When Two Tribes Go to War

The paranoia of Charles Pierce


Speaking of fear and violenceEsquire's Charles Pierce is warning readers about "a seemingly never-ending run of domestic terrorism in this country." (His first example: a plot that his own source blames on government infiltrators.) I enjoy Pierce's apocalyptic style when he's writing about, say, Levon Helm, but this time…well, just read this argument:

Hold on, I feel another thought coming on.

There is a lot of talk these days about how the country is "polarized," as though we are simply in a period in which we all just really disagree with each other on most of the vital issues of the day. This is an oddly comforting formulation, because we all know that periods of polarization pass, and that, somewhere out there is a consensus within which we all eventually will abide. I think it's much more serious than that. I think it's much more serious even than calling our divisions "tribalist," which seems to be the adjective du jour these days. I think we are looking at an 1850's of the political mind. I think we are two countries, each with its own history, and laws, and language, and religion, and their own mass media to amplify all those things. But only one of these two countries of the mind is tightly organized and capable of moving as a single unit. I think things like the sovereign-citizens movement are merely a particularly vivid example of this.

Got that? The sovereign citizens aren't just a nutty subculture with a penchant for shooting cops who try to arrest them. They're a "vivid example" of a "tightly organized" force that encompasses roughly half the country and is "capable of moving as a single unit." Talk about paranoia.