Maybe the real jihadis were inside us all along. At least, that’s what George W. Bush would have you think.
This past Saturday, in what was meant to be a memorial service for those who died retaking Flight 93 from Al Qaeda hijackers 20 years before, the former president used his speech to attack political opponents. Drawing a direct parallel between those who turned passenger planes into weapons of mass destruction and those with whom he does not see eye to eye on domestic questions, Bush presented an apocalyptic warning:
…We have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within. There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.
Though Bush (never one to speak clearly) does not go so far as to name those he maligns, it is fairly obvious that this is not a shot at the race rioters who torched America’s cities all last summer. The “violent extremists at home” Bush has in mind are clearly just those on the right, with a particular focus on the few thousand who marched to the Capitol in January to express their concern over a questionable election—the spiritual brethren of Osama bin Laden, somehow.
All three alleged points of comparison are bizarre.
Most people, for instance, who participated in the Jan. 6 demonstrations at the Capitol (with the exception of those on FBI and other deep state payrolls) were basically lukewarm libertarians, miles closer to a squish like Ted Cruz than they are to al-Baghdadi. These are people who will talk your ear off about constitutional liberties and free speech and free religion and free this and free that—all the basic mainstays of bedrock American liberalism. Whatever their faults (and, frankly, this may be one of them) they are not, in any way that means anything at all, disdainful of “pluralism.”
Of course, the 43rd president doesn’t actually mean what the words he’s saying mean—i.e., that MAGA folk are intent on imposing some kind of uniformity of thought, religion, or race in these United States. “Disdain for pluralism” in 2021 encompasses such appalling positions as believing in national borders and asking for a fair accounting of the votes of 75 million Americans or more. The phrase might more aptly describe, though, those powerful interests that insist on stamping out any alternate narrative, any whiff of doubt about elite consensus—even if it means casting immigration realists, election skeptics, no-maskers, anti-vaxxers, and all other miscellaneous dissenters (regardless of the credibility of their claims) as a fledgling Al Qaeda or Taliban of our own.
Likewise, “disregard for human life” is hard to understand if we assume that words have meaning. Again, it seems unlikely that Bush is paying tribute to David Dorn and other victims of the Summer of Love. The only people with a “disregard for human life” are those who staged the “deadly attack on the Capitol” during which four people died of medical complications and one unarmed woman was shot by the Capitol Police. Maybe—and this is the charitable reading—he was talking about the genius cop who left a loaded gun in a bathroom stall and then, after miraculously keeping his job, put a bullet in the neck of an Air Force vet? (He then patted himself on the back in a television interview he asked for himself, explaining to the nation that, contrary to all appearances, he acted only with “the utmost courage”—just trust him.) Is he the violent extremist at home with no regard for human life? How about the guy who started the war in Iraq?