An examination of the profound impact that the War on Terror had in pushing American politics and society in an authoritarian direction.
REIGN OF TERROR:
How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump
by Spencer Ackerman
Viking, August 2021
For an entire generation, at home and abroad, the United States has waged an endless conflict known as the War on Terror. In addition to multiple ground wars, it has pioneered drone strikes and industrial-scale digital surveillance, as well as detaining people indefinitely and torturing them. These conflicts have yielded neither peace nor victory, but they have transformed America. What began as the persecution of Muslims and immigrants has become a normalized, paranoid feature of American politics and security, expanding the possibilities for applying similar or worse measures against other targets at home. A politically divided country turned the War on Terror into a cultural and then tribal struggle, first on the ideological fringes and ultimately expanding to conquer the Republican Party, often with the timid acquiescence of the Democratic Party. Today’s nativist resurgence walked through a door opened by the 9/11 era.
REIGN OF TERROR will show how these policies created a foundation for American authoritarianism and, though it is not a book about Donald Trump, it will provide a critical explanation of his rise to power and the sources of his political strength. It will show that Barack Obama squandered an opportunity to dismantle the War on Terror after killing Osama bin Laden. That mistake turns out to have been portentous. By the end of his tenure, the war metastasized into a broader and bitter culture struggle in search of a demagogue like Trump to lead it. A union of journalism and intellectual history, REIGN OF TERROR will be a pathbreaking and definitive book with the power to transform how America understands its national security policies and their catastrophic impact on its civic life.
As a journalist, Spencer Ackerman has spent his entire career on subjects we would like to turn our heads away from. He broke the story of Homan Square in Chicago, and Dan Jones’ report on torture. Over the past 17 years, he covered national security and the war on terrorism as a staff reporter for The New Republic, Wired and The Guardian, as well as other publications, where he reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and a number of military bases, naval ships and submarines. While at the Guardian, he was part of the team reporting on Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, which won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service Journalism, the Scripps Howard Foundation’s 2014 Roy W. Howard Award for Public Service Reporting, and the 2013 IRE medal for investigative reporting. Ackerman’s Wired series on Islamophobic counterterrorism training at the FBI won the 2012 online National Magazine Award for reporting. He frequently appears on MSNBC, CNN and other news networks. He has over 147,000 Twitter followers.