Imperial Blowback at the White House Correspondents Dinner

Gaza protester confronts woman going into the White House Correspondents Dinner
Gaza protester confronts woman going into the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Outside the White House Correspondents Dinner, powerless students screamed in rage while tuxedo-clad grandees arrived for a dinner to celebrate their own bravery, dedication and rightness.

It was hard not to think of Nero fiddling as Rome burned or other apocalyptic visions watching this discordant display of wealth and privilege in the nation’s capital.

In America, we slide toward dictatorship, Trump II, with new imperial powers soon to be bestowed upon him by a fascist-friendly Supreme Court.

Overseas, it is even worse, as Israel uses American-made bombs to pulverize Gaza. Pretending to be neutral in this fight, we promise to help the Palestinians, too, our wealth being used to feed a defenseless population and then kill them.

This type of absurdity is only possible in fin-de-siecle empire, a global power slouching toward armageddon, liberally spreading dollars and death around the world, as if this we can do this forever without any consequence reaching our shores.

Reading the articles and TV reports produced by those celebrating themselves at the Hilton, you’d believe that the students were the enemy. Not the defense contractors profiting at this explosion of war, the media types racking up page views or the politicians riding division to the top.

It was the students, kids with nothing but home-made signs and a propensity for street theater, that were the biggest danger to the United States. Across the country, college students demonstrating against genocide  have been crushed by militarized police in scenes reminiscent of Russia, China or Iran.

Imperial blowback they call it, as the vast security state that we created to protect ourselves is now turned against us. Drones, snipers and tanks are not just for brown people anymore.

You could see it at the Washington Hilton. A drone hovered overhead. Snipers on the roof. Helicopters circling. And hundreds of officers surrounded the hotel, from a dizzying variety of agencies, their black SUVs and tactical trucks double-parked on all the side streets. A massive display of force to protect President Biden and his audience of blow-dried TV anchors and millionaire celebrities.

MPD officers stretched in a double-line for more than a block down Connecticut Avenue. DC police to protect men in tuxedos and women in ball gowns from a screaming, chanting, powerless rabble.

Organizing this battle line was Sgt. Riley, an officer I recognized from Freedom Corner, the pro-J6 vigil outside the DC Jail. He’s one of the most highly-paid people in the DC government. In 2022, he earned an extra $165,000 just in overtime.

Washington is suffering through a wave of stabbings, murders and carjackings. Just the night before, on the other side of Dupont Circle, six people were shot outside a club.

Riley and his squad weren’t there, nor any of the other neighborhoods where they were needed. They were at the Washington Hilton.

My tax dollars at work. And yours, too, as our vast security state mobilized not to quash an insurgency in some distant land but one here in America. All the wars we’ve fought and lost over the past three decades and we still haven’t learned the lesson: invading and brutalizing a population, whether it’s a country or a campus, generates fanatical resistance.

argument between Israel supporter and Gaza demonstrators
Israel supporter argues with the crowd.

There were a couple of uncomfortable moments.

A middle-aged supporter of Israel waded into the demonstrators and began screaming at them. He was unhinged; they were calm. MPD carried him away for his own protection as he fought the officers.

A woman in fancy dress ended up on the wrong side of the police line. One of the demonstrators, young enough to be her daughter, came up close and yelled at her about going to a party while genocide was occurring in Gaza. They were face to face, with fear in the older woman’s eyes.

Young versus old. Rich versus poor. The powerful against the powerless.

This is a very different generation. I’m not going to pretend that I understand them, because I don’t.

But seeing them outside the Washington Hilton, as the black-tie crowd took selfies in an orgy of self-congratulation, you could feel something old and rotten dying. And something new being born.

The suffering in the Mideast has galvanized them. They are finding their voice. And soon they will discover their power.

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer, photographer and web person from Washington, DC. The author of several novels, Joe won the City Paper Fiction Competition in 2020. In his free time, he enjoys wandering about the city taking photos.

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