Just before Republicans in the U.S. Senate prevented a commission from forming to investigate the January 6th riot at the U.S. Capitol, 124 high ranking former officers in the American military released a letter that should have caused more concern in the country’s government and press. The signers, who called themselves ‘Flag Officers 4 America’ showed that the reactionary ideology on display then is being embraced by people far more influential and possibly dangerous than the mix of far right Trump followers that overwhelmed Capitol police that day.
The letter not only asserts without evidence that the 2020 election was stolen from the former president, but concludes that, “Under a Democrat Congress and the Current Administration, our Country has taken a hard left turn toward Socialism and a Marxist form of tyrannical government which must be countered now by electing congressional and presidential candidates who will always act to defend our Constitutional Republic.”
More alarming than the authors’ seemingly random use of capital letters is the fact that these ‘defenders’ of the American system of government decided to release such a letter so soon after similar letters warning of civil war were published in the U.K. and France.
In purely domestic U.S. terms, the retired officers also complained that President Biden overturned many of the last president’s executive orders, although this wasn’t a problem for them when Trump did the same with those of his own predecessor, Barack Obama.
The names of those who signed the letter will not be known to most people, but they all managed to achieve high rank in the country’s military; make of that what you will. One of the exceptions to this is a controversial former three star General, Jerry Boykin, a deputy undersecretary of defense under George W. Bush with a history of making hateful comments about trans people, immigrants and Muslims.
When Boykin isn’t accusing George Soros of pushing for a ‘one world government’ or claiming that German fascists were leftwing, he uses public appearances and role as an ordained minister to libel more than 1.5 billion people on the basis of their religion, once saying, “So we love the Muslim people but we have to be very careful to understand that Islam — in a pure sense and an authoritative sense — Islam is evil. Islam is an evil concept because it does call for innocent blood.”
In an informative opinion piece on Al Jazeera’s web-site, writer Azeezah Kanji recently made the point that for centuries Muslims have played a role as the opposite of how Europeans saw themselves at the time. Thus, when religious and cultural sectarianism ruled in places like England and France, the Muslim world was seen as too “multicultural”. In our own time, this incredibly diverse region, which stretches from Africa to south Asia, is accused of the exact opposite, a monolith.
Although his signature is not on the Flag Officers 4 America letter, pardoned felon and former Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who seems to be even more popular than his former boss with Qanon cultists, went much further, seeming to call for an actual military coup at a conference this past Sunday in Dallas, eliciting cheers from his audience.
As reported by the Dallas Morning News, one attendee asked Flynn about a coup on the other side of the world, “I want to know why what happened in Myanmar can’t happen here?”
“No reason. I mean, it should happen here,” the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency replied.
Though he later walked the statement back, Flynn and the letter writers aren’t alone among western military brass in threatening democratic norms. In one particularly scary recent case in France, anonymous soldiers broke with the tradition in most western democracies of serving members of the armed forces remaining neutral in terms of politics.
In the UK in late 2019, an unnamed senior officer in that country’s military threatened that if Jeremy Corbyn became prime minister in the then upcoming election that he eventually lost to Boris Johnson, “There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny…”
This was followed by the first such letter from several retired officers I remember being reported on. These included some who served in Northern Ireland during the era euphemistically called ‘The Troubles’. The signers went on the record to claim that if Corbyn’s Labor Party won the election, it would cause friction with allies, ultimately threatening that this could put citizens at risk,
“We would therefore not be trusted to receive the vital intelligence provided to us by our allies that helps us keep our people safe and supports our role in maintaining world peace,” they wrote.
More recently, two similar letters addressed to the center right Macron government in France were published in the rightwing journal Valeurs Actuelles, the latest on May 10th. The authors of both, the first from officers and the second, referred to above, from still serving soldiers, define what they see as the biggest threat to French society: an unlikely alliance between ‘Islamists’ and the ‘left’, which is as broad and ill defined by them as the “hard left” described by the Flag Officers 4 America.
Worse, in the first letter, penned by the similar group of mostly retired officers, they wrote, “France is in peril” from, “suburban hordes”.
This is a very thinly veiled racist attack on France’s large ‘immigrant’, especially Muslim communities, who are mostly segregated from the rest of the country’s citizenry in suburban high rises that ring its major cities in a kind of super charged version of the ‘red lining’ we see in inner cities here in North America.
The bitter irony is that many of these citizens are the descendants of immigrants who were encouraged to come to the country from its colonial possessions to rebuild the country after the 1st and 2nd World Wars. Their children have been educated there for generations and yet many of them still feel they’re not accepted as part of French society themselves.
As English teacher Yasser Louati told Intercept reporter Murtaza Hussain about the daily life in these suburbs in 2019, “When you have millions of people who are already marginalized, disenfranchised, and without community institutions that can give them answers, you create easy targets for extremists. The narrative of these groups is that France exploited and humiliated your parents, they destroyed the countries of your ancestry, and now they hate you too.”
Although the soldiers’ letters were directed at Macron, they have been embraced by his far right opposition led by Marine Le Pen, who said in regards to the first letter on French TV, “I can say that I share their concern, I share their assessment,”
While they have reacted to the letters with justified anger, Emmanuel Macron and the ministers in his government have themselves embraced the idea of ‘Islamo-leftism’, mainly using the term to attack academic disciplines like post-colonial studies that often truthfully depict France’s history in a negative light.
Further, the Islamist parties that compete in elections like the AKP in Turkey are not only closer to Conservative parties in the west on almost every issue than they are to any party on the left, they are also almost always committed to the dominant neoiberal economic model championed by mainstream conservatives and liberals alike.
We should also note that in many places like Egypt where authoritarian governments are backed in Washington, Paris and other western capitals, Islamism filled a political gap created by the almost total liquidation of not only leftist parties, but leftists themselves during the Cold War.
Colonialism is a continuing part of our joint western history that most of our leaders have never thought about, let alone tried to make amends for. I was reminded of this just last week when the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found at a residential school in the Canadian province of British Columbia. These children were taken from their parents and murdered as part of a disgusting decades long effort to ‘civilize’ their communities.
The political right prefers a sanitized version of history focused almost exclusively on the ‘great men’ who supposedly steer its course, a delusion even greater than fantasies of an alliance between reactionary Islamists and the progressive left.
Those who stand against imperialism in the west are almost never popular in their home countries, but the current climate seems more dangerous than it has in decades. By conflating very different groups from feminists and racial justice activists to anarchists and social democrats and galvanizing far right groups to confront them, the people behind these mostly anonymous letters and the political actors they support might just provoke the kind of civil unrest they claim they are trying to prevent.