Pluralistic: 07 Jan 2021

Today's links

Into the breach (permalink)

US law enforcement has literal centuries of shameful history of infiltrating and spying on politically disfavored activist groups, from trade unionists to suffragists to abolitionists to civil rights advocates to antiwar advocates.

Long before Cointelpro, federal agencies were intercepting communications and embedding as provocateurs in radical political movements, often with the help of mercenary "contractors" like the Pinkertons. The digital age only ramped up this public-private surveillance.

The Dakota Access Pipeline protests were infiltrated and surveilled by beltway bandits who billed the US taxpayer handsomely for the service.

2020's BLM uprising was subjected to the full array of military and national intelligence surveillance: drones, IMSI catchers, mass interception, infiltrators, wiretaps, "reverse warrants" to recover location data from Big Tech monopolists and more.

And yet, federal and local agencies were seemingly totally unprepared for a mob of thousands of armed terrorists who stormed the capitol, disrupted the transition of presidential power, and threatened the lives of US legislators as well as the integrity of state documents.

The thing is, the plans were in plain sight. For weeks, I've been seeing screengrabs from far-right forums that leaked onto public social media in which violent psychopaths laid out detailed plans to commit murder and overthrow the government.

I wasn't even looking for this stuff. I was on vacation and only cursorily checking the internet. But it was obvious. How obvious? Well, the President was the keynote speaker at the riot and he openly called for violent insurrection. That might have tipped the cops off.

Since 1999's Battle of Seattle, cops have acted like pants-wetting cowards at the first whiff of protest.

2017's plan for dozens of paralyzed, wheelchair-using Medicare For All activists to peacefully occupy the capitol begat violent police panic.

But when armed terrorists followed through on their widely proclaimed plan to invade the capitol building yesterday, law enforcement foundered. They weren't just unprepared to stop terrorists for breaking in, they were also unprepared to deal with them after the break-in.

To get a visceral sense of the shitshow, listen to Ryan Grim's interview with Matt Fuller, recorded while Fuller was hiding in a secret bunker with other Congressional reporters, Members of Congress and their staffers.

There's a lot of fingerpointing today between the agencies, with a starring role for the US Capitol Police, who get $460m/yr (10% of Congress's total budget) and have demanded a stonking increase for 2021.

They definitely have some serious questions to answer (including why their officers posed for selfies and seem to have opened the gates to permit terrorists to storm the building).

But as Neal Stephenson pointed out in his 1994 comic technothriller masterpiece INTERFACE, DC is a "cop zoo" with literally hundreds of different law enforcement agencies operating in its city limits.

Did none of these agencies see the terrorist plan that had been scrawled in 100' tall flaming letters across the internet? How could they be caught this flatfooted?

From: Propublica: "a thin line of U.S. Capitol Police, with only a few riot shields between them…struggled with a flimsy set of barricades as a mob in helmets and bulletproof vests pushed its way toward the Capitol entrance."

In her excellent Naked Capitalism roundup of yesterday's failures, Yves Smith examines the logical conclusion that the police were on the terrorists' side. After all, police unions and officers rallied for and endorsed Trump. Would they support a coup to keep him in power?

Biden is no defund-the-police radical. He pledged to increase cop funding by 10%.

But Trump doesn't just promise money for cops: his offer is total impunity. Remember when he told police they should deliberately brutalize people during arrests?

US policing has its origin in "slave patrols" that abetted enslavers by kidnapping Black people and forcing them into slavery. Slave patrols' legacy lives on in modern policing, with US police forces riddled with white nationalist terror supporters:

Trump himself is a white nationalist. A significant proportion of US police might be tempted to abet a coup to perpetuate the rule of a despot who promises them a free hand to torture and brutalize, and who backs white supremacy.

The failure of US law enforcement to prevent yesterday's botched coup will have long-term, ongoing consequences. While most of the terrorists were Qanon-addled fools, it's impossible to rule out some of them being sophisticated enough to attack the Capitol's IT systems.

Resecuring the Capitol's IT infrastructure should probably involve shredding every device, cable and thumb-drive, tearing open every light-socket and power-outlet, and even then, it will be hard to fully trust the building and its systems.

My 2020 novel ATTACK SURFACE has a B-plot that closely tracks yesterday's attacks; complicity between far-right insurrectionists and palace guards, and massive breaches of official covert IT systems after the government falls.

I'm not the only one who fictionalizes attacks like this. Within hours of the attacks, right wing conspiratorialists were calling it a false flag and describing their colleagues in the videos as secret antifa infiltrators.

The narrative aftermath of this is gonna be wild.

Take the War of 1812. Many commentators have invoked that war – in which enemy forces burned down the White House – in discussing yesterday's assault. But what most Americans don't know is that they are told a highly parochial version of that war-story.

Americans think the War of 1812 was fought with the British, and that the US won. Meanwhile, Canadians believe that the War of 1812 was fought between the US and Canada, and that Canada won.

Indeed, we have delightful comic folksongs that celebrate the burning of the White House by victorious Canadian troops:

And the White House burned, burned, burned
And we're the one's that did it!
It burned, burned, burned
While the president ran and cried
It burned, burned, burned
And things were very historical
And the Americans ran and cried like a bunch of little babies
Waa waa waah!

Can you imagine the story the descendants of Qanon believers will be telling themselves of yesterday's attack in a century or two?

Revolutionary Colossus (permalink)

A timely post in today's Public Domain Review brings us the storied history of "The Revolutionary Colossus," a recurring image of "a king-eating colossus" that spread widely and in many forms during the French Revolution.

One classic depiction comes from Erasmus Darwin (Charles Darwin's grampa) in "The Economy of Vegetation" a poem in 1791's "The Botanic Garden."

Long had the Giant-form on GALLIA’S plains
Inglorious slept, unconscious of his chains;
Round his large limbs were wound a thousand strings
By the weak hands of Confessors and Kings;
O’er his closed eyes a triple veil was bound,
And steely rivets lock’d him to the ground;
While stern Bastile with iron cage inthralls
His folded limbs, and hems in marble walls.
Touch’d by the patriot-flame, he rent amazed
The flimsy bonds, and round and round him gazed;
Starts up from earth, above the admiring throng
Lifts his Colossal form, and towers along;
High o’er his foes his hundred arms He rears,
Plowshares his swords, and pruning hooks his spears;
Calls to the Good and Brave with voice, that rolls
Like Heaven’s own thunder round the echoing poles;
Gives to the winds his banner broad unfurl’d,
And gathers in its shade the living world!

Or as Samantha Wesner summarizes it for we poesie-impaired types: "Between thick dungeon walls, a giant lies asleep. He’s chained to the ground, large limbs folded, enmeshed in a web of ropes, a blindfold over his closed eyes. Suddenly, as if touched by a flame, he awakes, and gazes around in amazement. He starts up, shreds the ropes entangling him, breaks chains, smashes walls, and rises to his feet. Towering over the world, shadow stretching out below, he calls out with a voice like thunder."

While the poetic invocations of the colossus are quite stirring, they're not a patch on the imagery, like Villeneuve's 1790 engraving, "The French People Overwhelming the Hydra of Federalism."

Or 1793's "The People, King-Eater," whose artist is lost to the mists of time:;2#

The Colossus is a lineal descendant of the image of Hobbes's Leviathan, a 1651 image that is so striking it is still widespread today.,title_page-_BL.jpg

Visually, though, the most contemporary Colossus comes from British caricaturist James Gillray, whose 1794 lampoon of the French Revolution and the Terror is straight out of EC Comics (or vice-versa) (obviously).;4#

It wasn't just foreign enemies of the Republic who appropriated the Colossus for political ends: French reactionaries like Poirier de Dunckerque made king-eating into an act of monstrous cannibalism.

The image found its way into the public imagination as a depiction of the doubl-edged sword of revolutions, with a Colossus-descended Frankenstein's monster engraged on the frontispiece of Shelley's MODERN PROMETHEUS in 1831.

Wesner: "Placing the revolutionary Colossi in a genealogy that stretches from Darwin’s Bastille giant through to Frankenstein’s horrific creature invites us to consider the particular emotional register within which each appears…

"If for Darwin, revolution could be allegorized to the electrified awakening of an embodied Third Estate, then Frankenstein allegorizes a revolution stripped of both its epic scale and its promise. Our attention shifts from the patriot-flame and the Colossus to the 'modern Prometheus' of Shelley’s subtitle, who gave fire to mankind and lived to regret it."

This day in history (permalink)

#5yrsago High-rez trip through Florida’s Haunted Mansion with a low-light filter

#5yrsago Dear Comcast: broadband isn’t gasoline

#5yrsago Caught lying by an EFF investigation, T-Mobile CEO turns sweary

#1yrago Review: Aeropress Go, the best travel coffee you’ll ever brew

#1yrago After more than a decade, Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg’s YA classics The PLAIN Janes are back!

#1yrago 1975 Disneyland Haunted Mansion Standard Operating Procedures manual

#1yrago A masterclass in reverse image-search

#1yrago Despite 50 state AGs’ antitrust investigations, Google stocks hit an all time high

#1yrago The New Deal was partly motivated by a desire to kill the fake news epidemic of the Gilded Age

#1yrago Explaining the con that is private equity

Colophon (permalink)

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Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 513 words (96232 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

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