Former Senior Intelligence Service officer at the CIA, Marc Polymeropoulos penned a column this weekend explaining that the biggest challenge for Republicans is weeding out the terrorists in their party. It isn't the problem of the Democratic Party to save the GOP from its worst self. They have to change it themselves.
"I worked in counterterrorism operations for nearly my entire career at the CIA before retiring in 2019," said Polymeropoulos. "The battle we engaged in with international terrorist groups like Al Qaeda wasn’t just with their legions of foot soldiers but with their highly effective propaganda arms as well."
He explained that in the international intelligence world, propaganda machines were just as culpable as the terrorists themselves. "Because, while they might not supply weapons, they can effectively radicalize individuals to obtain them and put them to use — even from the comfort of their own homes via the internet. They do that by sending the message that violence is permissible, even admirable, in a process of normalization that breaks down the resistance most humans usually experience to such acts. They give them a cause to justify the need for acting out violently, which goads foot soldiers to take steps toward action. And they can provide suggested targets and detailed information on how to carry out attacks."
Propaganda is dangerous because of the lone wolf attacks that have been a massive challenge to law enforcement at local and international levels. Global extremists might advocate death to America, but the difference between them and members of right-wing extremist organizations simply change the target like Democrats, or certain officials, or local election workers. Even journalists and influencers aren't safe against these groups targeting those they disagree with.
"Lone wolves are a thorn for domestic U.S. law enforcement as well, as we saw last week when a man not affiliated with any known group but immersed in right-wing propaganda attacked Paul Pelosi, the husband of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi," he wrote. There are more examples. It's just the more recent one.
The man who shot up the Tree of Life Synagogue was radicalized on Gab before killing the people he did. The shooting in El Paso was radicalized by white supremacists who echoed his ideology on 8chan.
Nothing like what has happened from on the right is happening from the Democratic Party, he explained. While they might not like Trump, they're not calling for violence against him. They're not calling on supporters to "knock their lights out." They haven't built a gallows on the Capitol grounds and called for former Vice President Mike Pence to be hanged.
UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program (VPRP) published a new report that revealed "among 6,768 respondents who considered violence to be at least sometimes justified to achieve 1 or more specific political objectives, 12.2 percent were willing to commit political violence themselves 'to threaten or intimidate a person,' 10.4 percent 'to injure a person,” and 7.1 percent "to kill a person.'"
Another recent poll showed almost 1 in 3 Republicans believe "violence may be necessary to save the U.S." While he noted that Democrats have some, it has a number that is far fewer.
"That’s why it’s so distressing that one of the most-accessible tools in our arsenal isn’t being deployed," wrote Polymeropoulos. "While a few members of the GOP have spoken out against the attack on Pelosi, far too many are silent. History is rife with examples of extremism growing while many look the other way. It should not be courageous to simply stand up and say 'violence is wrong.' Rather, it should be normal practice of any politician."
He noted that they should also be thinking about self-preservation. The way the Trump GOP works is that, at any moment, he can turn against someone and it puts them and their family's life in danger.
"Politicians’ clear denunciation of violence is also important for another lesson that came from my time running counterterrorism operations in the Middle East: One of the more effective counter-radicalization efforts in Arab countries was led by Muslims themselves articulating that extremism was wrong," he explained. The example he had was about government officials in Saudi Arabia who identified "at-risk individuals" to help rehabilitate them and reintegrate them back into society.
"Though a minority of those who have gone through the process have returned to terrorism, there have also been clear cases of success," he wrote.
"So it’s not Democrats who must act," he closed. "Instead, we need to find strong voices within the GOP who will denounce Marjorie Taylor Green, denounce former President Donald Trump’s calls for violence against protesters and denounce the many voices demonizing Pelosi. If the GOP leaders do this, their followers will listen. But it will only be successful if comprehensive. Republican Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois have shown great bravery in leading the way, but they paid a political price because too many of their colleagues drowned them out."
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