnell.

There’s an irony to his present obscurity: Guccifer’s prolific career often seemed motivated as much by an appetite for global media fame than any ideology or principle. He acted as an agent of chaos, not a whistleblower, and his exploits provided as much entertainment as anything else. It’s thanks to Guccifer’s infiltration of Dorothy Bush Koch’s AOL account that the world knows that her brother — George W. Bush — is fond of fine bathroom self-portraiture .

“Right now, having this time on my hands, I’m just trying to understand what this other me was making 10 years ago.”

“I knew all the time what these guys are talking about,” Lazar told me with a degree of satisfaction. “I used to know more than they knew about each other.”

Ten years after his email rampage, Lazar said that, back then, he’d hoped not for celebrity but to find some hidden explanation for America’s 21st century slump — a skeleton key buried within the emails of the rich and famous, something that might expose those causing our national rot and reverse it. Instead, he might have inadvertently put Donald Trump in the White House.

When Guccifer — a portmanteau of Lucifer and Gucci, pronounced with the Italian word’s “tch” sound — breached longtime Clinton family confidant Sidney Blumenthal’s email account, it changed the world almost by accident. Buried among the thousands of messages in Blumenthal’s AOL account he stole and leaked in 2013 were emails to HDR22@clintonemail.com, Hillary Clinton’s previously unknown private address . The account’s existence, and later revelations that she had improperly used it to conduct official government business and transmit sensitive intelligence data, led to something like a national panic attack: nonstop political acrimony, federal investigations, and depending on who you ask, Trump’s 2016 victory.

In the end, the way Guccifer might be best remembered was in the cooptation of his wildly catchy name for a Russian hacker persona: Guccifer 2.0 . The latter Guccifer would hack troves of information from Democratic National Committee servers, a plunder released on WikiLeaks.

Eventually, a federal indictment accused a cadre of Russian intelligence operatives of using the persona Guccifer 2.0 to conduct a political propaganda campaign and cover for Russian involvement. As the Guccifer 2.0 version grew in infamy, becoming a central figure in Americans’ wrangling over Russian interference in the 2016 election, the namesake hacker’s exploits faded from memory.

When I reached Lazar by phone, he was at home in Romania. He had returned to a family that had grown up and apart from him since he was arrested by Romanian police in 2014.

“I am still trying to connect back with my family, with my daughter, my wife,” Lazar said. “I’ve been away more than eight years, so this is a big gap, which I’m trying to fill with everything that takes.”

He spends most of his time alone at home, reading about American politics and working on a memoir. His wife supports the family as a low-paid worker at a nearby factory. Revisiting his past life for the book has been an odd undertaking, Lazar told me.

“It’s like an out-of-body experience, like this Guccifer guy is another guy,” he said. “Right now, having this time on my hands, I’m just trying to understand what this other me was making 10 years ago.”

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Lazar, known as Guccifer, opened up to The Intercept for the first time about his new life and strange legacy.

Photo: Nemanja Knežević for The Intercept

L azar has little to say of the two American prisons where he was sentenced to do time after extradition from Romania. Both were in Pennsylvania — a minimum-security facility and then a stint at the medium-security Schuylkill, which he described simply and solemnly as “a bad place.” He claimed he was routinely denied medical care, and says he lost many of his teeth during his four-year term.

On matters of his crime and punishment, Lazar contradicted himself, something he did often during our conversations. He wants to be both the righteous crusader and the steamrolled patsy. He repeatedly brought up what he considers a fundamental injustice: He revealed Clinton’s rule-breaking email setup and then cooperated with the Department of Justice probe, only to wind up in federal prison.

“Hillary Clinton swam away with the ‘reckless negligence’ or whatever Jim Comey called her ,” Lazar said. “I did the time.”

Lazar was quick to rattle off a list of other high-profile officials who either knew about the secret Clinton email account all along or were later revealed to have used their own . “So much hypocrisy, come on man,” he said. “So much hypocrisy.”

And yet he pled guilty to all charges he faced and today fully admits what he did was wrong — sort of.

“To read somebody else’s emails is not OK,” he said. “And I paid for this, you know. People have to have privacy. But, you see, it’s not like I wanted to know what my neighbors are talking about. But I wanted to know what these guys in the United States are speaking about, and this is the reason why. I was sure that, over there, bad stuff is happening. This is the reason why I did it, not some other shady reason. What I did is OK.”

“I was inspired with the name, at least, because my whole Guccifer project was, after all, a failure.”

Though he takes pride in outing Clinton’s private email arrangement, Lazar said he found none of what he thought he’d uncover. The inbox-fishing expedition for the darkest secrets of American power instead mostly revealed their mediocre oil paintings and poorly lit family snapshots. He conceded that Guccifer’s legacy may be that Russian intelligence cribbed his name.

“I was inspired with the name, at least,” Lazar said, “because my whole Guccifer project was, after all, a failure.”

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Lazar shows old photos and his current ID photographs in his wallet while walking around Arad, Romania, on Jan. 8, 2023.

Photo: Nemanja Knežević for The Intercept

I t can be difficult to tell where the Guccifer mythology ends and Lazar’s biography begins. Back in his hometown of Arad, a Transylvanian city roughly the size of Syracuse, New York, Lazar seems ambivalent about the magnitude of his role in American electoral history. “I don’t feel comfortable talking about me,” he told me. When I pressed in a later phone call, Lazar described 2016 as something of an inevitability: “Trump was the bullet in the barrel of the gun. He was already lingering around.”

While Lazar says James Comey’s October surprise memo to Congress — that Clinton’s emailing habits were still under investigation — was what “killed Hillary Clinton,” he didn’t deny his indirect role in that twist.

“Everything started with this mumbo jumbo email server, with this bullshit of email server,” he said. “So, if it was not for me, it was not for [Hillary’s] email server to start an investigation.”

Lazar now claims he very nearly breached the Trump inner circle in October 2013. “I was about to hack the Trump guys, Ivanka and stuff,” he told me. “And my computer just broke.”

How does it feel to have boosted, even accidentally, Donald Trump, a bona fide American elite? Though he described the former president as mentally unstable, a hero of Confederate sympathizers, and deeply selfish, Lazar is unbothered by his indirect role in 2016: “I feel like a regular guy. I don’t feel anything special about myself.”

At times, the retired hacker clearly still relishes his brief global notoriety. I asked him what it felt like to see his hacker persona usurped by Russian intelligence using the “Guccifer 2.0” cutout: Was it a shameless rip-off, or a flattering homage? Lazar said he first learned that Russia had cribbed his persona from inside a detention center outside D.C. He perked up.

“I was feeling good, it was like a recognition,” he said. “It made me feel good, because in all these 10 years, I was all the time alone in this fight.”

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A sculptural sign along a highway announces the city of Arad in Romania on Jan. 8, 2023.

Photo: Nemanja Knežević for The Intercept

L azar described his fight — a term he used repeatedly — as a personal crusade against the corrupt and corrupting American elite, based on his own broad understanding of the idea pieced together from reading about it online. It’s hard to dismiss out of hand.

“Look at the last 20 years of politics of United States,” Lazar explained. “It’s all lies, and it went so low in the mud. You know what I’m saying? It stinks.”

The quest to find and expose some smoking gun that could explain American decline became an obsession, one he said kept him in front of a computer for 16 hours a day, guessing Yahoo Mail passwords, scouring his roughly 100 victims’ contact books, and plotting his next account takeover. He understood that it might seem odd passion for a Romanian ex-cabbie.

“I am Romanian, I am living in this godforsaken place. Why I’m interested in this? Why? This is a good question,” he told me. “For us, for guys from a Communist country, for example Romania which was one of the worst Communist countries, United States was a beacon of light.”

George W. Bush changed all that for him. “In the time after 2000, you come to realize it’s all a humbug,” he said. “It’s all a lie, right? So, you feel the need, which I felt myself, to do something, to put things right, for the American people but for my soul too.”

It’s funny, Lazar told me, that his greatest admirers seemed to have been Russian intelligence, not the American people he now claims to have been working to inform. “We have somehow the same mindset,” Lazar mused. “Romania was a Communist country; they were Communists too.”

Hackers are still playing a game Guccifer mastered.

Since Lazar began this fight, the playbook he popularized — break into an email account, grab as many personal files as you can, dump them on the web, and seed the juiciest bits with eager journalists like myself — has become a go-to tactic around the world. Whether it’s North Korean agents pillaging Sony Pictures’ salacious email exchanges or an alleged Qatari hack of Trump ally Elliott Broidy exposing his foreign entanglements , hackers are still playing a game Guccifer mastered.

Despite having essentially zero technical skills — he gained access to accounts largely by guessing their password security questions — Lazar knew the fundamental truth that people love reading the private thoughts of powerful strangers. Sometimes these are deeply newsworthy, and sometimes it’s just a perverse thrill, though there’s a very fine line between the two. Even the disclosure of an innocuous email can be damaging for a person or organization presumed by the public to be impenetrable. When I brought this up to Lazar, his modesty slipped ever so slightly.

He said, “I am sure, in my humble way, I was a new-roads opener.”

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A portrait of Lazar in Arad, Romania, on Jan. 8, 2023.

Photo: Nemanja Knežević for The Intercept

T he Lazar I’ve met on the phone was very different from the Guccifer of a decade ago. Back then he would send rambling emails to Gawker, my former employer, largely consisting of fragmented screeds against the Illuminati. The word, which he said he’s retired, nods to a conspiracy of global elites that wield unfathomable power.

“I’d like to call them, right now, ‘deep state,’” he said. “But Illuminati was back then a handy word. Of course, it has bad connotations, it’s like a bad B movie from Hollywood.”

Unfortunately for Lazar, the “deep state” — a term of Turkish origin, referring to an unaccountable security state that acts largely in secret — has in the years since his arrest come to connote paranoid delusion nearly as much as the word “Illuminati” does. Whatever one thinks of the deep state, though, the notion is as contentious and popular among internet-dwelling cranks — especially, and ironically for Lazar, Trump followers. Whatever you want to call it, Lazar believed he’d find it in someone else’s inbox.

“My ultimate goal was to find the blueprints of bad behavior,” he said.

Some would argue that, in Blumenthal’s inbox, he did. Still, after a full term of the Trump administration, the idea of bad behavior at the highest levels of power being something kept hidden in secret emails almost feels quaint.

While Lazar’s past comments to the media have included outright fabrications, racist remarks, and a reliance on paranoid tropes, he seemed calmer now. On the phone, he was entirely lucid, and thoughtful more often than not, even on topics that clearly anguish him. Prison may have cost him his teeth, but it seems to have given him a softer edge than he had a decade ago. He is still a conspiratorially minded man, but not necessarily a delusional one. He plans to remain engaged with American politics in his own way.

“I don’t care about myself,” he told me, “but I care about all the stuff I was talking about, you know, politics and stuff.” He said, “I’m gonna keep keeping one eye on American politics and react to this. I’m not gonna let the water just flow. I’m gonna intervene.”

This time, he says he’ll fight the powers that be by writing, not guessing passwords. “I am more subtle than I was before,” he tried to assure me.

“I’m gonna keep keeping one eye on American politics and react to this. I’m not gonna let the water just flow. I’m gonna intervene.”

At one point in our conversations, Lazar rattled off a sample of the 400 books he said he read in prison, sounding as much like a #Resistance Twitter addict as anything else: “James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Michael Hayden , James Clapper, all their biographies, which nobody reads, you know?”

While he still makes references to the deep state and “shadow governments” and malign influence of the Rockefeller family, he’s also quick to reference obscure FBI brass like Peter Strzok and Bill Priestap, paraphrase counterintelligence reports, or cite “Midyear Exam,” the Department of Justice probe into Clinton’s email practices.

It’s difficult to know if this more polished, better-read Lazar has become less conspiratorial, or whether the country that imprisoned him has become so much more so that it’s impossible to tell the difference. Lazar is a conspiracy theorist, it seems, in the same way everyone became after 2016.

Lazar, the free man, alluded to knowing that Guccifer was in over his head. He admitted candidly that he lied in an NBC News interview about having gained access to Clinton’s private email server, a claim he recanted during a later FBI interview, because he naively hoped the lie would grant him leverage to cut a better deal after his extradition. It didn’t, nor did his full cooperation with the FBI’s Clinton email probe.

When I asked Lazar whether he worried about the consequences of stealing the emails of the most famous people he could possibly reach, he said he believed creating celebrity for himself, anathema to most veteran hackers, would protect him from being disappeared by the state. In the end, it did not.

“At some point,” he said, “I lost control.”

The post Guccifer, the Hacker Who Launched Clinton Email Flap, Speaks Out After Nearly a Decade Behind Bars appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Biden Used Classified Documents Accusation Against Carter CIA Nominee

    news.movim.eu / TheIntercept · Friday, 13 January - 19:29 · 5 minutes

President Joe Biden and his supporters have sought to downplay the significance of the improperly handled and stored classified documents discovered at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, a think tank where Biden maintained an office. The documents are believed to relate to his time as vice president under Barack Obama. But then it emerged that another batch of classified documents was recovered from Biden’s personal garage at his home in Delaware. Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to investigate the matter.

Former President Donald Trump and his supporters have defended his transfer of classified materials to his resort at Mar-a-Lago, claiming that the president had authority to declassify the materials. That case is also the subject of a federal investigation.

It is a barely concealed secret in Washington, D.C., that for decades, elite politicians have engaged in some form of bending or breaking the rules on classified documents — in some cases for plausibly benign uses as writing memoirs. Bill Clinton’s former national security adviser Sandy Berger stole documents from the National Archives in 2003 by stuffing them inside his clothing and then destroyed some classified materials. He claimed he wanted to review the documents to prepare for his testimony before the 9/11 commission. Gen. David Petraeus was forced to resign as CIA director in 2012 after it was revealed he had improperly handled classified materials, including taking some to his home and sharing them with his biographer with whom he was having an affair.

While there have been cases where criminal charges have been brought — Berger was fined $50,000 by a federal judge and lost his security clearance, and Petraeus got two years probation and a $100,000 fine — it is rare for a high profile figure to face any meaningful criminal consequences for such actions. That, of course, is not the case with whistleblowers — including Reality Winner, Jeffrey Sterling, Terry Albury, and Daniel Hale — who have been aggressively prosecuted under the Espionage Act and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

The revelation that Biden illicitly stored classified materials, including in his garage, is a grave embarrassment to the president, particularly in light of the fact that Democrats have hammered away at Donald Trump for months over the classified documents he retained at Mar-a-Lago. But there is also a relevant story from Biden’s past that bears mentioning.

The events took place during the administration of Jimmy Carter, when Biden was a rising star in the U.S. Senate and was an inaugural member of the Intelligence Committee, which was established in response to the lawlessness of the Nixon administration. Biden colluded with Republicans on the Intelligence Committee to kill the nomination of a CIA critic to be director of the agency. Among the reasons was that the nominee, Ted Sorensen, had admitted to taking classified documents for a biography of his longtime friend John F. Kennedy and had spoken out in defense of Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. In fact, Biden went so far as to suggest Sorensen might be subject to prosecution under the Espionage Act.

As The Intercept reported in its special series “ Empire Politician: A Half-Century of Joe Biden’s Stances on War, Militarism, and the CIA ,” Sen. Joe Biden campaigned aggressively for President Jimmy Carter, but he later made clear that he was never a big fan of the famously liberal president. When Carter nominated Sorensen as CIA director, the national security establishment in Washington was apoplectic. Sorensen had no foreign policy experience and was out of place in the world of covert ops. Carter had said that he wanted an outsider for the CIA post as part of his pledge to reduce the agency’s power and budget.

Sorensen’s nomination came after a campaign in which Carter promised to wage war against the agency’s “excessive secrecy” and to expose and punish CIA officers who broke the law. “We must never again keep secret the evolution of our foreign policy from the Congress and the American people,” Carter declared . “They should never again be misled.” Carter ultimately failed to achieve many of his promises regarding the CIA, but the mere fact that he made such statements caused grave concern within the agency and among many Republican lawmakers. This conflict broke out into the open during Sorensen’s confirmation process.

Biden assured Sorensen that he would help guide him through the process. As Sorensen recalled, Biden had led him to believe that he had the senator’s “enthusiastic” support, telling him that he was “the best appointment Carter has made.”

When Sorensen came under attack from Republicans, though, Biden shifted his position and went out of his way to dig up an episode from Sorenson’s past that would serve as a red flag against his confirmation. Sorensen had given an affidavit in Ellsberg’s case, in which Sorensen acknowledged that many officials in Washington, including himself, would take classified documents home to review and that officials often leaked far more sensitive documents to the press without facing prosecutions.

Biden said he learned of the affidavit, which was never filed in court, from a Republican colleague and assessed that the Republicans on the committee would seek to use it to discredit Sorensen. Biden had his staff scour documents and Sorensen’s books to find the unfiled affidavit, and an aide who was involved with the Pentagon Papers case eventually located it. This, combined with other concerns, including allegations that Sorensen was a pacifist who dodged the Korean War draft, put the nomination in peril. “It was like being blindsided by a truck,” Sorensen said , describing the campaign against him as an effort where “many little dirty streams flowed together to make one large one.”

In a phone call with Carter after confirming the document, Biden said , “I think we’re in trouble. I think it is going to be tough.” As it became clear that the nomination was doomed, Carter offered an uninspired defense of Sorensen’s comments on classified documents with a public statement, “saying it would be ‘most unfortunate’ if frank acknowledgement of common practice should ‘deprive the administration and the country of his talents and services,’” according to a press report.

At Sorensen’s confirmation hearing, Biden laid into the nominee. “Quite honestly, I’m not sure whether or not Mr. Sorensen could be indicted or convicted under the espionage statutes,” Biden said, questioning “whether Mr. Sorensen intentionally took advantage of the ambiguities in the law or carelessly ignored the law.” Biden biographer Jules Witcover later wrote: “As a result of these and other complaints against Sorensen, and behind-the-scenes pressure from Carter, the old JFK speechwriter agreed to have his nomination withdrawn.” Sorensen later said Biden should be awarded the “prize for political hypocrisy in a town noted for political hypocrisy.”

The post Biden Used Classified Documents Accusation Against Carter CIA Nominee appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Listen to Barack Obama’s Chilling Description of U.S. Involvement in the Gigantic 1965 Indonesia Massacre

    news.movim.eu / TheIntercept · Friday, 13 January - 16:09 · 8 minutes

Joko Widodo, the president of Indonesia, expressed regret on Wednesday about 12 instances of “gross human rights violations” over the past decades of the nation’s history — including an extraordinary U.S.-backed bloodbath carried out by the Indonesian military following a coup in 1965.

The carnage targeted the Indonesian Communist Party — known as Partai Komunis Indonesia, or PKI — as well as their family members, purported sympathizers, or people who stood next to a member of the PKI at a bus stop once. (It was not an exact science.) At least 500,000 Indonesians were killed, often up close with machetes or knives. Soon afterward the Central Intelligence Agency, which played a key role in supporting the massacre, called it “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century.”

Remarkably, Barack Obama used similar language in a passage in his 1995 autobiography “Dreams From My Father,” referring to the killings as “one of the more brutal and swift campaigns of suppression in modern times.” Yet this section of the book has received almost no notice. A Google search finds references to that sentence from Boston public radio station WBUR; the student newspaper at Northwestern; the New York Review of Books; my dormant blog ; and little else.

As Obama describes it, he moved with his mother from the U.S. to Indonesia in 1967 after she divorced his father and married Lolo, an Indonesian engineer. Obama recorded the audiobook version of “Dreams From My Father” himself, so we can hear the president-to-be describing the terrifying facts his mother learned about both their adopted country and the country they’d come from:

Or if you prefer to read rather than listen, here are Obama’s words:

She found herself a job right away teaching English to Indonesian businessmen at the American embassy. … The Americans were mostly older men, careerists in the State Department, the occasional economists or journalists who would mysteriously disappear for months at a time, their affiliation or function in the embassy never quite clear. …

These men knew the country, though, or parts of it anyway, the closets where the skeletons were buried. Over lunch or casual conversation they would share with her things she couldn’t learn in the published news reports. They explained how Sukarno had frayed badly the nerves of a U.S. government already obsessed with the march of communism through Indochina, what with his nationalist rhetoric and his politics of nonalignment — he was as bad as Lumumba or Nasser! — only worse, given Indonesia’s strategic importance. Word was that the CIA had played a part in the coup, although nobody knew for sure. More certain was the fact that after the coup the military had swept the countryside for supposed Communist sympathizers. The death toll was anybody’s guess: a few hundred thousand, maybe; half a million. Even the smart guys at the Agency had lost count.

Innuendo, half-whispered asides; that’s how she found out that we had arrived in Djakarta less than a year after one of the more brutal and swift campaigns of suppression in modern times. The idea frightened her, the notion that history could be swallowed up so completely, the same way the rich and loamy earth could soak up the rivers of blood that had once coursed through the streets; the way people could continue about their business beneath giant posters of the new president as if nothing had happened. …

Power. The word fixed in my mother’s mind like a curse. In America, it had generally remained hidden from view until you dug beneath the surface of things; until you visited an Indian reservation or spoke to a black person whose trust you had earned. But here power was undisguised, indiscriminate, naked, always fresh in the memory. Power had taken Lolo and yanked him back into line just when he thought he’d escaped, making him feel its weight, letting him know that his life wasn’t his own. That’s how things were; you couldn’t change it, you could just live by the rules, so simple once you learned them. And so Lolo had made his peace with power, learning the wisdom of forgetting.

The 1965 coup and its hideous aftermath is covered in detail in the recent book “ The Jakarta Method ” by former Washington Post reporter Vincent Bevins.

Indonesia was governed from World War II until 1965 by President Sukarno (some Indonesians have a single name) who had previously led the resistance to Dutch colonization. This made the U.S. increasingly unhappy. Indonesia was enormous, with the world’s sixth-largest population, and the PKI was the third-biggest Communist Party on Earth, after China’s and the Soviet Union’s. It mattered little to the American government that Sukarno was not himself a Communist, or that the PKI had no plans or capacity for violence. It was bad enough that Sukarno did not leap to put the Indonesian economy at the service of U.S. multinationals, and that he helped create the Non-Aligned Movement of countries that wished to stay out of both the Soviet and American blocs.

The U.S. goal, then, was to extract Sukarno from power in favor of someone reliable (from the American perspective), while creating a pretext for the Indonesian military to destroy the PKI. But how to make this happen?

Howard P. Jones, the American ambassador to Indonesia until April 1965, told a meeting of State Department officials just before leaving his post, “From our viewpoint, of course, an unsuccessful coup attempt by the PKI might be the most effective development to start a reversal of political trends in Indonesia.” This, he believed, would give the army a “clear-cut kind of challenge that would galvanize effective reaction.” A British Foreign Office official made the case that “there might therefore be much to be said for encouraging a premature PKI coup during Sukarno’s lifetime.”

Coincidentally enough, this is exactly what appeared to happen. On September 30, 1965, a group of young military officers kidnapped six Indonesian generals, claiming that they planned to overthrow Sukarno. All six generals somehow soon ended up dead.

Suharto, an Army general who was, fortuitously, not targeted, announced with his allies that the dead generals had been castrated and tortured by female members of the PKI in a “depraved, demonic ritual,” according to Bevins. Years later it was discovered that none of this was true; all but one of the six generals had simply been shot.

To this day, it’s impossible to say what truly happened. Bevins lists three theories. First, the leader of the PKI may have helped plan the events of September 30 with contacts in the military. It may have been the young members of the military acting alone with no PKI involvement. Or Suharto may have collaborated with the September 30 officers, pretending that he would support them and then betraying them as part of a plan to seize power for himself.

In any case, Suharto certainly seemed to have a plan ready to execute. Soon afterward, Sukarno was out and Suharto was in charge. Then the killing began, in what the Indonesian army internally called Operasi Penumpasan, or Operation Annihilation.

The U.S. was not only aware of what was happening, but was also an eager participant, providing lists of PKI members to the Indonesian military.

The butchery lasted for months, into early 1966, with the New York Times referring to it as a “staggering mass slaughter of Communists and pro-Communists.” The U.S. was not only aware of what was happening, but was also an eager participant, providing lists of PKI members to the Indonesian military. One American official later said , “They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that’s not all bad. There’s a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment.” According to Time magazine, there were so many corpses that it created “a serious sanitation problem in East Java and Northern Sumatra where the humid air bears the reek of decaying flesh. Travelers from those areas tell of small rivers and streams that have been literally clogged with bodies.”

New York Times columnist James Reston soon wrote about these events under the headline “A Gleam of Light in Asia.” Americans needed to understand these “hopeful political developments,” including the fact that the “Indonesian massacre” could not have occurred “without the clandestine aid [Indonesia] has received indirectly from here.” Recently declassified records illustrate just how right Reston was .

Suharto ruled Indonesia brutally for the next three decades, remaining a key U.S. ally until he fell from power in 1998. Only now, over 57 years since the coup, is the Indonesian government barely beginning to face its own past.

“Acknowledging some of the crimes of the Suharto regime is a start,” says Bradley Simpson, a historian and expert on this period. “But President Widodo must do more to initiate a long overdue process of accountability and restitution for victims and survivors of the 1965–1966 killings. So do governments like the United States and Great Britain, which were willing accomplices in the Indonesian army’s campaign of mass murder.”

There is no sign of that happening in U.S., however. Obama, with his direct personal knowledge of Indonesia and this history, might seem to be a natural leader for this process. But you shouldn’t get your hopes up. He also explains in “Dreams From My Father” that he learned in Indonesia that “the world was violent … unpredictable and often cruel.” His stepfather, he records, taught him that “Men take advantage of weakness in other men. They’re just like countries in that way. … Better to be strong. If you can’t be strong, be clever and make peace with someone who’s strong. But always better to be strong yourself. Always.”

The post Listen to Barack Obama’s Chilling Description of U.S. Involvement in the Gigantic 1965 Indonesia Massacre appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Jim Jordan Is No Frank Church

    news.movim.eu / TheIntercept · Thursday, 12 January - 20:00 · 7 minutes

(Original Caption) Washington, D. C.: Close up of Senator Frank Church during a session of the Senate Intelligence Committee on the CIA and deadly toxin stocks.

Sen. Frank Church during a session of the Senate Intelligence Committee on the CIA in 1975.

Photo: Bettmann Archive


In one of their very first steps since taking over the House of Representatives, House Republicans have created a special new panel to launch wide-ranging investigations into what they allege are the ways in which the federal government has abused the rights of conservatives.

But Republicans and right-wing pundits have already given up on its clumsy formal title — “ the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government ” — and are now simply calling it the new “Church Committee.” By doing so, they are explicitly comparing it to the historic Church Committee of the mid-1970s, which conducted landmark investigations of the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, and the rest of the intelligence community, none of which had previously been subject to real oversight.

The new “weaponization” subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee will be chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan, a right-wing ally of former President Donald Trump, and has a much different objective than the original Church Committee: The panel is widely expected to become a pro-Trump star chamber, investigating the officials and organizations that have previously investigated Trump, including the FBI and the Justice Department.

The Jordan subcommittee also seems likely to investigate the House January 6 committee, which operated when the Democrats controlled the chamber — and referred Jordan to the House Ethics Committee for his involvement in Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Jordan, who stuck by Rep. Kevin McCarthy during McCarthy’s marathon bid to become House speaker last week, is now being rewarded with the mandate and resources to conduct investigations into almost any corner of the government he chooses; those probes have the potential to make the Biden administration look bad or Trump look good. McCarthy has even authorized the subcommittee to examine ongoing criminal investigations, which the Justice Department will certainly oppose.

By calling their panel the new Church Committee, Jordan and the Republicans are trying to assume the mantle of one of the most iconic investigative committees in congressional history. (I’ve spent the last several years researching and writing a book about Sen. Frank Church and his eponymous panel, which will be published in May.)

“When you reach back in history and bring a phrase from the past to the present, you get to carry a meaning into contemporary time,” observed Stephanie Martin, the Frank and Bethine Church Endowed Chair of Public Affairs at Boise State University in Idaho, the native state of Sen. Church, the Democrat who chaired the original Church Committee. “By calling it the Church Committee,” she added, Republicans are appropriating the image “of effective change and effective oversight.”

But the differences between the Church Committee and Jordan’s new subcommittee are stark, observes Loch Johnson, who served as an aide to Church on the committee and later wrote a firsthand account of the committee’s work. “The Church Committee was strongly oriented toward following the documentary evidence that we were able to uncover,” says Johnson. “The inquiry was driven not by ideology, revenge, or anything else but the facts.” Today’s Republicans, he added, seem “motivated by ideology and a sense of grievance, starting with the ‘stolen election’ of 2020.”

Johnson and others argue that what the Republicans are creating is unlikely to be anything like the Church Committee, especially if, as seems almost certain, it descends into conspiracy theories about a mythical “deep state” that is out to get Trump and conservatives.

The existence of an anti-Trump “deep state” has become one of the most persistent conspiracy theories on the right and feeds into the anger and resentment against the government held by pro-Trump forces, including Jordan. Like all powerful and lasting conspiracy theories, it relies on some basic facts — but then turns reality on its head to reach a fantastical conclusion.

It is true that America is burdened with a sprawling and ever-growing military-industrial complex built on a network of relationships linking the Pentagon; the CIA; Homeland Security; defense, intelligence, and counterterrorism contractors; and many others in a powerful and partially hidden web that, over the past few decades, has pushed the nation into a period of nearly endless war. The traditional post-World War II military-industrial complex grew steadily for decades despite President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous warning about its rising power in his 1961 farewell address : “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” Its power expanded exponentially after the September 11 attacks as counterterrorism and homeland security became big businesses, making it far more difficult for the United States to ever reduce its paranoia over the threat of terrorism.

But today’s combined military, intelligence, and counterterrorism complex is a capitalistic, pro-military center of gravity in American society. It is not anti-Trump or anti-conservative, and it is definitely not a secret political organization bent on imposing “woke” views on Americans.

In fact, it was the work of the Church Committee that helped ensure that the “deep state” is nothing more than a right-wing conspiracy theory today. In the first three decades after World War II, the U.S. intelligence community faced no real oversight or outside scrutiny, and as a result, the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA grew beyond presidents’ ability to control and became increasingly lawless. The reforms created as a result of the Church Committee helped to bring the intelligence community fully under the rule of law for the first time. By disclosing a series of shocking abuses of power, Frank Church and his committee created rules of the road for the intelligence community that largely remain in place today.

The Church Committee’s work represented a watershed moment in American history — which is why Republican are now so eager to co-opt its name. But there is no evidence that Jordan plans to follow the earlier panel’s serious and comprehensive approach. In fact, the involvement of Jordan and other House Republicans in Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election already constitutes an obvious conflict of interest. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the New York Democrat who is now House minority leader, tweeted that “extreme MAGA Republicans have established a Select Committee on Insurrection Protection.”

Rather than being a true heir to the Church Committee, Jordan’s subcommittee seems destined to follow the pattern of the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954. Jordan and today’s Republicans are employing the same kind of resentment and grievances against “elites” that fueled Joseph McCarthy, and Jordan also seems destined to use some of McCarthy’s tactics, targeting individual officials to claim they are “woke” or part of the “deep state” — updated versions of McCarthy’s phraseology about “Communist subversion.” It’s no coincidence that Roy Cohn, who worked as chief counsel to McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings, later became a key mentor to Trump in the work of launching vicious political attacks.

Previously an obscure back-bench Republican senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy surged to fame in 1950, when he falsely claimed in a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, to have a list of Communists in the State Department, triggering a period of intense paranoia and witch hunting that is now known as the McCarthy era. After he became a committee chair in 1953, McCarthy switched his focus to the Army, with Cohn by his side.

By going after the State Department and then the Army, McCarthy took on two of the most important and tradition-bound institutions in the United States at the time. The State Department had not fought back successfully against McCarthy, but the Army did. After McCarthy charged Army leaders with ignoring evidence of Communist subversion at a military facility in New Jersey, the Army went on the attack, accusing McCarthy of seeking special treatment for David Schine, a McCarthy consultant and friend of Cohn’s. The charges and counter-charges ultimately led to a long-running series of nationally televised hearings that garnered huge audiences, pitting McCarthy and Cohn against Joseph Welch, an urbane outside lawyer brought in to represent the Army.

In a televised hearing on June 9, 1954, McCarthy and Welch engaged in a historic showdown, with Cohn looking on. Bitter at Welch, McCarthy publicly raised questions about the loyalty of Fred Fisher, a lawyer at Welch’s law firm. Welch’s devastating response — “Have you no sense of decency?” — has gone down in history as the moment McCarthy’s power was broken.

In December 1954, the Senate finally voted to censure McCarthy; by 1957, he was dead.

Does the shame that finally brought down McCarthy still have the power to curb Republican excesses? Johnson, Frank Church’s former aide, isn’t so sure.

“We’re headed for something that combines a witch hunt with a circus,” Johnson said, noting that the so-called new Church Committee “is likely to make the 1950s McCarthy hearings appear, in retrospect, rather benign.”

The post Jim Jordan Is No Frank Church appeared first on The Intercept .

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    More Than 150 International Organizations Call on Biden to Close Guantánamo on 21st Anniversary

    news.movim.eu / TheIntercept · Wednesday, 11 January - 17:42 · 2 minutes

On the 21st anniversary of the first orange-jumpsuit clad “unlawful enemy combatants” arriving blindfolded and shackled to the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay, more than 150 international human rights organizations are urging President Joe Biden to finally shutter the prison. The letter , coordinated by the Center for Victims of Torture, or CVT, and the Center for Constitutional Rights, calls for a closure to the current prison, an end to the indefinite military detention of the men living there, and a pledge to never again use the naval base for “unlawful mass detention.”

“It is long past time for both a sea change in the United States’ approach to national and human security, and a meaningful reckoning with the full scope of damage that the post-9/11 approach has caused,” the letter says.

Following a slow trickle of transfers out of the facility under the Biden administration, 35 men remain imprisoned today. Over the last two decades, 779 men and boys passed through the catastrophic prison. Of those who remain there today, 20 are eligible for transfer out of indefinite detention; three are awaiting judgment from six different government agencies, known as the Periodic Review Board; three more have been convicted; and nine are involved in pre-trial hearings in the flawed military commission system. The case against accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators is ongoing and has not yet reached trial.

In the post-9/11 era, torture with impunity at CIA black sites, the failed invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, drone strikes, botched raids across a global battlefield, domestic surveillance of Muslims, and the incalculable loss of civilian life in the Middle East have defined America’s quest for national security. But Guantánamo Bay, and its earlier iteration as a detention facility for Haitian refugees in the ’90s, “is the iconic example of the abandonment of the rule of law,” the letter argues.

“The world knows detainees were tortured, [as well as] the heinous methods, names of those who approved and participated, and that videotapes of torture were deliberately destroyed; yet not a single person has been held accountable,” Yumna Rizvi, policy analyst for CVT, told The Intercept. “The fact that all those complicit remain free, [and that] some even describe what they did without fear of prosecution, is astounding. The U.S. has lost its credibility for human rights, justice, and accountability.”

Renewed pressure and calls for the prison to finally be closed are only the beginning of ending the injustice, argues CAGE’s Mansoor Adayfi . “We need to see compensation, acknowledgement, and an apology for what happened to us,” Adayfi, a former Guantánamo prisoner, told The Intercept. “This is part of closing Guantánamo .”

The post More Than 150 International Organizations Call on Biden to Close Guantánamo on 21st Anniversary appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Those Russian Twitter Bots Didn't Do $#!% in 2016, Says New Study

    news.movim.eu / TheIntercept · Tuesday, 10 January - 14:00 · 3 minutes

Since the 2016 presidential election, the notion that the Russian government somehow “weaponized” social media to push voters to Donald Trump has been widely taken as a gospel in liberal circles. A groundbreaking recent New York University study, however, says there’s no evidence Russian tweets had any meaningful effect at all.

“We demonstrate, first, that exposure to Russian disinformation accounts was heavily concentrated: only 1% of users accounted for 70% of exposures,” the scholars wrote in the journal Nature Communications . “Second, exposure was concentrated among users who strongly identified as Republicans. Third, exposure to the Russian influence campaign was eclipsed by content from domestic news media and politicians. Finally, we find no evidence of a meaningful relationship between exposure to the Russian foreign influence campaign and changes in attitudes, polarization, or voting behavior.”

The research, conducted by NYU’s Center for Social Media and Politics , is a rare counter to what’s become the prevailing media narrative of the post-2016 era: that social platforms like Twitter were and will continue to be wielded by malicious foreign actors to interfere with American political outcomes.

Most importantly, according to the study, based on a longitudinal survey of roughly 1,500 Americans and an analysis of their Twitter timelines, “the relationship between the number of posts from Russian foreign influence accounts that users are exposed to and voting for Donald Trump is near zero (and not statistically significant).”

That Russian intelligence attempted to influence the 2016 election, broadly speaking, is by now well documented ; the idea that the propagandizing amounted to anything other than headlines and congressional hearings, however, is little more than an article of faith. While their impact remains debated among scholars, the specter of “Russian bots” wreaking havoc across the web has become a byword of liberal anxiety and a go-to explanation for Democrats flummoxed by Trump’s unlikely victory.

The NYU study found that Russia’s Twitter campaign had no effect in part because barely anyone saw it. Moreover, to the extent anyone ever saw the Russian tweets, it was people who weren’t going to be easily influenced anyway: “[T]hose who identified as ‘Strong Republicans’ were exposed to roughly nine times as many posts from Russian foreign influence accounts than were those who identified as Democrats or Independents.”

After 2016, as platforms like Twitter rushed to scrub networks of Russian accounts based on the premise they were inherently harmful, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., characterized Russian tweets as a full-blown national security crisis. Following a September 2017 congressional hearing on Russian social media meddling, Warner described Twitter’s testimony as “deeply disappointing,” and decried an “enormous lack of understanding from the Twitter team of how serious this issue is, the threat it poses to democratic institutions, and again begs many more questions than they offered.”

This stance became a popular stance among Russia hawks and Trump foes. A year later, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., tweeted , “Russian troll accounts were still active on Twitter as recently as this year, interfering in our politics. We will continue to expose this malign online activity so Americans can see first-hand the tools Russia uses to divide us.”

Panic over Russian tweets and the belief they might swing elections spread throughout Congress , academia, business, and the U.S. intelligence community . A cottage industry spouted up to combat what Facebook termed “Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior” — an industry that lives on today.

Crucially, the report focused only on tweets, so the possible effect of Facebook groups, Instagram posts, or, say, the spread of materials hacked from the Democratic National Committee was left unassessed. The report nonetheless serves as a gentle evidence-based corrective to societal fears of low-effort social media propagandizing as some diabolical tool of adversarial regimes.

Russian tweets, the authors note, were a small speck when compared to homegrown posters. “Despite the seemingly large number of posts from Internet Research Agency accounts in respondents’ timelines,” the report says, “they are overshadowed—by an order of magnitude—by posts from national news media and politicians.”

The post Those Russian Twitter Bots Didn’t Do $#!% in 2016, Says New Study appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Sabri al-Qurashi Has Lived Without Legal Status in Kazakhstan Since His 2014 Guantánamo Release

    news.movim.eu / TheIntercept · Saturday, 7 January - 11:00 · 15 minutes

“I’m trying to be OK,” Sabri al-Qurashi texted me one afternoon after I asked how he was. Al-Qurashi has made it through a lot, but he’s increasingly depressed, tired, and has become desperate for his living conditions to change. By now, he has spent two decades feeling trapped with no end in sight.

Al-Qurashi lived the nightmare of languishing in a cage as a detainee at the notorious U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He never expected he’d be living in another version of a cage after he was released in 2014 . For nearly a decade, he has found himself stuck in Kazakhstan. Promises once made to him of starting a life and starting a family after Guantánamo have now been all but shattered. His life now feels like one of permanent purgatory as he holds no form of basic identification at the mercy of the Kazakh government. With no hope or patience left, al-Qurashi is now threatening a hunger strike.

“Truly, my life now is just as bad as w­­hen I was in Guantanamo, and in many aspects even worse. At least there, I knew I was in prison and that I would get out one day,” al-Qurashi wrote in an account shared with The Intercept, which is set to be published by CAGE, a group that advocates for “war on terror” victims and detainees. “Now I’m living as if I’m dead and being told I am free when I am not.”

“Now I’m living as if I’m dead and being told I am free when I am not.”

When al-Qurashi met with representatives from Kazakhstan’s government while still at Guantánamo, he was optimistic about being sent to a new strange home. He agreed to a secretive resettlement deal negotiated by the U.S. State Department.

Unable to return to Yemen because of the country’s instability, al-Qurashi said he was offered a good life elsewhere. His understanding, and that of his legal team, was that, after living under some restrictions for two years, he would be a free man, with all the same rights as Kazakh citizens. It is a Muslim country, he was told, and he would be treated as a member of society. Instead, he said now he finds himself without the most basic needs.

“I have no official status, no ID card, no right to work or education, and no right to see my family,” al-Qurashi said. “I have been married for eight years, but my wife is not allowed to come and live with me.”

Al-Qurashi lives under conditions that are in stark contrast to the stability that the State Department had tried to guarantee in his deal. “The United States’ goal in resettling former Guantánamo detainees was to create conditions for these men to integrate into their new societies and give them the opportunity to start a new life in a manner that protected the security of the United States,” a former State Department official familiar with the Obama administration’s efforts to transfer Guantánamo detainees told The Intercept. “Among other things, successful resettlements entailed housing, access to medical care, educational opportunities, the ability to work, and the opportunity to start or reunify with their families.”

In an interview with The Intercept, al-Qurashi said that he has been repeatedly told over the years that his wife and other family are not allowed to visit, much less join him, from Yemen because he is “illegal.” He said he was told, “You have no rights.” According to a message viewed by The Intercept, the Red Crescent Society is currently negotiating with Kazakh officials for al-Qurashi’s wife to finally be allowed a brief first visit. “We are waiting for a reply. I will keep you informed,” an International Committee of the Red Cross representative working on al-Qurashi’s behalf texted him in late October. Al-Qurashi hasn’t heard anything since.

A spokesperson for the State Department said that once security agreements around resettlement expired, responsibility for treatment of the former detainees fell to the host governments. “Repatriation or resettlement of former detainees is a carefully negotiated process between the United States and receiving countries based on mutually reached security and humane treatment assurances. While security assurances are time-limited, assurances related to humane treatment do not expire,” said Bureau of Counterterrorism spokesperson Vincent Picard in a statement. “While host governments are encouraged to consult with us, the U.S. government does not exercise any sort of custody over the treatment of resettled individuals. We encourage all host governments to exercise their responsibilities humanely and with consideration of appropriate security measures.” (The Kazakh Embassy to the U.S. did not respond to a request for comment.)

For al-Qurashi to have gone so long without even documentation of his identity, in defiance of the diplomatic efforts of the State Department, is something his legal advocates never imagined.

“Ultimately, he never received proper identification to be a documented individual in the country, and that poses problems in any country,” Greg McConnell, al-Qurashi’s pro bono counsel, said. “That’s something that was never appropriately fulfilled in the way that we understood it would be by the Kazakh government.”

Following the broken promises, al-Qurashi now feels that no one cares about him. With the ICRC financing his apartment, food, and even a place to paint, al-Qurashi worries that Kazakh officials may ask, “What more could you possibly want?” For al-Qurashi, though, the new life he signed up for was one where his wife could join him, and they could build a home together. His existence now, he said, is sustained by aid, but it isn’t really life at all.

“Of course, I try not to give up,” he said, “but everything is against me.”

GTMO_Sabri

A painting Sabri al-Qurashi made while imprisoned at Guantánamo shows an airplane in the sky, seen through a broken chain-link fence, in 2014.

Illustration: Sabri al-Qurashi

Road to Guantánamo

Al-Qurashi maintains a calm confidence. His infectious smile is matched by a warm hospitality that can be felt through our WhatsApp video calls. His big hands wave around and often stop suddenly, palms up toward the ceiling when he emphasizes his most exasperating moments. When he’s not caught up in despair, his humor shines through.

On a call one afternoon in late fall, he asked me where I was sitting. “It’s a little backyard, like a garden,” I said, panning the laptop around my ground-floor, concrete yard in Brooklyn.

“Oh, I’ve got a garden too,” he said. “Let me show you.” He walked through a stark apartment and plunges the camera into the saddest-looking attempt at an indoor herb garden I’ve ever seen. Small green seedlings of basil and mint fight for life in a halved plastic water jug. A big laugh follows, his face transformed by a joyful moment of self-deprecation. A few weeks later, all the plants were dead.

For years, al-Qurashi has tried to keep himself sane by painting; his illustrations are sophisticated and conceptual, and his talent, discovered at Guantánamo, is immense. The power of escape afforded by making art, however, has diminished lately. “Even drawing, which is the best thing in my life, and I love it — I’m no longer enthusiastic about it,” he told me.

Al-Qurashi opened up about his youth in a series of interviews. Born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents, he spent all his youth in Hafar al-Batin, doing odd jobs for vendors at the market so he could run home with 10 or 20 riyals in his pocket after school. With dreams of becoming a “rich man,” he began selling perfume oils in the Saudi markets in his mid-20s. Eventually, he took a trip to the wholesale factories in Pakistan, his first such solo visit. That’s when the 9/11 attacks happened. In a desperate attempt to leave the country while security forces were rounding up foreigners, al-Qurashi was grabbed in a raid of the apartment he was staying in.

“It is in my nature that I forgive even those who have wronged me.”

At the time, the U.S. government was doling out up to $5,000 to Afghan warlords and to the government of Pakistan for capturing suspected members of Al Qaeda or the Taliban and turning them over. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, 86 percent of the men jailed at Guantánamo were sold for a bounty. Al-Qurashi had no idea he was about to join hundreds of men handed over to American intelligence by Pakistani officials.

At the American makeshift prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan, al-Qurashi said he was stripped naked, shaved, intimidated with dogs and deprived of water, warmth, and basic dignity. The worst day of his life, he said, was the flight to Cuba. He waited for his captors to realize their mistake, but the day never came. Through brutal interrogations, hunger strikes, and solitary confinement, he maintained his innocence.

Al-Qurashi said he feels no bitterness about what happened to him, even expressing gratitude for the friends he’s made along the way. I asked if he forgave the people who tortured him. “Of course,” he responded without hesitation. “It is in my nature that I forgive even those who have wronged me.”

kazakhstan_sabri_2022

A painting by Sabri al-Qurashi of a snowy landscape scene in Kyzylorda, Kazakhstan, in 2021.

Illustration: Sabri al-Qurashi

Another Prison

By the end of 2014, three Yemenis, including al-Qurashi, and two Tunisian men arrived in Kazakhstan from Guantánamo Bay — the first and last group to be sent to the former Soviet country. The destination may seem odd, but Kazakhstan is majority Muslim and could address the U.S.’s security concerns about a handoff. Harsh treatment, intensive surveillance, and harassment started immediately, as documented in a Vice investigation shortly after the men arrived.

Al-Qurashi and Lotfi bin Ali , a 6-foot-8 Tunisian, were first placed along the Russian border in Semey, a small city in the shadow of the Semipalatinsk nuclear weapon testing site. The men expected to be welcomed in a Muslim country, but instead they found outward hostility.

Al-Qurashi struggled to learn Kazakh from a non-Arabic-speaking teacher, in a city that mostly spoke Russian. Lotfi, at the time, couldn’t find a winter coat that fit his huge frame.

Bin Ali frequently spoke to reporters about his conditions in Kazakhstan and, perhaps because of the embarrassing media reports, was resettled again in Mauritania, along with fellow Tunisian, Adel Hakimi. Never having returned home to Tunisia, bin Ali died on March 9, 2021, after struggling to find adequate medical treatment for heart disease.

“The State Department didn’t even pretend to give a shit,” said Mark Denbeaux, bin Ali’s former lawyer. “All they wanted to do was get people out of Guantánamo. They dumped them in Kazakhstan and didn’t care what happened.”

Another former Guantánamo detainee shipped to Kazakstan — Asim Thabit Al Khalaqi, a Yemeni without documented health problems — died four months after the transfer from a sudden severe illness. Friends and family allege medical malpractice and say his body was never returned to Yemen or properly buried.

Al Qurashi, too, now struggles to find adequate medical care for an injury he sustained three years ago, when a man violently assaulted him on the street. Struck in the face and left with nerve damage, he was told after the attack that he could not report the incident or have any sort of day in court. The police said al-Qurashi, because of his lack of status in the country, did not have standing to bring charges. His treatment for the partial facial paralysis is ongoing — he’s been given acupuncture and a jar of blood-sucking leeches — but he needs a complicated surgery that he is afraid to have performed because of how he’s been treated so far.

In addition to leaving his body in peril, the Kazakhs authorities’ approach to al-Qurashi has left him virtually unable to make meaningful social contact with those around him, he said.

“I have no basic dignity or freedom to move even in the streets around my apartment,” al-Qurashi explained in the CAGE account. “The government harasses anyone I get in contact with which makes it impossible to socialize. The government deters people from associating with me by telling us that we are terrorists and dangerous. Because of not wanting to put anybody in harm, I have stopped attempting to integrate with locals.”

Because of his lack of identification, al-Qurashi is unable to do basic things like send and receiving money, packages, or mail. He is unable to work. When he wants to leave his apartment, for instance to go fishing nearby, he must call the Red Crescent office and ask for his assigned chaperone to accompany him. Sometimes the wait is days long. He cannot leave his neighborhood, let alone drive or travel outside Kyzylorda, his open-air prison. “I exist in life, but I do not live it,” al-Qurashi told me.

The experience echoes those of other former prisoners speaking out against the relentless stigma of life after Guantánamo. “When they leave Guantánamo, it’s not as if they’re exonerated, it’s not as if the United States says that they’re innocent or that they were wrongfully detained,” said Maha Hilal, author of “Innocent Until Proven Muslim” and a scholar of the effect of the so-called war on terror on Muslims. “And so, obviously, they leave Guantánamo with the stigma of ‘terrorist’ on their back.”

Al-Qurashi said, “I have been treated like a terrorist since the day I stepped off the plane here.”

Of the five detainees sent to Kazakhstan, only al-Qurashi and Muhammad Ali Husayn Khanayna, who declined to comment, remain today in Kyzylorda.

Whose Responsibility?

When the Obama administration ended, so, too, did the diplomatic effort of the State Department working with men cleared for release from Guantánamo. The Trump administration disbanded the office responsible for the resettlements, then called the Special Envoy for the Closure of the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facilities. Former Guantánamo prisoners were left with no support to hold their host countries to account for mistreatment. The men cleared for release from Guantánamo remained in prison as President Donald Trump canceled all outbound transfers.

Once the two-year deal between a host country and the State Department expired, there was no longer a means for maintaining that the hosting countries would treat the resettled detainees with basic human rights, said Martina Burtscher, a fellow at the human rights group Reprieve who works on Guantánamo issues. (“Once security assurances have expired, and pending any specific renegotiation of assurances, it largely falls to the discretion of the host country to determine what security measures they continue to implement,” said Picard, the State Department spokesperson.)

The complete collapse in communication and lack of diplomatic pressure allowed host countries like Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates , and Senegal to do whatever they wanted with the resettled detainees — including imprisoning them and, in the case of Senegal, forced repatriation to Libya.

“This is not the solution the U.S. wanted, but [it happened] because of lack of care and lack of resources,” Burtscher said. “I understand that they need to empty Guantánamo. But they also have a responsibility to follow up.”

“They implanted these men in countries where they have no family, no friends, no connections, don’t speak the language, have nothing,” she continued. “The very least they can do is make sure that they have a solid legal status.”

“They implanted these men in countries where they have no family, no friends, no connections, don’t speak the language, have nothing. The very least they can do is make sure that they have a solid legal status.”

After Joe Biden assumed the Oval Office in 2021, the State Department created a desk with a mandate similar to the old special envoy, now the office of the Senior Representative for Guantánamo Affairs. Tina Kaidanow was appointed in August.

For resettled men like al-Qurashi, the appointment makes them no less desperate for their host country’s mistreatment to radically change. Through his lawyer, Greg McConnell, al-Qurashi sent a message to Kaidanow asking for help in his case. “Please, I’m asking you to review my case,” al-Qurashi wrote. “If I stay in Kazakhstan, I must be given the right to live and work as a free man, have legal status, be able to travel, and be allowed for family visits. If this is not possible in Kazakhstan, please, help [me] be relocated to another country where I can live as a free man.”

As al-Qurashi’s advocates continue to request legal status for him in the country, al-Qurashi said the only offer on the table from Kazakh officials is a trip back to Yemen — an offer that may violate the international law of nonrefoulement , Burtscher said. He has so far refused, the stigma of being branded an Al Qaeda terrorist by the U.S. potentially making him a target for various factions in the Yemeni civil war.

The State Department’s new office could conceivably intervene — should they make it a priority over transfers of detainees out of Guantánamo — and negotiate for al-Qurashi to be transferred to a more hospitable country.

Al-Qurashi, however, said he would stay in Kazakhstan if the authorities give him legal residence and allow his wife to live with him. “If I were given my freedom and rights, I could achieve so much more here,” he told me.

So far, the new State Department office has seemed slow to act. “Having the ambassador named is helpful and that certainly shows some level of commitment from the Biden administration,” McConnell said. “I have yet to really hear anything meaningful from them about what’s happening to remedy this situation. They’re very polite, very appreciative, and absorb a lot of information — and I get nothing back — and that hasn’t changed in a long time.”

Mansoor Adayfi , another Yemeni that was formerly held in Guantánamo, said nothing will happen without meaningful U.S. moves. “His case needs the U.S. government to get involved again to fix the problem. And either they need to talk to Kazakhstan to guarantee legal status, so he can see his wife, be able to get permission to work and live legally, like anyone else,” Adayfi said. “Or they should send him to a better country so he can build his life.”

McConnell said, “This was something of their making. It’s failed. And they need to help rectify it.”

The post Sabri al-Qurashi Has Lived Without Legal Status in Kazakhstan Since His 2014 Guantánamo Release appeared first on The Intercept .

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    How Jan. 6 Brought Frontier Violence to the Heart of U.S. Power

    news.movim.eu / TheIntercept · Tuesday, 3 January - 14:33 · 27 minutes

“The battle between good and evil has come now.”
— Senior staff member in the U.S. Senate

In the Cormac McCarthy novel “Blood Meridian,” a man called Captain White leads a mounted company of American irregulars into northern Mexico on a mission to plunder and lay the groundwork for further U.S. expansion. “We are to be the instruments of liberation in a dark and troubled land,” he tells his men. As they ride, White notices dust clouds on the horizon. Through his spyglass, he sees a massive herd of cattle, mules, and horses being driven toward the company by what he takes for a band of stock thieves. They seem to pay his men no mind as the herd rumbles past. Then, suddenly, hundreds of mounted Comanche lancers and archers appear:

A legion of horribles … wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners … one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained wedding veil and some in headgear of cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a Spanish conquistador.

I first read those lines 14 years ago, in a hostel bunk bed amid the wanderings of my early 20s. I was in Naples, where my great-grandfather had boarded a ship to America, and though faces on the streets looked eerily familiar, I felt only a tenuous connection to the city. The novel’s lines about a distant frontier, in contrast, instantly resonated, though I struggled to understand why. There was shocking clarity in the violence: The attackers butcher the Americans, “passing their blades about the skulls of the living and the dead alike and snatching aloft the bloody wigs and hacking and chopping at the naked bodies, ripping off limbs, heads.” The description of their garish attire, with its funhouse mockery of the would-be conquerors, left me with a lingering sense of vulnerability.

These lines resurfaced in my mind after the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, an event whose meaning I’ve found myself continuing to interrogate as we approach its two-year anniversary. At the start of 2021, I was married, with one small child and another on the way, and living in a brick-house suburb of Washington, D.C. I’d covered conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine, then returned, in 2017, to report on the sort of militant-minded Americans who ended up storming Congress. I had traveled to pre-election meetings with Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers leader later convicted of seditious conspiracy for his role that day, and I’d been at a previous “Stop the Steal” rally, in November 2020, watching pot-bellied Proud Boys march around like Catholic school kids in matching polo shirts. On the morning of January 6, however, I stayed home. I was sick of it all: the crowds, the Covid risk, the threats of violence. I’d seen my share of real war at the margins of the U.S. sphere of influence and couldn’t stand another day of listening to comfortable Americans talk about inflicting such violence at home. It wasn’t just them, though. It was also me. In the interludes between my trips around the country, contemplating America’s breakdown from the desk in my sunroom, I’d found I no longer understood what my role was supposed to be.

Protesters exit the Capitol after facing off with police in the Rotunda in Washington, D.C. after listening to a speech by President Trump on January 6, 2021. A large mob who convened on Washington, D.C. for a ?Save America? or ?Stop the Steal? rally was incited by President Trump and stormed the United States Capitol building, fighting with police, and damaging offices and rooms as they made their way through the building.As President Trump openly condoned the violence, the D.C, mayor called for a 6 p.m. curfew, and mobilized the National Guard. (Photo by Ashley Gilbertson / VII Photo)

A woman draped in an American flag near a broken window in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/VII/Redux

Then the riot commenced. The Capitol was breached. I thought, if this is something that will overturn the republic — if it’s a real revolution — then my path is clear again, and there will be time to get to the Capitol tonight, tomorrow, and probably for days.

I was right and wrong. The riot was over in a matter of hours. Congress reconvened to certify the election result that night. But I thought the attack had struck a deeper, psychological blow whose impact was hard to see clearly. I felt it in the reactions from friends and neighbors, in the hysteria in the news, and in my own unease. The answer seemed to lurk behind the nature of the freakout. Turning back to the passage from “Blood Meridian,” I reconsidered what was so unnerving about it and wondered if the rioters, perhaps without realizing it, had tapped into the same anxiety the scene had animated in me years earlier. It conjures a fear about the edge of empire that has always lurked in the American mind, in which the frontier is the place where the violence and suffering the nation has inflicted as the terms of its expansion and sustainment bend back on us, and we encounter our demons. There’s an air of reckoning as the legion descends on Captain White’s company. The first weapons they brandish against the Americans are “shields bedight with bits of broken mirrorglass.”

“They came dressed for chaos,” read the New York Times the day after the Capitol was attacked, “in red, white and blue face paint and star-spangled superhero outfits, in flag capes (American, yes, but also Confederate and Trumpian) and flag jackets and Donald Trump bobble hats. One man came as a patriotic duck; another as a bald eagle; another as a cross between a knight-errant and Captain America; another as Abraham Lincoln. They came in all sorts of camouflage, in animal pelts and flak jackets, in tactical gear.” Other writers noted the “seditionist frontiersmen” and “revolutionary cosplayers” and “Confederate revivalists.” The ghosts were rising up from across the American centuries. Solemn-eyed Christians with their wooden cross. The gallows with its noose. Militants dressed like our modern Forever War soldiers. Some of them, indeed, had been those soldiers, and here they were in their battle attire. A writer for The Atlantic described spending time among a group of protesters that included two men in camouflage and Kevlar vests, along with a woman in a full-body cat suit. He was confronted by a sense of mystery. The event, he wrote, was “not something that can be explained adequately through the prism of politics.” No — the meaning lay in the subliminal. What these people were describing were their nightmares about the edge of empire, come to life, and massing in the heart of Washington, D.C.

The legion advanced holding up a mirror, and I looked at my reflection. It clarified the unease that had been troubling me at my desk. If that side had the aspect of barbarians ready to sack the Capitol, then my side might be manning the imperial gates.


Protesters storm the Rotunda, inside the Capitol in Washington, D.C. after listening to a speech by President Trump on January 6, 2021. A large mob who convened on Washington, D.C. for a ?Save America? or ?Stop the Steal? rally was incited by President Trump and stormed the United States Capitol building, fighting with police, and damaging offices and rooms as they made their way through the building.As President Trump openly condoned the violence, the D.C, mayor called for a 6 p.m. curfew, and mobilized the National Guard. (Photo by Ashley Gilbertson / VII Photo)

A rioter filming with an iPhone is seen in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Jan. 6, 2021.

Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/VII/Redux


Five days after January 6, a writer who uses the pen name John Mosby, after a famous Confederate guerrilla, posted an essay about the attack online. It began with a question he said a friend had asked him that day: “Ever see a government starting to totally lose control and just flail ineffectually?”

Mosby describes himself as a Special Forces veteran who deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11, though he is guarded about specifics. His friend’s question was rhetorical: Part of the job of a Green Beret is to operate in the chaos of broken countries. One thing that serving in or otherwise witnessing recent U.S. wars can also show you, though, is America’s own weakness, laid bare in the yawning gap between what it promised in those wars and what it was able to achieve. For more than a decade on “Mountain Guerrilla,” Mosby’s blog and now Patreon page, and in survivalist and tactical guides that people in militant and prepper circles discuss with reverence, he has laid out an apocalyptic understanding of the world centered on the idea of America’s decline and eventual collapse.

Two aspects of Mosby’s post are striking in relation to January 6. The first is his starting point: America is an empire. Prominent U.S. thinkers once wrestled with this idea, with Mark Twain and others making the Anti-Imperialist League a political force during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency. These days, the concept often seems relegated to the Noam Chomsky -citing hard left or pockets of the far right, but a shift in perspective can sharpen the picture. “To an outsider, the fact that America is an empire is the most obvious fact of all,” the British journalist Henry Fairlie, who spent 25 years in the U.S., wrote during the Vietnam era. America emerged from a revolt against an imperialist power, giving its citizens an aversion to “the mere suggestion that they may themselves be an empire,” Fairlie noted. “Call it, then, by another name … but the fact will remain.”

The modern blend of America’s economic might, military alliances, and borderless campaigns of surveillance, drone attacks, and commando raids makes its version of empire look different from those that preceded it — and from the blunter attempts at power grabs in Cuba and the Philippines that mobilized Twain and his allies. Mosby, however, also subscribes to the idea that the country itself is a patchwork of far-flung places tied together by conquest. The distance from London to Rome, he notes , is less than from Denver or Austin to the White House. So the U.S. decline Mosby sees is imperial decline, both at home and abroad. He derides the idea that America’s technological advances and the comforts of its globalized economy will help it escape the fate of every empire that came before it. In fact, he believes that the excesses of contemporary U.S. capitalism will only speed that fate along. He titled his post about January 6 “The Hubris of Technophilia.”

Secondly, in Mosby’s view, Donald Trump existed outside the true power structure of this crumbling empire even when he controlled the presidency. The real authority lay somewhere else. This was the authority that revealed its weakness on January 6. It wasn’t the breach of the poorly guarded U.S. Capitol that told him this. (“I could give two shits about that, and in fact, was surprised that we didn’t see smoke billowing out the windows.”) He saw it in the agitation of the politicians and talking heads and the panicked talk about insurrection in the news. It was in the frenzy of a kicked beehive.

What you’re watching, right now, is the mechanisms of imperial power — the government, the legacy media, and the oligarchs, of social media and big business — lashing out ineffectually, in the throes of panic, because the collapse of the imperial hegemony just became readily apparent to even the willfully blind … They’re NOT in control, and at their core, they know it. They’re not in control in Afghanistan. They’re not in control in Iraq. They’re not in control in Syria. … Hell, they’re not even really in control in Washington, DC.

If you ask me, Trump embodies the worst of U.S. empire and is exactly the fallout that critics of its runaway capitalism, militarism, and nationalism have predicted. He campaigned on stealing oil and indiscriminately bombing ISIS territory, and on demonizing Muslims, who for 20 years have been the state-sponsored enemy, as well as by fearmongering over migrants at the southern border. It wasn’t just talk: Trump ramped up drone attacks and embraced secret wars and loosened airstrike rules designed to limit civilian casualties . Large corporations and defense contractors raked in profits during his presidency. I recognize in the January 6 movement the same alliance between a supposedly anti-establishment grassroots and the super-rich that I remember from the tea party. My goal, however, is to look in the mirror, and Mosby’s writing shows how the Democratic side of the political divide can also be portrayed as aligned with the centers of entrenched power. After January 6, many liberals looked to Big Tech for more censorship and to financial institutions for help blocking funding streams. They embraced the government agencies that had managed the war on terror and pushed them for domestic remedies , such as the Department of Homeland Security’s short-lived disinformation board and a new law to give the FBI more tools and funding to counter domestic extremism. Maybe some of this was justified, given the stakes, but one goal in psychological operations is to get your opponent to act like the enemy you want to fight.

Mosby’s prescriptions seem somewhat apolitical: He sees America’s collapse as unavoidable and advocates a retreat into austere survivalism. There are plenty of people on the right, however, who are keen to harness the January 6 crowd’s momentum to enact radical change. This includes an expanding constellation of anti-democratic thought that can draw on similar notions of empire and the modern right’s place outside its hierarchies. Thinkers in this space have posited that liberal authority is so ingrained that America is already in or approaching a form of autocracy; this was the concept behind the former private equity executive Michael Anton’s 2016 case for Trump in his widely circulated essay “ The Flight 93 Election ,” which gave conservatives an ultimatum: “Charge the cockpit or you die.” Anton became a National Security Council official in the Trump administration and is now at the Claremont Institute, an influential right-wing think tank. Curtis Yarvin, a writer often cited as a favorite of Steve Bannon and Peter Thiel, has also deployed the declining empire frame. He has called for an “American Caesar” to rescue the country from its liberal masters. “Certainly, our choice in the early 21st century — if we have a choice — is one of two fates: the fall of the Roman Republic, or the fall of the Roman Empire,” he wrote . “Don’t let anyone hate on you for preferring the former — or being willing to learn from it.”

Jake Angeli, self described QAnon Shamen, confronts police officers as a pro-Trump mob storms the Capitol in Washington, D.C. after listening to a speech by President Trump on January 6, 2021. A large mob who convened on Washington, D.C. for a ?Save America? or ?Stop the Steal? rally was incited by President Trump and stormed the United States Capitol building, fighting with police, and damaging offices and rooms as they made their way through the building. As President Trump openly condoned the violence, the D.C, mayor called for a 6 p.m. curfew, and mobilized the National Guard. (Photo by Ashley Gilbertson / VII Photo)

Jake Angeli, a self-described QAnon shaman, confronts police officers in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/VII/Redux


Let’s consider a different moment when protesters massed in the heart of Washington, D.C, the crowd stretching out by the tens of thousands. There are militants in helmets among them, along with the frumps and strivers of the middle classes in jeans. And then there are the freaks. They have come decked out in various costumes, including furs and animal skins. These are the legions of the anti-war left, assembled for their October 1967 march on the Pentagon.

In “The Armies of the Night,” his book about the march, Norman Mailer described the spectacle. “They came walking up in all sizes,” he wrote, “perambulating down the hill, many dressed like the legions of Sgt. Pepper’s Band, some were gotten up like Arab sheikhs, or in Park Avenue doormen’s greatcoats, others like Rogers and Clark of the West, Wyatt Earp, Kit Carson, Daniel Boone in buckskin.” He counted hundreds of hippies in Union blue and Confederate gray marching beside samurais, shepherds, Roman senators, “Martians and Moon-men and a knight unhorsed who stalked about in the weight of real armor.”

With this absurdist show of force, Mailer hoped the left had found the momentum to challenge not only the war in Vietnam but also what he called “the authority” behind the version of America that he called “technology land,” where the horrors of napalm, Agent Orange , and nuclear bombs were tied in some intrinsic way to all the stifling domestic corruptions.

Their radicalism was in their hate for the authority. … this new generation of the Left hated the authority, because the authority lied. It lied through the teeth of corporation executives and Cabinet officials and police enforcement officers and newspaper editors and advertising agencies, and in its mass magazines, where the subtlest apologies for the disasters of the authority … were grafted in the best possible style into the ever-open mind of the walking American lobotomy.

The movement’s power, the book suggests, was born of a refusal to accept, at home, what America manifested overseas, and a determination not to lose sight of the immediacy of burned forests and dead civilians. It challenged the authority by refusing to play on its terms. This was the energy behind the idea of such a horde preparing to march, with no coherent plan, against the annihilating structure of the Pentagon, a building that encompasses 6.5 million square feet of office space and 7,500 windows. “[T]he aesthetic at last was in the politics,” Mailer wrote, rejoicing that “politics had again become mysterious.”

In the end, the marchers streamed across the Arlington Bridge and descended on the Pentagon, where some managed to break in and run amok for a while. Hundreds were arrested. The world seemed to spin on. Mailer felt, however, that a psychological blow had been dealt — because the event, he wrote, was one “that the authority could not comprehend.”

One essential tactic of the 1960s left, in fact, was to screw with the squares just by being their opposite: the freaks.

The protesters, it seems to me, were trying to reach into the subliminal reserve of guilt and fear that Americans keep buried, and in doing so, they took on the role of McCarthy’s legion of horribles. One essential tactic of the 1960s left, in fact, was to screw with the squares just by being their opposite: the freaks. The system was run and staffed by squares, policed by squares, and supported by squares, the unquestioning drones of empire. There was power in the ability to interrupt the programming, to jolt them with a sense of dislocation. It’s an ethos captured in miniature in Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” when he recounts standing in the men’s room of a popular nightspot and spilling LSD powder onto his flannel sleeve. A stranger walks in and begins to suck the powder from Thompson’s arm: “A very gross tableau,” he writes, that makes him wonder if a “young stockbroker type” might walk in and see them. “Fuck him, I thought. With a bit of luck, it’ll ruin his life — forever thinking that just behind some narrow door in all his favorite bars, men in red Pendleton shirts are getting incredible kicks from things he’ll never know.”

During the protest at the Pentagon, the hippies held an exorcism, trying to levitate the building and drive out the demons within it. The new generation of the left, Mailer wrote, “believed in LSD, in witches, in tribal knowledge, in orgy, and revolution.” Now it’s the new right reaching for magic — black magic, maybe, but magic nonetheless. They believe in international conspiracies of pedophiles , in Satan worshippers, and Anderson Cooper drinking the blood of babies. These are terrible, dangerous fantasies, yes, but they also contrast with a left whose anti-establishment impulses often seem to go corporate, like rock and roll and weed, and executives with hired shamans preaching psychedelic healing. One side believes in apocalypse and ivermectin horse paste, and God, and bleach . The other believes in grown-up generals and congressional committees, rules and norms, and the FBI.


A crowd on the Mall in Washington, D.C., listening to a speech by President Trump on January 6, 2021 A large mob who convened on Washington, D.C. for a ?Save America? or ?Stop the Steal? rally was incited by President Trump and stormed the United States Capitol building, fighting with police, and damaging offices and rooms as they made their way through the building. As President Trump openly condoned the violence, the D.C, mayor called for a 6 p.m. curfew, and mobilized the National Guard. (Photo by Ashley Gilbertson / VII Photo)

A man wearing a helmet and tactical vest listens to a speech by President Donald Trump during the “Stop the Steal” rally on the Mall in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021.

Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/VII/Redux


I recently was reading one of the books to which liberals flocked in the Trump era — actually, even more on-brand, I was listening to the audio version while buying groceries in the middle of a weekday. It was “How Fascism Works,” by Jason Stanley, a professor of philosophy at Yale. Stanley details contemporary problems that can be understood as aspects of fascist politics: male chauvinism, unreality, the demonization of minorities, the glorification of an imagined race or ethno-centric history, attempts to divide people into “us” and “them.” He also expands the discussion to other traits of U.S. conservatism: being against abortion, for example, or paternalistically regressive. He writes that a 2016 tweet by Mitt Romney — in which Romney called Trump’s sexist comments on the “Access Hollywood” tapes “vile degradations [that] demean our wives and daughters” — evokes the Hutu power ideology behind the Rwanda genocide, suggesting that Romney’s description of women “exclusively in traditionally subordinate roles” supports the paradigm of “the patriarchal family in fascist politics.” Academics who advocate for so-called “great books” programs centered on the works of white Europeans, he warns elsewhere, citing a “Mein Kampf” passage on the supposed dominance of Aryan cultural heritage, are at risk of finding themselves in the company of Hitler.

I breezed along with my shopping, until I thought I felt Stanley reach for me. Other key features of fascism, he writes, using Rush Limbaugh as a foil, are the undermining of “expertise” and attempts to create a climate in which “experts have been delegitimized.” Wait a minute, I thought, pulling out my earbuds. Which experts does he mean? (And is Stanley one of them?) Aside from calls to defend science and academia from right-wing onslaughts, he leaves the category mostly undefined. Limbaugh’s attacks on all sources of information that ran counter to his own hyperpartisan propaganda were transparent enough, and easy to disdain; this has also become part of the Trumpian playbook. At the same time, however, many among the sprawling class of elites and experts in America have used Trump’s specter to shield themselves from challenges to their authority that may well be justified. Whoever has been guiding the country through the three-plus decades of my lifetime, at least, hasn’t been doing a good job of it, and we clearly have more than just conservatives to blame. This is apparent in any statistical indicator that tracks the worsening of, say, climate change or economic inequality over time, the persistent discrimination faced by Black Americans, or their continued killing by our militarized police . However inadvertently, broad defenses of elites and experts support the status quo, while nurturing an increasingly dangerous American reverence for authority. Now more than ever, it seems, we should be leaning into the opposing tradition of vibrant skepticism as we seek to discern and constantly reevaluate which purported expertise is worthwhile and which we’d be better off dismissing.

The book dissects how problems from racism and inequality to inhumane treatment of immigrants have seeded the potential destruction of American democracy. It makes only passing mention, however, of an example of elite failure that’s essential to the discussion: the disaster of U.S. foreign policy. Nothing has bred hyper-nationalism like the post-9/11 wars, or inflamed a reactionary sense of cultural superiority, or fed the worship of violence and power, or eroded the rule of law, or indoctrinated people in a constant, searching fear of new threats and enemies , or encouraged them to turn, for relief, to industry, technology, and the security state. The wars and their knock-on effects, including surveillance and civilian casualties that continue to this day, have been supported by both political parties and sustained by a top-down culture of unreality based on encouraging people to look away. An edifice of official secrecy, staffed by experts and elites, has been built upon layers of classification, obfuscation, and denial that hide information we’d rather not see anyway, helping us avoid a full view of our own reflections.

Hannah Arendt, born in pre-war Germany, is widely considered one of the foremost scholars of that country’s descent into Hitlerism. She devoted a third of “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” which analyzed the conditions that gave rise to the Nazi and Soviet regimes, to imperialism. Tyranny deployed abroad, she noted, “could only destroy the political body of the nation-state,” and while imperialism alone didn’t spawn Hitler’s rise, it was essential to creating the right conditions. Arendt immigrated to the U.S. in 1941 and tracked the overseas adventurism that has defined the era of American dominance. In her 1971 essay on the release of the Pentagon Papers, “ Lying in Politics ,” she observed that the Vietnam War was the province not only of flag-waving nationalists but also of seemingly well-intentioned experts and bureaucrats, the so-called problem solvers who’d helped to support the war and lent it a sheen of respectability. “Self-deception is the danger par excellence ,” she wrote. The experts ended up living in the same unreality they foisted on the public. For all their acumen, they became gears in a machine that was grinding forward unthinkingly: “One sometimes has the impression that a computer rather than ‘decision-makers’ had been let loose in Southeast Asia.”

These decision-makers were taking direction from Robert McNamara, the former president of Ford Motor Company who served as defense secretary under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Some detractors saw the “problem solvers” and their technocratic counterparts across government as dangerous progressives. Some of the technocrats’ critics on the left, however, believed that, rather than truly changing the power structure, they were trying to alter it just enough to be comfortable in it — and that this applied more broadly to the Kennedy-Johnson coalition. In “The Armies of the Night,” Mailer wrote of his unease at a pre-march party at the home of an academic who was both against the war and, as Mailer saw it, one of the empire’s unwitting supporters.

If the republic was now managing to convert the citizenry to a plastic mass, ready to be attached to any manipulative gung ho, the author was ready to cast much of the blame … [on] the liberal academic intelligentsia. They were of course politically opposed to the present programs and movements of the republic in Asian foreign policy, but this political difference seemed no more than a quarrel among engineers. Liberal academics had no root of a real war with technology land itself, no, in all likelihood, they were the natural managers of that future air-conditioned vault where the last of human life would still exist.

The enemies on the right were more obvious; here Mailer was concerned with the trickier battle within liberalism. He saw that you can’t start a revolution, which is what pulling down the edifices of empire would be, if the people on your side are so ingrained in the power structure that they can’t even see it.


Protesters storm the Rotunda, inside the Capitol in Washington, D.C. after listening to a speech by President Trump on January 6, 2021. A large mob who convened on Washington, D.C. for a ?Save America? or ?Stop the Steal? rally was incited by President Trump and stormed the United States Capitol building, fighting with police, and damaging offices and rooms as they made their way through the building.As President Trump openly condoned the violence, the D.C, mayor called for a 6 p.m. curfew, and mobilized the National Guard. (Photo by Ashley Gilbertson / VII Photo)

Protesters swarm the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Jan. 6, 2021.

Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/VII/Redux


In June, I traveled to a town called Eureka, just shy of the Canadian border in the pines of northwest Montana, and stopped at a cluster of storage units off the main road. At the entrance to one of them, Dakota Adams, 25, the eldest child of Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers leader , took out a ring of keys and opened the padlock to the roll-up door. Inside, amid belongings piled halfway to the ceiling, were remnants of the many years his father had spent preparing for the revolution: rifle cases, old ammunition boxes, helmets, recruiting flyers, smoke grenades. Adams waded through the pile, dug around for a bit, and lifted up a camouflage vest heavy with bulletproof plates. “Ah,” he said. “My childhood body armor.”

Adams had been brought up in the militant movement, immersed in meetings and trainings hidden away in the surrounding pines. Then, recently, he’d broken from it and from his father as well, following a long process that he called “deprogramming,” during which he also changed his surname. All around were obscure and dusty books that had belonged to his father: “The Coming Battle,” by M. W. Walbert; “Firearms for Survival,” by Duncan Long; “Rawles on Retreats and Relocation,” by James Wesley Rawles; “Tracking Humans,” by David Diaz; “Boston’s Gun Bible,” by the pseudonymous Boston T. Party. Though Adams couldn’t find it, he was sure that “The Reluctant Partisan,” one of John Mosby’s books, was also buried somewhere in the clutter. The militant movement believes that it takes only a small vanguard to start the revolution, Adams told me, but its preparations for political violence have also been married to efforts to bring as many people as possible to its side. I found another type of book among the piles: “Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto” and “How to Win a Local Election: A Complete Step-By-Step Guide.” The Oath Keepers, in the end, were just one of many pieces that came together on January 6, but Rhodes had been tapping for years into the momentum that fueled it. He’d recognized that “a meandering energy” is on the loose in America, Adams said. “People want structure and they want to feel a part of things.”

“The alternative is ending up with a system that’s even worse than what you have.”

Maybe there’s no choice, at the moment, but to defend the system we have in hopes of staving off a much darker fate. That’s what Michael Podhorzer, the former political director of the AFL-CIO, America’s largest federation of labor unions, told me. He has been credited with helping to organize the liberal defense against Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 vote, sounding the alarm for months ahead of time and then, when the coup attempt was on, playing a coordinating role in the response. That response involved mobilizing the grassroots left and institutional liberals alike — and yes, the retired security officials, tech and business executives, bureaucrats, experts, and elites who are part of the wealthy, educated demographic that increasingly votes Democratic. The larger effort to stop Trump from overturning the vote brought establishment Republicans and big corporations into the fold as well, Podhorzer noted; the AFL-CIO even released a joint letter with the Chamber of Commerce to support the election result. History has shown, he told me, that right-wing authoritarianism can only be defeated when all of civil society — including corporations and the center-right — is aligned against it: “The alternative is ending up with a system that’s even worse than what you have.”

This is probably true. It might even be heroic, in its own way. It also means manning the imperial gates. Our demons from the frontier are here, running rampant, and there’s no one left to turn to but the people who loosed them in the first place — to get in line with the squares. Nothing shows that a system has been victorious like the inability of even its opponents to imagine an alternative. I suffer from this fate. Even my critiques of U.S. empire, I often think, exist so comfortably within its confines as to make me just another part of it. It reminds me of a term I heard in countries I covered overseas: controlled opposition.

This was the dilemma that had been plaguing me over those long months of suburban comfort as January 6 approached. And it’s why, watching the chaos unfold at the Capitol, I felt, amid the dread, a hint of clarity, as if perhaps a fog were about to lift. If the coup happened, I’d be able to charge at last against the authority like the revolutionary I’d imagined I might be back when I was bouncing through hostels with a backpack full of books. The thought provided some comfort, but returning to the passage from McCarthy, I arrived at another set of questions. What if the battle between good and evil had already been settled in America? And if the latter had won, what would be the use in guarding the gates?

The protagonist in “Blood Meridian” is a nameless, wandering youth called “the kid,” who is traveling with Captain White’s company when it’s wiped out by the Comanches and survives by lying among the dead. Moving onward through the frontier’s netherworld, he falls in with a man who makes Captain White’s brand of violence seem quaint. The Judge is a towering figure, nearly seven feet tall, and apparently civilized; “this man of learning,” as he’s described, is well traveled and erudite, with an expansive knowledge of languages, history, science, and law. He also unleashes a machine-like violence capable of wiping out entire settlements of men, women, and children as they sleep. “It makes no difference what men think of war,” the Judge says. “War endures.”

Eventually, belatedly, the kid revolts against him. “You’re the one that’s crazy,” he says weakly. The book ends in a violent hug, with the kid trapped in the Judge’s arms, smothered “against his immense and terrible flesh.” When I first read this in Naples, it left me confused. Now, though, I can feel the familiar embrace of patrimony.

The post How Jan. 6 Brought Frontier Violence to the Heart of U.S. Power appeared first on The Intercept .