A Civil War Between America’s Privileged Has Arrived

The coup attempt at the U.S. Capitol was 2021’s first strike — and things could get uglier

Today’s free world is white-hot.

The Divided States of America seethes from both ends. One half includes the Donald Trump faithful, which days ago stormed, scaled, and penetrated the U.S. Capitol like a ninth-century Scandinavian platoon. They accredit their rage to the phantom of a rigged election and the reality of electoral votes putting a final nail in the coffin of their defeated leader.

It’s also quite possible that the catalyst was Georgia painting both its Senate seats indigo — one secured by a Black man — which added insult to an already injured red party.

Liberals populate the second hemisphere. Those who not only voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris but also, despite their blood-orange president, helped pump new blue into American democracy over the past few years. They made household names of elected officials like Levar Stoney, AOC, and now Jon Ossoff. Although liberals and Trumpeteers are marketed as nemeses, their primary makeup and inspiration are uncomfortably identical. White people make up the majority on both sides. Most noteworthy, both so-called sworn enemies are fueled by the same octane: patriotic entitlement. As if mean-mugging their reflection, they stand appalled at the other side’s audacity to challenge their birthright and power: privilege. White privilege, to be specific. How dare they not claim me victor? How dare they not acknowledge my triumph?

With Democrats as current victors gripping tight to the reins of momentum, it’s no surprise that conservatives would tap into their muscle memory of 1861. Although liberals pick up and drop Black Lives Matter allyship like a seasonal sport, their precious democracy — flimsy and sullied — must be protected at all costs. Welcome to the civil war of 2021, even when the opposition shares roots.

It’s sad that the United States has done such a relentless job of painting melanin on the face of racial unrest that it missed this clash boiling for much of 2020. It was a year of purpled American anger, of police loaning law and order to armed civilians who eventually committed White-on-White crime in the name of the U.S. constitution.

The tide of White liberal rage rose to unprecedented heights after the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. It appeared that White folks, too, were finally disgusted by the desecration of Black life. Across the nation, they protested with expected organization yet surprising vigor. From inside predominantly White and insulated communities, they spat Black names and discomfort in and out of megaphones. I witnessed a White woman protester, her nose about a centimeter away from a cop’s face shield, scream, “I dare you to touch me!” Can’t front: As a Black man observing, I found her immunity enviable. Her snowy complexion looked like a force field.

America’s love language is violence. It’s what this country respects and inflicts most, whether for independence or the deprivation of others.

Whether night or day — New York, Virginia, or Portland — BLM demonstrations led by White liberals moved through communities with the entitlement of Lewis and Clark. They stopped traffic enthusiastically — the angrier car horns screamed, the higher their joy climbed. They bathed in both the control and chaos, visibly orgasmic with invincibility, their climaxes willed by the comfort of their privilege. Yet once the moon relieved the sun of that brew of entitlement, audacity and love for anarchy stirred into a Molotov cocktail. White anarchists became opportunistic. They arrived on protest scenes in skateboarder sneakers, black hoodies, T-shirt-made masks, and book bags filled with spray paint, gasoline, and worse. They appeared more preoccupied with living out Heath Ledger Dark Knight wet dreams than locking up the jokers in blue.

On the flip side, Blue Lives advocates and anti-government groups were fed up. They’d grown dissatisfied with local and federal law enforcement and decided to place the job of “policing” in their own hands. Some shot paintballs at protesters. Others fired semi-automatic rounds. White people were fatally shot inside BLM protest circles. On August 25, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse carried his unlicensed military-style rifle to a peaceful march in Kenosha, Wisconsin, formed in response to the shooting that left Jacob Blake paralyzed by another terrible cop. That night, Rittenhouse shot three White people, killing two.

Three days after Rittenhouse’s arrest, Aaron J. Danielson, a supporter of Trump and the far-right group Patriot Prayer, was shot in the chest amid protests in Portland. Allegedly, the gunman was antifa supporter Michael Reinoehl. It was reported that the attack was reverberation from an incident a week prior when a man pointed a gun at a demonstration and went unassailed. A week after Danielson’s murder, police gunned down Reinoehl in an apprehension. An arrest warrant was issued only after the publishing of Reinoehl’s Vice interview, during which he alluded to shooting Danielson in defense of a “friend of color.”

America’s love language is violence. It’s what this country respects and inflicts most, whether for independence or the deprivation of others. It should come as little surprise that, in 2021, the default of a defeated Trump USA is a tantrum replete with public destruction, especially when factoring the mobbish tactics being exercised. Americans love mobs — from Grand Wizards hosting parents and children at public lynchings to the killers of Yusuf Hawkins to Blue Lives Matter militias in Louisville invading rallies that demand the arrest of Breonna Taylor’s killers. One of the reasons Trump is president is that this country loves a bully — preferably one with a brutish approach. It’s why last year’s chaos and collective intimidation at the hands of the Boogaloo Bois was also to be expected. White boys adding kerosene to a country already ablaze with unnecessary violence and destruction is as American as the posse.

When the hell-hot halves of red and blue collide again — prayerfully nowhere near as catastrophically as they did during the Civil War — my concern will be selfish. My focus will live with the Americans stuck in the middle, the disenfranchised, the most vulnerable, the most disposable: Black Americans. In fact, all people of color should be terrified of an America where angry White men who occasionally support the lives of Black people and angry White men who feel those Black lives don’t matter kill each other; a nation where police concede law and order power to the militias, and violence at protests is tolerated and expected; where 2021 confederates are not only allowed to disregard and dishonor governmental authority and property, but are escorted by said authority onto the scene of the crime. (This, of course, after being activated by their president to incite anarchy.)

It’s Brown and Black men and women pinned between Plymouth Rock and a hard place — a White liberal’s capricious interest in our lives and the other faction’s preference that we return to fractional human status. That’s a forecast of much warring and little civility.

Bonsu Thompson is a writer, producer, Brooklynite and 2019 Sundance Screenwriters Lab fellow.

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