The year 2020 has been like no other, one that long will be remembered. Historians are going to need a lot of time to decide and figure this year out. What went wrong and why?
It reminds me somewhat of 1968. Charles Kaiser wrote an entire book, “1968 in America,’’ on the year. He states: “Nineteen sixty-eight was the pivotal year of the sixties: the moment when all of the nation’s impulses toward violence, idealism, diversity, and disorder peaked to produce the greatest possible hope-and the worst imaginable despair.”
It is true, that we haven’t had assassinations like we had in 1968 (Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy), but 2020 has brought us an impeachment trial of the president, an ongoing pandemic that started in February with 210,000 dead from the coronavirus, an economic plunge in the U.S. economy, remote working for millions, education changes for students, vast unemployment, racial and police issues, angry divisions, filling Ruth Bade Ginsburg’s seat with a nominee, wildfires incinerating four million acres in California and 12 million in Australia and even a Midwestern derecho with winds that uprooted 80 trees at the Kankakee Country Club, according to a golf member friend of mine.
If all of this isn’t enough, now the year has brought us conspiracy and domestic terrorism, that being the alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and take her to Wisconsin “for trial.” The FBI has charged 13 men with terrorism, conspiracy and weapons charges. It’s incredible to think that a lockdown by the governor to protect its citizens from the virus with closure of gyms and bars would motivate people in 2020 to engage in such a plot. I will leave to others a debate whether this is an isolated self-created incident by those charged or something juiced up by hateful rhetoric from leaders of this country. Even more bizarre, according to an article in Forbes, is the Barry County, Michigan sheriff, suggesting the militia suspects might have merely attempted a legal citizens’ arrest of a duly elected governor.
To understand this foiled caper, surveillances, telephone networks, language of techno argots and the thinking processes of many U.S. citizens, it’s educational to read the FBI affidavit filed in federal court and unsealed last week. It can be found online. It shows this was not a harmless fantasy of indignant patriots. According to the affidavit, “Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking a sitting governor.’” Several of the arrests were made by FBI agents and the state police as they met “to pool funds for explosives and exchange tactical gear,” as stated by Andrew Birge, the U.S. attorney for the western district of Michigan.
The plot allegedly was hatched in the basement of a vacuum repair shop. To get to it one would have to walk down two flights of stairs under a cover to a dark place cluttered with spare vacuum parts.
Hate crimes have risen in the past three years. To attack them it’s best to start with the domestic terrorism, counterterrorism and counterintelligence programs. Federal law makes it a felony to conspire to kidnap or abduct any person under certain circumstances. As noted in the affidavit, the FBI relied on information provided by Confidential Human Sources and undercover employees during several months. They were able to record conversations and details of the plotting.
The likelihood of cases like this being prosecuted without the use and benefit of informants is remote. Since 9/11 and in a year like 2020 peaked with diversity, violence and disorder, informants and sources of information on terrorism are a most valuable commodity with federal agents. Some sources are mere rubbish collectors. When I worked for the federal government, I inherited from a retiring agent, an elderly informant, now deceased, whose nickname was Nummy, short for Numb-nuts. Not that Nummy was worthless, but simply high strung and occasionally goofy. Some felt he needed a shrink. Yet, Nummy, a street guy, hated communists and any form of corruption. He was productive and provided information that led to several federal criminal convictions, which allowed me to attach the word “reliable” on his resume. If you happen to read the affidavit in this case, you will note that the CHS’s were all designated reliable.
Well, so far it has been an exhausting year given all of the daily news. We are into the home stretch. It’s times like this that I think of one of my favorite poems from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: “And then to the lips of this poor earthen Urn I leaned, the secret of my life to learn; And lip to lip it murmur’d – “While you live, Drink! For once dead, you never shall return.”
In case you haven’t noticed, liquor sales have mushroomed 27 percent since the pandemic hit. Elections are coming. Vote.