Of Bullets and Ballots

Of Bullets and Ballots

By Eugene S. Robinson

Kidnapping political opponents? Is that really where we are now? Yeah, but how'd we get here and why stay here?


Because if your political point is being made at gunpoint maybe you should rethink making it.

By Eugene S. Robinson

There’s a great scene in one of the earlier versions of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It opens with people having what very much seems like a staff meeting. In a field.

Turns out it is a staff meeting and more than that it is a staff meeting on another planet. Apparently the Do’ers and the Thinkers had figured out that Earth was about to be “destroyed” and they needed to colonize another planet. So they built a rocket ship and shipped off the interstitial group: middle managers.

As middle managers would, they had meetings and waited for everyone else to “show up.”

Cue: laughter.

The civil war they’re imagining is largely already here. The only thing that’s left? The shooting.

But where laughter presently goes to die? The American body politic where the only laughter to be had these days is the kind that begs being called laughter at all. A bitter and reflexive gotcha guffaw to match the mean times, in which headlines redound with “Slams,” “Rips,” and “Blasted” as things people routinely do to each other. For? Well just about anything.

And while this noise is loudest at the source, it gets strangest on the peripheries where it sounds nothing like laughter.

Like in Michigan: Alex Fox and a group he calls the Wolverine Watchmen had detailed plans to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Unlike the aforementioned middle managers, these do’ers and thinkers had plans that involved guns, bombs, tasers and then things got a little fuzzy. Presumably a trial would follow, though some plans had her being shot when she answered the door at her home.

They also targeted police and other government officials, and all of it, the whole grand dance was done in order to start a civil war that would lead to a “societal collapse.”

Which is not something we haven’t heard before. Charles Manson turned retribution for a drug burn into a shaggy dog story of multi-night massacres, lunacy and a race war he was hoping to kick off. But Manson wasn’t appearing months earlier at the Michigan state capitol with guns and friends and family with guns. These 2020 militia types were there to rip the state mandate to wear some fabric across your nose and mouth to prevent you and your friends and family from catching COVID-19.

That is what they are posting up for.

But as professionals tend to say about suicide, there’s never any one reason it happens. Besides we’ve heard them all at this point. Marginalization, perception of threats in a changing America, the steady drumbeat of bile coming out of D.C., diminished future prospects. All valid.

But, so what?

The civil war they’re imagining is largely already here. The only thing that’s left? The shooting.

“I think you can file this all under ‘what men need,'” says Rebecca, who wants her last name withheld as she’s hit a rough patch during this year of COVID and currently makes her home in a homeless encampment in San Jose. Courtesy of a bad boyfriend, bad luck and a death in the family.

“You know how many 20-year-olds live down here?” she asks in a phone call that keeps cutting out. “Lots. And where do you think they’re going to be in 10 years?” Rebecca has been to college and lived overseas for many years. She’s an attractive white woman in her 30s and it’s still not paying off. And yet? She’s not planning to kidnap anyone.

But no society with aimless, disaffected, and eventually angry men in their 20s (or even 30s or 40s), is looking at good times. If they were all gathered on a proverbial street corner, we’d in all likelihood cross the street. In fact the Wolverine Watchmen were described by their neighbors as “mean” and preliminary photos from their compound complete with broken trucks and garbage on the lawn is about as far away from supremacy as any of us might imagine.

There is, however, a curious difference between talkers and do’ers as the droll Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy makes clear. While what happened in Michigan was talkers talking about doing, do we have to wait until an Oklahoma City bombing to be able to say that if your action items are culled from a list of grievances that explain away your failures and shortcomings, maybe it’s really just about your failures and shortcomings?

Because while anger tends to be intellectual, rage is emotional and when they meet in the middle, great works of art are not created, they’re destroyed. This will not get you any bit closer to things being any kind of OK.

“You unbelievable retard…” is how Gavin McInnes blasted me after we published a piece on him and the Proud Boys. I’ve been called worse but can’t we do better? Do we want to? And what will it take to happen? A bigger slice of the pie? A nap? A kind word?

Unknown. But maybe when the do’ers and thinkers show up we can figure it out.