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General News    H3'ed 11/22/22

Tomgram: Andrea Mazzarino, Facing Extremism, Up Close and Personal

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

Just how extreme is this country? Not quite as bad as many of us feared, it seems. Still, it's certainly extreme enough, despite the host of election deniers who lost in the recent midterms. And that extremity can't just be attributed to you-know-who announcing that He (and yes, I meant to capitalize that) was once again running (wildly, madly, sadly) for president, this time with an exclamation point attached to MAGA! In a seemingly never-ending, strangely low-energy address (despite that exclamation point), he assured future voters that, "in order to make America great and glorious again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States."

Great and glorious indeed! Today, TomDispatch regular, co-founder of the invaluable Costs of War Project, and military spouse Andrea Mazzarino considers how extremism has indeed come home to roost in this country and how the Global War on Terror our leaders launched after the 9/11 attacks and then fought disastrously forever and a day has, in its own strange fashion, also helped lodge terror and divisiveness deep inside this country.

And yes, as she suggests, for part of that terror, you can thank disturbed former soldiers of those failed wars abroad who returned and joined all-too-well-armed extremist paramilitary groups. When it comes to such extremity, however, another factor should be thrown into the painful mix with those Mazzarino mentions: weaponry. After all, in these decades of armed madness abroad, arms have come home big time, too, and in an ever more devastating fashion.

Americans are armed today in a way that was once unimaginable. In fact, this is the only country on Earth where the number of weapons outnumbers the population " 120 guns for every 100 of us. Under those circumstances, you won't be surprised to learn that the U.S. also has more killings, mass and otherwise, than other wealthy countries. And as a more extreme version of America settled in for the long run during the pandemic years, gun sales only soared. One in every five households purchased a weapon (or weaponry), 20 million guns annually in 2020 and 2021, including AR-15s of the sort used in the slaughter of schoolchildren in Uvalde, Texas. And as Mazzarino also points out, during the war on terror years, the Pentagon would arm our police departments to the teeth with military weaponry and other equipment, more than $7 billion worth by 2021, some directly off this country's distant battlefields. So today, this increasingly divided land of ours is not only disturbed, but deeply weaponized.

And all of that should be the definition of extreme. Now, let Mazzarino tell you what such a strange version of extremity feels like up close and personal to one military spouse. Tom

How Terror Came Home and What to Make of It
My 10 Years as a Military Spouse in America's Post-9/11 World

By

Recently, an agent of the Department of Homeland Security called me and started asking questions about a childhood acquaintance being investigated for extremism. I put him off. My feelings about this were, to say the least, complex. As a military spouse of 10 years and someone who has long written about governmental abuses of power, I wanted to cooperate with efforts to root out hate. However, I also feared that my involvement might spark some kind of retaliation.

While I hadn't seen the person under investigation for years, my memories of him and of some of the things he'd done scared me. For example, when we were young teens, he threatened to bury me alive over a disagreement. He even dug a hole to demonstrate his intent. I knew that if I were to cooperate with this investigation, my testimony would not be anonymous. As a mother of two children living on an isolated farm, that left me with misgivings.

There was also another consideration. A neighbor, herself a retired police officer, suggested that perhaps the investigation could be focused not just on him, but on me, too. "Maybe it's because of stuff you've written," she suggested, mentioning my deep involvement in Brown University's Costs of War Project, which I co-founded as a way of dealing with this country's nightmarish wars of this century.

Indeed, the American version of the twenty-first century, marked by our government's devastating decision to respond to the September 11, 2001, attacks with a Global War on Terror " first in Afghanistan, then Iraq, and then in other countries across the Middle East " has had its grim effects at home as well. It's caused us to turn on one another in confusing ways. After all, terror isn't a place or a people. You can't eradicate it with your military. Instead, as we learned over the last couple of decades, you end up turning those you don't like into enemies in the bloodiest of counterinsurgency wars.

I've researched for years how those wars of ours also helped deepen our domestic inequalities and political divisions, but after all this time, the dynamics still seem mysterious to me. Nonetheless, I hope I can at least share a bit of what I've noticed happening in the conservative, privileged community I grew up in, as well as in the military community I married into.

Around the time I co-founded the Costs of War Project in the early 2010s, I fell in love with a career military officer. Our multitrillion-dollar wars were then in full swing. At home, the names of young Blacks killed by our police forces, ever more ominously armed off the country's battlefields, were just seeping into wider public consciousness as was a right-wing political backlash against prosecutions of the police. Anti-government extremist militias like the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters, some of whom would storm the Capitol on January 6, 2021, to try to violently block the certification of an elected president, were already seething about the supposed executive overreach of the Obama administration and that Black president's alleged foreign birth. But back then, those guys all seemed " to me at least " very much a part of America's fringe.

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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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