Terrorism is not simply an act of mass murder. We have grown accustomed to selectively deeming some acts of deadly violence as ‘terrorism’ and fail to understand the full scope of what that term incorporates. We also misunderstand the tools of the terrorist and how they are employed to diminish and destroy intended targets. The subtle practices terrorists employ to undermine and destabilize their intended targets often go unnoticed. Thus, we overlook some acts of terrorism while rushing to judgment after certain incidents of violence, particularly those involving foreign actors. It is why we are quick to cite the attacks of September 11, 2001 but hardly speak of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995 by an American, Timothy McVeigh.
We are particularly disinclined to address acts of domestic terrorism and dismiss the history of the Ku Klux Klan, White Citizens Council, lynch mobs, law enforcement agents, white supremacist groups and other individual acts committed by whites such as Dylann Roof who freely express hatred toward African-Americans, Muslims, Jews, and other people of color. This history of terror is just another purposeful distortion of the historical record to preserve the American myth of peaceful co-existence. Names are omitted from so-called scholarly accounts of our past and contemporary acts of domestic terrorism are explained away as aberrations, having little to do with the fundamentally racist and caste construction of American society. Moreover, many of these acts are committed by those who profess to be Christians.
Today, it appears the very epicenter of power in the United States – the White House – is under the control of an individual who employs all the tactics of a terrorist and seemingly for the same reason – to reign terror upon those he deems the enemy. The possession of constitutional authority, however prescribed in our federalist system, seems of little satisfaction to this president. He is obsessed with the need to demoralize, conquer and vanquish those he feels are a threat to his delusional world view.
How does this president behave in the manner of a terrorist? Here are a few of the trademark characteristics of a terrorist and how the 45th president aligns with them.
Terrorists are paranoid and delusional
Donald Trump is both. He truly believes everyone is out to get him and he views the world through a lens that puts his ‘success’ at the center of human relevance and sees himself as pivotal to the existence of humankind. It’s more than arrogance. It’s a belief that he is larger than humanity and that he alone possesses the knowledge and capacity to bring order to the world. Trump’s behavior is truly influenced by delusions of grandeur.
Terrorists create false narratives
In order to justify their irrational fears, terrorists have to create false narratives. They need to sow enough confusion to manipulate public opinion, gain sympathy and create the impression of being wronged for being right. This is at the heart of Trump’s blatantly false narrative that he was the victim of millions of illegal voters casting ballots for his opponent during the presidential election. Despite meeting the constitutional standard for election – winning the Electoral College vote – he feels compelled to spout a blatant lie to create the impression he has been wronged. He needs to portray himself as a victim to distract the public from his maniacal thirst for power.
Terrorists employ misinformation as a tactic
When terrorists peddle misinformation, it is not a mistake. It’s a tactic. The Turner Diaries are a classic tome of misinformation. By spreading lies and innuendos the terrorist creates a counter narrative to the truth. They know those that are vulnerable to such misinformation, the economically disadvantaged or politically disengaged, are not prone to fact-checking and will apply the misinformation to their own personal circumstances. In no time, falsehoods are deemed facts and the terrorist then uses the deception as a weapon against the truth and a means to demonize those he seeks to destroy. We witnessed this in Kellyanne Conway’s storytelling of a fictional Bowling Green massacre, put forth as a defense of Trump’s Muslim travel ban.
Terrorists use the media to induce fear and create chaos
Osama bin Laden understood that his videotaped messages from a cave would startle Americans and create panic. A terrorist uses media for its shock value, as a way to disrupt the tranquility of everyday living. Trump has discovered Twitter as a tool that allows him to do the same. His constant Tweets that the nation is vulnerable to an attack if his Muslim ban is not enforced is his way of driving fear. The same can be said of Sean Spicer’s belligerence at White House press briefings. Spicer is simply creating sound bites that the administration can use to inflame passions. The same can be said of Trump’s constant denunciations of “the media.” By declaring journalists the enemy, Trump establishes his words as the truth.
Terrorists create scapegoats
For Timothy McVeigh and Dylann Roof, the scapegoats for their own shortcomings were Blacks who they claimed were inferior and a blemish on our national character. This is a typical ploy for terrorists. Find a group that is already looked upon with suspicion and amplify stereotypes for the purpose of creating an enemy. For Donald Trump, the scapegoats are clear – women, the media and people of color who he cleverly divides between the ‘deserving’ (Blacks trapped in deplorable cities) and the ‘undeserving’ (immigrants of color and Muslims). By stratifying his scapegoats, he also seeks to create divisions among those groups that should be allied. It’s why he identifies preferential Blacks and feigns ignorance of those who are acknowledged experts or represent the interests of large numbers of the African-American community.
Terrorists attack democratic institutions
McVeigh attacked a federal building because in the delusional minds of white supremacists, government institutions usurp their natural rights to power and control. The government is an obstacle to white supremacy and a possible barrier to white privilege as it works to create equality in American society. The same can be said of Roof, who understood the power of the Black church, its important role in American society and how it is enabled by government protections. Roof sought to send a larger message with his bloody rampage on a sacred institution. Donald Trump demeans democratic institutions because he understands if he can inspire hatred of our government, it allows him unfettered and unchecked rule. If the public despises government, he believes, and he is right, that the unknowing and the unlettered will turn to the benevolent leader – Donald Trump. Americans know little about their government or public policy. An example of this disconnect was revealed in a recent poll that showed many people did not know “Obamacare” and the Affordable Care Act are one and the same. It is why at every turn Donald Trump questions institutions and tries to build mystique around his own leadership.
Terrorists undermine the rule of law
Donald Trump’s attack on federal judges is by design. It’s a classic tool of a terrorist to undermine the rule of law. There is no law except for that which the terrorist deems. For Trump, judges are a hindrance, obstructionists to his far greater knowledge of what the country needs. This type of demagoguery is purposeful. It is meant to make Americans not only distrustful of the judiciary but resentful as well. When judicial opinions favorable to his agenda are issued, and they will occur, he will not credit the judicial system but instead ‘smart’ judges who saw the wisdom of his policy. The federal courts are an obstacle to despotic rule.
Terrorists are anti-intellectual
By all accounts McVeigh, Roof and other domestic terrorists were hardly at the head of the class. There has to be a certain dumbing-down for the terrorist to be effective. First, they cannot possess knowledge because it would invalidate their delusional thoughts. Second, they have to see intellectuals as a threat. Just scan Donald Trump’s inner circle. Conway, Spicer and Bannon are the antithesis of smart. They are caricatures that feign intelligence while dabbling in inaccuracies, half-truths and outright deception. Terrorists loathe intellectuals because they expose the terrorist’s own limited abilities. Barack Obama was despised as much for his intellect as he was for his race. ‘Thinking’ is anathema to the terrorist, who plies in emotion and lies and uses chaos as a means of control.
Terrorists deny history
Most history is simply a lie to the terrorist. Historical events are distorted or revised to suit their purposes. We witnessed this in Trump’s rage over evidence that clearly showed President Obama’s inaugurations attracted larger crowds on the Mall than were present in January. In a country where so much of its history has been suppressed or manipulated, the accounting of past events belongs to those who have the means to communicate their version of events. Knowing many Americans are ignorant of the facts behind historical events, the terrorist simply makes it up to suit his purposes. The advent of social media makes it that much easier. History becomes a weapon to reinforce biases, channel hate and legitimize claims to power.
Terrorists use religion as subterfuge
Religion is a classic tool of the terrorist. By hiding behind God, and manipulating sacred texts, the terrorist invokes some divine calling to reign terror. Acts of evil are legitimized in the name of God and the ‘nonbeliever’ is branded a heretic and betrayer of cultural mores. It’s one thing to stake claim on an issue or action, it’s quite another to declare it’s been endorsed by God. When God is invoked people are put in the uncomfortable position of opposing policies that a deity is presumed to have ordained. The Ku Klux Klan undoubtedly attracts church going white males by appealing to their faith and using the Christian cross as the ultimate symbol of compliance. Terrorists commit evil acts in the name of God and then cast as evil those who see through their deception. False prophecy has dangerously become one of the most potent weapons to oppress in our nation today. In the case of the president, he invokes God but sees himself as God.
Terrorists manipulate the less educated
Contrary to the myth of American exceptionalism, we are not a country of mass enlightenment. Many of our people are easy prey, prone to be manipulated due to their lack of knowledge and quality formal education. Our citizenry is largely ignorant of its government and disengaged. The terrorist knows this and appeals to the lowest common denominator – fear. When so many Americans are captive to a narrow view of humanity and are insecure on their own personal standing, a terrorist plays upon what they don’t know and what they can easily be led to believe. This is why so many Americans vote against their interests. They don’t know any better.
The very characteristics that define the shadowy fear of most Americans today – terrorism – are being exhibited by the occupant of the Oval Office. This is a dangerous precedent that goes beyond concern over the policy agenda of a presidential administration. It cuts to the core of a democracy that is vulnerable and still in formation. If these practices persist it could well redefine the behavior of future leadership or set the stage for something worse – autocratic leadership and the suspension of constitutional rule.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.