Andrea Mazzarino Military Politics

The American Right Is Scarier Than Putin

As a human rights activist who spent years working in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, I can say that I’m now more afraid of the hair-trigger responses of right-wing Americans than I was of that Kremlin strongman’s far more carefully targeted violence.
“…the memory of the January 6th Capitol riot, insurrection, coup attempt (or any descriptor of your choice) by a mob of angry Trump supporters still weighs heavily on me.” [Brett Davis / CC BY-NC 2.0]

By Andrea Mazzarino | TomDispatch

Increasingly, it seems, Americans have an anger problem. All too many of us now have the urge to use name-calling, violent social-media posts, threats, baseball bats, and guns to do what we once did with persuasion and voting. For example, during the year after Donald Trump entered the Oval Office, threats of violence or even death against lawmakers of both parties increased more than fourfold. And too often, the call to violence seems to come from the top. Recently, defendants in cases involving extremist violence have claimed that an elected leader or pundit “told” them to do it. In a country where a sitting president would lunge at his own security detail in rage, I guess this isn’t so surprising anymore. Emotion rules the American political scene and so many now tend to shoot from the hip without even knowing why.

Increasing numbers of us, however, respond to the growing extremity of the moment by avoiding the latest headlines and civic engagement, fearful that some trauma will befall us, even by witnessing “the news.” As a psychotherapist who works with veterans and military families, I often speak with folks who have decided to limit their news intake or have stopped following the news altogether. Repeated mass shootings in places ranging from schools to houses of worship combined with the increased visibility and influence of militias at theoretically peaceful demonstrations can be more scarring than the wounds soldiers once sustained in combat zones.

I must admit that my family and I have sometimes practiced a similar form of political avoidance. Recently, I considered taking my two young children to the March for Our Lives gun-control event on the National Mall in Washington. However, my spouse, an active duty servicemember, urged me to reconsider. If extremists showed up, it might prove difficult for me alone to get our children out of danger. I thought better of it and stayed home.

In a country where a Republican senatorial candidate can run an ad featuring himself with an armed military tactical unit on a residential street, urging Americans to hunt “RINOS” — Republicans in Name Only, or those who criticize Trump — without widespread censure from his party, I believe my family’s fears are well founded.

The question “What if something happens?” at a protest would never have occurred to either my spouse or me when we first met more than a decade ago.

As a human rights activist who spent years working in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, I can say that I’m now more afraid of the hair-trigger responses of right-wing Americans than I was of that Kremlin strongman’s far more carefully targeted violence. I guess the memory of the January 6th Capitol riot, insurrection, coup attempt (or any descriptor of your choice) by a mob of angry Trump supporters still weighs heavily on me.

The Devil’s in the Details

These days, it’s the mundane stuff like Republican Party meetings that contain the details we’d do well to notice.  Such proceedings reveal a new level of combativeness as party leaders attempt to shape state and local laws and policies to their ever less democratic desires. For instance, Politico recently obtained recordings of Republican National Committee (RNC) operatives training thousands of volunteer poll watchers to disrupt future elections in Democratic districts of swing states like Michigan by actively challenging the eligibility of voters.

The RNC and its affiliates are linking those poll watchers to hotlines and websites that list party-friendly lawyers, police officers, and district attorneys who might be ready to stage real-time interventions during voting and vote counts. For example, district attorneys recruited by the right-wing organization the Amistad Project will be able to start investigations and issue subpoenas ever more quickly.  

Of course, the RNC initiative at the polls is rooted in the baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. That committee’s identification with such a lie should instantly debunk any idea that such would-be poll watchers could act fairly. The very roles of poll watcher and poll challenger are supposed to be legally different, with only poll challengers authorized to interfere in the voting process in most states, including Michigan – and then only based on facts.

Yet we’re clearly in a world where Republican leaders have begun to treat our polls as war zones. In the spirit of this moment, an RNC election-integrity officer for Michigan, Matthew Seifried, described his future poll volunteers and the public officials supporting them this way: “It’s going to be an army.” He added that his party is “going to have more lawyers than we’ve ever recruited, because let’s be honest, that’s where it’s going to be fought, right?”

Seifried and his Michigan colleagues are anything but alone in their combative rhetoric. Such militarized language and imagery are now all-too-regularly part of our political DNA. Only recently, the Texas Republican Party released a statement refusing to recognize the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory. All too typically, it also called for that state’s Republicans to “go on offense and win the fight for our country!”

In Texas and beyond, individuals expressing such anger (and sometimes a vision of a future white ethno-state as well) are gaining elected office. Surprising numbers of Republican candidates and public officials who share the view that the 2020 election was stolen also regularly echo the white racist Great Replacement Theory. Meanwhile, across the country, multiple electoral bills are being considered by Republican-controlled state legislatures that would, in the future, enable them to overturn elections.

According to the International Center for Not for Profit Law, 45 state legislatures have considered 230 bills that would criminalize the “threat” of violent leftist or Black protests. And sadly enough, far-right activists are anything but a “fringe minority” movement as they challenge the very idea of peaceful elections and public protests (that aren’t theirs).

To be sure, left-wing violence and combative rhetoric is a thing in this country, albeit a small one. The shooting of a Trump supporter by an Antifa protester in Portland, Oregon, during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in August 2020 is the lone example of a lethal attack by that left-wing group or other anti-fascists over the past 25 years. Of 450 murders by political extremists during the last decade, approximately 4% of them were committed by left-wing groups and about 75% by right-wing (white supremacist, anti-government) ones.

In my own extended family of parents, siblings, aunts, and uncles, most of whom support Trump, about half have stopped speaking to me, while some have called me “weak” and a “coward” on social media because of the ideas I discuss in essays like this, where I’ve openly criticized the U.S. government and its military. (Of note, my immediate military family and friends accept our differences far more gracefully.)

Saving Democracy

So, what are we to do? As a start, given where the Trumpist movement and much of the Republican Party seems to be heading, we really need to do something — almost anything. As Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, pointed out, facing the growing crisis on the right, “I have seen no significant increase in support from national party leaders than what we experienced in 2018” when party vigilance was significant enough but not nearly what was needed.

A headline of an article in the satirical online newspaper The Onion caught the mood of the moment among progressives: “Left Wing Group Too Disorganized for FBI Agents to Infiltrate.” In it, a fictional FBI agent says, “These people don’t ever do anything violent — they don’t ever do anything at all.”

Recently, a local Democratic candidate in Maryland knocked on my door seeking my name and contact information as a possible volunteer for his campaign. It turned out, however, he wasn’t even carrying a pen or paper. That seemed to capture the problem I often note in progressive activism these days. I gave him a couple of our first grader’s overdue library slips to write on and a marker we had lying around. And it’s sadly true that Democrats and progressives more generally lack a concerted response to right-wing anger and violence.

Ironically, one government institution that has at least made a nod toward countering right-wing violence is our military. Since the January 6th attacks, the Department of Defense under Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has acknowledged an increase in domestic extremist violence carried out by active-duty or reserve service members. In response, he initiated a multipronged strategy to screen new recruits, educate military personnel about extremism, and begin investigating extremist activity within the ranks.

While I’ve encountered my share of bigoted remarks in the five duty stations where we’ve served, I’ve also met far more people in those military communities than in civilian ones who are willing to form friendships with those of different ideological leanings. When you depend on one another for companionship and even survival, at home or abroad, you can’t be too choosy about the beliefs of your companions.

As partisan rhetoric heats up in this country, I’d say progressives are guilty of focusing too hard on the most politicized identity issues, however valuable, or even whatever asinine behavior ignites our airwaves at a given moment, be it Trump’s QAnon-style conspiracy-mongering or ex-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s groping. The problem is that, as the Trumpists ramp up their anger, if progressives don’t find a unifying message of community and love, and find it soon, the guns already out there may be put to use in unspeakable ways.

Progressives would do well to step back and think about the genuine big-tent issues like how to show everyone from white suburban women to rural farmers to Black single parents that they have so much to lose in life if we don’t have a government willing to continue regulating health care and doing so in a far better fashion. They would gain so much if, in this all-too-angry country of ours, they could refocus our attention on the importance of childcare for every family who needs it.

Above all, if they could focus in an intense way on the ever more dangerous world we’re living in, that would be a positive. Whether or not we agree on what’s causing global warming, it’s hard not to agree right now that we’re living in an ever hotter, ever more drought-stricken, ever more extreme America. Who can’t agree that it’s already damn hot and the summer’s just beginning?

Something needs to be done — and soon — to mitigate the effects of climate change, but no political campaign has yet emerged that captures the urgency and extremity (and for once I’m not thinking about Donald Trump!) of this moment. Most immediately, those of us who favor democracy and a better planet would do well to support the criminal prosecution of former President Trump because if he becomes this country’s leader again, we could find ourselves in trouble too deep to ever get out of.

And yes, on so many issues, many of us may not agree with Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, the top Republican on the House committee investigating the January 6th attacks, or even former Vice President Mike Pence, who risked his own life and his family’s to certify Joe Biden’s victory. But I agree with Democratic Representative Jaimie Raskin that they’re among the Republican heroes of this Trumpian moment (who are few and far between). As the Russian novelist and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote, “The line separating good and evil passes right through the human heart.”

Occupying the hearts of many Americans, however, is Donald Trump, a damaged man who personifies our basest instincts. He needs to be identified forcefully by leaders of all stripes as the threat to democracy he is. (Hurry up, Attorney General Merrick Garland, and bring charges against him!)

Meanwhile, we should all seek opportunities to find common ground among ideological opposites. Invite over a neighbor for dinner, even though you know he listens to conservative radio on his way to work. Help another family with childcare even though the political signs on their lawn aren’t ones you agree with. Just try to avoid the angry, armed ones or have them check their guns at the door. They’re the ones who need to change their tactics. Otherwise, judging by the flight of tens of thousands of highly skilled Russian professionals from Vladimir Putin’s war-mongering regime, I’m sure he has a few job openings for them.

If only their hatred had no place here. It’s time to be less angry and far more focused.

Copyright 2022 Andrea Mazzarino

Andrea Mazzarino, a TomDispatch regular, co-founded Brown University’s Costs of War Project. She has held various clinical, research, and advocacy positions, including at a Veterans Affairs PTSD Outpatient Clinic, with Human Rights Watch, and at a community mental health agency. She is the co-editor of War and Health: The Medical Consequences of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

36 comments

  1. In case you haven’t noticed, American liberals are also scarier than Putin. And dumber.

  2. What a narrow view. Let’s for example, look at the cause of the division and hatred. Could it be that corporate propaganda is being delivered to us through corporate owned media. A distraction from what capitalism wants to hide as they do their best to make the world uninhabitable. You’re piece shows extreme ignorance of what is really going on. Keep them divided and confused!

    1. Yep,can’t imagine the reply to the messenger to you whom a thanks would mean they take to heart the message but how likely they’ll doubledown it. Dems missed a real opportunity by pushing the Biden hypocrisy when so much capital woud’ve been gained by the $2000 promised check, but their collective action promising if GA and GA did and Dems just appeared to spew what made true exactly what they are accused of being, which means it really is a duopoly. And a what?first what gets introduced?a Parliamentarian?and a really crazy blocking of Bernie in a position to correct a few things but Manchin and Sinema spot on to next push away from cloture so making filibuster even more powerful than it was and holding no actions against, no long reading, or time wasting or droning on even just 1 vote and no to cloture goddamnit.
      Better, if they say, yep you’re right, it’s time for us to join together and help the people with pushing real policies and no more status lip service kicking the other side both have signed on to. Now to see if they replied at all. When I get a message I say thanks and hang up the phone let’s see what they did,if anything.

  3. Way too often the danger Russians complain of and react to are genuine efforts to destabilize the Russian state. Putin realizes his country has been in a renewed Cold War since at least 2008 when he strenuously objected to NATO expansion to Ukraine and Georgia. Putin fears a colored revolution in Russia, one similar to what has happened in Georgia once, failed, and in Ukraine twice, the last one successful.
    The efforts of the West to extend liberal hegemony are the greatest danger to the world at large, not Vladimir Putin’s attempts to stifle Western NGOs with their liberal agenda–the liberalism that brought us capitalism as well as democracy.
    Liberal hegemony is a stalking horse for global neoliberal financial capital’s control of the world.

  4. President Putin isn’t scary unless you are in league with the western empire.

  5. She has learned anything, it seems. What a waste of digital dingbat bytes.

    Watching Russia do what it has to do — end the UkiNazi land, force the hand of Offensive Nato, and just moving the chessboard around to end EU-UK-USA trash. She doesn’t get it, and I am sure she will be pushing the Goldman Sachs Hillary for 2024, as will the others like Noam and Jeffrey Sachs.

    It’s embarassing, really, to even have to see Tom Dip-Patch reaggregated in the Sheared Off Post.

    Whoopee, July 4. And trillions for the cocaine-using, perverted comic of Ukraine and his thieves and murderers. From EU, from USA, from Klanada.

    Speaking of Klanada Day = Skinny Jeans and Black Face and ALL: Justin Trudeau: “Democracy never happens by accident. And, as we are reminded now, it certainly won’t continue without effort. I spoke about Canada’s commitment to standing up for democratic values – and against authoritarianism.” A Toronto Sun editorial headlined “Canadian democracy is taking a beating.” The editorial warned, “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is slowly dismantling our democracy in real time.”

    1. Good to know a kind good Canadian is around to inform us dumbass Americans, why did they not have a similar revolution against settler colonials?
      Stumped, as I was hoping to think up a really good ironic joke to tell about you, but unable to top the
      Tom Dip-Patch, Scheared Off post, stll laughing.

  6. The other party is scarier than Putin since Putin is not about to control us as is the other party in the next election.

  7. to be fair, what passes for ‘the american left’ is equally scary. but scariest of all is that there are people who actually believe one party is better than the other.

    1. Well, if you believe that right-wing fascists who want to take away many of our rights through SCOTUS and control of our elections, who spout racism and violence at every turn, who want to let the rich and corporations get away with paying little or no taxes, is not worse than the other party, then you aren’t paying attention.

    2. In America you have a choice, you can either choose the Christian Fascists or the Neo Liberal/Con Fascists. Either way, you get fascists.

      It’s so obvious, that anyone who doesn’t or cannot acknowledge it is a waste of time and space.

      1. These are human stains. Blinken is dead in the head, Nuland is a murdering fool, the lot of them, in the NeoCon class (sic) and NeoLiberals, all of them, amazingly vapid but dangerous badgers.

        The American people will vote for the lesser of evils, lesser of the most incompetents. Can’t wait for Mr. Chomsky to yammer to the world how voting Hillary in 2024 is much better than DeSantis. You know the drill.

        Human stain: Remember that Trump strategy for China and Russia? Children don’t even think like that pool of pollution, Trump:

        “Trump: US should put Chinese flags on F-22 jets and ‘bomb shit out of’ Russia

        Trump tells Republican donors Putin would not have invaded Ukraine had he been president and calls Nato a ‘paper tiger’”

        We live in a cartoon world of white man’s trash. Time to take it to the incinerator!

  8. I have stated these sentiments many times on line Andrea. There are countless others, like you and I, who are getting really tired of the rhetoric and b.s. I agree with you that positive efforts have to start at the personal level, neighbor to neighbor, family to family, within our individual communities.

  9. Anyone now writing for the now past his pull date regressive Tom Dispatch is to be pitied for their
    Descent into full fledged REGRESSIVISM which
    Is former progressives now lost in silly Trump hatred
    (Trump was right on peace with Putin;Trump is the
    Only President in my long lifetime not to lead this
    Funeral Empire into another disastrous foreign war)

    REGRESSIVISM is also characterized by support of
    Nazism in Ukraine and full throated support of American
    Nazism(think Werner Von Braun)since the unwelcome
    (In American plutocrat circles) of the defeat of our attack
    Dog Hitler by Communist Russia in the Second World War
    That we allowed the fading British Empire to start.
    Churchill was an evil imperialist.

    Until you ahistorical regressives wake up, your regressive
    Publications like LA Regressive and Rabbitpunch and Tom
    Dispatch will continue to call Putin evil while he is freeing
    The world of crapitalist imperialism and Nazism.
    I cheer daily for Vlad the Nazi Impaler Putin!

    Put that in your dope pipe and smoke it!!

    1. Anyone who has swallowed your Trump kool-aide is dumber than he is, and that is even worse than Moron DeSantis.

      1. “the amerikan liberal—progressive wants to preserve the essence of the past. the amerikan conservative wants more and m ore progress. the European radical wants to hasten the transformation of the future; the European conservative wants to preserve the essence of the past”. Geoffrey Gorer
        have you ever lived in a civilized nation?

  10. Right from opening paragraph there is a video claim of a “steering wheel grab” that has been thoroughly discredited. In this age of top down misinformation, credibility needs to be checked by varied sources.

    1. The person who disputed Hutchinson is a Trump supporter. Her testimony was not eyewitness. She only repeated what she was told by someone who was there. The fact is, though, it sounds exactly like something Trump would do.

  11. You know better than to use Vladimir Putin as a point of comparison. With respect to NATO expansionism, he has been the only adult in the room all along. You might say the neocons and the neolibs in this country are the scary ones. Thy are the reason the country is in a shambles, not Putin.

    1. Thank you, finally a comment that matches the facts, rather than an almost kindly neutral on Putin but failing to relate the good he has tried and is the only sane one making sense, or only sane one period, being rebuffed for his sanity approach to solutions of European security, after GWBush even.

  12. You know better than to use Vladimir Putin as a point of comparison. With respect to NATO expansionism, he has been the only adult in the room all along. You might say the neocons and the neolibs in this country are the scary ones. They are the reason the country is in a shambles, not Putin.

  13. Putin is not scary. And unlike today’s US, Russia is not irrational and erratic. Remember how the entire anti-Russian crusade began? It began when Democrats tried to overturn the 2016 election with lies about “Russian interference.” We know now how the Republican lies about “Iraq’s stockpiles of WMD” resulted in the longest, most costly war in US history. We watch now as Democrat lies – just as persistent – have brought us to the brink of nuclear world war. (And party loyalists are already setting the stage to shout “Fraud!” when Dems lose 2024, if we’re still here by then.)

    1. I can’t speak about right wing or left wing in America because they are equally propagandized ignorant jerks. The American government was usurped by evil forces long ago and I believe that both Russia and China as well as other countries are actively doing battle with this evil cartel.

    2. I understand that Russiagate was a deplorable event and exacerbated Russiaphobia, but it parlayed practically 100 years of anti-Soviet, anti-Russia hatred that was only interrupted when ‘Uncle Joe’ was our friend defeating Hitler.
      The 1917 Revolution scared the pants off the ruling elites and they would do anything to prevent their own power to erode, regardless of popular will.
      Then, after 1991, the NATO people determined to maintain Russia as enemy, which bears fruit today in the Ukraine.
      Finally, when Putin kicked the Western vultures out of Russia, he became an enemy and has been demonized to an extent never seen before in history. It did not help that he complained about NATO expansion–how dare he!–nor that he spoiled America’s plans to regime change Bashar Al Assad in Syria.
      So, anti-Putin, anti-Russia propaganda has had a long run and now turns into Putin-hating, Russia-hating ‘manufactured consent’ for war.

  14. mazzy is CIA; anglo human rights is imperialism funded by US/Uk security services—HRW and AA

  15. Excellent commentary by Andrea. I’m surprised by all the negative responses to it. But then it seems this message board has an overabundance of Putin lovers.

    1. pathetic amerikan racist—Joe McCarthy is your hero…”the problem w amerikans is not Orwellian, it is huxleyan: amerikans love their oppression”. Neil Postman

  16. This article typifies the state of the US mainstream media in 2022, a complete disregard for fair and balanced argumentation wherein contrary facts, opinions and reasoning of the opponent is engaged and debated with some sense of honor and fair play. What we see here is a complete wall of propaganda and ignorance, which much like the HOR 1/6 Commission, is not intended to discover and expose the truth, but to cover it up and peddle self-serving disinformation.

  17. The comments are better than the original article. The left – right divide is the age old ‘divide and conquer’ ruse of the British Empire, which morphed into American neocolonialism that has now come home to roost.

  18. Why does it sound exactly like something Trump would do? What has ex-POTUS Trump ever done before that would indicate such behavior? Methinks you are another Ne’er Trumper.

  19. Trump will never be prosecuted…The Democrats need him around as the only reason to vote for them is that they are not Trump….They offer nothing else.

  20. More TDS.
    Not that Trump isn’t scary. He surely is. But Trump isn’t waging war against Russia and threatening China. Pretending the Democrats are sane hardly helps

  21. so true, we all Need to stop bickering about stupid things and get together on real issues and problems!!!

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