Always Coming Home

It was a familiar scene. A paunchy white American in a tactical helmet and body armor, calmly giving orders in an ornate chamber of an occupied government building. He wore a patch of the 706th Fighter Squadron, an Air Force unit that first saw combat in World War II; and another with a Punisher skull, the logo of the Marvel comic books antihero that became ubiquitous among U.S. forces in Iraq. He gave directions to his comrades with his left hand. In his right, he clutched a bunch of flex cuffs—“zip ties,” as they’re colloquially known—in preparation for a mass arrest.

But Lt. Col. Larry Rendall Brock Jr., U.S. Air Force (retired), was not in Saddam Hussein’s palace in Tikrit (above), the Darulaman in Kabul, nor the Haitian Parliament. He was on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 2021. His mission: Not to impose the U.S. government’s will on a foreign country but to impose a demented U.S. president’s will over the rest of us.

The specific form of the crisis at the Capitol was shocking, but the outlines were exhaustingly predictable. It was obvious from the moment Donald Trump descended his golden escalator that he was a fascist. It was clear from his acceptance speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention (“I alone can fix it”) that he was an autocrat in the making—who, like all autocrats, would never concede power merely because he lost an election. It was clear from the aftermath of Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, El Paso, and Portland, that he would gladly court white nationalist terror to keep himself in power.

Yet for five years, the Republican Party and the national media, on the whole, pussyfooted around the obvious. In large part that was to protect their glimmers of power and access, and for fear of pissing off a radicalized population—somehow not realizing that population would never be satisfied with anything less than total domination.

But it was also because we, as Americans, have had endless practice in shutting our eyes to the abuses and crimes done in our name all over the world. It’s little surprise that a majority of members of the party that brought us the Forever War ran and cowered in the face of the golem they had created, then came back upstairs to continue voting for the insurrectionists’ demands for one-man rule. Fascism, as the Martiniquan writer Aimé Césaire wrote half a century ago, has always been a form of colonial procedures applied at home.

I wrote about the firm bonds between imperialism and authoritarianism, and why we must end both together, this weekend in Foreign Policy. You can read the full piece here.

The details of the bloodiest action (so far) in Trump’s attempted self-coup—a coup he announced, for anyone willing to listen, on Election Night—have only gotten starker since. If you haven’t yet, I suggest diving into the Washington Post’s rundown of the events of January 6.

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Jonathan Myerson Katz is a journalist and the author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. His next book will trace the life of Gen. Smedley Butler and the making and breaking of America’s empire. Follow him on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.

Photo: Ashley Gilbertson, from Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: A Photographer's Chronicle of the Iraq War.