No Matter Who Wins the Election, Military Spending Is Here to Stay

The military-industrial complex is alive and well, and it’s gobbling up your tax dollars.

Through good times and bad, regardless of what’s actually happening in the world, one thing is certain: In the long run, the Pentagon budget won’t go down.

It’s not that that budget has never been reduced. At pivotal moments, like the end of World War II as well as war’s end in Korea and Vietnam, there were indeed temporary downturns, as there was after the Cold War ended. More recently, the Budget Control Act of 2011 threw a monkey wrench into the Pentagon’s plans for funding that would go ever onward and upward by putting a cap on the money Congress could pony up for it. The remarkable thing, though, is not that such moments have occurred, but how modest and short-lived they’ve proved to be.

Take the current budget. It’s down slightly from its peak in 2011, when it reached the highest level since World War II, but this year’s budget for the Pentagon and related agencies is nothing to sneeze at. It comes in at roughly $600 billionmore than the peak year of the massive arms build-up initiated by President Ronald Reagan back in the 1980s. To put this figure in perspective: Despite troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan dropping sharply over the past eight years, the Obama administration has still managed to spend more on the Pentagon than the Bush administration did during its two terms in office.

What accounts for the Department of Defense’s ability to keep a stranglehold on your tax dollars year after endless year?

Pillar one supporting that edifice: ideology. As long as most Americans accept the notionthat it is the God-given mission and right of the United States to go anywhere on the planet and do more or less anything it cares to do with its military, you won’t see Pentagon spending brought under real control. Think of this as the military corollary to American exceptionalism—or just call it the doctrine of armed exceptionalism, if you will.

The second pillar supporting lavish military budgets (and this will hardly surprise you): the entrenched power of the arms lobby and its allies in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. The strategic placement of arms production facilities and military bases in key states and Congressional districts has created an economic dependency that has saved many a flawed weapons system from being unceremoniously dumped in the trash bin of history.

Lockheed Martin, for instance, has put together a handy map of how its troubled F-35 fighter jet has created 125,000 jobs in 46 states. The actual figures are, in fact, considerably lower, but the principle holds: Having subcontractors in dozens of states makes it harder for members of Congress to consider cutting or slowing down even a failed or failing program. Take as an example the M-1 tank, which the Army actually wanted to stop buying. Its plans were thwarted by the Ohio congressional delegation, which led a fight to add more M-1s to the budget in order to keep the General Dynamics production line in Lima, Ohio, up and running. In a similar fashion, prodded by the Missouri delegation, Congress added two different versions of Boeing’s F-18 aircraft to the budget to keep funds flowing to that company’s St. Louis area plant.

The one-two punch of an environment in which the military can do no wrong, while being outfitted for every global task imaginable, and what former Pentagon analyst Franklin “Chuck” Spinney has called “political engineering,” has been a tough combination to beat.


The overwhelming consensus in favor of a “cover the globe” military strategy has been broken from time to time by popular resistance to the idea of using war as a central tool of foreign policy. In such periods, getting Americans behind a program of feeding the military machine massive sums of money has generally required a heavy dose of fear.

For example, the last thing most Americans wanted after the devastation and hardship unleashed by World War II was to immediately put the country back on a war footing. The demobilization of millions of soldiers and a sharp cutback in weapons spending in the immediate postwar years rocked what President Dwight Eisenhower would later dubthe “military-industrial complex.”

As Wayne Biddle has noted in his seminal book Barons of the Sky, the US aerospace industry produced an astonishing 300,000-plus military aircraft during World War II. Not surprisingly, major weapons producers struggled to survive in a peacetime environment in which government demand for their products threatened to be a tiny fraction of wartime levels.

Lockheed President Robert Gross was terrified by the potential impact of war’s end on his company’s business, as were many of his industry cohorts. “As long as I live,” he said, “I will never forget those short, appalling weeks” of the immediate postwar period. To be clear, Gross was appalled not by the war itself, but by the drop off in orders occasioned by its end. He elaborated in a 1947 letter to a friend: “We had one underlying element of comfort and reassurance during the war. We knew we’d get paid for anything we built. Now we are almost entirely on our own.”

The postwar doldrums in military spending that worried him so were reversed only after the American public had been fed a steady, fear-filled diet of anti-communism. NSC-68, a secret memorandum the National Security Council prepared for President Harry Truman in April 1950, created the template for a policy based on the global “containment” of communism and grounded in a plan to encircle the Soviet Union with US military forces, bases, and alliances. This would, of course, prove to be a strikingly expensive proposition. The concluding paragraphs of that memorandum underscored exactly that point, calling for a “sustained buildup of US political, economic, and military strength… [to] frustrate the Kremlin design of a world dominated by its will.”

Senator Arthur Vandenberg put the thrust of this new Cold War policy in far simpler terms when he bluntly advised President Truman to “scare the hell out of the American people” to win support for a $400 million aid plan for Greece and Turkey. His suggestion would be put into effect not just for those two countries but to generate support for what President Eisenhower would later describe as “a permanent arms establishment of vast proportions.”

Industry leaders like Lockheed’s Gross were poised to take advantage of such planning. In a draft of a 1950 speech, he noted, giddily enough, that “for the first time in recorded history, one country has assumed global responsibility.” Meeting that responsibility would naturally mean using air transport to deliver “huge quantities of men, food, ammunition, tanks, gasoline, oil and thousands of other articles of war to a number of widely separated places on the face of the earth.” Lockheed, of course, stood ready to heed the call.

The next major challenge to armedCold War policy and to the further militarization of foreign policy came after the disastrous Vietnam War, which drove many Americans to question the wisdom of a policy of permanent global interventionism. That phenomenon would be dubbed the “Vietnam syndrome” by interventionists, as if opposition to such a military policy were a disease, not a position. Still, that “syndrome” carried considerable, if ever-decreasing, weight for a decade and a half, despite the Pentagon’s Reagan-inspired arms build-up of the 1980s.

With the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Washington decisively renewed its practice of responding to perceived foreign threats with large-scale military interventions. That quick victory over Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein’s forces in Kuwait was celebrated by many hawks as the end of the Vietnam-induced malaise. Amid victory parades and celebrations, President George H.W. Bush would enthusiastically exclaim: “And, by God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.”

However, perhaps the biggest threat since World War II to an “arms establishment of vast proportions” came with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, also in 1991. How to mainline fear into the American public and justify Cold War levels of spending when that other superpower, the Soviet Union, the primary threat of the previous nearly half-a-century, had just evaporated and there was next to nothing threatening on the horizon? General Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, summed up the fears of that moment within the military and the arms complex when he said, “I’m running out of demons. I’m running out of villains. I’m down to Castro and Kim Il-sung.”

In reality, he underestimated the Pentagon’s ability to conjure up new threats. Military spending did indeed drop at the end of the Cold War, but the Pentagon helped staunch the bleeding relatively quickly before a “peace dividend” could be delivered to the American people. Instead, it put a firm floor under the fall by announcing what came to be known as the “rogue state” doctrine. Resources formerly aimed at the Soviet Union would now be focused on “regional hegemons” like Iraq and North Korea.


After the 9/11 attacks, the rogue state doctrine morphed into the “Global War on Terror” (GWOT), which neoconservative pundits soon labeled “World War IV.” The heightened fear campaign that went with it, in turn, helped sow the seeds for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was promoted by visions of mushroom clouds rising over American cities and a drumbeat of Bush administration claims (all false) that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda. Some administration officials including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld even suggested that Saddam was like Hitler, as if a modest-sized Middle Eastern state could somehow muster the resources to conquer the globe.

The administration’s propaganda campaign would be supplemented by the work of right-wing corporate-funded think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. And no one should be surprised to learn that the military-industrial complex and its money, its lobbyists, and its interests were in the middle of it all. Take Lockheed Martin Vice President Bruce Jackson, for example. In 1997, he became a director of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and so part of a gaggle of hawks including future Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and future Vice President Dick Cheney. In those years, PNAC would advocate the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as part of its project to turn the planet into an American military protectorate. Many of its members would, of course, enter the Bush administration in crucial roles and become architects of the GWOT and the invasion of Iraq.

The Afghan and Iraq wars would prove an absolute bonanza for contractors as the Pentagon budget soared. Traditional weapons suppliers like Lockheed Martin and Boeing prospered, as did private contractors like Dick Cheney’s former employer, Halliburton, which made billions providing logistical support to US troops in the field. Other major beneficiaries included firms like Blackwater and DynCorp, whose employees guarded US facilities and oil pipelines while training Afghan and Iraqi security forces. As much as $60 billion of the funds funneled to such contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan would be “wasted,” but not from the point of view of companies for which waste could generate as much profit as a job well done. So Halliburton and its cohorts weren’t complaining.

On entering the Oval Office, President Obama would ditch the term GWOT in favor of “countering violent extremism”—and then essentially settle for a no-name global war. He would shift gears from a strategy focused on large numbers of “boots on the ground” to an emphasis on drone strikes, the use of Special Operations forces, and massive transfers of arms to US allies like Saudi Arabia. In the context of an increasingly militarized foreign policy, one might call Obama’s approach “politically sustainable warfare,” since it involved fewer (American) casualties and lower costs than Bush-style warfare, which peaked in Iraq at more than 160,000 troops and a comparable number of private contractors.

Recent terror attacks against Western targets from Brussels, Paris, and Nice to San Bernardino and Orlando have offered the national security state and the Obama administration the necessary fear factor that makes the case for higher Pentagon spending so palatable. This has been true despite the fact that more tanks, bombers, aircraft carriers, and nuclear weapons will be useless in preventing such attacks.

The majority of what the Pentagon spends, of course, has nothing to do with fighting terrorism. But whatever it has or hasn’t been called, the war against terror has proven to be a cash cow for the Pentagon and contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon.

The “war budget”—money meant for the Pentagon but not included in its regular budget—has been used to add on tens of billions of dollars more. It has proven to be an effective “slush fund” for weapons and activities that have nothing to do with immediate war fighting and has been the Pentagon’s preferred method for evading the caps on its budget imposed by the Budget Control Act. A Pentagon spokesman admitted as much recently by acknowledging that more than half of the $58.8 billion war budget is being used to pay for non-war costs.

The abuse of the war budget leaves ample room in the Pentagon’s main budget for items like the overpriced, underperforming F-35 combat aircraft, a plane that, at a price tag of $1.4 trillion over its lifetime, is on track to be the most expensive weapons program ever undertaken. That slush fund is also enabling the Pentagon to spend billions of dollars in seed money as a down payment on the department’s proposed $1 trillion plan to buy a new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, missiles, and submarines. Shutting it down could force the Pentagon to do what it likes least: live within an actual budget rather continuing to push its top line ever upward.

Although rarely discussed due to the focus on Donald Trump’s abominable behavior and racist rhetoric, both candidates for president are in favor of increasing Pentagon spending. Trump’s “plan” (if one can call it that) hews closely to a blueprint developed by the Heritage Foundation that, if implemented, could increase Pentagon spending by a cumulative $900 billion over the next decade. The size of a Clinton buildup is less clear, but she has also pledged to work toward lifting the caps on the Pentagon’s regular budget. If that were done and the war fund continued to be stuffed with non-war-related items, one thing is certain: The Pentagon and its contractors will be sitting pretty.

As long as fear, greed, and hubris are the dominant factors driving Pentagon spending, no matter who is in the White House, substantial and enduring budget reductions are essentially inconceivable. A wasteful practice may be eliminated here or an unnecessary weapons system cut there, but more fundamental change would require taking on the fear factor, the doctrine of armed exceptionalism, and the way the military-industrial complex is embedded in Washington.

Only such a culture shift would allow for a clear-eyed assessment of what constitutes “defense” and how much money would be needed to provide it. Unfortunately, the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned Americans about more than 50 years ago is alive and well, and gobbling up your tax dollars at an alarming rate.

The 50th Anniversary of ‘The Battle of Algiers’ and the Film’s Impact on the Black Radical Imagination

An excerpt from an important new book on the film.

Photo Credit: YouTube screenshot

The 1966 film The Battle of Algiers is commemorating the 50th anniversary of its release, opening in more theaters across the country. As the Movement for Black Lives continues to disrupt and challenge the status quo, it also worth noting that 2016 is the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Black Panther Party. This edited excerpt from Sohail Daulatzai’s new book on the legacy of the film reveal only part of the influence The Battle of Algiers had on the Black radical imagination. The excerpt is followed by William Klein’s 1971 documentary on former Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria.

Prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the largest antiwar protest in history took place throughout the world. But to no avail. President Bush dismissed the protestors as “a focus group,” unleashing the bombing campaign that was known as “Shock and Awe.” Soon after the invasion, in late 2003, the Pentagon invited the military brass to a screening of The Battle of Algiers, and the teaser read: ”How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film.”

Well before the Pentagon screening, both U.S. Army intelligence operatives and the F.B.I. also screened the film in 1970 to try to silence domestic and global threats to U.S. power. The film was used as a training tool by the U.S. military as part of “Operation Phoenix,” and its larger strategy for the “pacification of Vietnam,” while the FBI screened it at the height of its vicious Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), which included the destabilization of leftist groups in the United States through the use of targeted assassination, disinformation campaigns, false arrests and the imprisonment of Black Panther Party members, in particular.

While security states were screening the film throughout the world, The Battle of Algiers was also embraced by a range of different leftist groups including the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Irish Republican Army and the Tamil Tigers. In the United States, it was a favorite among the Weather Underground, Arab students organizing in the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and later in the 1990s as Chicano activists in Los Angeles mobilized around the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico. In the 1960s and ’70s, the film was required viewing for the Black Panther Party, whose liberationist politics were linked to the anticolonial Third Worldism of Vietnam, Palestine, Cuba, and elsewhere.

This embrace of the film by the Panthers was part of a longer history of Black radical solidarity with internationalist struggles in general, and Algeria in particular. As Stokely Carmichael said, “Black Power means that we see ourselves as part of the Third World; that we see our struggle as closely related to liberation struggle around the world.” And he was far from the exception. Black Panther Party member Kathleen Cleaver said, “From its inception, the Black Panther Party saw the condition of Blacks in an international context, recognizing that the same racist imperialism that people in Africa, Asia, Latin America were fighting against was victimizing Blacks in the United States.”

Writers and activists from Hoyt Fuller to Martin Luther King had expressed admiration and solidarity with the Algerian struggle, viewing Black struggles in the U.S. in the context of anti-colonial rebellion taking place worldwide. James Baldwin also commented on Algeria and France’s brutal colonial war. He made many trips to Paris, and he often made reference to the violent mistreatment of Algerians in Paris, including the infamous Papon Massacre in October 1961 in Paris. Baldwin would write, “Algeria was French only insofar as French power had decreed it to be French. It existed on the European map only insofar as European power had placed it there. It is power, not justice, which keeps rearranging the map, and the Algerians were not fighting the French for justice but for the power to determine their own destinies.”

Malcolm X would also weigh in when discussing policing of Black people in Harlem, “Algeria was a police state. Any occupied territory is a police state, and that is what Harlem is. Harlem is a police state, the police in Harlem, their presence is like occupation forces, like an occupying army. … The same conditions that prevailed in Algeria that forced the people, the noble people of Algeria, to resort to terrorist-type tactics that were necessary to get the monkey off their backs, those same conditions prevail today in America in every Negro community.”

Theaters of War

The Battle of Algiers would screen at the New York Film Festival in September 1967, just after massive riots in Newark, New Jersey, and Detroit had rocked the country. As the winds of Black Power began to gust, fanning the flames of urban unrest, Newsweek magazine reported, “Many young Negroes cheered or laughed knowingly at each terrorist attack on the French, as if The Battle of Algiers were a textbook and prophecy of urban guerrilla warfare to come.” Three years later, at a screening of the film at the Thalia on the Upper West Side, the New York Times reported that there was “laughter and applause when bombs planted by Algerian women destroyed restaurants frequented by the French,” and “at one point a cry of ‘the United States is next’ rang through the small movie house.”

The film would also be screened in 1969 at Amiri Baraka’s Spirit House in Newark, New Jersey, which was the unofficial mecca of the Black Arts Movement. Formed the day after the assassination of Malcolm X, and hoping to extend the legacy of his revolutionary spirit, Amiri Baraka and others saw the Black Arts Movement as a vehicle in which poetry, literature, theater, music, and film were central to Black liberation. The Battle of Algiers was part of a series of films and performances that also included the 1964 film The Dutchman (based on Baraka’s play) and the 1968 documentary on the Spirit House called The New-Ark, a triple feature of radical films that reflected the global sensibilities of the era.

Emory Douglas, who was minister of culture for the Black Panther Party, and whose graphic artwork was the basis of the official newspaper The Black Panther, traveled to Algeria in 1969 and was there when Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver emerged in Algiers for the first annual Pan-African Cultural Festival. In my conversation with Douglas, he said that, at the time, The Battle of Algierswas the most influential film in his life, helping to shape his artistic and political vision “because it did what I was trying to do with the Panthers—create a culture of resistance through art.” Not surprisingly, the Panthers would use Algiers as the site to open the first International Section of the Black Panther Party due to their admiration of Frantz Fanon and the Algerian struggle of which he was a part, while in 1970, Francee Covington would write an essay titled “Are the Revolutionary Techniques Employed in The Battle of Algiers Applicable in Harlem?” in the seminal anthology The Black Woman.

The film would also emerge as part of a much covered and controversial 1971 trial in New York City of what was known as the Panther 21, one of whom was Afeni Shakur, mother of hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur, with whom she was pregnant at the time. Charged—and acquitted—of conspiring to explode bombs at department stores, police stations, and other locations throughout the city, the Panthers had reportedly drawn their inspiration for this plot from the film. During the trial, the prosecutor, in an attempt to sway the jury toward a conviction, showed the film to the jurors. Twice during the courtroom screening, when the French offered an Algerian rebel a fair trial, several Panthers laughed at what could only be assumed was the deep irony and parallel nature of their respective predicaments. For some of the jurors, the responses were equally striking. For juror Joe Rainato, this would be his fourth viewing. Another juror, Ben Giles, said the showing “saved me $3.50 because I was going to see it after the trial anyway,” and juror Ed Kennebeck, who was now seeing the film for a third time, said, “The film did more to help me see things from the defense point of view than the D.A. suspected.”

Many Black activists saw in Ali La Pointe a mirror of Malcolm X—both were street hustler who were radicalized in prison and went on to become revolutionary heroes. Lerone Bennett, who was a vocal critic of Melvin Van Peebles’ 1971 film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song for what he saw as the film’s troubling and confusing political impulses, said “some will say: ‘you are criticizing the man (Van Peebles) for not filming The Battle of Algiers. How could he film The Battle of Algiers when there had been no battle of Algiers in America?” But that is precisely the point. There has been a Battle of Watts in America, and a Battle of Newark, and a Battle of Detroit. A Malcolm lived in Harlem, a King in Atlanta, and Angela Davis is in a California prison. And it is impossible to make a revolutionary black film in America without taking these realities into consideration.”

This brief alternative history to the film is vital if we are to grasp any lessons from it for today. The screening of the film at the Pentagon in 2003 and the racial logic of the “War on Terror” have sought to control the memory of The Battle of Algiers and, at the same time, have negated the central questions and concerns that decolonization, Black Power and the Third World Project sought to address: structural global inequality, racial capitalism resulting in wealth and resource exploitation of the non-white world; the policing and containment of Black life, continued military interventions into and destabilization of the Third World; and deeply entrenched asymmetries in diplomatic, political, and economic power between the West and the Global South. It is these structural violences that now sit at the heart of the “War on Terror,” and it is their systematic silencing of which The Battle of Algiers continues to be a haunting reminder.

Excerpt reprinted by permission from the University of Minnesota Press from Fifty Years of The Battle of Algiers: Past as Prologue by Sohail Daulatzai (Forerunners: Ideas First series). Copyright 2016 by Sohail Daulatzai.

Sohail Daulatzai is the author of four books including Fifty Years of “The Battle of Algiers”: Past as Prologue and Return of the Mecca: The Art of Islam and Hip-Hop. More of his work can be found at Follow him @SohailDaulatzai.


Donald Trump: The Dress Rehearsal for Fascism

Posted on Oct 16, 2016

By Chris Hedges

  Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at an event hosted by the Republican Hindu Coalition in Edison, N.J., on Saturday. (Julio Cortez / AP)

Americans are not offered major-party candidates who have opposing political ideologies or ideas. We are presented only with manufactured political personalities. We vote for the candidate who makes us “feel” good about him or her. Campaigns are entertainment and commercial vehicles to raise billions in advertising revenue for corporations. The candidate who can provide the best show gets the most coverage. The personal brand is paramount. It takes precedence over ideas, truth, integrity and the common good. This cult of the self, which defines our politics and our culture, contains the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity, self-importance, a need for constant stimulation, a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation, and incapacity for remorse or guilt. Donald Trump has these characteristics. So does Hillary Clinton.

Our system of inverted totalitarianism has within it the seeds of an overt or classical fascism. The more that political discourse becomes exclusively bombastic and a form of spectacle, the more that emotional euphoria is substituted for political thought and the more that violence is the primary form of social control, the more we move toward a Christianized fascism.

Last week’s presidential debate in St. Louis was only a few degrees removed from the Jerry Springer TV show—the angry row of women sexually abused or assaulted by Bill Clinton, the fuming Trump pacing the stage with a threatening posture, the sheeplike and carefully selected audience that provided the thin veneer of a democratic debate while four multimillionaires—Martha Raddatz, Anderson Cooper, Clinton and Trump—squabbled like spoiled schoolchildren.

The Clinton campaign, aware that the policy differences between her and a candidate such as Jeb Bush were minuscule, plotted during the primaries to elevate the fringe Republican candidates—especially Trump. To the Democratic strategists, a match between Clinton and Trump seemed made in heaven. Trump, with his “brain trust” of Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, would make Clinton look like a savior.

A memo addressed to the Democratic National Committee under the heading “Our Goals & Strategy” was part of the trove of John Podesta emails released this month by WikiLeaks.

“Our hope is that the goal of a potential HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] campaign and the DNC would be one-in-the-same: to make whomever the Republicans nominate unpalatable to the majority of the electorate. We have outlined three strategies to obtain our goal …,” it reads.

The memo names Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Ben Carson as candidates, or what the memo calls “Pied Piper” candidates who could push mainstream candidates closer to the positions embraced by the lunatic right. “We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to [take] them seriously.”

The elites of the two ruling parties, who have united behind Clinton, are playing a very dangerous game. The intellectual and political vacuum caused by the United States’ species of anti-politics, or what the writer Benjamin DeMott called “junk politics,” leaves candidates, all of whom serve the interests of the corporate state, seeking to exaggerate what Sigmund Freud termed “the narcissism of small differences.”

However, this battle between small differences, largely defined by the culture wars, no longer works with large segments of the population. The insurgencies of Trump and Bernie Sanders are evidence of a breakdown of these forms of social control. There is a vague realization among Americans that we have undergone a corporate coup. People are angry about being lied to and fleeced by the elites. They are tired of being impotent. Trump, to many of his most fervent supporters, is a huge middle finger to a corporate establishment that has ruined their lives and the lives of their children. And if Trump, or some other bombastic idiot, is the only vehicle they have to defy the system, they will use him.

The elites, including many in the corporate press, must increasingly give political legitimacy to goons and imbeciles in a desperate battle to salvage their own legitimacy. But the more these elites pillage and loot, and the more they cast citizens aside as human refuse, the more the goons and imbeciles become actual alternatives. The corporate capitalists would prefer the civilized mask of a Hillary Clinton. But they also know that police states and fascist states will not impede their profits; indeed in such a state the capitalists will be more robust in breaking the attempts of the working class to organize for decent wages and working conditions. Citibank, Raytheon and Goldman Sachs will adapt. Capitalism functions very well without democracy.

In the 1990s I watched an impotent, nominally democratic liberal elite in the former Yugoslavia fail to understand and act against the population’s profound economic distress. The fringe demagogues whom the political and educated elites dismissed as buffoons—Radovan Karadzic, Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudman—rode an anti-liberal tide to power.

The political elites in Yugoslavia at first thought the nationalist cranks and lunatics, who amassed enough support to be given secondary positions of power, could be contained. This mistake was as misguided as Franz von Papen’s assurances that when the uncouth Austrian Adolf Hitler was appointed the German chancellor in January 1933 the Nazi leader would be easily manipulated. Any system of prolonged political paralysis and failed liberalism vomits up monsters. And the longer we remain in a state of political paralysis—especially as we stumble toward another financial collapse—the more certain it becomes that these monsters will take power.

Fascism, at its core, is an amorphous and incoherent ideology that perpetuates itself by celebrating a grotesque hypermasculinity, elements of which are captured in Trump’s misogyny. It allows disenfranchised people to feel a sense of power and to have their rage sanctified. It takes a politically marginalized and depoliticized population and mobilizes it around a utopian vision of moral renewal and vengeance and an anointed political savior. It is always militaristic, anti-intellectual and contemptuous of democracy and replaces culture with nationalist and patriotic kitsch. It sees those outside the closed circle of the nation-state or the ethnic or religious group as diseased enemies that must be physically purged to restore the health of nation.

Many of these ideological elements are already part of our system of inverted totalitarianism. But inverted totalitarianism, as Sheldon Wolin wrote, disclaims its identity to pay homage to a democracy that in reality has ceased to function. It is characterized by the anonymity of the corporate centers of power. It seeks to keep the population passive and demobilized. I asked Wolin shortly before he died in 2015 that if the two major forms of social control he cited—access to easy and cheap credit and inexpensive, mass-produced consumer products—were no longer available would we see the rise of a more classical form of fascism. He said this would indeed become a possibility.

Bill Clinton transformed the Democratic Party into the Republican Party. He pushed the Republican Party so far to the right it became insane. Hillary Clinton is Mitt Romney in drag. She and the Democratic Party embrace policies—endless war, the security and surveillance state, neoliberalism, austerity, deregulation, new trade agreements and deindustrialization—that are embraced by the Republican elites. Clinton in office will continue the neoliberal assault on the poor and the working poor, and increasingly the middle class, that has defined the corporate state since the Reagan administration. She will do so while speaking in the cloying and hypocritical rhetoric of compassion that masks the cruelty of corporate capitalism.

The Democratic and Republican parties may be able to disappear Trump, but they won’t disappear the phenomena that gave rise to Trump. And unless the downward spiral is reversed—unless the half of the country now living in poverty is lifted out of poverty—the cynical game the elites are playing will backfire. Out of the morass will appear a genuine “Christian” fascist endowed with political skill, intelligence, self-discipline, ruthlessness and charisma. The monster the elites will again unwittingly elevate, as a foil to keep themselves in power, will consume them. There would be some justice in this if we did not all have to pay.


Vice President Dick Cheney, speaks at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Thursday, April 10, 2008, in Washington.  Bush administration officials from Vice President Dick Cheney on down signed off on using harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists after asking the Justice Department to endorse their legality, The Associated Press has learned.   (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

 (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

By Caitlan Johnstone

Remember when your parents used to do stuff to you that you swore you’d never do to your own kids? If you’re a parent, you already know where I’m going with this. You have your first kid, you’re all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, looking forward to helping create a better generation than your own, then you catch yourself doing that weird spit-clean thing to your son’s face you remember hating when you were little.

We all grow up to become our parents in some ways, but hopefully, we get more of their positive traits than their negative ones. Sometimes it doesn’t go that way, though, and it’s always heartbreaking to realize you’re now the embodiment of your mother’s temper or your father’s emotional incompetence. I wonder if that’s how Democrats are feeling now that they’re becoming the new Republican party?

Falling in Line

Bill Clinton once famously said that in every presidential election, Democrats want to fall in love, while Republicans just fall in line.

That’s because liberals are educated free-thinkers with critical minds who are cynical of abuses of power. Democrats needed to earn their vote. They are hard to herd. They are attracted to their candidate, not forced by shame, guilt or fear. Traditionally, anyway.

But the man people fell in love with this election cycle, Bernie Sanders, saw his campaign fatally sabotaged by the power-base of the DNC elites and their media puppets, and Democrats have fallen in line like good little soldiers behind a candidate nobody even likes.

The DNC/Media/Clinton achieved something remarkable this election cycle. They’ve created bullet-proof loyalty out of Democrats. There’s no sin that Hillary could commit that will sway Dem voters now. No leak will be shocking enough to lose their vote. Dems were appalled when Trump said he could shoot someone and his peeps would still vote for him, but we all know Hillary could too, now.

But they did it with good old traditional Republican fear and shaming tactics. Turns out you don’t have to be religious for those to work on you. Replace “the devil” with “Trump” and it works just fine. It works so well, Democrats have taken to disseminating an authoritarian-style propaganda, which takes us to our next point.

Media Brainwashing

One of the most annoying things about Republicans used to be how they would all regurgitate whatever party lines Rush Limbaugh and the talking heads on Fox News told them to say. Now Republicans are communicating almost exclusively in cartoon frog memes, so it’s fallen to the Democrats to spout vapid lines like “voting third party is a mark of white privilege” or “a vote for anyone but Hillary is a vote for Trump.” I swear the dialogues I have with Hillary supporters get less original every single day, because as I’ve mentioned once or twice, the corporate media is being used to misinform the public about what’s happening in this country, and during this election cycle that’s been entirely to the benefit of the Clinton campaign.

So now you’ve got unthinking automatons passing along bumper-sticker-sized sound bytes manufactured by the neoliberal think tank, just like you used to have Republican droids doing for the neocons. The simpler and more vacuous the idea, the faster the mind virus spreads.

Election Fraud

Democrats have been very vocal opponents of gerrymandering, the largely Republican-favoring process whereby voting districts are redrawn in a way that marginalizes the impact that poor and disadvantaged populations can have on elections. Dems have also been voicing outrage over the 2013 repeal of parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which has given states the right to demand more stringent requirements from would-be voters before they can access the polls, a practice which again tends to work disproportionately against minorities and the poor.

And yet when the ruling elites of their own party actively conspired to thwart the nomination of a candidate with an unblemished record of powerful support for minorities, the poor and the oppressed, forcefully installing in his place a Wall Street crony whose family has a consistent record of catering to the one percent and pushing for expansion of the prison industrial complex while subverting welfare, Democrats have shrugged and gone along with it. Democracy was assaulted in America this year, but the party which takes its very name from democracy shuffled on in dissociated indifference.

It’s all fine as long as it’s your people doing it, right guys?

Institutional Ecocide

If you haven’t checked out WikiLeaks’ Podesta email number 4081, take a look. If you want to know where the real movers and shakers of the Democratic party stand on environmental issues, this is a perfect glimpse of what happens behind the curtain. In it, you see Clinton staff scoffing at Bernie Sanders’ opposition to fracking, calling him “irresponsible” and “whack,” while also discussing possible ways of appearing less pro-fracking than they are to the public.

You really could not ask for a clearer picture of where the Democratic party sits as a whole with the urgent matter of averting climate catastrophe. As Clinton assured her Wall Street bosses, there is most certainly a public position running alongside a very different private position. The public position is to convert to green energy as quickly as possible, the private position is to “watch our tone and not sound too pro-fracking” while continuing to use it as long as they like like as a “transitional energy.” The very idea of fracking as something dangerous which needs to stop is laughable to them.

Combine that cute little glimpse of their inner workings with the fact that Hillary Clinton is actively pushing for a war with a nuclear superpower, and you’ve got something that is far more dangerous to the earth than Dick Cheney’s wettest of dreams.


Democrats have become warmongers. The same people who protested in the streets over Bush’s war are now rallying behind Bush 2.0, Hillary Clinton, who actively supported all of Bush’s very worst decisions, including the Iraq invasion. Obama dropped 23,144 bombs on Muslim-majority countries in 2015 alone and has bombed twice the number of sovereign nations that Bush did. The Democrats, who assure progressives that they’re going to “hold Hillary’s feet to the fire” to ensure she honors a progressive agenda, are dead silent about Obama’s drone wars, which Noam Chomsky has called the worst terrorist campaign on the planet.

“Oh, we’re always at war, what’s one more?” a Clinton supporter recently asked me when I was on a tirade about Hillary’s blatant push toward a war with Russia. That sort of rhetoric is becoming more and more common in my interactions with these people, and it spooks me out every single time; it’s like talking to a serial killer or a vampire or something.

This is the same party that saw massive riots at the Democratic Convention in 1968 when they announced a hawkish nominee. The entire party nearly collapsed because of it, which is why they completely revised the process by which those nominations occur. The process which they completely violated this year, to the absence of any riots whatsoever.

Democrats used to be agents of change, all about demanding progress and taking the country forward for everyone, not conserving the status quo for the elites. In one year, that has been reversed and the Democratic voters have been co-opted by the forces of evil as a firewall against change.

Take a good, hard look at yourselves in the mirror, Democrats. Take a look at what you’re becoming. Do you see Cheney’s soulless mug leering back at you?

Democrats focus on sex scandal as conflict with Russia escalates


The great diversion:

15 October 2016

With media coverage in America dominated by allegations of sexual assault against the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, one would never know that the United States is on the verge of a massive escalation of operations against Syria and is preparing for a military conflict with Russia.

Friday’s wall-to-wall coverage of Trump’s alleged sexual transgressions featured a speech full of moralistic outrage by First Lady Michelle Obama, a veteran of the cutthroat Chicago political machine. She melodramatically declared that a leaked tape of Trump making lewd remarks had “shaken me to my core.”

The entire media spectacle serves as a smoke screen for far-reaching plans by the present administration, with the full support of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, to implement deeply unpopular policies without public scrutiny. It serves as well to bury any discussion of substantive issues in the election campaign.

Behind a nearly total media blackout, the White House National Security Council held a closed-door meeting Friday to review the US military’s campaign in Iraq and Syria. The only major media advance report on the meeting, carried by Reuters on Thursday and then quickly dropped, noted that US officials were weighing “air strikes on Syrian military bases, munitions depots or radar and anti-aircraft bases.” Asked about the meeting at a press conference Friday afternoon, deputy White House press secretary Eric Schultz refused to even acknowledge that it was taking place.

The meeting was held just one day after the US military dramatically escalated its role in the conflict in Yemen, launching cruise missile strikes against sites controlled by the Houthi militia. This followed less than a week after the US-backed Saudi military bombed a Houthi funeral in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, killing at least 140 civilians and wounding more than 500 others.

Within hours of the meeting of Obama’s war council, NBC Nightly News led its Friday broadcast with an exclusive report, citing unnamed intelligence officials, that the White House is “contemplating an unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election.”

This vague report sets a bellicose tone for scheduled discussions between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Saturday.

Britain, France and Germany, meanwhile, are agitating for military escalation in the five-year proxy war to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. On Tuesday, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson declared Russia a “pariah” state and called for anti-Assad and anti-Russian demonstrations at the Russian Embassy in London.

Johnson is hosting a meeting with Kerry and European foreign ministers on Sunday to consider “more kinetic options, the military options” in the war in Syria.

Russian officials, for their part, threatened retaliation against any US strikes against Syrian government targets. “Any missile or air strikes on the territory controlled by the Syrian government will create a clear threat to Russian servicemen,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson General Igor Konashenkov said last week.

He added, “Russian air defense system crews are unlikely to have time to determine in a ‘straight line’ the exact flight paths of missiles and then who the warheads belong to. And all the illusions of amateurs about the existence of ‘invisible’ jets will face a disappointing reality.” Konashenkov’s reference to ‘invisible’’ jets was a warning that the advanced Russian S-400 air defense systems are capable of downing fifth-generation fighters with stealth capabilities, such as the American F-22 and F-35.

Should US air strikes against Syrian targets lead to the downing of American fighters by Russian forces, the White House will come under immense pressure to retaliate, potentially setting off a chain reaction that could result in the first use of nuclear weapons since World War II.

In evident preparation for such an eventuality, Moscow sent nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles to the Russian Baltic city of Kaliningrad on October 8. From Kaliningrad, the missiles can strike targets, including NATO bases, across Poland and the Baltic republics.

Pointing to the dangers posed by these developments, Numan Kurtulmus, the deputy prime minister of Turkey, warned this week that if the war in Syria continues, “America and Russia will come to a point of war.” He added that the “proxy war” in Syria has led the world to the “brink of the beginning of a large regional or global war.”

The war in Syria is just one flashpoint in what military strategists are increasingly warning will be an “inevitable” conflict with major military powers. Last month, the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, published a report titled The Future of the Army, which made clear that the US military’s primary concern is preparing to fight “major and deadly” wars between “great powers,” entailing “heavy casualties” and “high levels of death and destruction.”

At an October 4 meeting of the Association of the US Army in Washington, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley said war between the US and global powers such as Russia and China was “almost guaranteed.” At the same conference, Gen. William Hix, a top Army strategist, declared that a conflict “in the near future” with a country like Russia or China would entail a level of violence “that our armies have not seen on a scale probably since Korea, if not in World War II.”

These developments make it clear that the threat to humanity of a war between nuclear-armed powers is greater now than at any time since the height of the Cold War. The sharp escalation of military tensions recalls the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, which nearly led to full-scale war between the US and the Soviet Union.

At that time, the press was eagerly following every detail of the showdown between the US and the USSR, while the Kennedy administration was intently seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Now, the White House, driven by an unstable domestic situation and growing threats to its global dominance, is taking increasingly reckless measures, while the press virtually ignores the danger of a clash between the United States and Russia.

The media silence on the war threat is coupled with a drive, led by the Clinton campaign, the Democratic Party and the New York Times, to paint the fascistic Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as an agent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. By framing the November 8 election as a struggle against Russian subversion and the “dictator” Putin, Hillary Clinton is seeking to create the conditions for claiming a popular mandate for military escalation and a confrontation with Russia should she capture the White House.

Both big-business parties, despite their tactical differences, fully support the US war drive, while the Libertarian and Green candidates are largely ignoring the war danger. The Socialist Equality Party alone has put opposition to war at the very heart of its campaign in the 2016 elections.

Andre Damon

Leaked Clinton email admits Saudi, Qatari government funding of ISIS in Syria


By Bill Van Auken
12 October 2016

An email exchange between Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager John Podesta, posted Monday by WikiLeaks, frankly acknowledges that the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) is funded and supported by Washington’s chief allies in the Arab world.

The September 2014 exchange was contained in one of the 2,086 documents posted by WikiLeaks Monday, following up on the release a week ago of over 2,000 more of Podesta’s emails and attachments.

At the time of the exchange on ISIS, Podesta was a White House counselor to President Barack Obama. One of the most powerful figures in the Democratic Party establishment, he is the former White House chief of staff to Bill Clinton, the former chairman of the Obama transition and a corporate lobbyist for corporations like WalMart, BP and Lockheed Martin. For her part, Clinton had left her post as secretary of state over a year earlier.

The email acknowledges that the sources for the assessment of the Saudi and Qatari support for ISIS “include Western intelligence, US intelligence and sources in the region.”

The document calls for increased reliance upon the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga as a key proxy force for combating ISIS in Iraq, pointing to the Kurdish militia’s “long standing relationships with CIA officers and Special Forces operators.”

It adds: “While this military/para-military operation is moving forward, we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL [ISIS] and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

The email continues: “This effort will be enhanced by the stepped up commitment in the [Kurdish Regional Government]. The Qataris and Saudis will be put in a position of balancing policy between their ongoing competition to dominate the Sunni world and the consequences of serious US pressure.”

The Obama administration has publicly embraced Saudi Arabia as its closest Arab ally and the ostensible leader of an “Islamic alliance” against terrorism. The Saudi regime is the patron of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which purportedly represents the so-called “moderate” opposition that is also supported by Washington in the more than five-year-old war for regime change against the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Officially, the US administration has maintained that, while wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia and Qatar had helped finance ISIS, the despotic governments of these oil monarchies were blameless.

This pretense was blown in October 2014, barely a week after the Podesta-Clinton email, when Vice President Joe Biden told an audience at Harvard University that the Saudi regime, along with other Gulf sheikdoms and Turkey, had “poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”

“We could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them,” Biden added.

The US State Department subsequently “clarified” the vice president’s remarks and Biden himself apologized for “any implication that Turkey or other Allies and partners in the region had intentionally supplied or facilitated the growth of ISIL [ISIS] or other violent extremists in Syria.”

The contents of the Clinton-Podesta email are supplemented by a separate email released by WikiLeaks that includes an excerpt from a secret speech delivered by Clinton in 2013 that was flagged as problematic by her staff. In it she claimed that US attempts to “vet, identify, train and arm cadres of rebels” in Syria had been “complicated by the fact that the Saudis and others are shipping large amounts of weapons–and pretty indiscriminately–not at all targeted toward the people that we think would be the more moderate, least likely, to cause problems in the future.”

And previously, WikiLeaks posted a secret State Department memo signed by Clinton in 2009 that affirmed: “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LeT, and other terrorist groups.”

The Clinton camp has responded to the latest release of emails by ratcheting up its virulently anti-Russian campaign, claiming that WikiLeaks was acting as a pawn of the Kremlin and that the material released may have been altered to serve Moscow’s foreign policy purposes.

In her debate Sunday with her Republican rival Donald Trump, however, Clinton herself acknowledged the authenticity of the documents, attempting to defend a statement quoted in one of them from a speech to real estate investors in which she declared that in politics “you need both a public and private position.” She claimed that her inspiration for this approach was Abraham Lincoln.

The method of the “public and private” position is clearly in force in relation to Saudi Arabia, and for good reason.

Saudi Arabia remains a key pillar of political reaction and imperialist domination in the Middle East, with its ruling monarchy constituting the world’s chief customer of the American arms industry. Some $115 billion in US weapons and military support have poured into the kingdom since Obama took office in 2009.

More importantly, the Saudi government support for Al Qaeda, ISIS and similar Islamist militias has developed in close collaboration with the CIA, which coordinated the flow of arms, money and foreign fighters into Syria from a station in southern Turkey.

Moreover, such collaboration began long before the Syrian civil war, dating back to the US-orchestrated war against the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan in the 1980s, where Al Qaeda got its start under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, who collaborated closely with the CIA and Pakistani intelligence.

The determination of the US ruling establishment to maintain a veil of secrecy over this collaboration was underscored by Obama’s veto–subsequently overridden–of legislation allowing Americans to sue foreign governments alleged to be responsible for terrorist attacks in the US. The clear target of the bill was Saudi Arabia, based on ample evidence of Saudi government involvement in the September 11, 2001 attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives.

The overriding fear within the administration and US ruling circles is that any serious probing of the Saudi role in these attacks would uncover the complicity of elements within the US intelligence agencies themselves in the events of 9/11.

Another significant element of the Clinton-Podesta email is its welcoming of the ISIS 2014 offensive in Iraq. It states that “the advance of ISIL [ISIS] through Iraq gives the U.S. Government an opportunity to change the way it deals with the chaotic security situation in North Africa and the Middle East. The most important factor in this matter is to make use of intelligence resources and Special Operations troops in an aggressive manner.”

In other words, ISIS provided a pretext for launching a renewed US military intervention aimed at furthering the strategic goal of American hegemony in the Middle East under the guise of a struggle against terrorism.

The email exchange further exposes Hillary Clinton’s deep involvement in all of these crimes.

The Collective Unconscious Is Creating Creepy Clowns

People just want to be scared about something…

Photo Credit: Shutterstock / tobkatrina

First, let’s get one thing out of the way: There are no clowns skulking around America’s neighborhoods, looking for children to abduct.

Since the first reports of creepy, potentially murderous clowns began surfacing across South Carolina in August, there have been supposed sightings in at least 10 states, as well as parts of Canada. Social media has been recast in its timeless role as the Perennially Loud and Wrong Town Crier, helping spread misinformation and “clown threats” across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Inside HigherEd reports that clowns have appeared at “the universities of Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Miami, Missouri at Columbia and Texas at Austin,” as well as “Bloomsburg, Butler, Sacred Heart, Texas A&M, Syracuse Universities [and] Mississippi and York Colleges.” Yesterday morning, White House press secretary Josh Earnest actually had to answer a reporter’s question about how the administration is addressing the clown epidemic.

“I don’t know that the president has been briefed on this particular situation,” Earnest answered, presumably with a straight face, and even acknowledged it’s “something that I’ve read about in some of the news coverage.” He went on to suggest that the reporter check in with “the FBI and DHS and see what they have to say,” because talking to reporters about imaginary clowns is definitely a good use of federal agents’ time, I’m sure.

Most of the reports have been revealed as pranks, obviously. The New York Times noted late last week that at least 12 people had been arrested for “clown hoaxes,” and there have been multiple arrests since then. Other cases have turned out to be a combination of real clowns and irrational panic, as when a 12-year-old Virginia boy with autism dressed up early for Halloween, only to become the subject of a viral social media post and a local news segment. Somehow, police dispatched to all the remaining sightings have found no red noses left behind at the scene and not a single oversized floppy shoe for the crime lab to study. Benjamin Radford, whose books on urban legends and the paranormal include the recent Bad Clown, explains how the lack of forensic evidence is less about stealthy criminal clowns than overactive imaginations.

“The problem is that when police investigate, they never find anything,” he toldUproxx. “These mysterious phantom clowns that these children, and occasionally adults, report—they don’t exist. There’s never any evidence of them, and more importantly they never actually harm anyone. This is one of the keys to understanding the phenomenon. It’s always just missed. It’s always, ‘A clown lurched at me but I ran away.’ It’s a potential menace. It’s not an actual menace.”

The only mystery here is how long the clown menace will continue to be a story before it fades from popular consciousness, like satanic ritual abuse, recovered memories and razor blade-stuffed apples before it. Imaginary clowns aren’t the cause of the mass anxiety we’re currently experiencing, they’re just the latest symptom and manifestation of it—and not for the first time, either. Scary clown sightings have trickled in from around the country since the early 1980s, when “stranger danger” first became the national concern that launched a thousand social panics. But the question remains, after 30-something years of clown sightings here and there, why the sudden peak in reports?

“I believe that the surge in phantom clown sightings in 2016 are a reflection of the fears and uncertainties in American society at the present time,” Robert Bartholomew, who writes about social delusions, fads and popular myths, “I think they are part of a greater moral panic about the fear of strangers in an increasingly urban, impersonal and unpredictable world. Phantom clowns are essentially the bogeyman in a different cultural guise.”

That sounds about right. There is a huge part of America that virtually runs on fear, even in the best of times. An astounding part of the population is adept at, and secretly in love with, scaring the shit out of itself and dreaming up justifications for a paranoia that’s already embedded in its consciousness. In the worst of times, that fear is intentionally rattled by those who recognize its usefulness for their own ends. These operators know that nothing grips the imagination of far too many Americans quite like an imagined monster, come to threaten your home and take your kids away. When a fear-prone populace finds itself in a particularly frightening cultural moment—for reasons real or imagined—the hivemind can run amok.

“I know people are fed up,” one Florida sheriff said at a news conference late last month. “They’re tired of seeing demonstrations and riots. They’re sick and tired of terroristic threats. Now they’ve got to deal with these damn clown things going on.”

That statement, which stops just short of a rant about “law and order,” makes it seem like this is all psychic collateral damage caused by Black Lives Matter and immigrants, in tandem with terrorists crossing across our borders pretending to be refugees. The quote is a particularly good example of the thinking and rhetoric that propels these moments of social panic into arising. It suggests the blame lies with some “other” (instead of faulty systems and power mongers) and helps rile up those who need only the slightest nudge to buy into the idea in a moment of social unrest and economic insecurity. The sheriff’s theory ignores that menacing cartoon clowns are a projection of the contrived fears of a populace that can’t connect its own traumatization with the people who use it against them and essentially retraumatize them for social, political and economic gain.

It also denies the fear of those who are afraid of very real things, from long-term state-backed terror to a rising tide of audible hate from multiple corners, and the way those issues might create an environment that’s inhospitable for everyone, even those who think it’s none of their concern. What’s more, it contributes to that fear in a way that pushes it toward a tipping point where the paranoia ultimately demands the projected, amorphous image of fear become fully embodied.

In the 1980s, bubbling hysteria about faceless marauding satanists eventually led to witch hunts that put real people in jail and ruined actual families and lives. If prankish teenage behavior becomes a reason for irrational national fear, punitive measures could follow. A case in Virginia that ended with two African-American teens being arrested and their mugshots splashed across the Internet for “chasing children while wearing a clown mask,” is a reminder of whose youthful indiscretions are most likely to count against them in the harshest way.

And like always, the hysteria feeds upon itself. Schools in Reading, Ohio, were closed after a woman claimed a clown physically attacked her. The Phillipsburg school district in New Jersey went into lockdown status after a “clown-related threat” appeared on social media. New Haven, Connecticut, schools announced a ban this Halloween on clown costumes and—wait for it—other “symbols of terror.” The police presence has been beefed up in Syracuse, Houston, St. Louis, and Winston-Salem, to name just a few places.

In Utah, police actually thought it necessary to use Facebook to gently suggest that maybe people should think twice before shooting at clowns. (Q: “Can I shoot or take action against someone that is dressed up like a clown?” A: “That’s not a simple yes or no question. It has a lot of variables to it.”) The police may be right, since there have been previous reports of people haphazardly firing guns into wooded areas where clowns were reportedly seen.

Yet, as Radford reminds us, “The fact is, to date, there are no confirmed reports of any clowns actually abducting, harming, killing [or] molesting kids. There just aren’t. There are zero.”

Amidst the other glaring reasons for the precipitous climb in clown hysteria, if you merely skim the surface of the fears plaguing the nation, is the season itself, which will culminate with the celebration of Halloween and the conclusion of a seemingly infinite and frightening election. There’s a chance the imagined clowns will pack up their imaginary cars and leave public consciousness with a proverbial whimper. All the better to make room for some other fabricated stand-in for American jitters about everything but the very real problems staring us in the face, before the clown car, at some point down the road, rolls back in again.

“By the end of November, it will become part of folklore,” Radford told Uproxx. “[But] this will happen again. I guarantee you this will happen again. It may be five years, it may be ten years, but someday, probably in my lifetime and certainly yours, there will be two or three more of these clown panics. They will be identical. There will be stories of clowns that are luring children. There won’t be anyone actually arrested for abducting kids.”