Stateís Dark Underside
loyal acolytes including CNN, most of the newspapers and the major
networks worked diligently to make the killing of Timothy McVeigh
into something of a solemn religious event that bolstered the power
and dignity of the State and the Empire it fitfully tries to run.
But Iím not sure it worked as it might have been intended to work
especially since so many loyal acolytes of the state religion
are ambivalent at best about the death penalty and it might
have backfired, in any number of ways.
wall-to-wall coverage of every conceivable detail of the death of
the most prodigious mass murderer and certified Enemy of the State
in recent times became ludicrous to most Americans long before McVeigh
was strapped to a gurney and prepared for lethal injections. But
most of the courtier press, although populated by people who have
serious doubts about the legitimacy of the death penalty as a general
policy after all, no civilized European country uses it anymore relished
this death, savored this death, rubbed Americansí noses in this
death, and talked about it in terms of justice and closure rather
suspect that Timothy McVeigh was so easily turned into a symbol
of the possibility that the death penalty might sometimes be just
because he struck at the State during a time when the State was
feeling a bit shaky about its support in the general populace. He
had to be demonized and he had be killed in part because
the government might not like further investigations into still-open
questions like who knew about Timothy and his plans and when did
they know it.
mainstream and courtier media couldnít understand all the fuss over
Ruby Ridge and Waco, of course. After all, it was just the government
keeping a firm disciplinary hand on unpleasant people who had unpleasant
ideas and prejudices that would be laughed down in polite company.
If some of the government agents got a bit trigger-happy or overbearing
and some people died in the process, well thatís just part of keeping
order in a country that still contains some unfortunately backward
and retrograde people and beliefs.
the hoi-polloi under control was viewed in most establishment circles
as commendable remember that Janet Reno was viewed as an outsider
in Washington until she performed the marvelous trick of taking
responsibility without accountability for the holocaust and slaughter
at Waco. That was a trick official Washington could appreciate and
embrace, and it took Janet to its bosom from that moment on. The
potentially troublesome outsider became the courageous woman of
integrity capable of tough decisions.
establishment circles were dimly aware that not all Americans shared
this enlightened view of the proper way to handle unacceptable religious
cultists. Not only did a few fringey types form or join self-styled
militia groups, but millions of otherwise ordinary Americans out
in flyover country had serious questions about the way the government
handled the siege it had started and provoked at Waco. People were
actually questioning the legitimacy of the American State and the
empire over which it presided.
such circumstances the bombing of the empireís Murrah building in
the provincial outpost of Oklahoma City (and from my eight years
spent in the Imperial City I can tell you most people there view
Oklahoma as a provincial outpost) was both tragedy and blessing.
The bomber didnít just strike against fellow citizens more or less
at random, but at a symbol of imperial rule. And it turned out that
he had similar feelings about Waco and some tenuous affiliation
with the troublesome militia movement. The fact that the militias
he had visited considered him too kooky and far-out to embrace only
delayed for a few moments the full-court press against the right
wing and anybody who had ever spoken out in criticism of the U.S.
government as a precursor to and possibly an inciter of mass murder.
Clinton played the whole tragedy beautifully, of course, using it
to reinforce loyalty to the central state and suspicion of anybody
who didnít embrace it in all its power and glory. That was one of
the many political tasks at which he excelled. Since the Oklahoma
City bombing the militia movement has virtually disappeared from
the American landscape. Timothy McVeigh (and whoever else may or
may not have been involved in his nefarious plans and deeds) in
one step made doubts about overweening federal power at least somewhat
the death of Timothy McVeigh became fairly inevitable and was conflated
into an occasion of reinforcing state worship. The state had sustained
an attack on its very self, on a concrete manifestation of its power
and control, had found the perpetrator and determined to make him
pay the ultimate price. The site of the attack had already become
something of a shrine, filled with the most ironically appropriate
tribute to government power one could imagine ugly, stylized empty
chairs that no human being could possible find comfortable. And
those who make their living encouraging worship of state power swallowed
their ordinary ambivalence about the death penalty and participated
in the orgy of overblown coverage of this exercise of the ultimate
even though almost no media outlet demurred from the excess, there
was a certain edgy discomfort about much of the coverage, and not
just because of widespread ambivalence about the death penalty.
There are legitimate questions about just who might have known about
or encouraged Timothy McVeigh before the bombing, about whether
other bombs or explosions were involved (for a sampling of reasonably
legitimate concerns see WorldNetDailyís
coverage). The best likely source (perhaps someday) of answers
to those questions died on Monday.
courtier press wasnít particularly interested in seeking out answers
to uncomfortable questions, but it was dimly aware they were extant.
The fact that a certain number of viewers and readers would know
that the cheerleading about justice by lethal injection masked journalistic
dereliction was the uninvited and unwelcome guest never acknowledged
but still lurking in the shadows.
there is the fact that while the death penalty is still popular
in the United States, this culture has really become shaky and wimpy
about it. Time was that executions were held in public, a graphic
reminder of the stateís power to mete out the ultimate punishment
to traitors and other evildoers great and small. Executions were
a public spectacle and insofar as they were supposed to serve as
a deterrent and a reminder of just how seriously the State took
certain crimes, they almost had to be public spectacles.
our culture of official death is a bit queasy about actually seeing
the death most members of society endorse and approve. We want criminals
executed but we want it to be in a humane manner without suffering,
and we donít want to have to see it. We want to mete out suffering
and death on the malefactors unlucky enough to live in Kosovo and
Serbia, but we want to do it cleanly, surgically, from 15,000 feet,
so there are no discernible human fingerprints and little actually
visible human suffering.
Empire wants to hang onto and expand its power, of course. But even
the minions and acolytes of the Empire shrink a bit from staring
the full implications of their lust for power the blood that must
necessarily be shed by enemies and those who are inconvenient in
the face. They know blood and brutality are necessary, but they
want to pretend that it really isnít as brutal as it is.
it is because the denizens prefer to pretend about the true nature
of power. Or perhaps it is, as I
have discussed in a previous column, that the United States,
as Swarthmore and American Enterprise Institute political scientist
James Kurth has put it, is an "adolescent empire" lacking
in maturity and hard-nosed realism. But while the coverage of the
symbolic death of the Enemy of the State was unquestionably overdone,
it lacked conviction, resonance, real belief.
Americans, as I have argued repeatedly, have no interest at all
in being the center of an empire, the policeman of the world, the
universal righter of wrongs and abuses by the benighted of the planet.
But most of those who support the idea of making sure that the sole
superpower accepts and embraces its "responsibilities"
to the "word community" shrink from facing the full implications
of exercising imperial power. It means killing, maiming and brutalizing
those who get in the empireís way, but Americans would prefer to
believe that the suffering is minimal and those made to suffer are
ultimately grateful for the opportunity to suffer for the sake of
McVeigh participated in dehumanizing himself to the point that his
death didnít seem like a real death of a real person. But the killing
still made a lot of Americans uncomfortable. In a sense, the overcoverage
reflected that discomfort. The newsies sort of knew that they had
to celebrate the power that this death symbolized. But they werenít
quite sure they really believed in it, so they scheduled another
show to allow the proper talking heads to agonize incomprehensibly
while missing the point completely.
too early to tell if this means that those who run the American
empire have lost faith in it at some level, even as those who ran
the Soviet empire lost faith and confidence even in make-believe
communism some 15 or 20 years before the empire physically collapsed.
But I suspect that Joe
Farah is correct that the execution of Timothy McVeigh will
come back to haunt the powers that be before long. There are too
many loose ends, too many inconvenient facts, too many ways for
people to discover the facts the courtier press chooses to ignore.
might not be ready to join the Munchkins in singing "Ding Dong,
the Witch is Dead" just yet. But the foundations first of all
the utterly essential foundation of belief may be crumbling.
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