America has had 3 periods of mass violence.
The first was in the aftermath of the emancipation of the slaves, the second was during the civil rights era
The third is now.
In each era the animus was racial.
After the emancipation of the slaves there was an era of mass of lynchings and murders of Black Americans whose only crime was to attempt a life beyond the plantation. Between 1880 and 1920 over 4,000 Americans were lynched, overwhelmingly black and male.
In the civil rights era the victims were anyone who tried to change the established patterns of racial privilege. Southern Poverty Law Centre identifies 40 martyrs of the Civl Rights movement who were murdered in the name of white supremacy. This doesn’t count the more high profile assassinations; Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, both Kennedys, and Sam Cooke, nor does it include murders such as the Algiers Motel killings.
The current era began with the extra judicial police killings of young black men and attacks on civil rights movements who want to address those inequalities.
The Lancet estimated that between 1980 and 2018 US Police Officers killed just over 30,000 people. 69% were black, and deaths by Police Officer are the 6th most common cause of death among Black Men in the US.
Not all of these killings were as tragic as Trayvon Martin or George Floyd but the staggering number of young black men killed by the Police is shocking.
The public outcry, and sporadic violence which accompanied these killings spawned Black Lives Matter, an organisation which, along with Antifa, soon became the source of much agitation on the right. Far right militias targeted BLM and Antifa, and in the most shocking incident Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted after shooting dead 2 BLM protestors and seriously wounding another.
Just as in the Civil Rights era the violence was allowed to develop unchecked, leading to the attack on the House January 6th, and the widespread acceptance of violence as a legitimate political tool to keep white Conservatives in power.
The American state didn’t officially sanction those periods of violence, and often the Government in office took steps to stop it. But the USA is a big place and it’s form of dispersed administration and lax gun controls made it easy for private militias, almost exclusively right wing to kill while the state struggled to catch up.
Right now the USA has a number of groups prepared to indulge in violence in pursuit of their aims.
There are the MAGA/QAnon obsessives who believe in a conspiracy of global elites to rig elections and abuse children. The believe in Donald Trump as the one true saviour who will lead them in a righteous war against an amorphous group of enemies
There are the white Christian nationalists whose theology contains a religious imperative to create a theocratic Government to rule the US. God’s original sacred plan for the US can only be achieved by the installation of a totalitarian white Christian regime. Some of them share a Christological belief in Donald Trump
There are are the far right militias who believe that a new civil war on racial lines is inevitable and who seek only to speed up it’s arrival
Often these beliefs are heavily commercialised – they seek donation and purchases from believers in the style of old school preachers. This is a White Christian nationalist prayer coin, available to buy on line now.
White Christian nationalism may seem the oddest of these beliefs but it is the one most deeply embedded in the Republican Party and at times acts as a carrier for other odder beliefs.
And overlapping with all of these is the general background level of extreme violence that has come to define American life: mass shooting, random acts of domestic terror, all underpinned by unchecked gun ownership. Sad lonely and isolated people, spending too much time on line find it easy to believe that their neighbours are evil or a threat to their way of life.
It is tempting to lump these groups together under the heading of Conservatives. This is a mistake. Conservatives seek to protect the status quo from changes that don’t match their values. They want to conserve what they think is good, and often worthy if mostly futile attempt to stop change.
The people who lynched in the 1880s or who fought against the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s were Conservatives. They wanted to protect a social and political order that placed white people, particularly white Christian men, in an exalted position.
The people who are fighting now are not Conservatives. This cycle of violence is different to previous ones because the current status quo isn’t to their taste or to be protected
The US has changed profoundly over the last generation. It is mutli-ethnic, multi-cultural, well educated, prosperous and liberal. The status quo is a diverse, plural, progressive nation, an egalitarian vision of the American dream where anyone can rise to the top. The old hierarchies which placed Conservative white men at the top are gone. Those who oppose this vision aren’t fighting to stop change, but to change America back to some perceived golden age, from the dystopian world of woke.
Not all reactionary groups necessarily share Donald Trumps odd conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. But they all share the conviction that this election was illegitimate – in fact any election that produces an outcome other than Conservative white man is illegitimate, and violent means are justified to over turn this.
It is easy to assume that this is a movement that consists entirely of rural, less well educated, less well off white men, and there is a lot of truth in that. They seem themselves as the real America, with the rest of their fellow citizens relegated to a lower status.
However it has attracted rich tech bros like Peter Theil and Elon Musk/. They might share all of the views of the reactionary mass movement, but they are just as committed to re-imposing a hierarchy on a nation that doesn’t want it. A world which works better because it is run by an elite of rich white men.
And there was one other massive difference between US Conservatives and the new reactionaries. Traditional Conservatives believed in a small state – partly for ideological reasons, but also to stop the apparatus of the state being used to fight discrimination or enact progressive policies. The new reactionaries don’t want to shrink the state – they want to take it over at all levels from local school boards to the White House. And having gained control over it thy plan to use it to impose a racialised hierarchy on a country that doesn’t want it any more.
The storming of the Capital isn’t the end of this cycle of violence. The dispersed nature of political power, and easy access to lots of guns means that the Federal Government is limited in the steps in can take to stop a programme of racist reactionary violence
And unchecked it will move on, to assassinations and widespread attempts to over throw the Government by force. Many of them may look comical – over weight middle aged men with oversized guns – the Gravy Seals. But their willingness to use deadly force to overthrow democracy makes them more dangerous than the lynch mobs, or the murderers of Civil rights activists.
One of the most basic definitions of a state is a monopoly on the legitimate use of force in a defined geographical area. When a Government can’t enforce that monopoly we call it a failed state. Right now novel interpretations of the 2nd amendment and the commercialisation of mass gun ownership mean that many Republican administered states meet the criteria of a failed state.
And in the meantime Trump fans have bought $4m of bad Trump Art NFTs. Truly this is the first new art form of the C21st