Emerson T. Brooking and Jacob Shapiro: Americans were worried about the wrong threat
“When the leadership promoting extremism is broken, it ends. If there are still opportunities to rebuild or recraft a strategy, it will give recruits hope,” Farah Pandith, the author of How We Win, a book about defeating extremism, told me. “You need to make it impossible for the group to get oxygen again.”
The decision of what to call the insurrectionists at the Capitol is politically fraught, but it surely fits my definition of domestic terrorism. People do not bring zip-tie handcuffs to the Capitol because they only want to exercise their First Amendment rights. No one who carries the parts for a makeshift gallows can be counted on to stick to peaceful protest. The insurrectionists had the same intention as other terrorist groups throughout history: to exert influence over the government by violently intimidating public officials and average citizens.
The only difference today is that the charismatic leader who inspired the insurrection is the leader of the government itself.
Trump, who characterized racist rioters in Charlottesville, Virginia, as “very fine people” and last week’s insurrectionists as “very special,” hasn’t provided only rhetorical support for extremists. He has also provided tactical support by choosing times and places where they will convene; by amplifying their hashtags and preferred influencers through his social-media accounts; and by bringing along speakers, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, who give a veneer of institutional respectability to fringe ideas.
Trump has gotten away with all of this by never quite acknowledging what he was doing. He is a master of a technique that I have described as stochastic terrorism—the incitement of random but utterly predictable acts of violence for political gain. He portrays himself as a victim and rallies his troops to fight for him, but does so in a way that never directly exposes his responsibility. Fight, he tells them, to protect his political standing. And that is what some of them did on January 6.
David Frum: The conservative cult of victimhood
Viewing Trump’s insurrection through a counterterrorism lens unlocks some insights about how to deradicalize his most violent supporters. Successful efforts to fight terrorism begin at the top. An ideology may survive and linger, but to curtail a terror threat requires what counterterrorism experts call “leadership decapitation.” (The meaning is figurative.) Society is more likely to heal when an extremist group’s ideological leader is isolated and damaged in the eyes of his supporters.
Keeping Trump in office until January 20 won’t assuage the supporters who falsely believe that the election was stolen from him, but removing him from office a week early would emphasize that he is losing. Recruitment is easier for a winning team. As the Islamic State and al-Qaeda both discovered after their apexes, getting people to take up arms is harder when the cause is in decline.