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Tomgram: Andrea Mazzarino, Living Up Close and Personal with Our Endless Wars

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

If you don't think that the January 6th attack on the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters armed with everything from baseball bats to guns wasn't as much of a sign of how America's wars are coming home as the way the Pentagon has armed police forces with weaponry directly off those distant battlefields, think again. After all, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, the two "militia" groups that evidently did the most planning prior to leading the charge on the Capitol aimed at murdering America's elected representatives and halting the presidential vote count, are evidently filled with veterans of this country's forever wars (or at least of the military that has never stopped fighting them).

In fact, as the New York Times reported recently, more than one-third of the members of those two groups known to have been at the Capitol were once in that military (unlike less than a fifth of the rioters generally). Even before that assault, such militias had evidently been thinking rather specifically about bringing war home. Within a week of Joe Biden's November 3rd electoral victory, the Oath Keepers, for instance, were already setting up training sessions for "urban warfare" and stationing members near Washington, D.C., prepared to act on President Trump's orders.

And lest you imagine that those distant wars are now ending, think again. When it comes to Iraq, for instance, the Pentagon is already discussing sending yet more U.S. troops to the Middle East, supposedly to support the "training" of Iraqi forces to protect against the return of ISIS. Similarly, in Afghanistan, the pressure on President Biden not to pull the last U.S. military personnel out (as President Trump had agreed) on May 1st is only growing. For a special perspective on just how war, American-style, is indeed coming home within the military itself, consider the experiences of the co-founder of the invaluable Costs of War Project, military spouse, and TomDispatch regular Andrea Mazzarino. Tom

America Goes to War
Perspectives on the Storming of the Capitol from a Military Spouse

By

"Are you okay?" asked a friend and military spouse in the voicemail she left me on the afternoon the mob of Trump supporters breached the Capitol so violently. At home with a new baby, her Navy reservist husband stationed in Germany, the thoughts running through her head that day would prove remarkably similar to mine. As she said when we spoke, "It's as if the U.S. has become a war zone."

Do a Google search and you'll find very little suggesting that the January 6th attack on the Capitol in any way resembled a war. A notable exception: a Washington Post op-ed by former Missouri secretary of state and Afghanistan combat veteran Jason Kander. He saw that day's violence for the combat it was and urged congressional representatives and others who bore the brunt of those "armed insurrectionists" to seek help (as, to his regret, he hadn't done after his tours of duty in combat zones).

Now, take a look back at that "riot" and tell me how it differs from a military attack: President Trump asked his supporters to "fight like hell" or "you're not going to have a country anymore." He swore he would go with them, though he didn't, of course, just as those who launched and continued our "forever wars" of the last almost 20 years sent Americans to fight abroad without ever doing so themselves. Trump's small army destroyed property with their metal baseball bats and other implements of aggression, in one case even planted pipe bombs near Republican and Democratic party headquarters (that didn't go off), and looted congressional chambers, including carrying away House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's lectern.

The rioters used intimidation against those in the Capitol. Some screamed insults like "traitor" and the n-word (reserved, of course, for the black police officers protecting Congress). One rioter wore a sweatshirt emblazed with the words "Camp Auschwitz," a reference to the Nazi death camp. Make no mistake: the America these rioters envisioned was one full of hate and disdain for difference.

In their disregard for pandemic safety protocols, they employed the equivalent of biological warfare against lawmakers and the Capitol police, breaking into the building, screaming and largely unmasked during a pandemic, forcing lawmakers to jam into enclosed spaces to save (but also endanger) their own lives. The rioters smeared blood on walls and on the busts of former presidents. Their purpose was clear: to overturn democratic processes by brute force in the name of what they saw as an existential threat to their country, the certification of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as president and vice president.

Among those aggressors were veterans and some active-duty personnel from elite U.S. combat forces (as well as from police departments) who brought years of expertise to bear on orchestrating an attempted takeover of our government, based much like the costliest of our still-ongoing wars, the one in Iraq on lies told by their commander in chief ("Stop the steal!").

My Own Personal War

To fight wars, you need to summon a mix of rage, adrenaline, and disregard for the humanity of those whose project you seek to annihilate. That seemed evident in the mob of the supposedly pro-law-and-order president that attacked Congress, their acts leading to five deaths - including that of Capitol Hill police officer Brian Sicknick, a former New Jersey Air National Guard member. More than 140 police officers who tried to protect lawmakers sustained injuries: Some, who were not given helmets prior to that day, are now living with brain injuries (which, as a therapist, I can assure are likely to come with debilitating lifelong implications). Another officer has two cracked ribs and smashed spinal disks. Yet another was stabbed by a rioter with a metal fence stake. Still another lost his eye.

These deaths and injuries will have ripple effects for the spouses, children, friends, employers, and others in the communities where those officers live. And they do not include the countless invisible injuries (such as post-traumatic stress disorder) that result from such war-like scenarios. In this respect, the cost of armed violence to human life is incalculable.

While that attack on the Capitol was underway, at the tiny community mental health clinic where I work as a therapist, I was speaking to clients who had migrated here from countries plagued by armed conflict. I listened to concerns that the far-right nationalist attack on the Capitol would, sooner or later, inspire violence against their own families. After all, those storming the Capitol backed a president who had referred to immigrants as "animals" and whose administration had put the children of undocumented migrants in cages - or sub-prison like conditions with zero-provision for their care. In the days after the attack, an acquaintance of mine, an African American man, was indeed pursued by a carful of people wearing Trump hats and shouting racial slurs. (They slowed their vehicle and followed him down the road towards his Maryland apartment.)

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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