Grievances, gullibility and guns — a lethal mix - GulfToday

Grievances, gullibility and guns — a lethal mix

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Capitol

Capitol under attack: A grim reminder of January 6 siege of the American pride.

The mob that mounted the January 6th assault on the Capitol, the home of the US legislature, was powered by three “gs,” grievance, gullibility and guns.

Grievance begins with the feeling of abandonment by the US authorities, whether local, state or national. On the local level, their hometowns and cities are poorly run, infrastructure is crumbling, schools are underfunded, and police cannot guarantee security. Town and city halls wrap permits for repairing and constructing homes and business premises in red tape. Medical treatment is delayed by rationing and costs of care depend on insurance companies reluctant to pay. Justice meant to right wrongs is slow and uncertain.

Local and state officials could not care less about their constituents. The perfect example of this lack of interest and empathy is the Black majority city of Flint, Michigan, where between 2014-19 water was contaminated with lead after the politicians switched the source of water from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department, where it was treated, to the polluted Flint River. The aim was to save money.

Tens of thousands of children were exposed to dangerous levels of lead in the water and families had to make do with bottled water brought in from elsewhere. Twelve people died and 80 were made seriously ill by the water. Last week prosecutors, belatedly, announced charges ranging from wilful neglect of duty to involuntary manslaughter against former state governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, and members of his staff and Flint and state health officials. They, of course, deny culpability.

Across the US there are a multitude of Flints: communities suffering from indifference and neglect, some poisoned by lead in paint or water, some from invasions by rodents and insects, others from smoke and toxic pollutants in the air. Several of California’s devastating fires have been sparked by poorly maintained electrical wiring.

Many US citizens consider state capitals a nuisance and a burden while the nation’s capital, Washington, DC, is as far from them as the moon. The majority has never visited the city and its monuments. Exceptions are children on school junkets. Meanwhile the business of governance eludes the citizenry. Legislators make themselves relevant to their constituencies only when they are running for office.

Gullibility is rife, particularly among those with grievances whose resentments are easily exploited. They are vulnerable to lies, false news, and conspiracy theories. The “Big Lie” is a tool adopted by politicians to advance their careers and programmes. The term was propagated by German warmonger Hitler in his book, Mein Kampf, where he put forward the lie that Germany did not lose World War I. He took the view that a lie must be so “colossal” that no one could believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”.

According to Walter C. Langer in his report, A Psychological Analysis of Hitler: His Life and Legend, “His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”

This rule sounds familiar. The “Big Lie” that November’s presidential election was “stolen,” touted by Trump, is nothing new on the recent US scene. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of Republicans believe the stolen election lie despite proofs that this is not the case. Washington Post fact checkers report that Trump relied on 30,000 lies and mistruths to maintain control over his base. The stolen election lie has fractured the Republican Party between believers and non-believers and deepened divisions within the US.

To justify his war on Iraq former President George W. Bush, another Republican, relied on the “Big Lie” that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein menaced the US because he had banned weapons of mass destruction and harboured Al Qaeda, the radical takfiri group which attacked New York and Washington in 2001. Even the liberal, Democrat-leaning New York Times contributed credibility to this “Big Lie.” A majority of US citizens — both Republicans and Democrats — bought Bush’s “Big Lie,” enabling him to wage war on and occupy Iraq and transform it into a failed state.

Both the “Big Lie” and lesser untruths are spread by media outlets and social media specialising in “fake news.” A constant stream of such coverage encourages gullible, resentful people to believe lies and fabrications and refuse to consult quality or mainstream media which they mistrust due to their submission to lies and fabrications.

Some are gullible and resentful because they are undereducated or poorly educated. Men seek to boost an image of masculinity fall for lies and fake news. Whites prejudiced against Blacks, Asians and Hispanics are susceptible. Due to their attraction to contrary versions of events, they also become easy victims of conspiracy theories, the wilder, the better. A large number of the Capitol’s attackers were influenced by mysterious QAnon’s crazy theory that senior politicians, wealthy businessmen, and establishment figures are abusers and traffickers of children via networks based at pizza parlours.

Among their numbers are auto workers, coal miners, and manual labourers who have been left behind by technological developments; soldiers returned from lost wars; policemen afraid they could lose their jobs; firemen; farmers challenged by climate change; teachers, hairdressers, barbers, and railway clerks; doctors, lawyers and other professionals. Most are whites who fear losing domination of the society and country.

Grievances and gullibility become extremely dangerous when combined with guns. The US has the world’s highest per capital gun ownership, with 393 million guns in the hands of 40 per cent of the population of 330 million. The average gun owner has an arsenal of five weapons and a majority of guns bought over the past two decades are handguns. Sixty-seven per cent of gun owners says the reason for possessing guns is protection rather than hunting. However, researchers found that the most common uses of guns in a household were for homicide and suicide rather than defence against criminals. Sales of guns have soared during the pandemic and ahead of last year’s presidential and Congressional elections. Gun ownership is more common among men than women and among whites than among people of colour. Forty-six per cent of gun owners live in rural areas, about 19 per cent in urban areas and 28 per cent in the suburbs. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are twice as likely to own guns than Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents. Less educated white men own more guns than college graduates, Blacks and Hispanics. Many men gain a sense of identity and power from gun ownership and find comradeship among other gun fanciers, creating a toxic “culture” or “cult” around gun possession. These individuals, mainly men, pose the greatest danger to the peaceful transfer of power from Trump to Biden.

Attackers did not arm for the January 6th attack on the Capitol, but some groups have threatened to carry guns to rallies during inauguration week, compelling law enforcement to deploy tens of thousands of security agents and national guardsmen around potential targets in Washington and state capitals. Since some of them are Trump followers, they too pose a clear and present danger to the country.

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