Jan 6, Pinochet, Democrats, and the use of torture

I was stunned recently to hear that the Democrat Congress and DoJ has decided to spend an additional whopping $2.6 billion seeking out and prosecuting another few thousand Jan 6 protesters, plus $11.33 billion for the FBI to investigate “domestic terrorism.”   So far, just under a thousand people have been arrested and charged, with some being held for two years for crimes such as “parading.”

Yesterday, Kevin McCarthy was elected to be Speaker of the House.  The Democrat leader gave a speech prior to Congressman McCarthy taking his bow in which he went on for some time about the Jan 6 protest, including a large number of lies — such as the repeated Democrat implication that five police officers were killed by protestors (in fact, none were).

The lies told by the Democrats and the DoJ regarding Jan 6 are pretty egregious.  It’s one thing to engage in hyperbole for the purpose of politics.  It’s another altogether to lie in such a way that it’s impossible to accept the lie without willful denial of reality.   For a long time, I couldn’t understand it.  While it sounds good to the true believers on the left, there is no way that nonbelievers will be converted on the basis of such blatant lies — they are simply not convincing.

So why do it?   I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two reasons.

The first, and least malignant, is the now classic Progressive belief that reality is malleable — that whoever controls the narrative controls the truth.  Thus, if the narrative becomes that the Jan 6 protesters killed five police officers, then they did, regardless of what may have happened in the physical space at the time.  It’s classic Progressive postmodernism, as has been practiced by the Nazis, Soviets, Khmer Rouge, Sandinistas, Hugo Chavez, and, of course, Nancy Pelosi and now Hakeem Jeffries.   If you convince people of something, it becomes the truth.

But that doesn’t explain the incredible desire on the part of the Democrats and DoJ to persecute, prosecute, and torture the Jan 6 protesters.   There is, really, no excuse for the two year incarceration under torture for the crimes of trespassing and parading, and now the pursuit of people only peripherally guilty of wandering on to the Capitol grounds during the protests.

Why is the US government systematically engaging in the persecution and torture of these people for what are, even when convicted, minor crimes?

I think William Cavanaugh has the answer.  William Cavanaugh is a Roman Catholic theologian who, about 25 years ago, wrote a stunning book called “Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics and the Body of Christ”  on the torture that occurred during the Pinochet regime in Chile.  Pinochet rounded up thousands of people on pretext.  His regime systematically tortured and often killed its citizens to no apparent end.

Cavanaugh shows, however, that there were reasons.  Two important reasons.

The first, is that the regime attempted to destroy and undermine all extragovernmental sources of authority.  The state presents these, especially religious bodies, as conflicted, corrupt, and isolated — and thus unable to provide the societal support they traditionally provided.   As these non-governmental sources are excluded from the public arena, the individual is forced to rely solely on the government for support and conflict resolution. Torture completes this separation by ‘atomizing” the person — by demonstrating that these other sources of support are ineffectual and only the government can stop the suffering.

Cavanaugh writes:

Beyond the question of whether or not universal human rights exist as such, I argue that what accounts for the failure of human rights language to stop acts of torture is a misunderstanding of the nature of torture as primarily an attack on individual bodies. While certainly individual bodies suffer grievously, the state’s primary targets in using torture are social bodies. Torture is not merely an attack on, but the creation of, individuals.

In this aspect, torture is homologous with the modern state’s project of usurping powers and responsibilities which formerly resided in the diffuse local bodies of medieval society and establishing a direct relationship between the state and the individual. The realization of a single, unquestioned political center was intended to make equivalent each individual before the law, thereby freeing the individual from the claims of any social group inferior to the state. As Robert Nisbet sums up this process, “The real conflict in modern political history has not been, as is so often stated, between State and individual, but between State and social group.”” In medieval society, the notion of right was embedded in an overlapping network of privileges and duties corresponding to social groups. In modernity, however, “it was the sheer impact of State upon medieval custom and tradition, with the consequent atomizing and liberating effects, that, more than anything else, precipitated the modern concern with positive individual rights.”

One of the reasons that rights language can be ineffectual, therefore, is that it is founded in the same atomization of the body politic from which the state derives its power. Rights as they have developed in the West transfer power from particular social groups to the universal state and build a protective wall around the individual. Torture aims likewise at the destruction of social bodies and the construction of walls around the individual — though the walls have ceased to be protective. This is not to imply that rights are somehow equivalent to torture, only that rights are little help in resisting the individualizing pathology of state terror. By absorbing powers from local bodies, the state is left as the de jure and de facto guarantor of rights. As in the case of Chile, denunciations of torture and abuses of rights are channeled into the very state that is responsible for the torture…

…torture was used as a social discipline to atomize and scatter all social bodies which stand between the individual and the state. 

When reading about the beatings, abuse, solitary confinement, etc. applied to the Jan 6 prisoners, Cavenaugh’s point that the state takes over what are essentially liturgical roles in the torture itself comes to the front — the very acts of debasement and punishment are ritualized in the same way that religious liturgy is ritualized.  Cavanaugh relates this example:

The following testimony is from an Argentinian woman.

They tied my ankles and wrists and start to apply an electric prod to me, especially on my breasts, genitals, armpits, and mouth. They alternate the prod with groping, masturbation, all the time insulting me and uttering the most repugnant vulgarities. They try to destroy me, telling me that my husband has died, that I had been “cuckolded,” that he was a homosexual and had abandoned his children, that he hadn’t thought about my parents and things of this nature. The torturer insisted that I insult him and he provoked me saying that surely I was thinking that he was a sadist and that I would call what he was doing “groping,” but that I was wrong: he was a scientist, which is why he accompanied all his actions with explanations about my physical makeup, my resistance, the foundations of the different methods.

Our first reactions to an account such as this are to recoil in horror, to decry the senseless cruelty of it, to invoke the inviolability of the human person, to see torture as a throwback to some unenlightened age of barbarism which intrudes awkwardly in the twentieth century. But we must take another look, for the torturer in this account did not lie: he is a scientist, a practitioner of a carefully refined tool of state used in half of the world’s countries today, and encouraged, taught, and funded by still other “more civilized” nations.’  If we are to understand modern torture, we will have to understand its place in a systematic state repressive apparatus which actually discourages mere sadism in its operatives.

To begin to fathom torture we must see it as a “mode of governance,”’ a commonly used extension of the state’s normal functions of social control in many parts of the world. We must resist the urge to maintain the unfamiliarity of torture, to consign it to the past, or to a world of monsters. It is very much a part of our world, and we must make the mental effort, however uncomfortable, to put the ideas of “governance” and “torture” together.

This first purpose of torture here is the total debasement of the victim and an establishment of the relationship between the citizen and the state.  Cavanaugh continues regarding the interrogations in Chile:

It is clear from studying firsthand accounts of torture that the questions do not stand apart from torture as the motive but are in fact themselves part of the enacted drama of torture. It is the form of the answer, or the fact of answering, that is of prime importance: “We know you are a communist, but we will hang you until you tell us in your own words.” The medieval ordeal used pain to seek truth; the crucial distinction here, in contrast, is not between lies and truth, but between those answers which conform to torturers’ reality and those which deviate. The victims are made to speak the words of the regime, to replace their own reality with that of the state, to double the voice of the state. The state’s ominipetenie becomes manifest in the horrifying production of power, what Scarry calls a “grotesque piece of compensatory drama.” Torture may be considered a kind of perverse liturgy, for in torture the body of the victim is the ritual site where the state’s power is manifested in its most awesome form.

This is why the coerced Jan 6 confessions are so important.  No more, no less.

In Chile, the primary extragovernmental source of succor and power was the church.   This is why Socialist societies (and more recently the US government and the Progressive left) are so adamant in their opposition to faith and church.  It is a power that they cannot control.

The second, and more important, is that torture *creates* the opposition that it is supposed to be fighting.   One of Pinochet’s problems when he came into power was that he was fairly popular.  His power was limited, however.  In order to seize the totalitarian power he wanted, he had to create an internal threat from domestic terrorists that justified emergency powers.  Unfortunately, there was no such domestic threat.  So, Pinochet started arresting and torturing people in order to get them to confess to being that threat.

But more important, by torturing these people, he *created* the enemies.  Those victims who were not completely broken became enemies, of course, but more important, all of their intimates also became opponents.  Every one of those victims had husbands or wives, brothers or sisters, friends, fellow church members, etc.  For every person tortured, ten or a hundred ancillary people were terrorized.   Pinochet used these arrests and forced confessions to provide the domestic terrorists he so desperately needed to justify further arrests, torture, and pursuit of power.

As the work of anthropologist Mary Douglas suggests, communities and the religious and political powers which control them often define their identity and legitimate the contours of their power through the ritual expulsion of that which pollutes and defiles.  We misunderstand modern torture, however, if we fail to see that enemies of the regime are not so much punished as produced in the torture chamber. Torture does not uncover and penalize a certain type of discourse, but rather creates a discourse of its own and uses it to realize the state’s claims to power over the bodies of its citizens. Torture plays out the dream of a certain kind of state, the production of a type of power/knowledge which I will call the imagination of the state. To speak of imagination is not, of course, to imply that state power is “merely imaginary,” a disembodied thought. The imagination cf the state has a tremendous power to discipline bodies, to habituate them and script them into a drama of its own making. The Chilean torture apparatus, therefore, should not be seen simply as a response to a particular type of threat against the state. Torture is rather both the production of that threat and the response to it, and thus the ritual site at which the state produces the reality in which its pretensions to omnipotence consist.

For a regime such as that of General Pinochet, violence has the crucial function of justifying itself…

…What many fail to see is that lack of resistance was a problem for the Pinochet regime, one which was solved by means of increased brutality. 

Thus, it is imperative that the federal government pursue and punish as many people as they can under the name of “domestic terrorism” in order to create the environment that will justify its actions. For every direct victim of the federal government, there will be a thousand more who are disillusioned and who question the legitimacy of the regime — which is defined by the regime as “domestic terrorism” thus justifying more brutal acts.  This is the playbook, I believe, of the Jan 6 persecutions.

The answer?   Cavanaugh, as a Catholic theologian, further investigates the failures of the Chilean Catholic Church.  The details of that are important, but can be summarized in the fact that the Church had essentially removed itself from the public sphere as part of the movement to separate church and state, and had not developed the tools to deal with issues from a non-governmental perspective.  Cavanaugh posits that a robust church with appropriate liturgy can provide an alternative to the isolation and atomization that a secular Progressive government will create.  It may involve persecution of the church (as happened in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Venzeuela, Mexico, and others).  A model for what may happen in the US is seen in Mexico and the resulting “Cristero War.”

The Progressive move to characterize believers as “Christian Nationalists” and “Christofascists” is the first step in this direction.  The problem isn’t really Christian belief.  The problem is that Christian churches form a power center that is not currently controlled by them.  And as such, it must be destroyed.  However, as long as the churches in the United States continue in the faith and provide a cultural counterpoint without the accommodation that many “mainline” churches are attempting (which co-opts them into the secular Progressive movement), it will provide a source of comfort and power to those who oppose the totalitarian impulse so strong in government today.   In particular, liturgy such as the Eucharist that reaffirm the relationship between the believer and God, and between the believer and the body of believers will be of paramount importance — at least to believers.   Becoming part of the body of Christ through the church, and the liturgical instantiation of that relationship though the eucharist helps provide an internalized bulwark against that atomization and isolation, even when the prisoner *is* isolated.

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