Anger is no longer his go-to emotion

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

In many ways, SEALS represent the perfect test group for experimental brain treatment:

At the lab, Tony (whose name has been changed to protect his identity) met Dr. Erik Won, president and CEO of the Newport Brain Research Laboratory, the company that’s innovating Magnetic EEG/ECG-guided Resonant Therapy, or MeRT. Won’s team strapped cardiac sensors on Tony and placed an electroencephalography cap on his skull to measure his brain’s baseline electrical activity. Then came the actual therapy. Placing a flashlight-sized device by Tony’s skull, they induced an electromagnetic field that sent a small burst of current to his brain. Over the course of 20 minutes, they moved the device around his cranium, delivering jolts that, at their most aggressive, felt like a firm finger tapping.

For Tony, MeRT’s effects were obvious and immediate. He walked out of the first session to a world made new. “Everything looked different,” he told me. “My bike looked super shiny.”

He began to receive MeRT five times a week — each session lasting about an hour, with waiting room time — and quickly noticed a change in his energy. “I was super boosted,” he said. His mood changed as well.

Today, he admits that he still has moments of frustration but says that anger is no longer his “go-to emotion.” He’s developed the ability to cope. He still wants help with his memory, but his life is very different. He’s taken up abstract painting and welding, two hobbies he had no interest in at all before the therapy. He’s put in a new kitchen. Most importantly, his sleep is very different: better.

Tony’s experience was similar to those of five other special-operations veterans who spoke with Defense One. All took part in a double-blind randomized clinical trial that sought to determine how well MeRT treats Persistent Post-Concussion Symptoms and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Five out of the six were former Navy SEALS.

In many ways, SEALS represent the perfect test group for experimental brain treatment. They enter the service in superb health and then embark on a course of training that heightens mental and physical strength and alertness. Then comes their actual jobs, which involve a lot of “breaching”: getting into a place that the enemy is trying to keep you out of. It could be a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan — or every single door in that compound. Breaching is so central to SEAL work that it’s earned them the nickname “door kickers.” But it often involves not so much kicking as explosives at closer-than-comfortable range. “I got blown up a lot in training,” says Tony, and a lot afterwards as well. Put those two factors together and you have a population with a high functioning baseline but with a lot of incidents of persistent post-concussive syndrome, often on top of heavy combat-related PTSD and other forms of trauma.

One by one, these former SEALs found their way to Won’s lab. One — let’s call him Bill — sought to cure his debilitating headaches. Another, Ted, a SEAL trainer, had no severe symptoms but wanted to see whether the therapy could improve his natural physical state and performance. A fourth, Jim, also a former SEAL, suffered from severe inability to concentrate, memory problems, and low affect, which was destroying his work performance. “I was forcing myself to act normal,” Jim said. “I didn’t feel like I was good at anything.”

Yet another, a former member of the Air Force Security Forces named Cathy, had encountered blasts and a “constant sound of gunfire” during her deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. She suffered from memory problems, depression, anger, bouts of confusion, and migraines so severe she had to build a darkroom in her house.

Like Cathy, the rest had difficulty sleeping. Even Ted, who had no severe PTSD-related problems, reported that he “slept like crap,” before the treatment began.

All said that they saw big improvements after a course of therapy that ran five days a week for about four weeks. Bill reported that his headaches were gone, as did Cathy, who said her depression and mood disorders had lessened considerably. Jim’s memory and concentration improved so dramatically that he had begun pursuing a second master’s degree and won a spot on his college’s football team. Ted said he was feeling “20 years younger” physically and found himself better able to keep pace with the younger SEALS he was training. All of it, they say, was a result of small, precisely delivered, pops of electricity to the brain. Jim said the lab had also successfully treated back and limb pain by targeting the peripheral nervous system with the same technique.

Won, a former U.S. Navy Flight Surgeon, and his team have treated more than 650 veterans using MeRT. The walls of the lab are adorned with acrylic paintings from veterans who have sought treatment. The colors, themes, and objects in the paintings evolve, becoming brighter, more optimistic, some displaying greater motor control, as the painter progresses through the therapy.

The lab is about one-third of the way through a double-blind clinical trial that may lead to FDA approval, and so Won was guarded in what he could say about the results of their internal studies. But he said that his team had conducted a separate randomized trial on 86 veterans. After two weeks, 40 percent saw changes in their symptoms; after four weeks, 60 did, he said.

Liberalism delivered the goods

Sunday, January 20th, 2019

How did liberalism become so dominant?

In a word, it delivered the goods. Liberal regimes were better able to mobilize labor, capital, and raw resources over long distances and across different communities. Conservative regimes were less flexible and, by their very nature, tied to a single ethnocultural community. Liberals pushed and pushed for more individualism and social atomization, thereby reaping the benefits of access to an ever larger market economy.

The benefits included not only more wealth but also more military power. During the American Civil War, the North benefited not only from a greater capacity to produce arms and ammunition but also from a more extensive railway system and a larger pool of recruits, including young migrants of diverse origins — one in four members of the Union army was an immigrant (Doyle 2015).

During the First World War, Britain and France could likewise draw on not only their own manpower but also that of their colonies and elsewhere. France recruited half a million African soldiers to fight in Europe, and Britain over a million Indian troops to fight in Europe, the Middle East, and East Africa (Koller 2014; Wikipedia 2018b). An additional 300,000 laborers were brought to Europe and the Middle East for non-combat roles from China, Egypt, India, and South Africa (Wikipedia 2018a). In contrast, the Central Powers had to rely almost entirely on their own human resources. The Allied powers thus turned a European civil war into a truly global conflict.

The same imbalance developed during the Second World War. The Allies could produce arms and ammunition in greater quantities and far from enemy attack in North America, India, and South Africa, while recruiting large numbers of soldiers overseas. More than a million African soldiers fought for Britain and France, their contribution being particularly critical to the Burma campaign, the Italian campaign, and the invasion of southern France (Krinninger and Mwanamilongo 2015; Wikipedia 2018c). Meanwhile, India provided over 2.5 million soldiers, who fought in North Africa, Europe, and Asia (Wikipedia 2018d). India also produced armaments and resources for the war effort, notably coal, iron ore, and steel.

Liberalism thus succeeded not so much in the battle of ideas as on the actual battlefield.

Decoupling is not a worry for anything but a very small explosion

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

The U.S. government conducted more than 1,000 nuclear tests, most of them in the Nevada desert or on faraway Pacific islands, but it also set off a couple nukes under Mississippi:

In 1959, the American physicist Albert Latter theorized that setting off a bomb in an underground cavity could muffle the blast. After tests with conventional explosives, Latter wrote that a detonation as big as 100 kilotons—more than six times bigger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima—“would make a seismic signal so weak it would not even be detected by the Geneva system.” His theory, known as “decoupling,” became a rallying point for people who wanted to keep testing, says Jeffrey Lewis, of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California.

“They wanted to come up with a reason that we couldn’t verify an agreement with the Soviets,” says Lewis, who’s also the publisher of the Arms Control Wonk blog. But in 1963, after the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world nose-to-nose with the unthinkable, the superpowers signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty. It kept future tests underground, and researchers turned to making sure those tests would be spotted.

The Atomic Energy Commission wanted to test Latter’s theory using actual nukes. And salt deposits were considered the ideal places for tests, since they could be excavated more easily than rock and the resulting cavity would endure for years. So the search was on for a salt dome in territory similar to where the Russians tested their bombs, Auburn University historian David Allen Burke says.

“It had to be a certain diameter. It had to be a certain size. It needed to be a very large salt dome that was still a distance underground and not where it could interfere with water or petroleum or anything else,” says Burke, who wrote a book about the Mississippi tests.

That led the agency to southern Mississippi, which is full of salt domes. The government leased a nearly 1,500-acre patch of forest atop one of those domes and got to work.

[...]

The first blast, code-named Salmon, was a 5.3-kiloton device that would blow a cavity into the salt dome half a mile underground. The second, Sterling, was only 380 tons, and would go off in the cavity left behind by Salmon. AEC crews drilled a 2,700-foot hole down into the salt dome, lowered the first bomb into it, plugged it with 600 feet of concrete… and waited.

The Salmon test was put off nearly a month by a string of technical problems and bad weather, including Hurricane Hilda, which hit one state over in Louisiana. People living up to five miles from the test site were evacuated and recalled twice in preparation for blasts that never happened. They got paid $10 a head for adults and $5 for children for their trouble.

[...]

Far from Latter’s predictions that a blast as big as 100 kilotons could be kept off the scopes, Lewis says, it turned out that decoupling “is not a worry for anything but a very small explosion.” However, the data helped shape a later treaty which limited underground tests to 150 kilotons.

[...]

Federal records now indicate cancer rates in Lamar County are lower than both the state and national average.

(Hat tip to Hans Schantz.)

The barbarian invaders had one thing the civilized Incas did not

Monday, January 14th, 2019

James LaFond praises the barbarians who took down the overly civilized Aztecs and Incas:

The Aztecs were besieged and in crisis, having lost their entire empire before the small pox killed 9 in 10 of them. So you are correct, this was not a win by disease but by deed. What did them in, primarily — and Barbara Tuchman in her March of Folly makes the best case for this — was their excessively civilized and fatalistic slave mind set, which had the entire nation acting in slavish obedience to a superstitious fool, Montezuma. As Bernal Diaz relates, their city was the greatest in the world surpassing any in Europe in all ways, from sanitation to food distribution to obedience to the law. All of this contributed to their fragility in the face of the Barbarian invaders, who fought over who was to be their leader up until the time of battle. Cortez usurped the leadership of the expedition.

Secondarily, the Aztecs had embarked on the folly of empire, enchaining slave races to their cruel will, races all too ready to ally in their hundreds of thousands with Cortez.

Now to the Incas, in which even fewer Aryan Barbarians took down an empire many times more powerful than the Aztecs. The Incas had bronze axes, maces and flails and stone weapons which defeated Spanish helmets. One Inca detachment even defeated a Spanish force in a fairly even battle. Again, the slave mind of a people whose king was a living god defeated the Incas, even as their vast army, which would have slaughtered the Aztecs and was organized much like the Roman Legions, stood obediently outside of the city where their fool leader and all of his officers agreed to meet unarmed with the 150-odd armed invaders. They never imagined that 150 armed men would kill all 20,000 of them [this in itself indicating a lack of heroic mindset] as their leaderless slave army watched from the surrounding hills. To their credit, the Incas, having already suffered heavy disease losses before the encounter through third-party contact, fought on for 40 years. However, their imperial system turned on them as the Spaniards used their road networks and stone fortress cities and recruited allies from their subject peoples. Agriculturally, the Incas were the most advanced civilization on earth at this time, but militarily they were barely into the Bronze Age. However, there have been studies done showing that they could have easily won and kept the Spaniards at bay while reverse engineering technology and using captive Spaniards as craftsmen much like the Japanese did hundreds of years later.

What really killed the Incas was that they had homogenized their people to a degree not seen until postmodern America, forcing tribes to give up their identity and moving them to alien places, enforcing communal food distribution, and finally softening to the point where they were unable to conquer the barbarian peoples to north, east and south. As with Rome before the Germans and Persia before the Macedonians, and then America before the drug cartels with its interstate system after, the centralized nature of the empire and the highly developed road network, blessed their invaders with godspeed.

But these incidences were only partially a lost defense and very much a gained conquest. The Barbarian invaders had one thing the Civilized Incas did not, a heroic ethos, which gave their enemies no rest as the Pizarro Brothers and the ruthless Soto descended on the faltering empire [already in the midst of a plague and a civil war] like wolves on sheep, which are what barbarians are to disorganized civilians.

Where Athaluppa sat stoically at Cajamarca and was burned to death in the very fire that melted down his sacred relics into bullion, even though he could have called in his armies to kill the invaders as he burned, not many years later we are related to an example of how Pizarro, his conqueror, behaved in the every same circumstance, when surrounded by Barbarian cutthroats. In the land of the Inca, not so far from where Athalupa died stoically as an ascendant Sun God, Pizarro and his assistant were attacked by five armored conquistadors while wearing only clothes and swords. While his secretary groveled, Pizarro cursed him and his assassins, tore a drape from the window as a shield, and well into his sixties, took some of his killers to hell with him.

What doomed the Incas is they were too civilized and this was permitted by an erasure of the heroic — if indeed they ever had a heroic ideal — from their martial culture. The heroic ideal did rise up [or reemerge] in the form of renegade Incas as a result of this cultural clash, but too little and too late.

The perfect counterpoint to these two civilizations being failed by their leaders and failing to rise up as a people, but remaining slaves to the alien invader to this day, is found in the Anabasis of Xenophon, or The March-down-to-the-sea. When the 10,000 leaderless Greek mercenaries sat by under orders while their leaders were murdered at a parley with the Persian army which vastly outnumbered them, the Greeks simply elected new leaders and fought their way free. Had the Inca army outside Cajamarca been made up of ancient Greeks the Spaniards would have been butchered that afternoon. It was the Anabasis which convinced Alexander that Persia was ripe for the picking.

The behavior of Conquistadors was that of independent rogue operators, often criminals in a state of disobedience to their government handlers, a shining half-century in masculine history when men reverted to the ancient Homeric ideals of heroism, cunning in the face of an alien foe and brutal natural selection among themselves to determine who was fit to lead the small barbarian pack in its descent on the soft, degenerate fold of Civilization, with its quivering neck bared to the ever-reoccurring cycle of cleansing barbarism that remains humanity’s last hope.

I highly recommend Bernal Diaz Del Castillo’s The Discovery And Conquest Of Mexico, by the way. I’ve been meaning to read Xenophon’s Anabasis forever.

(Hat tip to our Slovenian Guest.)

For the black market, everything stays the same

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

Gun ownership is rising across Europe, the Wall Street Journal reports:

The uptick was spurred in part by insecurity arising from terrorist attacks—many with firearms, and reflects government efforts to get illegal guns registered by offering amnesty to owners.

Europe is still far from facing the gun prevalence and violence in Latin America or the U.S., which lead the world. World-wide civilian ownership of firearms rose 32% in the decade through 2017, to 857.3 million guns, according to the Small Arms Survey, a research project in Geneva. Europe accounts for less than 10% of the total.

But Europe’s shift has been rapid, and notable in part because of strict national restrictions. In most European countries, gun permits require thorough background checks, monitored shooting practice and tests on regulations. In Belgium, France and Germany, most registered guns may only be used at shooting ranges. Permits to bear arms outside of shooting ranges are extremely difficult to obtain.

Strict registration requirements don’t account for—and may exacerbate—a surge in illegal weapons across the continent, experts say.

Europe’s unregistered weapons outnumbered legal ones in 2017, 44.5 million to 34.2 million, according to the Small Arms Survey. Many illegal weapons come from one-time war zones, such as countries of the former Yugoslavia, and others are purchased online, including from vendors in the U.S.

[...]

Armed robbery and similar crimes often entail illicit guns, while legally registered firearms tend to appear in suicide and domestic-violence statistics, said Nils Duquet of the Flemish Peace Institute, a Belgian research center.

“It’s clear that illegal guns are used mostly by criminals,” he said.

[...]

In Germany, the number of legally registered weapons rose roughly 10%, to 6.1 million, in the five years through 2017, the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to Germany’s National Weapons Registry. Permits to bear arms outside of shooting ranges more than tripled to 9,285, over the same five years.

Permits for less lethal air-powered guns that resemble real guns and shoot tear gas or loud blanks to scare away potential attackers roughly doubled in the three years through the end of 2017, to 557,560, according to the registry.

[...]

In Belgium, firearm permits and membership in sport-shooting clubs has risen over the past three years.

Belgian applications for shooting licenses almost doubled after the terrorist attacks by an Islamic State cell in Paris in Nov. 2015 and four months later in Brussels, offering “a clear indication of why people acquired them,” said Mr. Duquet.

[...]

Belgium has for years tightened regulations in response to gun violence, such as a 2006 killing spree by an 18-year-old who legally acquired a rifle.

“Before 2006, you could buy rifles simply by showing your ID,” recalled Sébastien de Thomaz, who owns two shooting ranges in Brussels and previously worked in a gun store.

“They used to let me shoot with all my stepfather’s guns whenever I joined him at the range,” said Lionel Pennings, a Belgian artist who joins his stepfather at one of Mr. De Thomaz’s shooting ranges on Sundays.

Mr. Pennings recalled that in the past he could easily fire a few rounds with his stepfather’s gun. “Now it’s much stricter,” he said. “You can only use the guns you have a permit for.”

A Belgian would-be gun owner must pass almost a year of shooting and theory tests, plus psychological checks, said Mr. De Thomaz.

The gun-range owner questions the impact of that policy. “With each terror attack, the legislation gets stricter,” he said. “For the black market, everything stays the same.”

The incredibly unpopular idea that could stem opioid deaths

Friday, December 28th, 2018

Megan McArdle sees two options for dealing with the fentanyl epidemic:

Keep doing what we’re doing and let addicts keep dying as they’re dying, until the opioid epidemic burns itself out. Or start talking about ways to make safe, reliable doses of opiates available to addicts who aren’t ready to stop. That would mean opening more methadone clinics and making it less onerous for doctors to prescribe buprenorphine, a relatively mild opioid that’s difficult to overdose on. But lowering the death toll may well require a more drastic step: legalizing prescriptions of stronger opiates.

Prescription heroin? Remember, I said you might not like the solution. I don’t like it, either — and frankly, neither do the drug policy researchers who told me it may be necessary. But when fentanyl took over the U.S. illicit drug markets, it also got a lot of addicts as hostages. We’ll never be able to rescue them unless we can first keep them alive long enough to be saved.

He’s terrified about the evil that lurks out there

Thursday, December 27th, 2018

Greg Ellifritz reviews Vincent Sellers’s Eyes Pried Open, which offers some insight into the FBI:

The author of the book worked in corporate America but had a lifelong dream of becoming an agent. He left the corporate world and became an agent, serving for slightly less than two years.

It is painfully obvious that the author has zero police sense or comfort with violence. He laments the rigorous training he endured in the academy — they made them do pushups and everything….

He notices and complains that the agent trainees who had prior law enforcement experience seemed to fit in better with the “militant” nature of the FBI. The author struggles to reconcile his naïve world view with the reality he faces when he’s assigned to the violent crime squad in San Diego, CA. For instance, his first arrest involves picking up someone being released from a county jail for a Federal human trafficking warrant. The author feels guilty for re-imprisoning a guy who thought he was getting out. He downplays the significance of the human trafficking charge and seems to legitimately feel bad.

Later in the book, after seeing the nature of law enforcement along the border, he is a very strong proponent of building a wall to keep the bad people out. He talks about the numerous kidnapping cases he worked and how none of them involved innocent parties. Every kidnapping victim and kidnapper were eyes deep in criminal activity and all of it with a cross-border connection.

The author decides to leave after less than two years because the job is too hard on his home life. Apparently, he didn’t know that he’d have to work long days and be on-call for certain weekends. Despite being well published and high for law enforcement across the nation, he complains about his “modest” salary and how it doesn’t let him live in the manner to which he’s accustomed.

I’m convinced that he realized he could not handle what was required of him and opted out (which I can respect). I think his adamant support of a border wall shows an awareness that evil exists but his inability to internalize the ability to confront evil drives him away. The amount of cognitive dissonance this whole experience engenders is amazing. He’s terrified about the evil that lurks out there but is unable to deal with it himself and maintains a deep suspicion of those who can.

Libya has gone full circle

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

Some compare militia-dominated Tripoli with Al Capone’s Chicago, but the comparison is false, because Al Capone didn’t have artillery:

Seven years after Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed in the Arab spring revolution, Libya has gone full circle from dictatorship through revolution, democracy, chaos and back to a new kind of tyranny. Except this time there is not one dictator but dozens, in the form of the very militias who defeated him.

[...]

Driving through this city means navigating a political fog as you try to work out who among the rag-tag gunmen in assorted uniforms and battered pickup trucks are gangsters, and who constitute the official security forces of the United Nations-backed government. After a while you realise they are the same. One unit is freshly kitted out in smart blue uniforms of the interior ministry, but it remains a militia, as violent and threatening as before. Tensions are high after the body of one warlord was dumped by rivals outside a city hospital in the latest tit-for-tat killing.

[...]

Tripoli’s warlords are on the state payroll, through the simple expedient of gunmen threatening the bankers with kidnapping or worse. Similar pressure resulted in the government handing its all-important intelligence and surveillance portfolio to an Islamist militia. Even as militias fight each other in the capital, they also fight the army of the nationalist warlord Khalifa Haftar, a brooding presence far to the east.

Meanwhile, the citizens suffer: there are shortages of petrol, electricity, water and banknotes. Libya is rich, with £50bn of foreign reserves and booming oil production. But only a handful of banks — those controlled by militias — are permitted to dispense cash. Citizens form kilometre-long queues to collect it.

It was the Holy Spirit calling the demon out of the church

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018

Last November, Stephen Willeford became the ultimate good guy with a gun:

On most Sunday mornings, Willeford would have been 45 minutes away, in San Antonio, at the Church of Christ he and his family had attended since his kids were young. But on November 5, 2017, he decided to stay home and rest up. He was scheduled to be on call the upcoming week at San Antonio’s University Hospital, and he knew he’d inevitably be summoned for a middle-of-the-night plumbing emergency. He had drifted to sleep sometime before 11:30 a.m. when his oldest daughter, Stephanie, came into his bedroom and woke him up. She asked if he heard gunfire.

He did hear something, but to Willeford it sounded like someone was tapping on the window. He looked outside but didn’t see anyone. He pulled on a pair of jeans and went to the living room, where the walls were less insulated. The sound was louder there. It was definitely gunfire, he realized, but he couldn’t tell where it was coming from.

He rushed into a back room and opened his steel gun safe, where he stows his collection of pistols, rifles, and shotguns. Without hesitation, he snatched one of his AR-15s. He’d put the rifle together himself, swapping out parts and upgrading here and there over the years. It was light, good for mobility, and could shoot quickly. It wasn’t as accurate as some of his other rifles but good enough to hit the bowling pins he and his friends used for targets. He loaded a handful of rounds into the magazine.

Meanwhile, Stephanie had jumped in her car to drive around the block to investigate. Willeford’s neighborhood, in central Sutherland Springs, consists of modest ranch-style homes and trailers. The town itself is tiny, about six hundred people, a blue-collar agricultural community. Stephanie returned a minute or so later. She told her father she had seen a man wearing black tactical gear at the Baptist church just down the street, about 150 yards away.

Willeford and his family know almost everyone who attends the church. Some of the elder members of the congregation knew his great-grandparents. Each Christmas, he rides his Harley with a motorcycle group from the church that delivers toys to poor kids across the county.

He called his wife, Pam, who was five miles away, drywalling the house the family was building for their youngest daughter, Rachel, who was almost three months pregnant at the time, and her husband. Willeford told Pam that there was an active shooter at the church and asked her to stay put. The last thing he heard before hanging up was her pleading, “Don’t go over there!”

Then he barreled out the front door, down the street toward the church. He didn’t even bother to put shoes on.

Stephanie tried to follow, but he turned and asked her to go back inside and load another magazine for him (he wanted to give her a task so she wouldn’t leave the house).

As he approached the old white chapel, he screamed as loud as he could, “Hey!” To this day, he’s not sure why—he knows that giving away your position is foolish, tactically—but friends inside the church later told him that when the gunman heard Willeford’s cry, he stopped shooting and headed for the front door. “It was the Holy Spirit calling the demon out of the church,” he tells people.

Just as Willeford reached the front yard of Fred and Kathleen Curnow, whose house faces the church entrance, a man wearing black body armor and a helmet with a visor emerged from the church. Willeford scrambled behind the front tire of Fred’s Dodge Ram. The gunman raised his pistol and fired three times. One bullet hit the truck. One hit the Dodge Challenger parked behind him. One hit the house.

Willeford propped his AR-15 on the pickup’s hood and peered through the sight. He could see a holographic red dot on the man’s chest. He fired twice. He wasn’t sure he’d hit him, though he was later told that the man had contusions on his chest and abdomen consistent with getting shot while wearing body armor. Regardless, the gunman stopped shooting and ran for a white Ford Explorer that was idling outside the chapel, roughly twenty yards from where Willeford had positioned himself.

As the shooter rounded the front of the Explorer, Willeford noticed that the man’s vest didn’t cover the sides of his torso. Willeford fired twice more, striking the man once beneath the arm—in an unprotected spot—and once in the thigh.

The man leaped into the vehicle, slammed the door, and fired twice through the driver’s side window. Willeford aimed for where he thought his target’s head would be and pulled the trigger, shattering the driver’s side window completely. The Explorer sped away, turning north onto FM 539, and Willeford ran into the street and got off another shot, this time shattering the SUV’s rear window.

The vehicle roared out of view. For a moment, it seemed he had gotten away. Then Willeford looked to his left and noticed a navy-blue Dodge Ram stopped at a nearby crossroad.

Johnnie Langendorff, a 27-year-old who had driven down from Seguin, thirty minutes north, that morning to visit his girlfriend, had arrived at the intersection across the street from the church just as the gunman walked out and began firing at Willeford. Langendorff had already dialed 911 when Willeford, whom he’d never met, ran toward him, barefoot and brandishing a warm AR-15.

“That guy just shot up the church,” Willeford shouted. “We need to stop him.”

The next thing Willeford remembers hearing was the sound of Langendorff’s doors unlocking. He hopped in the truck, and they sped after the Explorer.

Going north from Sutherland Springs, FM 539 is a two-lane blacktop that winds around craggy hills, through open pastures, past a handful of ranch houses toward Guadalupe County. As they raced after the Explorer, Langendorff topped 90 miles per hour, overtaking four or five other cars along the way. He stayed on the phone with the 911 dispatcher and updated their location every time they passed a cross street. They’d traveled seven or eight miles when they came around a bend and, for the first time, spotted the Explorer a few hundred feet ahead.

“If we catch him, we may have to put him off the road,” Willeford said.

Langendorff nodded. “I already figured that.”

As they closed in on the SUV, it swerved back and forth across both lanes and then, abruptly, careered off the road into a ditch. Langendorff pulled up about five yards behind the Explorer. Willeford clutched the AR-15 in his right hand— he only had two rounds remaining, not enough to survive another shootout—and reached down to open the door with his left. Just as he was stepping out, the Explorer peeled off, plowing through a street sign on its way back to the road. Willeford closed his door. Langendorff stomped on the gas. The SUV made it only a few hundred yards before veering off the road, smashing through a fence, and rolling to a stop roughly thirty feet into a field.

Langendorff put the truck in park on the road, about fifty yards from the Explorer. Willeford told Langendorff to duck under the dash as he, for the second time in a span of ten minutes, posted up behind the front tire of a Dodge Ram, perching his rifle on the hood. He screamed at the man in the SUV, who didn’t budge or utter a sound. (He says he isn’t proud of the language he used that day, that he was angry in the moment.) He’s not sure how long he stayed there before hearing the voice of a police officer on a PA behind him.

“Driver, put down your weapon and come out with your hands up,” Willeford remembers the officer saying. When the officer repeated himself, Willeford laid his rifle on the hood and turned toward the squad car.

“Not you!” the officer shouted.

Soon, other officers arrived. To Willeford’s recollection, there were a dozen, at least, from jurisdictions all over the area. Rather than assault the vehicle, they decided to dispatch a drone to inspect the SUV for any movement inside. An officer arrived with the drone after nearly an hour, and through its camera they could see that the gunman was dead in the driver’s seat. Willeford watched as the officers cautiously converged on the Explorer, until they were close enough to peer through the window. The fatal wound was a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

Terrorist success depends on support from polite liberal society

Saturday, November 24th, 2018

Gary Saul Morson concludes his history of Russian terrorism with these words:

Dostoyevsky’s Possessed had suggested that terrorist success depends on support from polite liberal society, and that proved accurate. The division of people into friends and enemies, the celebration of righteous anger, and the romanticization of violence eventually led to a state based on sheer terror. In the name of the many, the radical intelligentsia and their liberal defenders made possible the rule of the chosen few.

The terrorist state emerged directly from the terrorist movement

Friday, November 23rd, 2018

After 1917, Socialists-Revolutionaries and anarchists denounced the Bolsheviks as betrayers of the cause, Gary Saul Morson notes, but all the Bolsheviks did was direct the same tactics against them that they had directed against others:

The terrorist state emerged directly from the terrorist movement and did so without a break. The Bolsheviks employed terror — including random killing, taking hostages, and seizing property by force — as soon as they took power. Lenin set up the Cheka, his secret police force, in December 1917, before the Bolsheviks faced any serious armed resistance. That same month Trotsky declaimed: “There is nothing immoral in the proletariat finishing off the dying class…. Be put on notice that in one month at most this terror will assume more frightful forms.” Concentration camps were set up in 1918. We “must execute not only the guilty,” Nikolai Krylenko, a top Bolshevik, demanded. “Execution of the innocent will impress the masses even more.” Even in relatively peaceful 1922, Lenin wrote that in any new criminal code “jurisprudence must not eliminate terror…. It must vindicate and legalize it.’”

At first the goal is social justice

Thursday, November 22nd, 2018

The history of Russian terrorism reads like fiction — for a reason:

Boris Savinkov’s life not only reads like fiction but, as historian Lynn Ellen Patyk has argued, was consciously lived according to fictional models. As director of the SR Combat Organization, Savinkov organized several important assassinations. His career also included a prison escape, a later attempt to set up a new combat organization, service in the French Army during World War I, a cabinet post in Alexander Kerensky’s Provisional Government, and the founding of a terrorist organization directed against the Bolsheviks. Pretending to be a group of his followers, Bolshevik officials lured him from abroad, arrested him, and condemned him to death, after which he offered to join them. He begged the head of the secret police, Feliks Dzherzhinsky, to be employed in more terror, but soon after, in 1925, either committed suicide or, more likely, was defenestrated. Much later, Stalin, demanding that one of his henchmen employ more torture during interrogations, supposedly exclaimed: “Do you want to be more humanistic than Lenin, who ordered Dzherzhinsky to throw Savinkov out a window?”

The hero of Savinkov’s novel What Never Happened at last realizes that “he had fallen in love, yes, yes, fallen in love with terror.” Savinkov’s own memoirs describe one figure after another who shared this passion. His friend Kaliayev, a terrorist almost as famous as Savinkov himself, “dreamed of future terror… he said to me… ‘A Socialist-Revolutionary without a bomb is no longer a Socialist-Revolutionary.’” Savinkov describes Christians who worship terror and a “convinced disciple of Kant… [who] nevertheless regarded terror with almost religious reverence.” Russian philosophers are a breed of their own.

Savinkov’s career exhibits a dynamic found in most, if not all, revolutionary movements. At first the goal is social justice, which must be achieved by revolution. Soon the goal becomes revolution itself, which in turn requires terror. Finally, terror itself becomes the goal. Whenever sufficient justification for a position is that it is more radical, and whenever compromise suggests cowardice or collusion, the drift toward greater horror becomes irresistible.

Westerners won’t sympathize if you talk to them the way we talk among ourselves

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

The Russian revolutionaries had no more effective advocate abroad than the charismatic Stepniak, Gary Saul Morson explains:

Stepniak made his literary reputation with Underground Russia (1882), written in Italian but soon translated into English, Swedish, German, French, Dutch, and Hungarian. The best commentator on Stepniak, Peter Scotto, stresses the significance of a letter Stepniak wrote to some Russian comrades to explain why the book was less than candid. Underground Russia was designed, Stepniak explained in the letter, to convince polite Europeans that Russian radicals shared their liberal ideals — a bald-faced lie — even if they were compelled to resort, highly reluctantly, to violence. Westerners won’t sympathize if you talk to them the way we talk among ourselves, he cautioned, and so you must omit mentioning our program and illuminate the movement “in a way that makes it clear that the aspirations of Russian socialists are identical — temporarily, to be sure — with those of the radicals of European revolutions.” By “temporarily” Stepniak means that the radicals demand civil liberties only so long as they make terrorism easier. “Propaganda in Russian for Russian youth should, of course, have a completely different character.”

Stalin added very little to this sort of thinking

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

What motivated Russian nihilist terrorists?

Solzhenitsyn got it right: what is most remarkable in the memoirs of terrorists is how rarely they express concern for the unfortunate. “Sympathy for the suffering of the people did not move me to join those who perished,” Vera Zasulich explains. “I had never heard of the horrors of serfdom [when growing up] at Biakolovo — and I don’t think there were any.”

Then what did motivate terrorists? Zasulich describes how as a girl she wished to become a Christian martyr, but when she lost her faith, terrorism offered a substitute martyrdom. Some men and women were, like Veronika, attracted to the excitement of living the prescribed terrorist biography. The fact that life was likely to be short endowed each moment with a vertiginous intensity that became addictive, and many reported that they could not live for long without committing another murder.

Zasulich also saw terrorism as an escape from a lifelong feeling that she “didn’t belong. No one ever held me, kissed me, or sat me on his knee; no one called me pet names. The servants abused me.” Like many others, she loved the camaraderie of the closely knit terrorist circle, in which mortal danger created bonds of intimacy experienced nowhere else. Many found the idea of suicide enchanting. We often think of suicide bombing as a modern invention, but it, too, was pioneered by the Russians.

It never occurs to these memoirists that their motives are entirely selfish. They amount to saying that one practices terrorism for one’s own satisfaction. Other people, whose suffering is a mere excuse, become what Alexander Herzen called “liberation fodder.” Interestingly enough, some heroes of Savinkov’s novels do know that such murder is above all self-affirmation. As aesthetes affirm art for art’s sake, they accept terror for terror’s sake. “Earlier I had an excuse,” one hero reflects, “I was killing for the sake of an ideal, for a cause…. But now I have killed for my own sake. I wanted to kill, and I killed…. Why is it right to kill for the sake of an ideal… and not for one’s own sake?”

Like Kropotkin’s autobiography, Figner’s became a classic, but the two differ in one important respect. Figner is utterly unable even to imagine any point of view but her own. “My mind was not encumbered with notions and doubts,” she explains. She describes her early life as the sudden discovery of one unquestionable truth after another. “Every truth, once recognized, became thereby compulsory for my will. This was the logic of my character.” Although she disdains attachment to any specific socialist program, she is certain that socialism will at once cure all ills. She gives up medicine for revolution when she concludes that medicine can only palliate ailments but socialism will eliminate them.

After the revolution, Bolsheviks insisted that anyone who differed from party dogma in the slightest respect deserved liquidation: There could be no nuance or middle ground. Figner, too, presumes that no decent person could think otherwise. “If all means of convincing him [someone who disagrees] have been tried and alike found fruitless,” she explains matter-of-factly, “there remains for the revolutionist only physical violence: the dagger, the revolver, and dynamite.”

To be a terrorist, Figner explains, one must practice constant deception. One lives under a false identity and regularly abuses trust. One spreads rumors among the peasants and plants spies in the enemy’s camp. So it is mind-boggling to read of her shock upon discovering that she herself has been deceived. It turned out that her comrade Degaev was working for the police. His betrayal led to her capture, but what did that matter “in the face of what Degaev had done, who had shaken the foundation of life itself, that faith in people without which a revolutionist cannot act? He had lied, dissimulated, and deceived…. To experience such a betrayal was a blow beyond all words. It took away the moral beauty of mankind, the beauty of the revolution and of life itself.” The same act is not the same act.

On one page Figner denounces the unjust persecution of radicals’ harmless work in the countryside while on the next she describes their work as revolutionary propaganda. With no irony she says that soon after Perovskaya killed the czar she “was treacherously seized on the street.” She finds imprisonment of terrorists immoral even though she also claims that upon release they immediately resume killing. How dare the government defend itself! She mentions only casually the death of many innocent bystanders, as if no one could seriously object. More horrifying than her actions is her mentality. Someone who reasons this way could justify anything. Stalin added very little to this sort of thinking.

Liberal professionals and industrialists did more than applaud

Monday, November 19th, 2018

Liberal professionals and industrialists did more than applaud Russian terrorists, Gary Saul Morson notes:

They offered their apartments for concealing weapons and contributed substantial sums of money. Lenin supposedly said “when we are ready to hang the capitalists, they will sell us the rope,” but he might better have said “buy us the rope.” Liberals proudly defended terrorists in court, in the press, and in the Duma. Paul Miliukov, the leader of the liberal Constitutional Democratic (Kadet) party, affirmed that “all means are legitimate… and all means should be tried.” The Kadets rejected the government offer of amnesty for political prisoners unless it included terrorists, who would, they well knew, promptly resume killing government officials. “Condemn terror?” exclaimed Kadet leader Ivan Petrunkevich. “Never! That would mean moral ruin for the party!”

If the strategy was to demoralize the government, it worked. Wearing a uniform made one a target for a bullet — or sulfuric acid in the face, another favorite form of attack. In Petersburg the head of the security police faced insubordination from agents afraid of revolutionaries. My favorite story concerns the reporter who asked his editor whether to run the biography of the newly appointed governor-general. Don’t bother, came the reply. Save it for the obituary.