The Fantasy of Violence as Violence

The Right continues to peddle an alternate reality where its voters are prepared to fight a bloody civil war. This takes a toll and leads to a future filled with violence.

The video is…pretty pathetic. An edit of the anime Attack On Titan, it’s a childish fantasy that reduces complicated and nuanced politics with wild-eyed conflict. In it, Democratic politicians and figures are framed as enemies of law and order, complicit in the destruction of the United States of America. In opposition is a murderer’s row of the new generation of Republicans, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and Representative Paul Gosar, each of them battling to neutralize the threat.

The fact that Gosar shared the ridiculous video isn’t that much of a surprise. One of the more embarrassing members of Congress (and my god is that saying something), Gosar’s lack of talent and aptitude is only rivaled by his notable and troubling decision making. The video shows the assassination of Alexandria Occasio-Cortez who, it should be reminded, was the target of the most violent members of the January 6th coup attempt, some of whom searched the Capitol for Occasio-Cortez with hopes to murder her or, well, something unthinkable.

I’ve covered the GOP’s embrace of far-right internet memes for a while now. Donald Trump, or one of his aides charged with curating his since-banned Twitter account, frequently shared troubling memes and images cultivated in the deepest and darkest pits of social media. This media always sinks to the lowest form of expression, featuring violence and murder as acceptable and necessary forms of action.

This isn’t by accident. The political environment we inhabit has been systematically and relentlessly prepared for violence as an option, creating a base prepared for eventual bloodshed or overthrow by force, but also necessitating that meaningless and principle-less politicians like Gosar embrace ever-increasingly dangerous rhetoric as a means of gesturing to that radicalized base.

And the cycle continues on and on and on.

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The strategy of the Republican Party isn’t hard to understand. Free of any principle, any actual legislative agenda, and untethered to any reality that actually resembles our own, the appeal absolutely has to lie in fear. That fear must be apocalyptic in nature. If the next vote falls the wrong way. If the enemy gains control. If anything goes wrong, that’s it. That’s the whole ballgame. The curtain of death and suffering will fall and could never possibly raise again.

This appeal, or the current iteration of it, began in the 1990’s as the economic consensus posed a problem for the Republican Party. Democrats, led by centrists like Bill Clinton and Joe Biden, had embraced the neoliberal economics and politics of Ronald Reagan and his constellation of think-tanks, pushing the globalization of capitalism in favor of corporations and the wealthy. Though this consensus could have meant an era of bipartisanship, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (always searching for an upper hand) rolled out a party-wide apocalyptic fear campaign, claiming that the de-industrialization began by Reagan and George H.W. Bush was a New World Order plot being carried out by liberal traitors and foreign enemies.

If this were true, and it most certainly is not, then it means war, or at least the need for war. As that conspiracy theory has held sway, Americans ensnared in it have come to live in a fantasy that they will be forced to fight a war of insurrection. It isn’t a coincidence that this fantasy leads to wholesale purchases of weapons, survival goods, and a whole assortment of lifestyle products. The arms industry prospered. One corporation marketing to masculine insecurity prospered. And, all the while, a culture of paranoia and potential violence brewed.

I grew up in this. I’ve watched so many people drown in unregulated paranoia, talking constantly about a future they believed in and prepared for in which they would need to use the arsenals they’d accrued in order to fight off the shock troops of the New World Order. And, to be frank, many of them looked forward to that violence.

As the fear took hold and gave Republicans control, the people voting for them began to agitate for a reconciliation between the fearmongering and the party itself. Fox News, tuned to New World Order conspiracy theories twenty-four hours a day, told them there was a war, a massive plot. So why did the elected members carry on with business as usual?

Libertarian billionaires like the Koch Brothers took advantage of this disconnect, using white supremacist paranoia generated by the election of Barack Obama, they astroturfed the Tea Party movement in 2010, all to stoke anti-government sentiment. That Tea Party generation used the conspiracy theories to their advantage, all the while widening the political discourse to the point where demagogues like Donald Trump could find a position in the conversation. Trump’s entry pushed the party even further into delusional fantasy, and now the next generation (Gosar, Greene, Boebert, etc) is continuing the trend.

For years now we’ve watched these people create one advertisement after another in which they brandish assault rifles, military gear, and promise to fight and war against the traitors. The apocalyptic threat looms large and affects every conversation and appeal. There is nothing left besides that appeal, and that ensures it’s only going to increase.

The video Gosar shared is a symptom of this growing threat. It glorifies an imagined orgy of violence that so many supporters are dying to see birth into reality. Media creates possible scenarios, populates our imagination, creates a scenario that then becomes more likely with every new iteration. We’ve seen this in the past. As cultural wars heat up, and there have been many of them, the radicalization of a base increases chances of actual violence. It’s led to blood in the streets, attempted coups, successful insurrections, and, it should be noted, actual assassinations.

We’ve been warning about this scenario playing out. When Trump entered the political arena, talked about roughing up rivals and protesters, fantasized about killing someone on 6th Avenue, it only turned the temperature up and moved this predictable crisis forward. Those telling you this isn’t possible, that this will simply solve itself, are putting you in danger and gifting space and room for these things to continue to grow and fester.

There’s no room for any of this. Shared society and liberal democracy depend on these fantasies being squelched. We’re watching that violent fantasies grow into fruition. And it’s time to face the threat as it announces itself.