An examination of the profound impact that the War on Terror had in pushing American politics and society in an authoritarian direction
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.
About the Author
For nearly the entire War on Terror, Spencer Ackerman has been a national-security correspondent for outlets like The New Republic, WIRED, The Guardian and currently The Daily Beast. He has reported from the frontlines of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. He shared in the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service Journalism for Edward Snowden's NSA leaks to The Guardian, a series of stories that also yielded him other awards, including 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.
Early praise for Reign of Terror
"Spencer Ackerman’s brilliant, discerning Reign of Terror initiates the urgent process of truth and reconciliation with the ugly facts of a 'War on Terror' that condemned a young 21st century America to the darkness of a surveillance society driven by the militarization of everyday life and dependent upon surveillance capitalism for pervasive monitoring and control of people. Ackerman is at the top of his game, revealing with vivid detail, investigative force, and unswerving moral clarity how the reign of terror rained on us, replacing freedom with fear and neighborliness with suspicion, as it poisoned cherished principles, diminished rights, and weakened democratic institutions. Every citizen and lawmaker yearning for a joyful inclusive democratic future must confront this toxic legacy and its chokehold on our expectations and our politics. That journey begins here with this courageous, necessary book."
—Shoshana Zuboff, author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism and Professor Emeritus, Harvard Business School
"Journalists are said to write the first draft of history and Spencer Ackerman has been one of the most important reporters in exposing the horrors, abuses and wars as they unfolded in the post-9/11 world. In Reign of Terror, Ackerman weaves together his groundbreaking reporting with a searing analysis of the consequences of waging borderless, global wars abroad and assaulting civil liberties at home. Reign of Terror is a devastating picture of a present and future America where the militarized chickens are coming home to roost."
—Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater and Dirty Wars
"America started the war on terrorism twenty years ago. It wound up at war with itself. Reign of Terror shows how the nation went down that road to hell. You've never read a book like it."
—Tim Weiner, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning author of Legacy of Ashes