I'm a big fan of journalist Spencer Ackerman's work as a national security reporter, hardcore punk drummer, and scholarly Magneto apologist. He was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team at The Guardian that broke the news of the Snowden leaks, and has more recently worked as the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast.
Ackerman has a new non-fiction book coming out in August titled Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump, which aspires to, well, do exactly what the title claims — draw a unified theory of the least 20 years of US foreign policy and national security, with a straight line connecting the country's 9/11 response directly to the rise of Trump and QAnon and all that jazz. Just ahead of the book's release, Ackerman has also announced that he'll leaving the Daily Beast to start his own newsletter, Forever Wars, which follows along the same themes. As he explained in an interview with Vanity Fair:
"The war on terror is about far more than, quote, unquote, 'national security,'" he told me, which might help explain why his beat is now in quotation marks in his Twitter bio. "It sustains itself in part by how deep and deeply American its roots already are. I want to put all of that up to question and in sustained focus." The writing, Ackerman says, will "feel very much like a continuity" of the work he's done at the Daily Beast. But he wants to "let stories marinate," producing "something that reckons with a really awful reality, rather than what the provocation of the day is."
In fact, Ackerman doesn't "really want to be responsive to the news cycle much at all," and also sees combining journalism and history as essential to the mission of "Forever Wars," a hybrid model largely missing from the current media landscape. (Ackerman's friend, The Atlantic's Adam Serwer, has stood out for injecting historical heft to the news.) And as the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks nears, Ackerman wants to avoid "a very cheap and sanitized and inaccurate and aggregate commemoration" that outlets may start rolling out. "I think this could be something of a corrective," he said, "or it could be something of a counterbalance."
Ackerman's work has always been scathing and insightful, with prose that crackles whether he's eulogizing Donald Rumsfeld obituary or criticizing the multitudinous neoliberal failings of Beast from the X-Men. Case in point, here's Ackerman himself making the pitch for the newsletter:
You may hear that "the 9/11 era is over" in coverage of the 20th anniversary of September 11, and again in coverage of President Biden's withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. This is false. Paired with gauzy commemorations, it's pernicious. Treating the 9/11 era as the past obscures every relevant fact about 20 years' worth of sprawling state violence. The most relevant fact is this: the 9/11 era proceeds. And with procession comes mutation.
The War on Terror made industrial-scale digital surveillance an enduring aspect of U.S. intelligence and federal law enforcement, rendering quaint Constitutional guarantees against unreasonable searches and seizures. Such surveillance lives in symbiosis with 21st century capitalism in general, and the privatized "public" square we call social media in particular.
The basic argument of Reign of Terror is that the 9/11 Era, an authoritarian panoply of possibilities, continues to shape the dire political and security realities we inhabit. And so the basic proposition of Forever Warsis to document the continuities, departures and permutations of the War on Terror as it enters its third decade.
If that sounds up your alley, check out the Forever Wars Newsletter and Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump.
Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons