Photo by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash

Tactical White Supremacy and Robert O’Brien:

“A Few Bad Apples:” Verbal Maneuvering in the Interest of Supremacy Maintenance

Several days ago, Robert O’Brien, the Trump administration’s national security advisor, rolled out a tired white supremacist excuse for our institutionalized system of white supremacy: these abusive (and in some cases murderous) police officers are ‘just a few bad apples.’

Here is a summary from a Washington Post article which I have highlighted:

“There are some bad apples in there. And there there are some bad cops that are racist. And there are cops that are — maybe don’t have the right training. And there are some that are just bad cops. And they need to be rooted out, because there’s a few bad apples that are giving law enforcement a terrible name.”

And when CNN’s Jake Tapper asked O’Brien directly, “Do you think systemic racism is a problem in law enforcement agencies in the United States?,” the national security adviser was clear. “No, I don’t think there’s systemic racism.”

This excuse is used to minimize accountability where there is a great deal of it. It is an unfortunately common delusion: ‘let’s just brush off the crumbs’ of white supremacy, because our society is fundamentally NOT racist, and then we won’t be racist anymore. This form of denial refuses to acknowledge American history, which is part of a global form of dominance enacted by Europeans in the last 500 years and which has established systems which favor white people at the expense of people of color, and in particular BLACK PEOPLE. The rare event of watching a white police officer kneel was the vision of one kneeling on a black man’s neck until he died: murder witnessed by three other officers. First of all, watching this egregious display harks back to reading Lord of the Flies and the way in which middle-school boys negotiate power and dominance. Besides being racist and murderous behavior, this display is also extremely immature behavior; not one of those officers was willing to push back — inclusive of two nonwhite ones — indicating that Mr. Chauvin was the dominant authoritarian in their group.

This is not to say that all police officers are ‘bad’ or ‘racist,’ but to acknowledge that ALL of us are embedded in a white supremacist system which operates through institutionalization.

The national security advisor — NATIONAL SECURITY — has stated that, despite this display, many similar episodes historically, and 500 years of embedded white supremacy, this behavior is isolated to one or a few individuals. This high-grade denial — possibly approaching psychosis in its severance from actual reality — is part and parcel of the behavior required by conquest and indicates that our society still actively operates from a white supremacist — ie, conquest-minded — perspective. The ‘few bad apples’ excuse allows Mr. O’Brien to toss the problem away from himself and all other police officers, thus implying that institutionalized white supremacy doesn’t exist. This is a tactical maneuver, and even though it doesn’t contain actual violence, it leads to violence because it allows our current system to continue. As Foucault explains in his book, Discipline and Punish, violence can be enacted in more ways than the physical.

With 500 years of worldwide evidence, not to mention a plethora of Black bodies dying and/or dead, O’Brien still chooses this ignorance. Why is that? Why does he choose to shirk responsibility for a deep-seated racism that has existed in our institutions since the founding of the United States? What could possibly be the purpose of completely denying reality?

Conquest. Mr. O’Brien’s behaviors are typical of Macchiavellianism and conquest, and indicate that not only our larger institutions but also individual people in positions of power still operate by the basic dictates of white supremacy: deception supported by actual tactical maneuvers which maintain dominance. These forms of violence aren’t manifested by the men in charge, as a rule: these men allow the less wealthy ones to do the work, then isolate and eject them when they get caught, then pretend the circumstances which created this context DO NOT exist so that business can continue at status-quo, white supremacy normal which continues to privilege them.

Let’s examine O’Brien’s behavior based on his words:

1. He defends police officers. Presumably, he extended this defense to Chauvin prior to this event.

2. Chauvin created a situation in which the ugly core of white supremacy and institutionalization was revealed. This threatens Mr. O’Brien’s own status, since he benefits significantly from white supremacy and, like all of us, is part of these institutions. As a white men, he benefits most, generally speaking. He doesn’t want white supremacy to be revealed OVERALL: this would threaten his nice position in society, not to mention what he can do for his children if white supremacy continues into the future.

3. He can’t deny that Chauvin, a police officer who he would prefer to defend if he could, has now committed a crime. This would be absurd given the magnitude and extremity of Chauvin’s behavior. In addition, it would not be wise to push against an entire world which is now protesting racism. He could only garner resentment and be placed in the Chauvin category.

4. What’s left?

a. He can admit that white supremacy is institutionalized, including and perhaps especially in law enforcement. Then, he will be opening up ALL institutions to this same surveillance, including Trump’s administration — which privileges him profoundly. This isn’t a good tack for him: HIS OWN WHITE PRIVILEGE WILL BE REVEALED.

b. He can defend Chauvin, but the countervailing opinion would isolate him, because so many people are now willing to admit to the institution of white supremacy. He might lose his privilege.

c. He can toss Chauvin in the ‘other’ category, thus separating Chauvin from him and keeping himself squeaky clean while still ensuring that he doesn’t jeopardize ACTUAL white supremacy, which is working very nicely for him.

He chooses the latter. His decision has nothing to do with reality, morality, actual history, or the way in which history currently impacts Black people. It has to do with whatever it takes to maintain his (unearned) advantage. He must defend white supremacy to do this.

By pretending larger institutions are not fundamentally white supremacist, he keeps the larger system ‘clean’ and thus ensures it continues its normal operations of privileging white people at the expense of everyone else, and in particular Black peoples. By doing so, he commits a violent act, because he ensures the system will continue unabated due to the fact that there isn’t systemic racism.

Rule #10: Avoid the unlucky.

Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

Robert O’Brien in conversation with Jake Tapper

Examining this through the lens of conquest, war, and dominance, his behavior is immediately obvious. I use the basic dictates of war as elaborated by Macchiavelli in The Prince, as summarized by Robert Greene in The 48 Laws of Power. Greene’s short book summarizes conquest-oriented behavior and indicates the ways in which deception is the ballast for these behaviors, in order to guarantee CONQUEST OF THE OTHER.

Here are two examples, elaborating upon O’Brien’s manipulative words:

Rule #10: Avoid the unlucky.

O’Brien: ‘they need to be rooted out.’

This statement has a few interesting components which indicate the way in which O’Brien manages to render invisible the larger issue of institutionalized white supremacy, thus guaranteeing its maintenance.

1. He refers to Chauvin as ‘they.’ Using this word, O’Brien instantly conveys that he has separated himself from all bad elements involved in this situation. The word ‘they’ is highly manipulative coming from somebody who indicates a great deal of devotion to police officers in general. But it is the first tack.

2. ‘rooted out.’ This implies that there are only a few bad apples, as he states outright, and that if he simply separates himself from these, all will be well.

The tactical maneuver involves ‘avoiding the unlucky’ of anyone who got caught. His stance separates himself from the ‘bad’ white man, implying he is the ‘good’ white man, like most officers, and that once this is done, our problems are solved.

In turn, this allows him to maintain his lofty position and his white privilege advantage, because he has extruded the ‘real’ problem.

Rule #45: Preach the need for change. But never reform too much.

Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

Robert O’Brien in conversation with Jake Tapper, in the year 2020, centuries after white supremacy was established.

Rule #45: Preach the need for change. But never reform too much.

Here, O’Brien is ‘preaching’ for minimal change which will not reform too much, and certainly not any overarching problems that will jeopardize his standing: he will address one officer, or perhaps three, but never the underlying issues which lead to these problems BECAUSE then his own privilege would be revealed.

These tactical maneuvers should be acknowledged and exposed each and every place where we are forced to witness them. Ultimately, we need people in positions of power — such as National Security Advisor — who care enough about everybody’s security that they do something other than search for deceptive ways to shirk responsibility and thus maintain our white supremacist system.

Speaking in ways which deny white supremacy exists in all of our institutions contributes to violence because violence is the final result of not actively addressing institutionalized issues. National security advisors should never be speaking in ways which promote violence.

She/Her: Distort lies until they amplify truth. CryBaby: As loud as necessary.

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