By Nicholas Grossman
To the QAnon community, and others involved in storming the Capitol:
The Deep State is real, but it’s not what you think. The Deep State you worry about is mostly made up; a fiction, a lie, a product of active imaginations, grifter manipulations and the internet.
I’m telling you this now because storming the Capitol building has drawn the attention of the real Deep State — the national security bureaucracy — and it’s important you understand what that means.
You attacked America. Maybe you think it was justified — as a response to a stolen election, or a cabal of child-trafficking pedophiles, or whatever — but it was still a violent attack on the United States. No matter how you describe it, that’s how the real Deep State is going to treat it.
The impact of that will make everything else feel like a LARP.
I’ve been teaching college students about the Deep State for years, and have interacted with it on occasion. By “Deep State,” I’m referring to executive branch agencies populated with unelected officials, especially those involving national security, law enforcement and intelligence. The non-nefarious name for it is “the federal bureaucracy,” with the subset that includes the military, Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation known as “the national security state.”
In 2017, conservative writer David Frum quipped that if you replaced “Deep State” with “rule of law,” you’d have a better understanding of Trumpist complaints.
There’s some truth in that. Federal agencies and their mandates were created by law, their annual budgets are determined by law, and they’re overseen by elected officials. Their main job is executing U.S. law, and one reason they’ve clashed with the White House is being asked to do things outside their legal abilities, or to not do things that are legally required.
So rule of law is part of it, but it’s not that simple.
The president appoints, and the Senate confirms, top officials, from the secretary of state to the five members of the Arctic Research Commission, over 1,200 in total. Every other executive branch employee — over 4 million if you include the military, over 2.7 million if you don’t — is hired or recruited, not elected or appointed. This means that the departments of State, Defense, Justice, the intelligence community and federal law enforcement are staffed with people the agencies hired themselves.
Their mandates are broad. For example, the FBI is supposed to “investigate federal crimes and threats to national security.” While there are laws giving the FBI certain powers (e.g., to arrest people) and limits (needing warrants), a lot is open to interpretation, especially regarding national security threats.
It’s fair to say the FBI, CIA, Internal Revenue Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other federal agencies have, to some extent, taken on lives of their own. So has the military, and the larger defense-industrial complex. They’re under control of elected and appointed leaders, but also not, acting according to established laws, established regulations (many of which they wrote themselves), and individual judgment calls. You could call that “the Deep State.”
If you want to understand the real Deep State, the biggest thing you need to know is it’s institutional, impersonal and operates on a national scale.
The law enforcement-intelligence-national security bureaucracy doesn’t really care about a lot of the little things people think it cares about. It’s mostly focused on terrorists, serial killers, narco-traffickers and foreign governments — threats to the nation.
Previous QAnon activity wasn’t on that scale, but the Capitol attack is. I don’t think this has sunk in yet. It wasn’t 9/11, but it was bigger than, for example, Benghazi.
Americans storming the Capitol to prevent Congress from carrying out election law hasn’t happened before. When four Puerto Rican nationalists shot at congressmen from the House balcony in 1954, they were rightly called terrorists, convicted in federal court and imprisoned. And that was just four attackers, no one died, and it wasn’t encouraged by a losing presidential candidate to disrupt the peaceful transition of power.
The Capitol attack was a unique event in American history, something they’ll teach about in high school. National security analysts are comparing it to last year’s FBI-thwarted plot to kidnap and execute Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, which came a few months after armed demonstrators forcefully stopped business at the Michigan statehouse. There have been armed post-election demonstrations at multiple statehouses, and reports of plots to storm them next week.