Listening to President Trump accuse Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of supporting al-Qaeda reminds me of how conservatives behaved toward libertarians who dared talk about motive immediately after the 9/11 attacks.
At the time of those attacks, some of us libertarians understood that this was a watershed event in US history, one that would inevitably adversely affect the rights and liberties of the American people. Fueled by deep anger and fear, the overwhelming sentiment among the American people was to support the desire of federal officials to lash out against “the terrorists” anywhere and everywhere they could be found in the world. That’s, of course, how we got the ongoing, never-ending “war on terrorism.”
Equally important, it was a time when Americans were ready and willing to sacrifice whatever liberties they had to the federal government in order to keep them safe from the terrorists. Not surprisingly, US officials were eager and willing to adopt whatever totalitarian and dark-side measures they deemed necessary to keep America “safe.” That’s how we got those secret surveillance schemes, the USA PATRIOT Act, the TSA at the airports, and the formalized assassination program, all of which shredded the protections our ancestors had enacted in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution. It’s also how we got the undeclared forever wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the regime-change efforts in Libya and Syria, which have killed, maimed, and destroyed hundreds of thousands of people, most of whom had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.
On September 27, 2001— about 2 1/2 weeks after the attacks — I posted my article “Is This the Wrong Time to Question Foreign Policy?” on The Future of Freedom Foundation’s website. The article called on Americans to examine the role that US foreign policy had played in motivating the terrorists to carry out the 9/11 attacks.
i have never been inundated with more nasty emails and letters in my life, mostly from conservatives, accusing me of hating America and loving the terrorists. Many suggested that I leave America and go live with the terrorists. Some wished some very bad things for me. Many of them said that they were going to do everything they could to stop people from donating to FFF, with the intent of putting our educational foundation out of business.
Their angry diatribes were, of course, entirely logical. For conservatives, the federal government and America are one and the same thing. Moreover, for many conservatives, the federal government is like a god or an idol, one that can do no wrong. Thus, once one mentally conflates the federal god with America the country, it is logical that he will immediately jump to the conclusion that if a person is criticizing a certain practice or policy of the federal government, that constitutes conclusive and irrefutable proof that he hates America.
What conservatives are unable to do is engage in critical thinking when it comes to “America’s” fights against foreigners. Once the 9/11 attacks occurred, the standard conservative mindset was, “We are now at war. The time for criticism is over. We need to rally around the government until we win the war,” which, again, for them is equivalent to rallying around the country.
Thus, conservatives could not grasp the concept of motive. As soon as some of us libertarians said: Let’s examine what what the US government was doing in the Middle East to see how such actions motivated the 9/11 attackers, conservatives immediately concluded that we were defending the terrorists and justifying what they had done. That’s what caused conservatives to conclude that libertarians loved the terrorists and hated America.
Even though motive is not an essential element in criminal offenses, in many criminal prosecutions prosecutors will talk to the jury about what motivated the accused to commit the offense. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, in doing so the prosecutor isn’t supporting and defending what the accused did. After all, he’s prosecuting him! Instead, he is simply providing the jury with a rational explanation as to why the accused committed the offense.
It was no different with libertarian analysis of the 9/11 attacks. We were explaining motive. For ten years, the US government had been killing hundreds of thousands of children in Iraq with its brutal system of sanctions, with total indifference to the massive death toll, which was producing deep anger across the Middle East. This anger was manifested by Ramzi Yousef at his sentencing hearing in 1996 in US federal court. He was one of the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center in 1993, some 8 years before the 9/11 attacks.
In the same year that Yousef was sentenced —1996, President Bill Clinton’s US Ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright, told Sixty Minutes that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions, although difficult, had been “worth it.” By “it,” she meant US regime-change efforts against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who, ironically, had been the federal government’s partner and ally in the 1980s.
While Clinton and other US officials expressed indifference to Albright’s pronouncement, perhaps because they agreed with it, not surprisingly her statement reverberated around the Middle East, where rage was already bubbling over with the constant death stream of Iraqi children. The sanctions continued killing Iraqi children for several more years, until the US government invaded Iraq in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
There were the US troops who US officials had intentionally and knowingly stationed near Mecca and Medina, the holiest lands in the Muslim religion, again with total indifference to the adverse reaction this was producing among Muslims in the Middle East.
There were the “no-fly zones” over Iraq, where US planes were periodically firing missiles to kill even more Iraqis, including one teenage boy who was tending his sheep. This was on top of the multitudes of Iraqis who had been killed in the Persian Gulf War and who had been killed by the sanctions.
There was also the unconditional support that the US government was providing to the Israeli government, no matter what it did to the Palestinian people, which was producing even more anger in the Middle East. Indeed, if any libertarian or anyone else criticized this support, conservatives would accuse him of hating Jews, given that conservatives conflate the Israeli government with Jews in general, just as they conflate the federal government and America.
All of these actions on the part of the US government worked to produce the anger and rage that brought terrorism to America, starting with the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center and then continuing with the attack on the USS Cole, the attacks on the US embassies in East Africa, the 9/11 attacks, and the post-9/11 attacks here in the United States.
But that’s not what federal officials wanted Americans to hear because that would have interfered with their agenda. They wanted Americans to believe that the attacks were motivated by hatred for America’s “freedom and values” and that the US government had been an innocent babe in the woods the entire time. They wanted to seize upon the 9/11 attacks as a way to consolidate and expand the totalitarian-like powers of the federal government, especially the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA, which already were the most powerful branch of the federal government. They also wanted to use the 9/11 attacks as a way to effect the regime change in Iraq that 11 years of sanctions and deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children had failed to achieve.
Thus, when some of us libertarians began showing the real motive of the 9/11 attackers, US officials and their conservatives supporters were outraged and came after us with a vengeance, saying that we loved the terrorists and hated America and were justifying what the terrorists had done. Even though it didn’t succeed when it came to FFF and some other libertarian organizations, it was a brilliantly malicious strategy designed to suppress criticism of their foreign policy of interventionism and to expand their totalitarian-like, dark-side practices, policies, and programs.
If we are to restore America’s founding principles of a limited-government republic and a non-interventionist foreign policy, it is incumbent on us libertarians to continue speaking truth to power and not let silly conservative diatribes and attacks dissuade us from continuing on that road. If we are to restore a society of liberty, peace, prosperity, harmony, normality, and morality, it is necessary for us to continue informing people of what the conversion of the US government to a national-security state and its adoption of an interventionist and imperialist foreign policy has done to America and to people around the world.
Reprinted with permission from Future of Freedom Foundation.