February 16, 2017
A senior official on President Trump’s embattled National Security Council warned in previously unreported comments that it is “inevitable” an Islamic terrorist group will carry out a successful nuclear attack against the United States, and that in its aftermath, the world “will regress hundreds of years politically.” The official, Michael Anton, laid out a dire scenario of multiple nuclear detonations on American soil, saying that terrorists “will, I think, wait until they can hit us with several blows at once, followed by a number of follow-on blows.”
Anton, appointed as the Trump administration’s senior director of strategic communications on the NSC, wrote in 2009 that he was “surprised it hasn’t happened yet” and predicted that once the attacks occur, “economies will collapse … the world will revert to a kind of localsim [sic] and warlordism.” He added, “If Chicago wakes up one morning and NY is simply not there any more, and some dude on Al Jazeera is saying, ‘Chicago you are next!’ I don’t see order lasting long.”
New York, he added, seems to be the most likely first target.
I think you do not fully grasp what New York represents to the Islamist Terrorist mind. It is not simply the financial capital of the US, or even of the world. It is quite simply the capital of the western world and of all modernity. It is the center and chief creator and exporter of decadence and corruption. It is quite simply, to them, the most hated place on the planet, and the most important, outside the holy cities.
Anton, who previously served in a mid-level position on the NSC in the Bush era, published a string of attention-getting essays last year that attempted to make a conservative intellectual argument for supporting Donald Trump’s candidacy. Those essays, while provocative, do not seem to be nearly as controversial or apocalyptic as the comments The Intercept unearthed after receiving a tip from a reader. The comments were made on an obscure website devoted to men’s fashion, Styleforum.net, which also hosts wide-ranging discussions among its members on a variety of political topics. Anton, who previously wrote a book titled “The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men’s Style,” posted on Styleforum.net under the username “Manton,” and his user profile listed his usual shoe width as D medium. He was exceptionally prolific: Since joining the site in 2002, he has posted more than 40,000 comments.
“An all out nuclear war is not inevitable, or even likely,” he wrote in a discussion thread he started about nuclear terrorism. “A regional nuclear exchange between two regional powers is more likely, but still not inevitable. A nuclear detonation in a major US or European city (or Moscow) is inevitable.” He added, “Let’s just say the event is overdue. People have been wanting to do it for a long time, and trying to do it for a long time. … As a general matter, anything that human beings have wanted to do badly enough, that it is physically possible to do, they have eventually found a way to do.”
His concerns were so severe that he provided advice to people thinking of building their own fallout shelters.
“They could be worth a great deal,” Anton wrote. “If they are not underground at all, they are not worth much. [If] they are underground on even one side, their usefullness goes up by a lot. If they are surrounded by at least five feet of earth on four sides, then you are pretty much invulnerable from initial fallout — as long as you can hold out down there. … You would [be] better off having stored water. You never know about a water supply, it might be affected, might not. Best thing to do is to have some means of testing the water on hand. Buy it in advance and put it in the shelter.”
Asked by another commenter when he thought the nuclear attack would occur, Anton responded, “Any day now.”
Anton also made provocative comments about diversity and affirmative action, saying they were harmful or unfair. Writing about university affirmative action programs in the humanities and social sciences, he stated, “What actually happens today is a total, consuming obsession with ‘diversity’ defined solely by skin color (and to a lesser extent national origin) coupled with an even more consuming obsession with ideology.” He also argued for the superiority of homogenous societies in which the population has common attributes, such as a shared language and ethnicity.
“The homogenous ones have higher trust levels, greater levels of cross family cooperation, more public spiritedness, higher levels of volunteering, charity donations, etc.,” he wrote. “They are also more able and more willing to support safety nets — formal and informal — that benefit non-family members. Heterogenous societys have lower trust levels, people ‘hunker down’ and avoid contact with neighbors not just of other races/groups but of their own. They are more likely to concentrate solely on taking care of their own and to see taxation and other attempts to fund public goods as robbing Peter (themselves) to pay Paul (the other). Ordinary stuff does not get done or done as well. The state, with all its inefficiencies, has to be larger and more intrusive in order to make up for the lack of a thriving civil society.”
The detail and apparent extremism of Anton’s comments appear to go even further than much of what has already emerged from the Trump White House. The comments provide what seems to be the darkest of contexts for understanding the Trump administration’s desire for radical crackdowns on immigration and Muslims in general: a fervent conviction that a civilizational apocalypse caused by Muslims is coming soon.
“I look at the world and I see a whole movement of people who want to kill me, destroy my country, and end my civilization,” Anton wrote to a commenter who in his view had downplayed the threat posed by Muslims. “You either don’t see any of these people or you just think they are a joke. The bombs and the propaganda you alternate between taking in stride, finding pathetic, or dismissing any connection to Islam.” He also told the commenter, “Entirely absent from your analysis is even the possibility that there really is an enemy that wants to do terrible things to us and change us in fundamental, illiberal ways.”
Contacted for comment about his posts, Anton told The Intercept yesterday that they were akin to casual talk in a bar among friends and should not be taken as seriously as the articles he has written for real publications, which include the Weekly Standard and the Claremont Review of Books. He said Styleforum.net is “like a dorm room environment where even people like me, who are old, can feel 19 again … that’s part of the fun of it, everybody speaks in a kind of lighthearted way.” He added that he knows many of the other commenters with whom he exchanged thoughts and barbs on the site, and that on the site “you don’t want to sound like a Brookings Institute report every time you open your mouth.”
Anton, referring to a previous story The Intercept published about him on Sunday, began the phone interview by saying, “Why are you trying to kill me?” He added, “I know it’s fair game, it’s out there and stuff, but it’s your second hit piece on me. I’ll talk to you because I think everything I’ve written I can defend but the fact of the matter is [I’ve] become some sort of Hitler figure who it’s important to discredit. But you know, I’m just a mild-mannered intellectual dork.” When it was noted that he is more than a dork, in fact a senior official on the National Security Council, he responded by saying there are many senior officials on the NSC. “I don’t know, at least 20,” he said.
The essays Anton published over the past year — one of them was titled “The Flight 93 Election” — marked him as a fervent Trump supporter with an intellectual’s pedigree and an argument to go with it. Anton has a master’s degree in political science from Claremont Graduate University, an incubator of conservative thought, and he provided an intellectual framework and justification for the extreme policies the new administration is trying to put into place. While there was more sweep as well as specificity in those essays than anything Trump or his adviser Steven Bannon have said or written, the 41,561 comments by Anton on Styleforum appear to provide even more details on the ideas and fears that motivate the Trump White House.
The comments also offer a jarring contrast between the protect-the-ordinary-people rhetoric of the Trump administration and the backgrounds and interests of the officials who are professing those ideas. Anton argued in his Flight 93 essay that although the “Davos class” has reaped enormous profits from the modern economic order, it was disastrous for others. But he did not put much of an emphasis on the extent to which he had personally profited: After leaving the NSC, he went into the private sector and eventually became a managing director of BlackRock, the asset management firm. Most of his posts on Styleforum.net revolve around fine clothing and fine wines.
“Greysac used to be a light style, mild fruit, more velvet, perfume & spice that was designed for early maturation (10 years max) and that mimicked the flavors of great bordeaux at its plateau,” he wrote. “It was a wine that showed many of the traits of perfectly rounded and aged Bord without any of the profundity. But sinice I love those particular aging traits, to me it was a go-to.”
In another post, Anton complained about an unfortunate theft of his favorite bottles: “I realize that the baby sitter who stole two bottles of wine from me, one of the bottles was my last 1986 Mondavi, from the very first stash of wine I ever bought about 2 weeks after I turned 21. Bitch.”
In the interview with The Intercept, Anton acknowledged the contrast between his social class and the people on whose behalf he is now arguing. He said that after many years as a classic conservative, he had woken up to the fact the system wasn’t working for lots of people. Rather than stay on the sidelines and do nothing, he had decided to talk and write about those problems, placing at risk “the livelihood that keeps me funded with all these things I love.” As he put it, “At least I’m a self-aware hypocrite.”
While not leading the kind of hard-scrabble life that he was defending in his ideologically charged work, Anton clearly feels strongly about the structural problems of the modern economy, and his critiques of it contain elements that are shared by people on the left as well as right. In one thread he started in 2011, titled “Capitalism Sucks,” he even approvingly cites Marx for identifying the negatively disruptive impacts of capitalism. While saying that Marx “has blood on his hands” for the misery that has been committed in his name, he wrote that “it is hard to escape the conclusion that in his analysis of the consequences of capitalism, he was on to something.” Anton went on to write that “capitalism on the aggregate creates more wealth than any alternative hitherto tried, and perhaps than any alternative that can ever be devised,” but he sharply added that “the dislocations and human pain and societal upheaval that Marx diagnosed as inevitable consequences of capitalism turned out to be quite real.”
It’s not obvious that wealth is better than the things capitalism has undermined. If I were to say to you “money isn’t everything” you would of course agree. And if I were to make a Christian statement of the importance of virtue and the soul over wealth you would at least profess to agree. But when you post it’s all about aggregate wealth, living standards, opportunity, etc. These are not bad things. But it seems as though we can’t have them to the degree that we do without giving up other stuff which might have been just as valuable and maybe more.
On Sunday, after The Intercept published its story about Anton’s essays on Trump, he emailed a response that included this explanation of his evolution from conventional conservative thinking to something quite different, at least on economic issues: “The fact is that my journey toward Trumpism was in many ways a journey (on my part) leftward, toward the center. I have jettisoned a lot of conservative orthodoxy precisely because I think it was not working for the bottom half, or even the bottom two thirds. It’s ironic or odd or something that in moving to the left, I get called a fascist and such. It shows how screwed up our discourse is. People just want to smear and destroy me.”
Earlier this month, a Politico article stated that Anton got his job at the NSC “thanks to an entrée from Thiel,” referring to Peter Thiel, the libertarian billionaire who is one of Trump’s few supporters among the elite of Silicon Valley. Both Thiel and Anton are avowed enthusiasts of the conservative philosopher Leo Strauss, and both have ties to Claremont, where Anton received his master’s degree and Thiel has donated, through one of his philanthropies, at least $200,000, as well as appearing at speaking events. But their ties go even further back, Anton told The Intercept. He knows Thiel from when Thiel was a student at Stanford and Anton was nearby at the University of California at Berkeley, and through a mutual friend they got to know each other.
The National Security Council is now beset by a historic degree of turmoil — retired Gen. Michael Flynn, appointed to head the NSC last month, was forced out earlier this week because he had lied to Vice President Pence about phone calls he made to the Russian ambassador shortly after the election. It seems quite possible, if not likely, that the next head of the NSC (reportedly the job has been offered to retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward) will ask for the resignations of senior officials appointed by Gen. Flynn, and that would include Anton. Asked about his likely fate, Anton said, “I don’t know … I won’t know for a while, until the new person gets in.”
Anton’s comments on nuclear issues might not bolster his case for staying on. In a thread titled “Ask Manton About Nuclear War,” he sketched a scenario involving a terrorist group that would “ship the weapon in a cargo container to a US port, where it will be loaded on a truck and driven to its destination. The motive will be kill Americans, to force our withdrawal from the Middle East, and to break our society in half.”
He provided surprisingly precise information about how a terrorist group would go about acquiring the nuclear material it needed. Anton told The Intercept he did not deal with classified proliferation issues when he was at the NSC during the Bush administration, and that he is “self-taught” through voluminous readings of books. Back in 2009, he was answering a member of Styleforum.net who posed the following question: “manton hao 2 makez a nuclar bomb?”
First, you will need fissile material. This has to be made, as it only occurs in nature in trace amounts. It is very hard to make, takes a long time, costs a lot of money, and requires a significant amount of land. You will need either a centrifuge cascade or a breeder reactor. These are probably beyond your reach.
So the other option is to aquire the stuff, that is, buy it or steal it. You will want either plutonium 239 or uranium 235. Or, to be a little more precise, uranium enriched to 90% or more u 235 (the rest u 238). (Lower enrichment levels can still make bombs, but the amount of fuel you need rises dramatically as enrichment drops, to the point where making a bomb becomes a practical impossibilty.)
It is a lot harder to make a plutonium bomb than an HEU bomb, for reasons I need not go into here. Also, HEU is more stable, and less likely to undergo spontenous fission. It also makes a far more reliable bomb, especially when built by amateurs. The downsides are, it is less powerful, and you need a lot more of it, which means your bomb will be bigger and heavier, and the yield to weight ratio will be lower. Life is full of trade-offs.
You will need about 110 pounds. DON’T keep it all in one place. 110 pounds just slightly exceeds critical mass, that is, the amount sufficent to start a chain reaction. If you keep it all in one lump, it will unleash a torrent of radiation that will kill you — at a minimum. It might also blow up — not in a big nuclear fireball, but with enough force to take out a city block or two. Say, 10 Oklahoma City bombs.
So, keep it in two pieces, neither half close to critical mass.
Uranium comes in many forms. In the enrichment process, it is gaseous and powdered. You want it to be metallic. If you don’t get it in that form, you will need a metalurgist. You will actually need one in any case to shape the two sides of the core. One is called the “bullet” the other the “target”. The should be designed and shaped to fit together very neatly and tightly. But DON’T actually test with both halves! Test the shape with lead dummies. Important!
Anton’s directions continued, and his comments make clear that he believes an attack with the acquired devices would succeed in its destroy-the-West aims.
We are talking about whole cities being wiped out [at] a stroke, and the surrounding area being unihabitable for the next 200 years. The night of 9/11, most of Manhattan slept in their beds. … I think once it became clear to everyone that their government cannot protect them from capricious extermination, governing the country would become impossible. … I believe that people will lose all semblance of orderliness. They will panic and loot and riot and try to dig in [and] defend themselves from all kinds of perceived threats. They will overwhelm the capacity of the system to impose any semblance of order. Many of those supposed to impose order will also have the same reaction, and not do their jobs but look out for their own. … I hope I am wrong. … But I am fairly confident that economic activity would grind to a halt, or continue at some fraction of what it is today.
His exchanges with other commenters on Styleforum.net include questions that were posed in what clearly seems an absurd tone, to which Anton responded in a deadpan manner. For instance, there was this query from a user with the name of mafoofan: “Manton, I assume if they set off a 10kt bomb in the middle of Manhattan, the UWS is royally f*cked, right?
Anton’s reply was concise.
No, the shockwave will not reach that far. Structural damage is likely to be light. Fires may rage out of control in any and all directions, however. And fallout will depend on the weather. Thin[g]s will likely be bad, but not so bad as people assume.
Mafoofan’s response was, “Zabar’s survives!”
Not really, Anton pointed out.
The problem is that midtown will be A) erased and B) irradiated. Fallout may not hit the UWS (though it probably will) but it will contaminate much of the surrounding area. Manhattan will be useless as a cultural and business center. No one will want to live here, nor could anyone live anywhere near the contaminated areas. Human nature being what it is, even the outlying areas that are still safe, no one will want to live in. The value of the whole metro area will fall to zero, both because its center and hear[t] is literally gone, and because people simply will not want to be anywhere near it.
The playfulness that might be inferred in this particular exchange contrasts with Anton’s stone-cold theorizing about how or whether the United States might try to respond to an attack of this sort. Would the U.S. launch a nuclear counterstrike against the people who had attacked it with nuclear weapons? These sorts of questions are played out in war game scenarios, and Anton appears, in the virtual pages of Styleforum.net’s discussion forums, to be indulging in precisely that sort of planning-for-the-worst.
For instance, a commenter named montecristo#4 suggests that in order to deter the kind of attack that Anton fears, the United States would make the following threat: “You blow up a Western city, and we will turn certain Muslim holy cities to glass. We give people who live there plenty of time to evacuate, but the cities and everything in them are gone for good, and uninhabitable for hundreds of years. Surely an Islamic fundy wouldn’t want that.”
Anton responded by saying that “this has been considered, but there is presicely zero chance of it ever becoming policy, or acted upon. It would be impossible even to have the public debate necessary to make such a threat credible.”
He went on to explain his reasoning in greater detail:
The most likely scenario is the following. 10Kt bomb goes off in Times Square (or at Grand Central) around 8 am on a midweek day. We will do the “nuclear forensics” to try to get a signature from the radiation. It will prove inconclusive. At best, we can narrow the source to a handful of states. Are we going to nuke them all? Two certain innocents and one “maybe”? No way.
Let’s say we get lucky and are nearly certain we know where the fuel came from. What if it’s Russian? Are we going to risk a full exchange with Russia? No effing way. What if it is Pakistan? In all likelihood, if it is, it will not be decision made by the top but a rougue element of the ISI. Islamabad will plead for mercy. They will say — truthfully, in all likelihood — that they never meant for this to happen, and that they will in reposnse go and steamroll the NWFPs. Will we have the stomach to nuke them? No way.
What if it is Iran? They will deny it. At least half the world will believe them. Who knows how many Americans will believe them too. Some other huge % of people will say, “In the absense of proof, we can’t retaliate.” Iran will likely also say, through back channels, “This was not us, but had it been us, it would have been some rougue element, not sanctioned by the Supreme Leader. It is very terrible what happened to you, and we will do anything we can to help. But if you think of retaliating, well, we have some unpleasant surprizes for you in the form of Hezbollah sleeper cells. Oh, and forget about Israel if that happens. So just cool off and listen to reason. Let us address this problem together and put the past behind us.”
Then you will have another gigantic segment of public opinion which will say that nuclear attacks are so terrible that under no circumstances should we ever engage in them. And another big segment will say that we should not do anything that will increase the chances of another attack, and retaliation will be held up as just such a response. And, indeed, many hostile nuclear powers will tell us the same thing: Don’t do anything rash, or you may have to deal with us one way or another. And that is IF we can come up with a plausible case that one nation is responsible. The chances of that are in fact low.
No, we will not do anything.
It makes for depressing reading, as many of the members of Styleforum.net complained. “Do your friends invite you to parties anymore or do you just bum everyone out too much?” asked one. “Manton, you must be a hoot at cocktail parties, I do mean that,” wrote another. In response, Anton gave a bit of ground, writing, “I admit that it’s possible that I have too dim a view of human nature.” However, when asked by The Intercept whether he was as dark as his nuclear comments had been interpreted on the site, he replied that while he does have provisions for a nuclear attack stored in his basement, “I’m pretty happy. I like my life.”
His last post on the site was in late January, before it was publicly known that he had been named to a top spot on the National Security Council. “I had a 1981 Tondonia white last week that was great,” he wrote. “Perfect bottle.”
His profile on the site lists his current location as “In Hiding.”
Update: Feb. 17, 2017
After this story was published, Styleforum changed the settings on its Current Events forum so that only Styleforum members can view the postings on it. As a result, some of the links in this story no longer work, such as the ones to Michael Anton’s comments on nuclear terrorism, Islam, and diversity. According to Fokyan Leung, who said he is a co-owner of Styleforum, about a dozen Styleforum members contacted him after the story appeared and requested that the Current Events forum be closed to the public.