By Rainer Shea – Jun 1, 2021
Those of us who are part of the movement for anti-colonial proletarian revolution within the U.S. are going to have to approach the coming generation through a lens of insurgency vs counterinsurgency. This need for us to embrace this kind of siege mentality comes not from some adventurist fantasy, but from the fact that the state is coming at us in a way which prompts such a mentality.
Importing the foreign counterinsurgency tactics of occupation warfare & psychological operations
To understand what I mean, just look at the ways the U.S. national security state has already brought its foreign wars home, as was summarized last year by MR Online’s Martin Schoots-McAlpine:
The connections between American counter-insurgency and domestic politics are not just on the discursive level. In “The other side of the COIN: counterinsurgency and community policing”, Kristian Williams provides an excellent overview of the material relationship between American military counter-insurgency programs and American policing. This is specifically evident with regard to trends towards the militarization of the police and so-called “Community Policing” initiatives. Williams demonstrates how, in a modern example of the “imperial boomerang”, many of the methods employed by modern police forces were developed and refined by the American military, including during its occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. In turn, the military partnered with police forces to learn how to better control conquered populations, be they black people living in American cities or Iraqis living under American occupation in Iraq.
The imperial boomerang effect is also present when it comes to Israel’s colonial war, another project of U.S. imperialism. Like the Iraq invasion, this war’s goal is the occupation of a sovereign territory, which has required the pacification of the territory’s population and the innovation in repressive techniques that are being increasingly applied to America’s own citizens. Throughout the last decade or so, there’s been an Israelification of U.S. domestic security, where America’s police have been receiving training from the Israeli “counterterrorism” units that specialize in extrajudicial assassinations of Palestinian leaders, massacres of Palestinian civilians, and assaults of defenseless Palestinians.
Throughout the last decade, there’s emerged documentary evidence that this IDF training has caused U.S. police to murder more unarmed nonwhite people than they did previously, a fact that last year caused the U.S. national security state to reveal more of its counterinsurgency model when the anti-black police violence provoked record protests.
As Schoots-McAlpine also described, this counterinsurgency effort against Black Lives Matter started with manipulative media narratives, likely coordinated with the help of the internal propaganda network that was unleashed by the 2013 lifting of a previous ban on covert U.S. government psychological operations directed at American citizens. These narratives were a dual deception, involving both vilification of the oppressed and manufactured sympathy for the oppressors. The protesters were painted as immoral looters, and the police were painted as being on the side of BLM’s cause.
There are some uncanny parallels between these pieces of propaganda, and the model for narrative manipulation that’s been adopted by the Zionist state throughout its recent campaigns for suppressing Palestinian uprisings. This is apparent while reading the following passage from the “Global Language Dictionary,” the rhetorical playbook that Zionist propaganda expert Frank Luntz wrote for Israel’s public relations managers in their statements from throughout the last decade:
The first step to winning trust and friends for Israel is showing that you care about peace for BOTH Israelis and Palestinians and, in particular, a better future for every child. Indeed, the sequence of your conversation is critical and you must start with empathy for BOTH sides first. Open your conversation with strong proven messages such as: Israel is committed to a better future for everyone — Israelis and Palestinians alike. Israel wants the pain and suffering to end, and is committed to working with the Palestinians toward a peaceful, diplomatic solution where both sides can have a better future. Let this be a time of hope and opportunity for both the Israeli and the Palestinian people.
These posturings of concern for the wellbeing of the targeted population, accompanied by constant vilifications of those fighting for that population’s rights, are how the U.S. will try to use propaganda to neutralize a hypothetical near-future anti-colonial class uprising. As the commentator Caitlin Johnstone speculated several years ago about how the media will behave in response to the first hints of a U.S. civil war:
The same manipulators who have been deliberately fanning the flames of America’s hysterical divisiveness will immediately pivot towards deescalation and unification the second it starts to look like plutocratic properties could be endangered. If there is ever a spike in violence that looks like it could get out of hand, you may be absolutely certain that any politician or media figure involved will immediately change their tune, and all mainstream outlets from MSNBC to Fox will be saturating the airwaves with narratives of reconciliation. It will tug at the heart strings. It will probably involve dead children. And it will work.
When applied to revolutionary violence rather than reactionary violence, the calls for peace will come with an effort to portray the entirety of the social movements behind the conflict as functioning under the direction of one sinister entity. To justify the siege of Gaza and the destruction of Palestinian buildings, the Israeli media and political class always referencePalestinian society as “The Hamas;” The Hamas thinks,” “The Hamas believes,” “The Hamas should know,” “When the Hamas understands, he will stop,” and “When The Hamas is hit hard he will never dare to attack Israel again” are the kinds of statements constantly proliferated within the Zionist propaganda echo chamber.
These statements come with denunciations of Hamas for supposedly putting children in the line of fire (which is how Zionists frame the fact that Israel indiscriminately shoots at peaceful protesters in the Palestinian Right to Return demonstrations). Eerily reflective of Johnstone’s prediction about the rebels being painted as the ones who are killing children.
Already, reactionary U.S. pundits and politicians have replicated this tactic for justifying the brutalization of the BLM protesters, assigning the unrest entirely to “antifa” or to “outside agitators.” Such narratives will be expanded upon as the anti-colonial and class conflicts intensify, and they’ll indeed work at pacifying those under the sway of the propaganda.
Relying more on physical warfare, censorship, & surveillance as the threat of revolution fails to die down
However, Johnsone also said that a civil war could become a risk in spite of these narrative manipulation tactics “if the country and its power dynamics change in an unimaginably drastic way.” And looking at the impacts that our converging crises are going to cause for the country in the next several decades, just such a shift is approaching. When the dollar inevitably crashes due to U.S. imperial decline, the country will be plunged into an even deeper depression than it is now. The Pentagon expects that global warming will likely cause a nationwide power grid collapse by 2040, and that more pandemics are coming. Over the next forty years, 1 in 12 Americans in the country’s southern half will have to migrate to safer areas, which will themselves be beset with refugee crises due to neoliberalism’s unprecedented levels of dysfunctionality at that point. Poverty and crime will be so rampant that the only trye safe zones will be inside the isolated neighborhoods of the rich.
Another cause for this looming dynamic of internal refugee crises on top of internal refugee crises will be the extreme actions the military is going to take to try to retain stability. A 2016 U.S. Army War College report recommends that the military respond to near-future Hurricane Katrina scenarios within the country’s largest urban areas by effectively importing Washington’s foreign occupation tactics. The report describes a need to block out internet and cell phone access within these occupied zones, similarly to fascist India’s recent shutdown of the internet within Kashmir to advance the Hindu nationalist colonization of the area.
To get away with such extreme censorship measures, the U.S. might try to pin it on the equivalent of “outside agitators” within the cyber sphere. This is the approach that many of Washington’s repressive proxy regimes have taken; in 2011, an internet outage in Gaza was blamed on “hackers,” and this last month an internet disruption in Colombia during the recent protests was blamed on supposedly unknown vandals. False flag hack attacks targeting the communication tools of the rebels could easily be carried out through this, especially in an environment where the targeted communities have been closed off from information that isn’t official U.S. military propaganda. This is the conclusion that can be drawn from this part of the report:
There are certain areas you will always need to understand when entering an urban area — with the purpose of then controlling it and the population. These are the building layout and composition, transportation, electrical, sewage and water, and natural gas systems and the locations/status of key subcomponents — bridges, gas stations, power stations, high tension power lines, neighborhood substations/transformers, underground sewage canals, water purification plants, gas lines and their depth under roads
The report also says that surveillance will be applied to the populations within the occupied zones, whether through human assets that move among the people or through the monitoring of people’s devices (hacking operations will also come in handy in this department). In other words, the military is explicitly planning to create within U.S. borders the equivalent to foreign U.S.-backed neo-colonial dictatorships, like Pinochet’s Chile.
If you’re doubting that such wild outcomes will come to the core of the empire, the report even specifically mentions U.S. cities as potential locations for these information warfare efforts:
In the final analysis, the battle of narratives and the contradictions of security are likely to be at the forefront, especially as the most likely contingencies will be humanitarian or stabilization operations. Moreover, such operations could even take place within the continental United States, as demonstrated by the Los Angeles riots and the responses to Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. Presenting a positive image of the military to the American public is indispensable for continued support.
As these psychological operations — which the report calls “compelling narratives” — get spread around, the state will feel more secure in importing Washington’s urban warfare operations. I’ve often mentioned the 1985 MOVE bombing, where Philadelphia law enforcement destroyed an entire city neighborhood block to snuff out a black liberation group. But Israel’s siege on Gaza throughout this last month shows that when a colonial state becomes existentially threatened by resistance from the occupied people — as Israel is and the U.S. eventually will as well — it resorts to targeting the very most prominent and populated urban centers within the battle zones. Israel has been bombing office buildings especially during the siege, with its claims about these buildings holding Hamas military assets serving a larger propaganda purpose.
According to political and economic analyst Mohsen Abu Ramadan, “These targets, which have directly affected civilians immeasurably, are aimed to damage the reputation of the armed groups by creating a gap between them in terms of support. Driving Palestinians to demand these groups to stop firing rockets at Israel means a loss of popular support, and that is what Israel is banking on.” If bombs, troops, and tanks start killing civilians in near-future Los Angeles or New York, one of the “compelling narratives” the military then puts forth will be that the rebels are to blame for the deaths. An extension of the “Black Lives Matter is endangering the public” narrative we’ve so far seen, as well of the “outside agitators are behind the demonstrations” narrative, this one will rely on uncritical mass belief in the military’s accounts of the prominent buildings containing individuals who imminently threaten the United States.
This was the narrative the Philadelphia police tried to spin for the residents surrounding the building, who were told that MOVE was a terrorist organization and were ordered to evacuate without being given the full context behind the organization’s dispute with the police. But when the homes of these residents were burnt down, and the initial promise that the residents would be able to return to where they had lived was broken, law enforcement officials were forced to apologize (albeit while not even facing any criminal charges) rather than blowing up buildings with impunity like the Israeli military commanders can.
When the U.S. government brings back MOVE-level movement suppression tactics, it will have to avoid the kind of messiness that appeared during 1985. It will have to fundamentally change the social contract so that when it bombs its own citizens, or destroys their homes and workplaces, it won’t have to then act in a contrite fashion. If a civil war breaks out, there will be too much state-sanctioned death and destruction for the government to simply be contrite while still maintaining its legitimacy in the minds of the public. Its actions will have to be seen as moral.
By “change the social contract,” I mean make the people within the entirety of the targeted areas appear not as innocent bystanders whose casualties the government would need to rectify, but as enemies of imperialist “freedom and democracy” who’ve made their own luck by being in the government’s line of fire. Israel has done this to the Gazans by concluding that since Hamas has been elected by the masses of the city, those masses — including the civilians — are all in effect enemy combatants. Should the revolutionary socialist organizations in this country gain enough support from the masses to start taking territory in the same way that Cuba’s communist guerrillas did, the U.S. government will use a similar narrative to justify its bombing campaigns to the country’s citizens outside the war zones.
The risks from a scorched-earth counterinsurgency effort
How to turn entire communities of people within the U.S. into enemy combatants in the eyes of their neighbors, in the same vein as how Israeli settlers are convinced to celebrate the bombings of unarmed Palestinian civilians right near their homes? By establishing these people as collective enemies of what “Americans” are told to care about. If chunks of the country’s most impoverished areas — like the lands surrounding the Mississippi river’s southern section or the low-income rural parts of the northwest — start getting taken over by the class-motivated rebels the military’s reports worry about, the communities supporting these revolutionary gains will undoubtedly be vilified as traitors.
This dehumanization will be made easy both by the deep poverty of the people who would back such a drastic change (since the poor are constantly vilified within American society) and by the fact that marginalized racial groups like Africans, Natives, and brown people will be at the vanguard of the revolutionary socialist movement in settler-colonial countries like the U.S. In this regard, the domestic replication of the Gaza situation — where the demonized race is conveniently partitioned away from the privileged race and the nonwhites within Israel are discriminated against by apartheid policies — will be easy. The country’s colonized peoples are already living under effective military occupation, which is currently being intensified by the growing militarization of police within impoverished nonwhite neighborhoods. And the country’s settlers are mostly persuaded to be complacent in the face of this injustice through racist propaganda.
When tensions between the oppressed and oppressor nations in the U.S. intensify to a level where the oppressed nations start forcibly seizing territory from the occupiers, the settlers who haven’t joined the liberation efforts will be bombarded with heightened versions of these Israeli-style pro-apartheid narratives. Such is the fear-based rationale for carrying out domestic war and military occupations that was promoted by a 2016 Pentagon training video, which encouraged military personnel to adopt a series of alarmist beliefs about poor people. Commentator John C. Whitehead describes these beliefs as follows:
The chilling five-minute training video, obtained by The Intercept through a FOIA request and made available online, paints an ominous picture of the future — a future the military is preparing for — bedeviled by “criminal networks,” “substandard infrastructure,” “religious and ethnic tensions,” “impoverishment, slums,” “open landfills, over-burdened sewers,” a “growing mass of unemployed,” and an urban landscape in which the prosperous economic elite must be protected from the impoverishment of the have nots. And then comes the kicker. Three-and-a-half minutes into the Pentagon’s dystopian vision of “a world of Robert Kaplan-esque urban hellscapes — brutal and anarchic supercities filled with gangs of youth-gone-wild, a restive underclass, criminal syndicates, and bands of malicious hackers,” the ominous voice of the narrator speaks of a need to “drain the swamps.”
The context behind this last statement is that to minimize civilian casualties, the military will need to “drain the swamp [the poor neighborhoods] of non-combatants” so that the rebels can be engaged “in high-intensity combat.” However, this strategy would only work in situations where the attackers are isolated to one given block and haven’t taken over substantial amounts of urban territory. As author Mike Davis said after watching the Pentagon’s video:
This is a fantasy, the idea that there is a special military science of megacities. It’s simply not the case. … They seem to envision large cities with slum peripheries governed by antagonistic gangs, militias, or guerrilla movements that you can somehow fight using special ops methods. In truth, that’s pretty far-fetched. … You only have to watch ‘Black Hawk Down’ and scale that up to the kind of problems you would have if you were in Karachi, for example. You can do special ops on a small-scale basis, but it’s absurd to imagine it being effective as any kind of strategy for control of a megacity.
In other words, if these hypothetical rebels were to mount a widely coordinated resistance in a populated area (which if these rebels are smart they’ll do only after gaining the support of the local masses), that area will be lost to the U.S. unless it immediately abandons these hopes for surgically cautious special ops attacks and starts bombing civilians Gaza-style. And as Gaza shows, even then a military can fail to subdue a population. Despite the state’s best efforts to clamp down on the flow of information in the areas surrounding the battles, and to spin narratives painting the rebels as the ones to blame for the destruction, such drastic actions would open up many dangerous variables for the state.
What if the local populations aren’t swayed by the military’s propaganda and continue to stand with the resistance due to their dire conditions, as the people of Gaza are doing right now in defiance of Israel’s attempts to break their solidarity? What if this sense of solidarity spreads to other impoverished parts of the country and ignites additional revolts? How will the government manage to keep these breakaway zones from growing when the U.S. military is already expected to be hit with severe costs due to climatic disasters in the next several decades? What impacts would a full-on bombing campaign against U.S. businesses and infrastructure have on the country’s economy, whose ability to support the military is soon going to be reduced by the dollar’s looming crash?
Importing neo-colonial paramilitarism & efforts to stamp out dissent on a “molecular” level
These are very alarming possibilities for the U.S. national security state. So alarming that military elites aren’t openly willing to consider the immense challenges they would present, as evidenced by the Pentagon video’s sidestepping the complex realities of urban warfare in favor of an idealized special ops counterinsurgency fantasy. The state needs to prevent a Cuba-esque revolt from breaking out within U.S. borders at all costs, because as soon as such a revolt were to get off the ground, the state wouldn’t be able to contain it.
In Colombia, the class conflict has gotten too close to such a scenario for the state’s comfort. Thus far, the revolutionary guerrilla forces there have so little ground and forces that the military has lately been managing to reduce the numbers of the rebel forces while expanding the territory the government controls. The targeted attacks used to carry out this counterinsurgency, while lacking humanitarian consideration due to them taking place during the pandemic, have in themselves not caused popular backlash against the government. But throughout the last month, as the government has been massacring anti-austerity protesters nightly and using helicopters to shoot civilians in broad daylight, the Colombian government’s unwillingness to de-escalate in the class struggle has brought great outrage upon it — both from its own people and internationally.
This has led the Biden administration to paralysis on Colombia, considering cutting off military assistance to the country’s government lest Biden become an obvious hypocrite in regards to human rights. This has caused panicky calls from neoconservatives for Biden to double down on supporting state violence within Colombia, to unapologetically back the neo-colonial terror campaign for fear of Washington losing yet another country to the anti-imperialist movement. A recent piece from the neocon publication The National Interest, which turns the situation on its head by claiming military aid to the murderous regime would somehow be good for human rights, warns:
If the administration is truly interested in advancing human rights in Colombia, this can best be accomplished by cooperating with regional security services, not by disengaging and shunning them. U.S. disengagement only plays into the hands of those seeking to undermine Colombia’s democratically elected government. Abandoning the legitimate government of Colombia would immeasurably undermine human rights and public safety in the country. It would also open more doors for Chinese influence to spread in Colombia and throughout the hemisphere. Before a complete economic and political collapse of Colombia emerges, the Biden team needs to reverse course. It should oppose those who are actually eroding Colombia’s gains and stand with those who are trying to save their country.
Who are these people they refer to who are “trying to save their country?” They’re the members of Colombia’s paramilitary squads, who have been assisting the police and the military in massacring unarmed demonstrators. They’re the Colombian bourgeoisie, who seek to benefit from the government’s cruel attempted privatization of healthcare during a pandemic. They’re the armed forces members, trained by the genocidal Israeli repressive forces and given the Zionist state’s military technology, who have been slaughtering dozens in the streets. They’re the neo-Nazis who’ve gained influence over Colombia’s police and military, and who are promoting a counterinsurgency doctrine that totally throws out democracy by treating all who are involved in the class struggle as terrorists.
This doctrine, which they call the “dissipated molecular revolution” (where the state is supposed to “dissipate” the societal molecules that could grow into a revolution), justifies itself through the same kinds of propaganda narratives that the U.S. and Israel have been using for their own repression campaigns. These are the narratives of conspiracy and ubiquitous sinister presences among the liberation movements, which in Colombia have taken the form of the protests being painted as products of foreign interference, “anti-democratic” elements, and criminal forces that oppose “human rights.” The National Interest piece reinforces these Orwellian portrayals of the Colombia protests, claiming that they’ve been “Infiltrated by anti-democratic groups” and that they’re the products of “narco-criminal gangs backed by the Maduro regime.”
When we revolutionary socialists in the U.S. build our movement big enough to pose a serious threat to the state, and when neoliberal inequality increases enough for uprisings far bigger than the George Floyd protests to break out, the exact same smears will be made against us. Along with the exact same terror campaigns. But as Mao said, “It is good if we are attacked by the enemy, since it proves that we have drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves. It is still better if the enemy attacks us wildly and paints us as utterly black and without a single virtue; it demonstrates that we have not only drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves but achieved a great deal in our work.”
Featured image: File Photo