The Baader-Meinhof Complex inspired a terror double-feature over the weekend: The Weather Underground followed by Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst. Fueled by absinthe and Raisinets, I marveled at how tactically stupid these domestic commandoes were. I'm sure there was a certain thrill to playing outlaw, at least until your comrades blew themselves up or were burned to death under a hail of automatic SWAT fire. Then it probably ceased being fun.
The conceit that a small band of armed ideologues could take on, much less defeat, the imperial state borders on insane, but there's plenty of delirium across the land, militant fantasies now largely in reactionary skulls. Still, these films took me back to when denunciations of imperialism, capitalism, and racism were highlighted on the news, read by stern anchors seemingly confused by these crazy kids and their Che fixations. Lefty terrorists were part of the landscape. Paddy Chayefsky parodied this nicely in Network, showing that even the most dedicated anti-capitalist can fret about profit points and ratings books. Show biz as the great leveler.
Weather, and to a lesser degree the Symbionese Liberation Army, were boons to the domestic police apparatus, providing a handy pretext for the development and refinement of surveillance, interrogation, high-powered weapons and political control. Right wingers did their part during the Clinton years, as did environmental and vegan militants. But none have matched the 9/11 terrorists, who handed the American police state a sumptuous platter on which it continues to gorge.
There are those who maintain that Islamic militants seek to destroy the US government, and therefore we must smite them before they snuff us. Whatever their actual desires, these groups and cells are the American state's best friends and enablers; without them, the FBI would have to pump up some black-hooded animal rights army as The Latest Threat. White kids who eschew dairy products can terrify only so much. But Arabs, Persians and Pashtuns wearing beards and waving rifles -- now that's more like it. Bomb their relatives, torture their friends, occupy or threaten their countries and you've got a long-running narrative with no shortage of boogeymen and those devoted to their capture or destruction.
In a sense, the jihadists we armed and supported against the Soviets in Afghanistan have never stopped working with us. Back then, Carter and Reagan used Afghanistan as a prime reason to remilitarize the culture, from draft registration to proxy terrorism to festishizing the armed forces, casting them in a holy light. The Muslims who threw acid in women's faces, attacked co-ed schools, and razed any vestige of secularism were appreciated and applauded by numerous American reactionaries, from Reagan on down to clowns like David Horowitz, who has defended his pro-jihadist phase while claiming to oppose the children of his old pals. Hey, you gotta stay loose to keep pace with the imperial game.
(And this guy had the nerve to trash Howard Zinn. People in glass mental wards, and all that.)
Today, Islamic militants serve the same purpose, only instead of being compared to George Washington, they receive the time-honored Hitler designation. Round and round it spins. Who knows? If I live long enough, I might get to see a stateside revival of earlier jihadist love. We are a forgiving nation, after all.
Of the two terror films, I enjoyed the Patty Hearst saga more, partly for nostalgic reasons (I was 14 when Hearst was kidnapped), but mostly because the SLA is one of the craziest concepts of "rebellion" I've ever studied. The late conspiracy theorist Mae Brussell believed that the SLA was an undercover police operation, designed to justify violence and repression against domestic dissidents while smashing the rising political awareness and activism within the California prison system. Wouldn't surprise me. On the other hand, perhaps the SLA simply got lucky until the majority of them were incinerated by the LAPD. You can never really tell with stories like this.
Brussell did make a good point about the SLA's bank job on April 15, 1974. Why didn't they shoot the bank's cameras? Why were they so eager to show their faces? Militant vanity? Or was it meant to establish the SLA as a "genuine" threat, rebranding Patty Hearst as a committed revolutionary (which was part of the plan)? Again, I've no clue. Watch the robbery and decide for yourselves. I'll open another bottle of absinthe.