Over the past year, as violence has erupted in cities across the United States and even in the Capitol building in Washington, DC, partisans have routinely insisted that looting, vandalism, terrorism, arson, beatings, and murder are “false-flag operations.” By this is meant that agents provocateurs have infiltrated one side’s ranks and have behaved badly on purpose, for the sake of damaging the reputation of the group that has been compromised. The end goal is to delegitimize a rival group and, ultimately, have it suppressed by the state.
Like taking a dive in a soccer game, in other words, the point of the false-flag operation is to have the referee disqualify a particularly hated opponent.
On this telling, it is the people who appeal to the state—the “referee”—as the arbiter of law and order. False-flag operations presume the existence of state authorities able to crack down on those deemed to have broken the state’s rules.
But what are these rules, and whither does the state derive the authority to make and enforce them? The rules, simply put, are whatever the state says they are, and it is precisely the state’s monopoly on violence that allows the state to get away with this tyranny. Now matter how lopsided the arrangement and no matter how preposterous the rules, only the state and its agents get to inflict harm. Everyone else must remain docile or risk incurring the wrath of a very heavily armed government.
Here we see the paradox of all the recent talk about “false-flag operations.” For the real false-flag operation is the state itself. The state has always monopolized violence. And over time that monopoly, which is rightly called tyranny, has come to be carried out as though for the sake of the very people being tyrannized.
In recent centuries, the state has claimed to exercise the monopoly on violence in the name of “the people” at whose forbearance the state is said to exist. The United States is held out as a democracy of, by, and for the people. So, when the state commits violence in the people’s name, it does it, by definition, on their behalf.
And yet, who among us has agreed to any of it?
For more than thirty years, for example, the federal government has been waging war—economic, proxy, air, full-scale, or some combination thereof—against Iraq. For more than a decade before that the same federal government was egging on a pitiless war of attrition between Iraq and its neighbor, Iran. There was never a plebiscite on any of it. I did not sign off on it, and neither did you. It is not clear what percentage of Americans could locate Iraq or Iran—let alone Kuwait, which Iraq invaded in 1991 and which we were told it was our solemn duty to defend—on an unmarked world map. But the federal government emblazoned on the tanks and planes and ships and uniforms used in that forty-year war, against a country the vast majority of us know nothing about, the same flag that flies outside many of our homes in America. We were led to believe that the victories in that war’s campaigns was a great glory for the United States, for all Americans.
This was, in truth, a false-flag operation of massive proportions. The American flag outside my home does not signal consent to the carpet-bombing of cities using incendiary devices on which is painted the same flag design. But the federal government pretends that it does. It is like the mole inside the milling crowd, lashing out and then making it seem as though it was everyone who committed the violent act. It was not, though. It was one bad actor, ruining the reputations of the entire group.
Covert operations by the federal government are even more nakedly false-flag operations. When the Central Intelligence Agency wages “dirty wars” in Latin America or plans the assassination of African leaders, or when a Federal Bureau of Investigation sniper guns down a lady holding a baby at Ruby Ridge, do they do that for the same reasons that you or I fly our American flags? Most of us have no idea what is happening, do not learn often until years later that anything happened at all. So it is fair to ask: Do the people who do those things do them for us, or for themselves?
And, when Islamic terrorists fly airplanes into our buildings and murder thousands of people on a crisp autumn day, do they attack the individual Americans who are killed, or do they simply “follow the flag” and try to hit the homeland of the government whose agents have been on a worldwide murder spree since the waning days of World War II?
The CIA, the FBI, and the other unchecked agencies of federal power are the epitome of false-flag operations. They do not work for the people they claim to be working for.
This point was reinforced by Ryan McMaken in a recent Mises Wire article. McMaken reminds us that there is “no treason” in the United States, because not a single person alive today signed the “social contract” on which our republic is founded. McMaken links Lysander Spooner, the American anarchist whose 1867 essay “No Treason” explains why the Constitution does not bind anyone who did not sign it, with Murray Rothbard, whose brilliant tract “Anatomy of the State” pins the nature of centralized power down once and for all. The state rests on its monopoly of power. If anybody challenges that, the state must kill them or else suffer a possibly fatal usurpation of the one prerogative that brings the state into existence in the first place. The “social contract” theory merely insinuates literally everyone in a given polity into the original cabal.
This explains a lot of the past hundred and fifty years. The rise of the nation-state in the nineteenth century democratized the marauding that states had always engaged in, from the very beginning of state formation. Where once William the Conqueror, for example, led just his dukes and foot soldiers into battle, the nation-state, equipped with growing powers of mass surveillance and bureaucratic control over taxation and all other aspects of life, could now dragoon—the polite words are “conscript” or “draft”—totally unrelated people into total war.
Lenin famously said that it was not the countries of Europe that were are war with one another in World War I, but the capitalists of those countries. He was close. It wasn’t the capitalists, but the statists. Everyone else was a hostage. The dragooned had no reason to fight one another. As was shown in Flanders on Christmas Day, 1914, they preferred playing soccer and singing songs to mowing one another down with their state-issued machine guns. But they were part of the false-flag operation that we all call by the euphemism “the state.”
False-flag operations are a reality of political warfare, and especially of the violent street theatre which has come to typify so much of our public life in recent years. But let that not distract us from the bigger reality. The real false-flag operation is not carried out by the people accused of trying to overthrow their government, but by that government itself.