Lew Rockwell's Prophetic Warning About 9/11
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, LewRockwell.com was established as one of the most important blogs in American politics. In the late 90’s, the blog was a unique voice against the tyranny of the Clinton administration, keeping alive the spirit of the printed Rothbard Rockwell Report earlier in the decade. While the site became a home for a number of talented libertarian voices, including a young Ryan McMaken, the work of Rockwell himself stands out for continuing clarity and relevance.
In the late 90s, LRC's antiwar message found common cause with many conservatives, such as Pat Buchanan, who wanted to dismantle the American empire in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It looked like conservatives and Rothbardian libertarians might find unity on foreign policy for the first time in decades.
This changed following the events of 9/11 and the rise of George W. Bush’s War on Terror. With the images of the collapse of the World Trade Center and the charred hole on the side of the Pentagon, the American right shifted away from the growing 90’s era skepticism of the American regime and became the loudest advocates for the Republican president’s construction of a new national security state.
This result is one that Lew Rockwell predicted.
In an article published on December 24th, 1999, Rockwell warned that the successful execution of a terrorist plot blamed on Middle Eastern terrorists would eliminate the gains of the 1990s.
Rockwell began the article, titled “Memo to Terrorists of the World”, with this:
The U.S. State Department and every other official agency is telling us to be on the lookout for terrorist attacks from you guys. The attacks could come in any form, say the press releases, from a letter bomb to a truck bomb. Security at airports and U.S. borders is tighter than ever. But it is not just you swarthy foreign types who are under suspicion, but also regular Joe citizens. We are all suspects.
It’s hard to know what to make of these warnings. You might not be plotting anything at all. This could just be propaganda designed to instill fear in the American people. All governments know that people living in fear of attack are more likely to be obedient. Or it could just be an excuse to step up violations of civil liberties.
Rockwell also warned about the fruits of US foreign policy, driving the anger to provoke such an attack:
On the other hand, these warnings may indeed be justified. Because of its foreign policy, imperial military reach, and global arrogance, the U.S. government is the most hated in the world. It’s not surprising that some of you might want to vent your anger. But before you do so, you should consider this: what the U.S. government has done to you and to everyone else in the world has nothing to do with the American people. Don’t blame us for the actions of the government.
You are undoubtedly outraged at the bombings and ongoing sanctions against Iraq. It’s true that these actions are grossly contrary to morality. It’s also true that tens of thousands of civilians have died because of them. But these actions were undertaken by the dictatorial executive branch, and with only the tacit approval of the Congress. No one asked the American people if we wanted this. Thanks to the long, progressive seizure of power by the presidency, the Clinton administration can act on its own, and pursue its own agenda apart from the will of the American people.
The same goes for the bombing of that pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan. It’s true that this was a ghastly crime. It’s an outrage that the Clinton administration has still not issued a formal apology or offered to compensate the factory’s owner for the property damage. But here again, the American people were not asked if they wanted to lob bombs on innocents. The decision was undertaken at the highest levels, in consultation with half a dozen un-elected bureaucrats.
Rockwell went on to consider a different path from the one the US would be on just less than two years later:
What can be done about it? You may propose violence, but that would be wrong, and it can only lead to more bombings, more interventions, and more crackdowns on liberties, at home and abroad. Indeed, terrorism can only play into the hands of the government because it seems to validate everything the Clinton administration is saying.
There’s a better way. The American people do not revere their leaders as they once did. In every way that is permitted, and some that are not, the American people are systematically withdrawing their consent from the powers that be. As we saw in Eastern Europe ten years ago, in Iran under the Shah and India under Gandhi, or in the American colonies in the 1770s, no government can continue to hold power once the people withdraw their consent.
So be patient. The U.S. military dominance of the world will not last forever. Give it some time; we’ll curb the power of the Leviathan. In the meantime, refrain from blaming the American people for the actions of our government, and from the violence that can only aid the empire.
While the chances for a peaceful overthrow of Clinton-style governance may seem fantastical in our current cynical age, it is worth revisiting the landscape of 90’s America. The disillusionment of the public for Washington, fueled by the lingering remnants of the lies of the Vietnam War, Watergate, and tyrannical agenda of the Clinton Administration helped fuel the rise of widespread distrust of Washington.
Crackdowns on gun rights fueled anti-DC militia groups around the nation. The sinister characters of the Clinton administration and their capture of the corporate press fueled the rise of Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones and the alternative media of talk radio. The X-Files, whose ratings in the 90’s trump almost all non-sports television programming in 2023, offered Americans regular programming of how the highest levels of government we capable of the greatest evils imaginable.
Paul Cantor, an acclaimed media critic and student of Ludwig von Mises, noted in a journal article “This Is Not Your Father’s FBI: The X-Files and the Delegitimation of the Nation-State” just how subversive the message of this pop cultural phenomenon truly was:
The X-Files strongly suggests that our public officials are just figureheads, manipulated from behind the scenes by mysterious power brokers. It is remarkable how small a role prominent officials such as the president or central institutions such as Congress have to play in The X-Files. It is obscure government agencies that have the real power, such as the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), which, according to one conspiracy theorist in the X-Files movie, forms “the secret government” of the United States and will take over openly once the planned alien invasion finally begins. Arguably the most extraordinary message The X-Files has for its audience is that the public figures they see in Washington, who seem to represent the nation-state in all its flag-waving glory, are in fact inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. According to The X-Files, it is people whose faces we do not know who in effect govern our lives, and they do not do so in the name of the nation-state...History made by unknown men standing in the shadows—that is the governing vision of The X-Files and its ultimate subversion of the ideology of the nation-state.
In 2023, 1990’s politics seems to have far more in common with current political discourse than the age when Bill O’Reilly dominated cable news. The top terrorist concern of Washington is once again an organized political right, from parents upset with public school officials and those skeptical of “fortified” elections.
It is the tools created by Bush-era Republicans, applauded for their use against possible Islamic terrorists in our borders, now being wielded against Republican voters. As Rockwell predicted, the expansion of the regime’s power is weaponized against what will always be its greatest threat: domestic forces in conflict with the prevailing ideology of the political elite. 9/11 was the perfect catalyst for not just the neoconservative vision overseas, but the domestic agenda of the professional unelected class Fox Mulder and Dana Scully regularly sought to foil.
This would hardly shock fans of the work of The X-Files universe, whose writers ended up being just as prophetic as Rockwell. In the pilot of its spinoff program The Lone Gunmen, aired just months before 9/11, the show’s protagonists thwart a government conspiracy to run a plane into one of the World Trade Center towers to justify a new war serving the financial interests of the military-industrial complex.