In an extraordinary exchange on Wednesday first reported by Deep State website editor Jefferson Morley, former director of national intelligence James Clapper and former CIA head Michael Hayden directly likened the radicalization of domestic terrorists by Donald Trump to the radicalization of extremists by ISIS and al Qaeda.
Clapper, who was the intended recipient of one of the pipe bombs sent to prominent Trump critics last week, said Trump’s words were having a radicalizing effect “not unlike what I experienced with the likes of ISIS.”
“And as long as a ‘stable genius‘ creates an environment that can seemingly condone this sort of behavior, we’re going to have more of it, I’m convinced,” he said.
Hayden agreed. “I don’t want to oversimplify this and create an equivalency, but there are parallels.”
Clapper said there’s a new breed of “political dissidents” who “now have a set of grievances to which they can attach themselves that have been essentially articulated by the president of the United States of America.”
The two former intelligence heads were the keynote speakers at a discussion on threats to U.S. democratic institutions hosted by the National Security Institute at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School on Wednesday.
You can watch the video of the discussion of radicalization here, on the C-SPAN website.
The event was moderated by Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg, who asked the two men:
Do you think this is the end of it, or do you think we’re in the middle of a long process in which people are being radicalized and are going to try to carry out their anger violently?
Regrettably, yes, I think personally we’re probably in for more of this sort of thing….
This is how people get energized, radicalized. It’s not unlike what I experienced with the likes of ISIS, who was very successful at using social media only, to recruit and radicalize people. And it’s almost, to me, a very similar psychology at work here. And as long as a “stable genius” creates an environment that can seemingly condone this sort of behavior, we’re going to have more of it, I’m convinced.
Hayden followed Clapper’s statement with a long explanation of radicalization that I think is worth getting on the record:
I don’t want to oversimplify this and create an equivalency, but there are parallels. We were asked, looking at the radicalization of Islamist terrorists, alright? One of the questions, one of the arguments that we had, is, well, is this the ideology of al Qaeda or Isis, or is this really just unhappy young males who don’t have a good job. And the answer is yes, alright?
What’s the character in children’s fiction, the pushmi-pullyu? Remember that? This is a push-me-pull-you. So, societies create folks — more often than not young men — who are unattached, who are disappointed, who are fearful, who feel as if they have grievance, and they look for something larger than self – and something larger than self to which they can attach themselves.
Now in some cases it is a very positive step. They join the Army. They join the boys club. Alright? The way I used to phrase it back at CIA was this probably has more to do with the Crips and the Bloods than it does with the Holy Koran when it comes to radicalization. With the meaning being that the same dynamic that draws someone to join a gang is probably the same personal dynamic that makes someone attach that grievance to this larger cause. But then the point I make is: It matters what gang you join.
And so what you get are individuals who are unhappy – violence-prone on their own, with a great sense of grievance who now get legitimization and justification for their grievance by attaching it to something larger than themselves.
For an Islamist terrorist, it could be a particularly violent version of one of the world’s great monotheisms. For political dissidents, they now – and this is the newness part — they now have a set of grievances to which they can attach themselves that have been essentially articulated by the president of the United States of America.
And if you look at the bomber, I mean, it’s all about – [Goldberg interjects: “It’s all there on the van.”] It’s all there.
If you look at the incident in Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, alright? There’s a latent anti-Semitism. But the proximate cause was his belief that international Jewry was sponsoring the invasion of America from that caravan, still a thousand miles from the Rio Grande — which has been a constant theme coming out of the White House.
So I guess to answer your question a little bit, I’m kinda with Jim, in the current atmosphere I don’t think we have any reason to believe that this is going to stop. It’s just hard to predict when that combination may happen again.
Morley has more, including the two men’s comments on how Trump’s behavior is damaging the country’s democratic institutions, perhaps irretrievably. “We have four years to stop him,” Morley quotes Hayden. “We don’t have eight.”