Who Is And Isn't A Terrorist, January 6 Edition

An Iraq combat veteran turned Proud Boy sentenced for seditious conspiracy applies the logic of 9/11 to 1/6. 

Who Is And Isn't A Terrorist, January 6 Edition
Decals on stairs at the Time Square subway station. Photo by Stephen Lek, CC BY-SA 4.0

Edited by Sam Thielman

JUST A SHORT ONE from me today, because it seems like we've got to return to a certain theme after Thursday's sentencing of two Proud Boys involved in January 6. 

One of them is Joseph Biggs, a twice-deployed Army combat veteran of Iraq. As he received a 17-year prison sentence, he made an assertion tailor-made for this newsletter:

During tearful remarks to Judge Kelly, Mr. Biggs said that he turned to drinking — a favorite Proud Boy pastime — after coming back from combat overseas and that the only group he wanted to be affiliated with these days is “my daughter’s P.T.A.”
“I’m not a terrorist,” he said.

On 1/6, Biggs used organized violence—and, for that matter, spectacle—as he attempted to stop a lawful transfer of power to his disfavored presidential candidate. If we stick to a dictionary definition, that's unambiguously terrorism. But throughout the War on Terror, the dictionary definition has never been the point. The point has been that terrorism isn't a thing that people do, it's a thing that people are, and never Biggs' kind of people. The War on Terror said Biggs can't be a terrorist, as I wrote in REIGN OF TERROR:

Islam attacked America because Islam was, in the final analysis, terror itself. Never would America acknowledge that the violent, reactionary dangers that it attributed to its enemies were also part of its own history. That was the meaning of Oklahoma City. It was the meaning of January 6. A white man with a flag and a gun, the man who had made America great, was not a terrorist. The 9/11 era said he was a counterterrorist. America had never been the sort of place that would tell him he was anything else. 

Judge Timothy J. Kelly, a Donald Trump appointee to the federal D.C. district court, gave Biggs a sentence 15 years "below the guidelines," Washington Post reporter Rachel Weiner quoted him saying. "It’s not my job to label you a terrorist, and my sentence today won’t do that." Weiner reported: 

While he called it “a miracle” that more people weren’t killed on Jan. 6, the judge said “there was nothing to suggest” the Proud Boys planned anything akin to a bombing, a battlefield killing spree or trying to “blow up a skyscraper.” [Except the pipe bombs, I guess.—Sam.]

Most people convicted on terrorism charges since 9/11, however, were not planning to blow up skyscrapers. They got convicted for things like moving money to Hamas or beginning to pursue acts of violence after being egged on in that direction by FBI agents or informants. One man, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, is still in prison for an alleged assassination attempt on George W. Bush that never materialized and the only evidence for which is what he told Saudi interrogators during a harrowing 20-month torture session in their custody. Outside of the realm of state-manufactured post-9/11 fantasy, storming the Capitol to stop legislators from certifying a lawful transfer of power is a far greater act of violent political intimidation, and one that left seven people dead. But when white people do it, there's a whole lot of hesitation among people who move in respectable circles—such as those who wear judge's robes—about using the T-word. 

Consistency is a sucker's game. The real story is what the inconsistency reveals. For more, check out this 2021 edition of the newsletter, as this edition is basically a sequel. 

'UH… LIKE A FRIENDLIER NAZI GERMANY.' It took me way too long to get to Amanda Moore's excellent dispatch for The Nation on her extensive infiltration of the fascist right. But it's an elegant unity of form and content, since Moore's story is about a conscious attempt by the antidemocratic right to infiltrate the Republican Party and seize its levers of power. They know that their dudes did 1/6 and will say what's necessary to spare themselves consequences, since, for a fascist, deeds are truer than words. The quotes she collects function like smelling salts, such as this one, which comes from Alex Nelson, who advocates America becoming a "friendlier Nazi Germany." 

Nelson, undeterred, said loudly that we should kick out all the Jamaicans and Haitians who live in New York City.

“My mentality is the Anglo nation is one of the greatest nations to have ever walked the earth,” he said. “You know, we should not have to worry about like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s a bunch of nasty Jamaicans and Haitians that are gonna rob me.’ Well, then beat them up, then beat the crap out of them, kick them out of the city, kick them out of the country, take their homes.”

It will not surprise you to learn that Nelson doesn't keep that same energy on the Nostrand Avenues of the world. Moore: "When I walked too close to a group that was chanting and marching, he pulled me back. Big, bad Alex—ready to 'beat the crap out of' Jamaicans in New York City, but afraid to walk by a little protest in daylight."

TODAY MARKS THE FINAL DAY OF THE NIB, the groundbreaking, Eisner-winning nonfiction comics publication captained by my friend Matt Bors. It's been a legendary run, one the Washington Post acknowledged on Thursday with an appropriately glowing valedictory profile. There are big things on the horizon for Matt. You should buy everything he publishes. 

FRIEND-OF-THE-NEWSLETTER ELISE SWAIN OF THE INTERCEPT visits Guantanamo Bay and learns that places I routinely had access to (while accompanied by military handlers, it's important to say; and at all times subject to censorship of my photography by military censors) are now off-limits:

As recently as 2018, reporters and photographers were allowed into the prison itself. Now, though, media isn’t brought anywhere close to the permanent prison complex that houses the remaining 30 detainees. I was informed that members of the media would not be allowed to photograph even the old Camp X-Ray, the long-abandoned outdoor prison that held the very first detainees. I was shocked, since Camp X-Ray was listed as an approved location under the 2023 media guidelines. This took all locations that were even remotely related to the base’s role as a detention site completely out of play. 

NEXT: A column for The Nation about climate change, great power competition and U.S. foreign policy that the august publication will publish imminently. I'll present it here for subscribers—as I do all my columns—with some additional riffing this time. Also I've recorded some comics-heavy podcast episodes that should start dropping… next week? The week after?... and which I'll post here as well. 

Finally: go to your local comic book store on September 12 for issue 3 of WALLER VS. WILDSTORM! This is an all-out action issue that I can't wait for you to read! While you're there, tell them you want to reserve your copy of issue 4, our finale!