“A dark journey into what ails America”

The Storm is Here - Luke Mogelson

In his 2022 book The Storm is Here, US-born journalist Luke Mogelson starts out, surrounded by the heavily armed members of various self-instigated militias, talking to a barber who defied lockdown over ‘the right to a haircut’. It’s not entirely clear who is there defending what from whom, although the New World Order, the Russians, the Chinese, the devil and chem trails are all regularly mentioned — but then something happens that grabs the attention of most of the world, so he’s soon walking through a burning, looted high street to stand outside the remains of the police station that was the workplace of the cop who knelt on George Floyd. He’s talking to a Black guy standing next to him, watching the fire, but all those other things are still going on. “It doesn’t feel right,” the Black guy says. “I’m not judging anybody here, but I don’t agree with all this.” –  but what was “all this?”

Divided by a common language

George Bernard Shaw called the USA and the UK “two countries divided by a common language”, and my political experience in the last few years has taught me that it’s true to the power of ten when you try to talk politics. Two campaigns I’ve been involved with went trans-Atlantic at around the same time and both immediately erupted into rows about what is ‘left’ and what is ‘right’, and who was ‘progressive’ and who ‘regressive’, and what really counted as ‘evidence’ of anything at all. The highly distinct uses of the same words on each side of the Pond made the arguments all but impossible to resolve, and that’s why I picked up a copy of Mogelson’s book, hoping it would illuminate the strange territory of US activism.

Lockdown protests and anti-vaxxers

Mogelson, an award-winning war correspondent with experience in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine, was living in France when the COVID lockdowns began, and could not help but be puzzled by news reports from his native country. He had seen West Africans efficiently and co-operatively respond to the far more terrifying threat of ebola, and was now seeing the people in most of the countries in Europe responding co-operatively to COVID (it took a while for our UK government to descend into corruption and disorder – at the start, the most noticeable thing was ordinary people being sensible, helping each other and trying to think things through). Meanwhile in the USA, the response appeared to be a whirlwind of conspiracy-theories and rebellions.

Mogelson went home to observe, and followed a variety of chaotic and overlapping movements from the defenders of the rebel barber in Michigan, through the gatherings of mourners and protesters responding to George Floyd’s murder to the January storming of the Capitol, and on to the ‘stop the steal’ rallies that followed Trump’s election defeat.

In the thick of it

I was surprised at what a page-turner this book was. Mogelson intersperses his stories of the rallies and gatherings in the US with his own memories from war zones round the world, and with illuminating episodes from US history. I got the impression he needed all the courage, sympathy and quick-thinking of a front-line war reporter to gather those close up tales, up to and beyond the point where he finds himself in the Senate Room in Washington on January 6th when the horned wonder took the Chair, when the only cop in the room told the rioters “well, there’s ten of you and only one of me in here,” and Mogelson realizes that he’s either going to have to expose himself as a journalist to his armed and impassioned companions or risk whatever the security forces have in store for the invaders.

Was he at risk from the cops though? He notes throughout his observations that the effects of both media and establishment voices tended to reinforce the beliefs of Patriots, White Supremacists and the various conspiracy-theorists who saw BLM and “the left” as the real danger. Judging by the imbalance he witnessed in the security forces’ relentless quelling of BLM protestors versus their apparent unpreparedness to respond to the Capitol invaders, the police and the army had also got that message.

We should all check our beliefs

We in the UK should be warned. Whilst Mogelson has huge sympathy for, and patience with, all the people he talks to, he concludes with the thought that in his time, he’s spoken to fighters and protesters in some of the world’s most notorious trouble spots, in battles both with and against government and revolutionary forces, and whether or not he shared the culture or world-view of those fighters, whether or not he agreed with their stance, he acknowledged that they were fighting because of something that had happened whereas in the USA, with the exception of those who came out for George Floyd, most of those who took to the streets appeared to be taking up arms in defence of delusions.

US storming of the Capitol - a hastily contructed gallows

After the struggles of all those black and brown people Mogelson tells of, from Michigan to Mosul, the most memorable horror I’m left with is all those US ex-servicemen, many of whom  joined up because it was the only way they could think of to get medical or dental treatment, or a living wage, men and women who, once invalided out of that immense, globally busy army, no longer fitted anywhere at home. They were pining for that feeling of being a well-armed member of a unit on a mission. Perhaps it didn’t matter so much whether they were hunting anti-Trump vote-riggers, vaccine-spikers or people who were really lizards from outer space. They just wanted comrades around them, and a common enemy to rally against.

Let us not go down the same road. Let us give some serious attention to critical thinking, and the search for viable evidence, and think about who’s sitting back getting rich while we’re struggling – especially let us work that out before taking to the streets to defend ourselves or worse, to attack ill-defined enemies.


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