The would-be D.C. bomber was no "lone wolf" — we can expect many more like him

Floyd Roseberry didn't have a bomb, and may be mentally ill. We can't let that obscure the rising threat level

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published August 24, 2021 10:02AM (EDT)

A heavily armored vehicle is seen on D St NE in Washington, DC as authorities continue to deal with a possible bomb threat outside the Library of Congress on August 19, 2021. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
A heavily armored vehicle is seen on D St NE in Washington, DC as authorities continue to deal with a possible bomb threat outside the Library of Congress on August 19, 2021. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

As the late comedian Paul Mooney observed, "Whiteness is the complexion for the protection."

Last Thursday, Floyd Ray Roseberry, an apparent follower of Donald Trump, traveled from North Carolina to Washington, D.C. He parked his pickup truck outside the Library of Congress and told police his vehicle was full of explosives, threatening to detonate his bomb if President Biden (and other leading Democrats) did not resign from office. He also talked of "patriots" and "revolution," near-meaningless buzzwords of the radical right. In an online video, Roseberry also discussed various personal problems, involving inadequate health insurance, his wife's struggle with cancer and his own physical and mental health issues.

Roseberry apparently did not have a bomb, although authorities have said he possessed "bomb-making materials." He surrendered to police that afternoon, unharmed. As seen on Jan. 6 and in a multitude of other incidents, white people in America can generally engage in all manner of lawless behavior, including apparent terrorism, and somehow not be harmed by police.

If Roseberry were Black or brown, or had identified himself as a follower of antifa or another left-wing movement, he would likely have been shot dead by law enforcement. In accordance with white America's public ritual, Roseberry will likely be deemed mentally ill and a "lone wolf." In reality, whatever his mental state may be, he is a member of a neofascist movement that poses an existential threat to the country's democracy.

Trumpism, like other forms of fascism, is a political cult which promises the followers an opportunity to achieve glory and immortality by being part of a "patriotic" struggle. In that way, fascism provides meaning for those individuals who are socially alienated, emotionally and psychologically broken inside, or otherwise damaged by their own personal choices, life circumstances, society or some combination thereof.

If Floyd Roseberry imagined himself as a hero and martyr for "the cause," he is not alone.There are many more such people waiting to act, and the leaders of the Trump fascist movement are actively encouraging them.

Rep. Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican and staunch Trump supporter, came very close to justifying Roseberry's alleged actions, writing on Twitter: 

Although this terrorist's motivation is not yet publicly known, and generally speaking, I understand citizenry anger directed at dictatorial Socialism and its threat to liberty, freedom and the very fabric of American society. The way to stop Socialism's march is for patriotic Americans to fight back in the 2022 and 2024 election.

In the Age of Trump, Republicans and the white right are inexorably compelled to believe in a false narrative in which traitors and terrorists become "patriots."

Opinion polls and other research have repeatedly shown that Republicans and right-wing "independents" increasingly support political violence and other acts of terrorism as a means of getting, keeping and expanding their social and political power. On this, Right Wing Watch observes

Although it didn't succeed in shutting down the certification of the Electoral College votes in the free and fair 2020 presidential election, the Jan. 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol was, in its own way, a success nonetheless in its likely inspiration for events such as [last week's] threatened bombing of the Capitol complex. … As we've been saying for a while at Right Wing Watch, Jan. 6 looked like a beta test for future violence to be directed at institutions of the U.S. government.

Former Department of Homeland Security analyst Daryl Johnson, who was forced out of his job by Republicans in 2009 for highlighting the growing threat posed by white supremacist and other right-wing terrorists, has also been sounding the alarm.

In a recent interview with the American Independent, Johnson observed, "It's under Democratic administrations where these groups proliferate. So, for at least the next four years ... we're still gonna see a period of heightened activity."

In a separate interview with the same publication, Johnson explained that the results of the recent U.S. census, in combination with white racial paranoia about "the browning of America," are fueling white supremacist and right-wing extremism. The loss of majority status and white hegemony, he said, "has always been their greatest fear." He continued, "I think it's one of the main drivers behind white supremacist recruitment and violence, the demographic shifting in America…. The latest census results just reinforce that fear and realization. Undoubtedly there are going to be people on the far-right that will be agitated and angered by this data and want to do something about it."

In a recent opinion essay for MSBNC, Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director of counterintelligence for the FBI, discussed the danger posed by delusional conspiracy theorists who believed that Trump would somehow be returned to power this month:

This nonsense about a Trump return to the Oval Office would be at least mildly amusing if it weren't so dangerous. And the Department of Homeland Security agrees. …

A deceived group of people turning violent when their imagined outcome never materializes is of course what we saw on Jan. 6 — but the problem goes back further than that. Daily Beast reporter Kelly Weill explained last December that Trump conspiracy theorists' cult-like qualities mean yet another missed prophecy should have us concerned:

"Psychologist and author Robert Lifton uses the term 'forcing the end' to describe efforts to push a prophecy into reality. In his book 'Destroying the World to Save It,' Lifton describes a series of cults that initially believed Armageddon would happen naturally, without human intervention. But when significant dates came and went without revelation, and the groups perceived themselves to be under attack, members took drastic actions: mass suicides in the cases of the Heaven's Gate and Peoples Temple cults, and mass murder in the case of the Manson family and Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult."

Shane Burley, the author of "Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It," largely echoed Figliuzzi's concerns in an opinion essay for NBC News:

There had been some hope that the threat of far-right violence that marked Donald Trump's presidency would decline after Joe Biden became president and promised to deal with white nationalist groups. Once Biden took office, the thinking went, Trump's movement would have been proven to be a failure, while Trump himself would no longer have the world's most powerful bully pulpit. That would deflate the nativist street movement that acted as part of his base.

Instead, this sense of loss, government crackdowns, removal from social media platforms and difficulties presented by anti-fascist activism could make these groups more militant — and potentially dangerous. …

This pattern of mainstreaming hate, gathering more adherents, experiencing disillusion when the political system doesn't deliver and in turn resorting to greater violence has repeated throughout modern U.S. history. And it suggests this could be the most volatile period for right-wing violence in recent memory.

Floyd Roseberry's alleged terrorist acts and possible mental illness (in a court appearance, he expressed concern that he had not been taking medication for his "mind") reflect a much larger dynamic. Trumpism and its Big Lie are supported and made "real" for their believers by many other little lies and related conspiracy theories.

In that sense, fascism is not a coherent ideology but rather a type of imaginary — a means of processing or understanding reality that involves mental pathology on a societal scale. In a new essay, also at NBC News), Sophia Moskalenko and Mia Bloom, the co-authors of "Pastels and Pedophiles: Inside the Mind of QAnon," offer this analysis:

For starters, QAnon, like the painkiller abuse epidemic driven by the drug oxycodone, engulfs people who are most vulnerable to its content. An overwhelming proportion of QAnon followers arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection, for instance, have mental health problems, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a University of Maryland analysis. If you believe the world is out to get you, you are probably more likely to embrace QAnon narratives that explain exactly how the world is out to get you.

Their psychological pain may make these people especially vulnerable to QAnon's content, which often speaks to fears, anxieties and anger. People who worry about contamination, for example, are probably more susceptible to lies about the Covid-19 vaccine carrying a contaminating agent that makes their children gay or transgender. ...

It is also likely that prolonged exposure to QAnon content exacerbates or even triggers mental illness, as watching video after video about horrific devastation can have a detrimental effect on anyone's mental health. This then increases the appeal of the remedies QAnon prescribes, such as refusing Covid vaccines, protesting mask mandates or even storming the Capitol in Washington. Though to be sure, most people with mental health problems do not believe in QAnon conspiracy theories, just as a sizable proportion of QAnon followers are not mentally ill.

Donald Trump has been accurately described as a type of human opioid for angry and racially resentful white Americans (and others) who are afraid of losing privilege, power, and control over American social and political life. Public opinion and other research have revealed the extreme depth of this commitment, finding that a large percentage of white Republicans, especially Trump followers, prefer authoritarianism over democracy if that will ensure that white people remain the most powerful and dominant group in America.

In a recent interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," never-Trump conservative Tom Nichols, author of the new book "Our Own Worst Enemy: The Assault from Within on Modern Democracy," offered this truth-telling about white identity politics and its "poisonous nostalgia":

We want to believe things are not our fault and things are so terrible and we would do better and wouldn't have to be so angry if things weren't so awful all the time. … Every age has its advantages and disadvantages. but the notion that somehow in 2021 — when we're living longer, healthier, the world is mostly at peace, whether people want to believe that or not, it's true — people want to believe this is the worst time ever, and it's a poisonous nostalgia that looks back and there's no way a democratic government can keep up with that unless they can invent a time machine. ...

I think that the problem of becoming a minority is really anxiety-producing for a lot of [white men]. But again, the answer to that is more democracy, not some kind of illiberal backlash and trying to turn the clock back by force. But they've been told by politicians and political entrepreneurs that with just enough willpower and rage and anger and resentment they can turn the hands of time back and, you know, make it 1965 again.

What comes next in the neofascist movement's war on American democracy?

In a new essay at the Atlantic, Hussein Ibish makes the crucial point that America's crisis of democracy is part of a larger global context, including the sectarian and other political violence in the Middle East.

Decades of living in, studying, and writing about the Middle East have taught me that whenever a political faction becomes obsessed with violent rhetoric and fantasies, brutal acts aren't far behind. … And while there's always been a strain of militancy on the American right and left fringes, there is something unmistakably new, and profoundly alarming, about the casual, florid, and sadistic rhetoric that is metastasizing from the Republican fringe into the party's mainstream.

Again, the unmistakable lesson from the modern Middle East is: When people keep saying they're fantasizing about how great it would be, and feel, to kill you, believe them. …

The cancer of political violence is not an endemic American disease. … At the moment, it is a Republican disease. No one but Republicans themselves can cure it. Until they do, the violence of the right is only going to keep swelling and crashing. From a Middle Eastern perspective, this is all appallingly familiar.

Floyd Ray Roseberry and those like him are a law enforcement problem, one that can be defeated with sufficient time, energy and resources. Others, including the Jan. 6 coup leaders and their confederates, can also be punished under the law — if the Biden administration and the Department of Justice muster the courage and principle to do so.

Trumpism and the larger neofascist movement, however, represent a deep cultural problem that cannot be corrected by investigation and prosecution, no matter how robust. America's democracy problem is now in the bones of the body politic. Superficial and palliative treatments will not be sufficient.

Those Americans who believe in a true "we the people" democracy that is multiracial, modern and forward-thinking must force a moral reckoning and critical examination of their nation's values and beliefs, as well as its social and political institutions. Until that work is done, this country will remain fertile ground for neofascism and right-wing extremism. Entirely too many Americans, including the leaders of the Democratic Party, are standing around looking for a savior or hero or waiting for an opportune moment to act at some point in the future. But America as we know it will have no future unless we act now.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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