One night in 2008 I received a call from a People Magazine reporter. He wanted to know if I could share any stories about a certain classmate of mine at the University of Idaho. Her name was Sarah Palin, who had just been chosen as John McCain’s running mate in the upcoming presidential election.
The reporter said that Palin had graduated in May of 1987, or one year after I had earned my bachelor of science in journalism. Palin’s degree was in communications with an emphasis in journalism.
Our journalism program was small, with perhaps 20 budding reporters enrolled. My fellow students hung out together and worked late nights putting out the campus newspaper, the Argonaut, while banging away stories on electric typewriters in a cramped basement classroom. Surely I would have encountered her, the reporter said, but I told him I had no recollection of her. That’s a familiar story, the reporter said: not one student he had contacted from the University of Idaho had any memory of her.
Palin went on to become governor of Alaska, then, as John McCain’s
albatross running mate, helped sink his candidacy with her inexperience and gaffes.
Following her infamy, Palin blazed a familiar path down the lucrative grifter trail: outlandish speaker fees at Republican events; reality show; highly publicized, tabloid-level family problems; and the usual paid appearances on Fox News whenever it needed an irrelevant passenger for its perpetual clown car parade. (See Newt Gingrich’s post-government career, for example.)
Today, when the airwaves and halls of Congress are chock-full of Palin clones barking anti-government nonsense, I was hoping that Palin, following a failed campaign last year to join other extremists in Congress, would have accumulated enough filthy lucre to dissolve into obscurity. But once an attention-seeking diva, always an attention-seeking diva.
So there was Palin, front and center during a Newsmax hit last week with past Fox News propagandist Eric Boling proposing a civil war if the Department of Justice and the state of Georgia (among other courts and jurisdictions) continue to pursue charges against a certain ex-president who tried to overthrow our democracy, aka prisoner #P01135809.
“Those who are conducting this travesty and creating this two-tier system of justice, I want to ask them what the heck, do you do want us to be in civil war? Because that’s what’s going to happen, We’re not going to keep putting up with this… We do need to rise up and take our country back.”
These are dangerous threats that are inspirational to a type of radicalized white American male. And do note when she uses the pronoun “we” she is of course not referring to her own willing participation. She talks a tough game, but witness how fist-pumping blowhards like Sen. Josh Hawley run away at the first hint of danger like frightened rabbits.
No, the looming civil war is left for the camo-wearing, coz-playing, assault-weapon-fondling militia goons to wage or, that is, the ones not in prison at the moment for their failed coup attempt on January 6, 2021.
More precisely, the proposed battle is left for the lone wolf, the domestic terrorist inculcated by the rantings and conspiracies on social media and, well, everywhere.
I recently read Jeffrey Toobin’s bracing book Homegrown, which reports on a similar inflection point in our recent history — the 1990s — when anti-federal rhetoric was injected into the bloodstream by the dystopian novel The Turner Diaries, and by gasbags like Rush Limbaugh and (per usual) Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House.
At the time Gingrich said, “The left in America is to blame for most of the current, major diseases which have struck this society.”
Like Palin, Gingrich spoke of his opposition in military terms. “This war has to be fought with a scale and a duration and a savagery that is only true of civil wars.” (And, like Palin, Gingrich never served in the Armed Forces. He was granted a deferment during the Vietnam War.)
Currently, this anti-government rhetoric is heard each and every day on mainstream cable outlets, online at Truth Social, X, and the dark web, and by rabid Republican lawmakers beholden to and locked in a Stockholm-like syndrome to a multiple-indicted former president who mines profit through divisive politics.
In 1995, answering the clarion calls for anti-government violence, was Timothy McVeigh, the “mastermind” of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 American citizens, including 19 children. (Regarding the murder of the kids, McVeigh had no regrets: “collateral damage,” he reasoned.)
Toobin connects the dots from McVeigh’s unspeakable act to the present: the January 6th attempted insurrection at the Capitol and, among other events, the foiled Michigan Militia kidnapping of Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
As they were in the 1990s, conditions are rife for the next McVeigh to use the irresponsible threats of Palin and others, and the careless rants of a disgraced former president (“IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!”) as justification for domestic terrorism.
In McVeigh’s own words: “Isn’t it kind of scary that one man could reap this kind of hell?”
True, but it does take a village.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.