Army of the Republic:
Insurgency comes to America
Archer Cohen’s controversial new novel, The Army of the Republic, (St.
Martin’s Press) is set in a near-future United States where economic collapse
and a one-party “democracy” has spawned a violent backlash. The book centers around Lando, a Seattle urban guerrilla
devoted to violent resistance, Emily, a political organizer in Seattle, and
James Sands, a billionaire and government crony. Critics have called the book “brilliant,”
“terrifying,” and “treasonous.” Here Cohen answers questions about the book.
Naomi Klein says “The
Army of the Republic” is “one of the first works of art with the courage to
live up to our historical moment.” What do you think she means by that?
living in a changing country, and this book tries to address those
changes. The world of The Army of the
Republic is one where Corporations keep control through propaganda, sham
elections and a mixture of public police and private “counter-terrorism” forces
whose real job is to disrupt and neutralize citizen opposition. This country has very strong democratic
traditions, but I think people of every political persuasion recognize the
is about rebellion of all sorts, but it’s especially about democracy: what it
means and what its bottom line is.
What do you mean by “what
its bottom line is?”
where does the power of the people come from?
Does it come from the barrel of a gun, as Mao said? Or does it come from an idea, or a sense of
community? There’re a lot of characters
putting all those ideas to the test in the book, with a lot of different
Why did you write a
book about rebellion and the power of the people?
traveling to South America on business nearly
every year since 1984, and over time I became more and more fascinated by the
revolutionary impulse. It intrigued me
how a bunch of students, lawyers, and young professionals could develop the
will and the skills to challenge the state.
The same applies to organizers who are able to boot out repressive
governments, as they did in the Philippines,
Czechoslovakia and Serbia. I was curious why some people just grumble
about politics while others pick up arms or work to overturn a state with no
violence at all. I started to wonder
what similar movements would look like here in the United States, so I talked
to a wide variety of people, including former revolutionaries in Argentina,
Buenos Aires police who were active in the 70’s, CIA
people, former 60’s radicals and present-day student activists, to get an idea
of how and why an insurgency forms, the course it can take, and the effects on
the individuals within them.
the new century progressed, I started seeing more and more echoes of the
problems of Argentina, Mexico and other Latin countries in the United States. There’s a growing sense of unease here, both
on the Left and the Right. Check out
either Left Wing or Right Wing websites and you’ll see a lot of anger and
confusion. Combine that with a severe economic
downturn, as I’ve portrayed in the book, and you have the ingredients for the
kind of political violence present in The Army of the Republic.
Argentina and Mexico are both renowned for their
systemic injustices. Can you give specific examples of what similarities
you see in the US
cronyism at the highest levels of government.
The same failure of any scandal to have any significant impact on the
people who perpetrate it, other than to make them richer. That’s very Argentine, and we see it here in
things like Vice President Cheney making tens of millions of dollars by
bouncing from Secretary of Defense, to being CEO of Halliburton, and then back
to being Vice President while the Pentagon awards huge contracts to his old
company. It’s right out there in the open and it’s all perfectly legal.
is another example. The privatizing of
the public assets and functions was imposed on South America in the 70’s and
80’s, and that’s started to happen here, beginning with Bush Sr, continuing
and going into hyperdrive with Bush Jr. I’d
say the whole country is being sold off to the highest bidder, except that much
of the time they’re no-bid contracts arranged from the inside, so it’s not even
the highest bidder. Again, Halliburton
is the gold-star example of that kind of profiteering, and very Latin American
in that Halliburton wrote the specs for privatizing the military under Bush Sr.
and then happened to get the contract under Bush Jr. Most Americans don’t realize how deeply
penetrated our government is by Corporations, right down to the most sensitive
aspects of Intelligence and Law Enforcement.
So this book is about
Left Wing versus Right Wing?
No. The Army of the Republic is composed of both
Right and Left wing militants. And I
think that’s a plausible portrayal. If
you talk to many gun owners about the government taking their guns away, they
immediately start talking about violent resistance, paraphrased by “They can
take my gun away when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.” Charlton Heston said this to great applause
at the NRA convention some years ago, which is pretty mainstream. For the Left, violent resistance is more of a
fringe idea, but it is regarded as an option by some.
Army of the Republic, I wanted people to play out the fantasy and see what
it would really look like. If there is
one thing I would like people to take away from this book, it’s that despite
the polarization that’s been consciously engineered in this country by people
like Karl Rove, Rupert Murdoch, Newt Gingrich and hate-speakers like Rush
Limbaugh and Anne Coulter, we all still have too much in common as citizens to
stop working together.
There have been some
angry reactions to this book. What’s
that all about?
word “treasonous” has popped up, and I’ve been accused of advocating violent
revolution and romanticizing terrorism. Terrorism
is a big scary word that stops all thought, but the political violence in the
book is far more complicated than simply “terrorism.” Some of the characters are doing some very
bad things, like assassinating Corporate figures and blowing up buildings. Some critics seem to assume that since I’m
portraying them as real human beings who aren’t necessarily evil, I’m condoning
their actions – but I’m not. And when I
sympathetically portray characters who are hiring death squads as real human
beings, I’m not condoning their actions either.
death squads--Is there anyone I can root for in this book?
feel you have to love your characters, even the evil ones. I think people root for all the main
characters, even the ones who are essentially enemies of democracy.
is this brilliant entrepreneur who built a billion dollar company from scratch. He donates money to charitable causes, has a
wife who teaches underprivileged children in Washington DC,
and yet is also a government crony who’s hated by a lot of people. The book finds him as his empire is beginning
to teeter; he’s got all these civic groups and armed militants attacking his
business from the front, and at his back he’s got predators trying to engineer
a hostile takeover of his business. So,
even if you don’t agree with what he does, you can understand him and
sympathize with him.
character is Lando, one of the young leaders of the Army of the Republic. Lando is driven to save the country from
itself in an almost religious way. He’s
smart, funny, charismatic, and fully aware that what he’s doing is very dubious
on a moral level. He’s a great talker,
and very adept at linking diverse people together with the power of an idea and
a sense of shared goals. He’s close with
MacFarland, a former Special Forces guy who’s formed his own militia in the
failed logging and farming towns outside Seattle. McFarland comes across as this hardworking
mechanic who doesn’t have an extremely sophisticated analysis but who has a
strong sense of what’s wrong with the country.
He’s the one who provides the firepower and the know-how to pull off the
AOR’s first assassination. Lando and McFarland may hate the government
in different ways, but they both share a belief that We, the People need to
take control again, and they’re both willing to pull a trigger to do it.
important character is Emily, a political organizer in Seattle.
She’s in her late twenties, living on almost nothing and totally
consumed with trying to reform the government through democratic means. She’s a workaholic-her colleagues have
nicknamed her “The Nun,” and as her friends progress in their careers and start
families, she’s wondering where her life is going. She’s a peaceful person who’s forced to
confront a not-so-peaceful regime, and she has to persuade thousands of other
people to confront it, too. On top of
that, she’s in over her head as a liaison to the guerrillas. Like all the characters, she’s confronted
with a set of choices that range from bad to worse, and these are the choices
that define her.
Is this a “political”
book intended to affect the outcome of the upcoming Presidential election in
It would be
nice to think that a novel could influence an election, but, realistically, fiction
just isn’t important enough anymore for one book to have an immediate impact.
the judicial, legislative and propaganda infrastructure that’s been constructed
to facilitate the kind of Corporate takeover depicted in the book will still be
in place after January 20th and it will still have billions of
dollars behind it. So, I’m hoping that
all people, Left or Right, will stay tuned in to these issues no matter who
wins, and that my book will help them do that.