The bane of raw intelligence – and history – is that you can always look back and find the signs, but you can’t necessarily look ahead and see where they’re pointing. Many questions remain about the intelligence failures that enabled an insurrectionist mob to lay siege virtually unimpeded to the US Capitol. But here’s one sign that’s been flashing in my head since 6 January 2021.
Four days before the 2020 election, a “Trump Train” of motorists swarmed a Biden-Harris campaign bus on Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin. Kamala Harris would have been on the bus but for a last-minute schedule change, according to Wendy Davis, then a Texas congressional candidate and the campaign surrogate onboard. The videotaped vehicular harassment – tailgating, sudden braking, passing the bus within inches – got nationwide coverage, courtesy of participants’ back-slapping on social media and Donald Trump’s high-five in return. Though no one was hurt, it took little imagination to see how a 20-ton container of flammable fuel moving in heavy traffic could have turned into a highway bomb. But to the Trump Train, one of its founders, Steve Ceh, told me, the razzing of the Democrats was simply “fun” – “like a rival football game”.
No local arrests were reported, but the FBI in San Antonio confirmed it was investigating. Presumably (albeit against Trump’s tweeted wishes) it was still investigating two months later when the explosion came: a massive incarnation of the Trump Train rioting against President-elect Biden in Washington. It was then that I started getting flashbacks to another historic act of domestic terrorism, one also presaged by a difficult bus ride and lately back in the news.
Sixty years ago, on 15 September 1963, when Ku Klux Klansmen bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and killed four Black girls attending Sunday school, the shock to the country exceeded the moral language to express it. Both President John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr cast political blame on Alabama’s “Segregation forever!” governor, George Wallace. At the time he seemed a pariah, the only “vicious racist” King singled out in his I Have a Dream speech 18 days earlier, at the March on Washington. In fact, Wallace was the spearhead of a proto-Maga minority that more than half a century later captured the White House for Trump. And now political violence is so “normal” that we have a former southern governor, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas (whose daughter, Trump’s former spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is the current governor), effectively endorsing civil war should the prosecution of Trump over a violent coup attempt derail his return to power. [Continue reading…]