Project Fair Isle 10

9 June 2023

THE SHOT HEARD ROUND THE WORLD

By Kevin Burnett

Matthews Announces his Withdrawal from Re-election; Can We Be Vigilant in the Campaign to Come?

With five months to go until the Republican primaries, President Leopold Matthews has announced earlier this week that his campaign for re-election has come to an end. Citing his intense duties as President and opposition from the GOP, he has come to the conclusion that finishing his last year in office successfully is of greater benefit to the American people than attempting to gain their support for a second term. ‘I understand that I am not a well-liked man. I have made more mistakes than won victories, and that is my burden to bear. I did not take up this office to be well-liked, but for the good of my country. If I have truly failed, it would be against my better judgement to inflict my service on you for another term.’

Controversially, he has vowed to offer his support to popular Democratic candidate Kamala Harris. ‘I must answer to my conscience: it is because I am a dyed-in-the-wool Republican that I must support Ms Harris. Mr Cruise may have won the nomination, but should he win the election, it will be the death knell of the Republican Party.’

At his campaign rally, Cruise responded with remarkable grace. ‘I would like to thank Mr Matthews,’ he said, ‘for finally recognising his faults. Now that he has stepped aside for his rightful successor, we will take back this country from the valley of fear he has dragged us through. We will make it right. Trust in me: the world we make today, we will return to tomorrow.’

Speaking with Michael Suzuki again, it is no surprise that these words resonate with him. ‘But you weren’t thinking of tomorrow when you went through with their plan, were you?’ I ask him.

‘No,’ he admits, ‘“tomorrow” didn’t exist. I focused on the moment Irons was going to pay for his crimes because that was my sole purpose. I confiscated the guns from the Secret Service because that was the only way I’d have access to a gun within a hundred feet of the man. I stood in the crowd with the gun tucked under my jumper, knowing Nate was nearby and Blair was somewhere in the crowd. There was no signal. There are certain points in history that will always happen, will always have happened; the only signal is the “moment” just before – that’s the world, taking in breath to beckon it.’ He looks away, transfixed on a point faraway. ‘Or, that’s what Blair used to say. I don’t want to say it was “destiny”, but there was no escape.’

From the day Michael volunteered, Mike Iron’s fate has been sealed. From the moment Irons lay bleeding on the stage, fingers twitching as the crowd erupted, so had Michael’s. Only as the Scottish police commanded him to place the firearm on the ground, did he realise that there was no immunity for punishing evil men.

As they pulled him away, handcuffed, all he could do was find Nate stood amidst the mass panic. His eyes were empty and unfeeling. He did not reach out. ‘I didn’t know what I was expecting,’ Michael says. ‘Obviously, when you kill someone, you pay the price. I knew I was making a sacrifice, but I was blind to what that meant. It was only when I saw him that it hit me: I wasn’t some ‘chosen one’. A new, impressionable recruit, encouraged to volunteer, with a fellow companion at home to call the shots? I was expendable. To think they went on and on about showing the President the consequences of his actions, and they set me up to take them alone.’

The Knitwear Society showed Michael more love than he had ever known, and they had left him for dust. When the agents in the interrogation room offered him a deal – all the information he had, for a new identity and total witness protection – he hesitated for only a moment. He had given them everything, they had betrayed him, but he still had a choice: ask for Blair’s forgiveness, or let the agents tell him who he was without her.

He told them everything. He gave them every name he knew of his former companions, he detailed everything he remembered. He sang like a bird, but if the Knitwear Society faced consequences, they would not say. He doubted it; someone claiming to be from the still functioning society had contacted him in the last year, requesting his tentative service. It was for this reason that, when I offered him the story, he accepted on the grounds that he could give their real names. If he rats them all out, he believes – Nathanael Doane, Blair Wright and the rest of them – they will no longer see him as an option. It will get him off their rope.

Two lives were irrevocably changed by the George Square attack. Careful diplomacy saved many more. The American people wanted blood for their fallen leader. As they called for war with the United Kingdom, Leopold Matthews was inaugurated in one moment and, in the next, in a conference call with Prime Minister May, the First Minister Sturgeon and the Acting Director of the FBI. However he felt about the assassination, war was an unthinkable path to take. ‘The murderer has been caught already’, Matthews assured them, ‘and he has confessed to everything. He wasn’t involved with any terrorist cell we have ever known, but we won’t pursue reparations from the United Kingdom for this.’ As much as the British leaders demanded to try him in their courts, the Acting Director told them that the issue was as good as solved. While they would not allow him to return to rot in a British prison, nor would he remain on American soil.

‘We’re rehabilitating him,’ the Acting Director said, ‘but none of this can reach the media. The people are looking for a person or group to blame, and they’ll find one if we don’t impose a blackout.’ It was with the fear of rioting and violence that they vowed to hide the truth from the rest of the world, and all to prevent a needless war.

It is at this moment, after months in Michael’s company, that I must consider the weight of his anonymity to the rest of the world. Of the assassinator, all that remains is footage of a young man, holding a gun and wearing a jumper, hands raised as the crowd breaks like a tide. It is terrifying: in the wake of the death he caused, all that stood in the way of immeasurable violence between nations was his identity.

For such high stakes, the price seems so small. For such a dangerous mission, the plan seems too convenient. The absence of hard evidence, without technology involved, means there is too much room for supposition. I have no doubt that the man before me murdered President Irons, and that his name is Michael Suzuki, but through a student society that unifies itself through knitwear? It is so preposterous that I question my own faith in it. And yet, I wonder if a more predictable story would have been less effort to conjure.

I put my notepad down on the table, and place my pen beside it. ‘You have got to be bull****ting me.’

Michael smirks, and I think he is going to laugh at me. ‘So now you think I’m lying? You didn’t ask for a “plausible” story; you asked for my story, and I gave it.’

‘No,’ I say, ‘you’re right’.

‘If all you want to do is write think pieces about how unsuitable some ageing actor is to the presidency, you don’t need me to do that.’ He folds his arms. It is cold in March where we are, and snow falls outside the window. He refuses to wear a jumper.

President Leopold Matthews may describe Cruise as the death knell of the Republican Party, but his declared support for Kamala Harris prophesies the death of his political career come January 21st, 2025. For all his efforts to undo the damage inflicted by Hoope and Irons, his policies could be undone in a moment if he cannot be there to safeguard them.

We cannot make the same mistake. Matthews will leave, and when he does, the seat in the Oval Office will be left either to an experienced, competent President, or a second despot bought by churches of gold. This is no longer a question of affiliations. It is not for love of the Democrats, or the possibility of a woman president, that you must back their nominee – it is for love of your freedom.

FIN.


 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

© 2017 Kevin Burnett, ‘Burnit Write’

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Project Fair Isle 9

PITCH LETTERS 3

Kevin Burnett <k.burnett1994@gmail.com> – February 2023

to Maeve Holloway

Dear Maeve Holloway,

As you know, the 2023 election campaign is soon to begin with the announcement of the presidential candidates. Knowing that every journal will be covering it, I am offering The Spectator the opportunity to address this topical issue from a fresh perspective.

Due to sources that I can verify but cannot divulge for security reasons, I am in possession of the answers to the ongoing mystery of the George Square attack that resulted in the assassination of U.S President Mike Irons. In fact, I am in contact with a man I know to be the never-before-named culprit of the assassination. I have been interviewing him over the last two months about the complex circumstances behind the President’s death, and he has agreed to allow the complete story of his involvement with the British student society who plotted the murder to be published and available for your readership.

As monstrous as murder is, the murderer will be portrayed as the human being he is while remaining accountable for his actions. The circumstances of the student society of hyper-educated academics that brainwashed him into killing for them will be revealed; having heard the rumours of the Republican candidate possibly running against President Leopold Matthews’s re-election campaign, he and I both believe that now is the time to warn the public about the danger of cultic movements in positions of power. The last thing anyone wants is to have a president like [David Hoope] again, and with this series, the aim is to get the word out on this candidate by condensing the macro issue of a cult of personality running the nation down to a micro issue of a cult of personality maintaining control of a little club as they manipulate one person to commit atrocities for them.

I know this seems preposterous, but the last thing I want to do is allow for people to be taken in by an elaborate lie. If you wish to consider this, I will arrange for you to receive unequivocal proof of my claims.

The opportunity is yours to break this story. When news stations can finally discuss the George Square attack – or 8/6 Day as the Americans call it – openly, it will be because we enabled it.

Yours Sincerely,

Kevin Burnett


 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

© 2017 Kevin Burnett, ‘Burnit Write’

Project Fair Isle 8

26 May 2023

AND UNITED THEY STAND

By Kevin Burnett

The Assassination of President Irons was Blessing in Disguise, FBI Agent Declares.

According to the most recent Gallup approval poll, the American public harbours an almost complete lack of confidence in the Matthews administration. Falling from 27% to 19% over this last week, President Matthews’s paranoid conduct and federal overreactions have triggered a historic low, breaking the record held by Nixon in 1974 of 22%. While distrust in the government is not a new phenomenon, most poll participants across the aisle report feeling bribed by his better decisions and oppressed by his worst ones. One interviewee wondered if the excess surveillance was not a violation of his human rights.

In the wake of this revelation, the most recent forecasts in the early days of the campaign for party nominee suggest that a majority of the Republican electorate would prefer a do-or-die Maverick in the White House over a qualified, experienced Commander-in-Chief. After a forty-two year career as a household name synonymous with action and American pride, Cruise’s decision to keep his professional name over his original title, Thomas Cruise Mapother IV, demonstrates an understanding of brand loyalty that few former candidates possess.

To say he is set to fail towards the end of his first term, President Matthews is faring better than his predecessor David Hoope. While, for an overly tanned demagogue, he never set the record for lowest approval, he gained a majority disapproval after just eight days, faster than any president since the Gallup poll began. His approval dipped to 39% following the sacking of the FBI director – only the staunchest of his supporters could forgive an obstruction of justice over charges of Russian collusion that transparent.

Of those forgiving Hoope, the FBI were not among them. In order to get to the bottom of this, I arranged an interview with an agent who was active during that time. She refused to be named, but has approved the details herein. She does not claim to have handled the case of President Irons’s assassination, but I do not believe she was entirely exempt from the operation either – nor was she unaware of the climate following the director’s firing.

The situation, she told me, was not something a jaded Briton like myself could entirely understand.

‘You expect disappointment and double-dealing. Hell, you guys enjoy openly paying an elite family to choose your values while they play by their own rules. As an American, this business with Hoope was disillusioning – disappointing, actually. When you spend your formative years pledging allegiance to a flag that represents a land of opportunity, where you can pretend anyone will succeed if they work hard enough, you tend to believe the President you voted for has your best interests at heart. It’s a game we play – we stand for the national anthem and believe we’re the greatest nation on Earth to forget our suspicions to the contrary.

‘We get punch-drunk on forgetting that the sanctity of the Presidency doesn’t really exist anymore, and I’m no different. I joined the FBI ten years ago because, as long as I thought the rotten few were just a few, I could put a stop to them. In the FBI, I knew I could seek out those organizations that threaten the American way. I guess it wasn’t until Hoope sacked the director that I realised I couldn’t ignore the truth anymore, and I realised that the author James Baldwin was right. I didn’t understand what he meant until that moment, when he said, “it comes as a great shock […] to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance… has not pledged allegiance to you.”’

As she went on to explain, the unquestioned integrity of the Presidency was written indelibly on the heart of every American. It was always assumed that the people would see their way to choosing the right person for the job in the bipartisan system. This came with the right to vote, they assumed, but even in 2023, some people could practice that right more readily than others. Yes, there had been some real crooks in the White House, but not one of them had ever so transparently blocked the course of an investigation against them. No other president had so openly proven themselves so wrong for the job during the campaign, presented so many disqualifying actions, and won. No other president has had concerns over treason confirmed by firing a man for no other reason than because he was investigating him. More to the point, no other president would allow the director to learn of his firing through its announcement to the country. And no other president would get away with it for as long as he did.

It was nearly another year before he left office, but the damage had been done. ‘We knew he was a failed businessman living on name recognition, an old baby boomer out of his depth, and we were asked to look the other way. But, after the travel ban, all the evidence of collusion, ‘Fake News’ and now this, our necks were hurting. Not only had he tried to dismantle every check and balance designed to keep the President in check, it was personal now. What did it say about our ability to dismantle evil organizations, if we couldn’t do something about the one we elected? It was hopeless after all.’

By October 2017, it did indeed seem hopeless. The FBI’s hands were thoroughly tied by threat. No scandal stuck long enough to topple him. Not even turning over his own staff was proof enough that he ought to be impeached. The American public was already waking up, but for a cornerstone of White America, so used to defending their country against scrutiny, ignoring that they honoured a despot to the tune of Hail to the Chief was just another part of the game.

When he finally resigned in February 2018, something felt wrong to our agent about the President’s replacement. Vice-President Mike Irons vowed to do a better job, so when he took the office, he blocked the treason trials without a murmur to the press. When he enacted Hoope’s legislation to remove transgender service members from the military, it was with a block on ‘persons undergoing non-combat-related treatments and surgeries’. What was more, the GOP that disowned Hoope fell in love with Irons.

The announcement of his ‘Good Will tour’ was enough to gain the support of the people. Though many feared him, speaking out against him now was speaking out against multitudes. As our agent recalled, anyone in the agency with a deep desire to do something about it was a minority. They were powerless. If they could reopen the investigation, if they could even arrange an accident, would it be worth it?

The news of the death of President Irons during his address to the Scottish people in Glasgow’s George Square changed everything. The footage played live over the BBC World News. To this day, the agent remembered where she was when she heard three shots ring out, and watched the President fall against the podium and to the floor, a bullet in his head and another in his chest. The Scottish police had identified the assassin in the crowd, taken him alive, and handed him over to the FBI willingly.

Typically, in the run-up to an act of terrorism, they have already detected chatter online, but in this case there was not even a whisper. Only typical precautions had been made; in fact, in light of Scotland’s anti-gun policies, the Secret Service had allowed registered events crew to confiscate their firearms. In the beginning, they obscured the identity of the gunman until they could place the circumstances of his involvement and safeguard his loved ones from misguided retaliation. But as they realised that there was suddenly nothing to stop them from investigating those treasons, and weeding the Hoope-Irons administration of every remaining staffer involved, that changed.

In a funny way, they decided that they owed Michael Suzuki a debt of gratitude. They watched him sob in the interrogation room, looking for someone to tell him what to do and who to be, now that he had been released into the wilderness. In him, they saw just one more victim of this ‘Hoope Era’, out to put an end to a leader who aimed to strip them of their freedoms just because they could. With or without a gun, they were the same.


 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

© 2017 Kevin Burnett, ‘Burnit Write’

Project Fair Isle 7

12 May 2023

‘IT’S THE ONLY CHOICE WE HAVE’

By Kevin Burnett

News of the U.S. President’s Resignation Reinforces Plot to Kill the U.S. President.

On February 2018, the inevitable finally came to pass. Following months of attempts to block the investigation into treason charges, of admittance to him and his eldest son fielding meetings with Russian businessmen that fell under the banner of collusion as their supporters denied it, President David Hoope was forced to accept defeat and stand down. The announcement of Hoope’s resignation was met with little surprise; the American public had already grown so disillusioned with their government. As The Daily Show host Trevor Noah remarked, ‘the biggest shock is that he didn’t ask to resign sooner!’

After a year of threats to Americans’ rights, Hoope stood down to reclaim his afternoon naps. For Michael Suzuki, it was nothing less than a wake-up call to see the announcement early that afternoon in the Students’ Union. After months of training his mind and body for the honour and duty of assassinating the President, here was his signal to refuse the call.

‘Weren’t you happy to see he had resigned?’ I ask him. ‘It was everything you wanted, wasn’t it?’

‘When I saw that announcement,’ Michael says, ‘the first thing I thought was, “thank God, I don’t have to do it”; it was the wrong thought to have. The Knitwear Society only believed in enlisting willing volunteers, and I wasn’t willing, and it made me feel sick that I wasn’t willing. I was certain Blair would have realised by now how unworthy I was just as she saw through Patrick. It was the only thing she asked me to do, but I flinched, so it was obvious I wasn’t worth that honour.’

For that alone, Michael realised, there was only one thing he could do. He picked up his things and left for home feeling the build-up of panic in his chest, meaning to sign his resignation where no one else would hear.

It was only at home when he took out his phone, however, that a snag in this plan revealed itself. Who was he going to call? It was painful just to think of calling Blair and telling her he could not come back. None of the other companions would understand. He could not betray them by calling the police, either – that more than his self-doubt felt wrong.

By the time Nate discovered him sat on their bed, he had not dialled a number. He took the phone from Michael’s hands. “There you are,” he said, “so I guess you’ve heard about the new American President? The Vice-President, Mike Irons? He’s being sworn in right now. It’s a good thing I found you when I did, huh?” He took a seat beside him. “You weren’t going to quit, were you?”

Michael shook his head.

“Good,” Nate said, and he put an arm around him. “I know you better than that.”

Michael looked into his eyes. “I heard about Hoope resigning. I’m sorry, but I started having doubts about my part in the plan. I know I’m committed to doing what’s right, I know I promised and I should keep faith, but I lost confidence. I didn’t even think about Irons. I’m not good enough for the Knitwear Society.”

“No,” Nate said, “you’re perfect for us. It’s just as much my fault for not expecting this to happen. The resignation looks hopeful, but we just need to recommit. That clown ex-president abused his power and authority at every turn, and he was a chaotic kind of evil, but Irons is a former state governor and congressman. He knows what he’s doing, and his administration is already allied with him. He might not start World War III, but he’ll defund Planned Parenthood, pass more discrimination bills and repeal their healthcare. He’ll revoke marriage equality nationwide. Millions of people will end up on the street. Hundreds will gather to die at the office of their House Representative. Maybe getting rid of Hoope was a worse-case scenario, but where Irons is concerned, it’s the only choice we have.”

“The only choice,” Michael repeated, and they kissed.

“You’re our only hope, Mikey,” Nate said. “You can’t quit.” He smiled as he swiped open Michael’s phone and showed him the contact list. “Actually, could you forgive me?” He opened the contact labelled ‘Mum’, to show the number had been blocked. “I’ve been distracting you from calling your family, and I’ve blocked out their numbers, but you have to understand. If the FBI or the President’s Secret Service get the chance, they’ll find anyone you’ve been in contact with and bring them in for questioning. I know you’d never give anything away because we’ve trained you too well, but your mum, you dad, your sister? Their agents won’t believe them when they deny involvement with our plans. They’ll resort to torture if they think they know something. They won’t stop, no matter how much they beg.”

He thought of them strapped to chairs and subject to weaponised noise for hours on end, strapped to a board and mock-drowned, scared and confused as the FBI agents grew more irate. It turned his stomach and terrified him. He tried to tell himself that they were British citizens and there was no way they would harm citizens of an allied nation. However, once world leaders and assassinations become the topic of discussion, it would not matter that it was the right thing to do, that it was only fair to shield the Knitwear Society from questioning; the United States would do anything to pay back an act of violence, no matter how righteous.

As he broke down sobbing, nerves frayed, Nate explained what he was going to do to protect them from that fate. When Nate unblocked his mother’s number, Michael was going to call her. He was going to tell her that he had been busy with January exams and essay deadlines, that he was avoiding distractions and that he was sorry. He was going to tell her that he was fine, that he was doing well, that he was happy with Nate. If she asked him to come back home for a visit, he was to decline and offer to come on a different day, which he would not. If any CCTV footage placed him in the area of home, it would just lead the agents to them.

Once the call was over, Nate would keep the phone and decide which calls Michael could receive. If he answered the phone, he only relayed what Nate considered safe to say.

‘And that’s what I did,’ Michael says. ‘If I hadn’t worked out what was going on before, I should have worked it out then. Mum wasn’t persuaded by the phone call; she asked if he was abusing me, and like an idiot, I denied it. There were red flags everywhere, and I refused to see them. The only reason she didn’t call the police – and she told me she would if there was a need to – was because she only had a hunch to go on. If something did happen, she would need proof; she couldn’t have the police fail me because she called them too soon. I think she hoped she was wrong.’

According to the Cult Information Centre, love is a common brainwashing tactic. Isolationist groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses restrict your social circle to people within the group for that reason; for the ideal recruit, your friends inform your identity. They are your anchor in the world. As your new cult friends welcome you with a barrage of compliments and touches, what begins as social engagements with them becomes your new routine. What they trust, you trust; what they distrust, you distrust. Before you really know it, you new companions are the only relationships you maintain. Now, your only frame of reference for the world comes through them and the words of a charismatic leader. Through love bombing, isolation, and reward, a group of individuals becomes a self-sustaining hive mind.

For Michael, what made this transition from person to right-hand so effective was his boyfriend, Nathanael Doane. They had been dating for months before, so there was already a foundation of trust to exploit when he asked him to listen and obey. Since he was already invested in sharing a routine, locking him into an uncompromising schedule of studying and the society was child’s play. Obeying Blair’s commands and ideology came with obvious rewards to foster positive associations and thinking outside it became a bad habit to avoid. By the time Michael doubted his role that day, it was second nature to confess, just as it was to base his definition of ‘wrong-doing’ on flinching at the thought of killing someone. At that point, allowing Nate to take away his last lifeline was a godsend to him.

In such an environment as the Knitwear Society, all the hallmarks of a healthy relationship became tools to maintain an unequal balance of power and the vows that sanctified a cult marriage made pre-emptively. Before Michael was even aware of it, their home was the Knitwear Society’s safe house, and he was captive in it. If there was a different path, he did not stand a chance. When he chose to renew his vows, the fact was that the choice had been made for him already.


 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

© 2017 Kevin Burnett, ‘Burnit Write’

Project Fair Isle 6

PITCH LETTERS 2

Maeve Holloway – 24 April 2023

to me

Dear Kevin Burnett,

The latest submission in your feature series on the George Square Assassin, ‘How Could He Kill the President?’, meets the usual standard you’ve set in previous articles. Well done.

However, due to my position I have to take action when something doesn’t meet the standard of The Spectator. While quotations from the assassinator himself certainly add a human element, the closing line needs altering. I would advise that you take this line:

‘Of course I feel guilty. I think about it every day, and it’s worse knowing that I haven’t faced the appropriate consequences. I’ll never see my family again, nothing will ever be the way it was, but when I think about how it could have been, what Matthews has done since that day… I’ll tell you one thing, I’m glad it wasn’t someone else who killed the President.’

And alter it to:

‘There isn’t a day I don’t think about it. Of course I feel guilty.’

While I understand the context of what’s being said and that, in a piece focusing on the martyr complex that caused him to agree to murder in the first place (this is just consistent characterization), my concern is that the readers won’t take it the same way. On a surface level, it’s too ambiguous. There are too many alternate readings. Perhaps to Reader A, they will understand that Mr Suzuki means: ‘I wouldn’t want someone to suffer and feel the weight of that responsibility’, but to Reader B, Mr Suzuki might mean: ‘I’m sure glad I was the one who shot him. Journalists like to encourage perspectives, sure, but many serial killers act because they want to be recognised for it. They want to commit the crime, get away with the crime, and then read from their adoring fans in the Press how brilliant they were to pull off the crime and get away with it.

Maybe you like providing that service, and I hope he’s paying you well for it, but that isn’t a sentiment we want associated with us at The Spectator. The Asahi Shimbun makes up stories to sell papers, the Daily Mail scapegoats minorities with sensationalism and Netflix lets criminals boast about locking girls up in the basement. That is not what we do.

Please consider these notes and return the edited copy ASAP.

Yours Respectfully,

Maeve Holloway, Editor, The Spectator

 

Kevin Burnett <k.burnett1994@gmail.com> – 24 April 2023

            to Maeve Holloway

Dear Maeve Holloway,

I have received your notes. While I agree that the reputation of your magazine must be upheld, and I must assume that every reader will only take in my work at face value, I think the context of what he says is obvious. Just going on what I have presented previously, it’s clear that the words are coming from a desperate man who was pressured into committing murder, deeply regrets his actions and yet wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone. It’s important, at least I think, to build a complete picture of this complex mindset, and on the confession, build on the universal question of complicity.

Think about it. Was the member of the cult who stood by and failed to take the gun out of his hand just as culpable as Michael was for pulling the trigger, just because he did nothing to stop it? Was the leader of the cult more culpable for manipulating people into carrying out her murder plot, and succeeding in doing so?

Besides, readers love the Sympathy for the Devil card. If they didn’t want to know what goes on in a murderer’s head to make them commit murder, if they didn’t want to know how they deal with guilt (if they feel it at all), they wouldn’t watch Game of Thrones or the spinoffs.

It wouldn’t be ethical on my part to put words in Michael’s mouth and remove the original sentiment. This is person’s voice, not a character’s.

Best,

Kevin Burnett

 

Maeve Holloway – 24 April 2023

to me

Nuance is dead, Kevin. Clean it up or cut it out.

Yours Respectfully,

Maeve Holloway, Editor, The Spectator


 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

© 2017 Kevin Burnett, ‘Burnit Write’

Project Fair Isle 5

28 April 2023

HOW COULD HE KILL THE PRESIDENT?

By Kevin Burnett

Or, ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Plot.’

Once we consider why murder is committed, the most common question that tends to be asked, whether the incident is an intentional shooting, unforeseen accident, or the unthinkable mass-scale apathy to consequences seen in Bikini Atoll, is ‘how could they do it?’ While, as a species, human beings may consider ourselves easy to kill, we also acknowledge that it is incredibly difficult to bring ourselves to kill someone: we are simply not wired to kill our own, and caring comes far easier. It requires a certain kind of conditioning to see a person (or group of people) as non-human enough to consider killing them. It makes you wonder what kind of person the septuagenarian David Hoope was, that he was so enthusiastic about having the opportunity to press the nuclear button, that many young people considered the era of his administration ‘the Second Cold War’.

More baffling to me is this: what kind of person was Michael Suzuki? The objective knowledge that he assassinated a president is ever-present, but having spent enough time in his company, the emotional association of him with that crime is far harder to perceive. Simply put, he does not seem the murdering type. The question I must ask is not, ‘how could you bring yourself to shoot a man dead’ but, ‘how were you convinced to do it?’

As he explains, there was no one event that made the thought and the execution snap into place. In those initial months of joining the Knitwear Society, over many rounds of suspicion games and vows of conviction, he felt more and more at home with their ‘end justifies the means’ ideology. He often watched over a companion’s shoulders as they hacked into one system or another, as they committed minor crimes of fund redistribution, and revealing tax evasions, and approved. It was by their first meeting in January, as Blair revisited the proposal to murder the US President that Michael found himself nodding along with the rest of them. Her assertion that only forcibly removing the malignant tumour of a president would make the country right again made sense to him. Only a minority of Hoope’s current supporters would stand by him should he fall and far more would scatter, as some had already. The government could begin to right itself once his corruption was lifted.

“So,” Blair said, “who would like to volunteer their hand?”

Michael raised his hand and she accepted his offer. In light of the terror a world under Hoope’s reign would bring, his decision to act on it himself was the right one to make. Or, that is, it appealed to him to do so at the time; the plan of action was unformed and so was his commitment. Without a clear path, he began to have doubts, but Blair was always on hand to walk him through them.

As he admits, there was no one event and in fact many parables, but of those parables, one in particular sticks out in his memory.

Back during the Cold War in 1981, there was once a Law professor by the name of Roger Fisher. The emphasis of his work was in conflict management and nuclear deterrence, so when the USA began to put more serious thought into the eventuality of using nuclear weapons in a state of ware again, Professor Fisher had an innovative idea. Since the missiles could only be armed by the President when he had the launch codes, a willing volunteer would be appointed to hide the codes for safekeeping – specifically in a capsule, implanted next to his heart. This willing volunteer would be a heartbeat away from the President at all times, carrying a heavy butcher knife on his person all the while.

This willing volunteer understood his purpose: one day, the President will decide to use those nuclear weapons. He will turn to the volunteer and say, ‘Mike, I am going to press the button. I have decided, tens of millions must die today.’

The volunteer will nod and he will say, ‘I understand, Mr President.’ He will hand him his knife. ‘If you want the codes to destroy them, you must kill one innocent man and take them from out my chest.’

If the President accepts, he will take up the knife and slaughter him. Blood will fall on the carpet of the Oval Office. The bitter, heavy smell of death will fill his nose and, with his own blood-covered hands, he will have those codes. Having seen an innocent man die, he will consider once more whether to condemn tens of millions and their future descendants to the same fate. Personally, intimately, through the volunteer’s willing sacrifice, the President will know the consequences of his actions in terms the human brain can understand, as ‘reality brought home.’

“In the end,” Blair said, “they didn’t go for that idea. When Professor Fisher laid out the idea to them, they looked at him in horror and said, ‘oh, that’s terrible! If he has to take an innocent life, he may never press that button!’ Of course, the President at the time was Reagan, so maybe he would have, but 37 years on and that’s still the problem: they’re bent on shielding the President from the consequences of his actions, Mike. The checks and balances are gone. They only want to point and have him use his power to act; they don’t want him to stop and wonder if he should. Now tell me, Mike, don’t you think that’s cowardly? Don’t you think leaders like Hoope need to be familiar with the concept of consequences?”

Michael agreed with her. He told her so, knowing as he said it that it was what he had seen, heard, believed all along. He was studying Law, because he believed in consequences. He was with them, because he believed powerful people were acting without accountability. He raised his hand and volunteered, because he considered voicing his dissent to be pointless if he did nothing to back it up. Before he told her so, he knew he was going to go through with his part, because he held himself to the same standard.

“Thank you,” she told him. “This is a great responsibility you have taken on, my shining star. You’re going to change the Free World.”

When he asks if I would mind if he smoked, I tell him to feel free. He opens the window and resets the subliminal CD in the stereo before he lights his cigarette and takes a drag. ‘When did you realise you’d been duped?’ I ask him.

‘That I’d been duped into doing someone else’s wetwork, or that I was duped into thinking that it made me some sort of sacrificial “chosen one”? Longer than I’d like to admit – it wasn’t exactly a surprise that Professor Fisher was a bigger expert in interest-based negotiations than Hoope was. I mean, I knew on some level that going through with the murder meant irreversible consequences, but I didn’t want to think about that aspect. The mission was the direction I’d been looking for, and frankly, I blame those young adult novels. Maybe it had a big effect on me because I was in the target age group at their heyday and Blair knew it, but they all sell the same story: “you are the chosen one, you alone can save the world. If you follow your heart, you will vanquish evil and bring everything to rights”. It’s a seductive thought, isn’t it? Especially if you’re a young man looking for your place in the world.”

‘In that case,’ I say, playing along, ‘you could blame Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves.’

‘Right, Presidential Candidate White Samurai and Ghost in the Jesus Machine. But it’s all a lie: one person might change the world, but no one gets to save it.’

‘So I guess I have to ask,’ I say. ‘Do you feel guilty about what you did?’

He takes another drag of his cigarette. ‘There isn’t a day I don’t think about George Square. Of course I feel guilty.’


 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

© 2017 Kevin Burnett, ‘Burnit Write’

Project Fair Isle 4

14 April 2023

BLAIR’S THEODICY

By Kevin Burnett

‘I Promise You Freedom’, Says Leader of Cult Fostering Dependency in Plain Sight.

The campaign for Republican nominee has already begun for outsider candidate Tom Cruise. During his interview on This Morning, the Mission Impossible actor has already made promises he cannot keep, which will no doubt appeal to his constituents. ‘The White House has become tainted with bad blood. There are fingers in every pot, keeping the same old men in power who don’t know what the common people want. They want someone who knows what they want. They want someone who will listen long enough to give it. If I’m made President, I can guarantee that the religious freedoms of the American people will be protected. It is their right to believe, to practice, to keep their churches open.’ If that implied that someone was threatening to close those churches and take those beliefs away, he would not specify, but, ‘believe me, it’s happening, and I can stop it.’

For Michael Suzuki in the first few months of joining the Knitwear Society, he was not certain what to believe after that first heady evening, but he was certain about the sense of order he found with them. He paid £5 for his membership, as all Student Union societies required and, typically decked in one of his boyfriend’s jumpers, undertook a new schedule that revolved around catching up on assignments and participating in club activities. Often worn down at the end of the day, the exhaustion accompanied a sense of accomplishment and purpose as well as gratitude to Nate for making it possible. His new companions were pleased to have him join them. They were receptive to what he had to say, although Nate encouraged him to stay silent: as a new recruit, his job was to listen, to smile and be accommodating.

What they had to say, he found, was illuminating to say the least. They were a curious group of people who constantly asked questions and every encounter would dissolve into the same game. A companion would state a claim, to which another would demand, “Prove it”. This would prompt them to elaborate, to find connections until it fit into their vague, accepted canon. At the end of the game, the final note was a problem broken down into actions they could take to fix this broken, interconnected system. Say a companion claimed that the policies created to prevent able-bodied people from applying for disability welfare support were made to choke the disabled population. This claim seems preposterous, but within two minutes, a Knitwear companion could convince you that a systemic devaluing of disabled lives was an intentional purge put on by the government. They could justify altering the disability support processes on a grand scale. They could justify having certain politicians removed entirely.

‘It didn’t matter to them that welfare policies were drawn up by a government the people elected, even if the election system is flawed,’ Michael says. ‘As far as they cared, they knew better. They wanted to empower the people, but as far as they were concerned, the people didn’t know what they wanted like they did. At the time, I thought they were making valid points because no one else had the gall to talk about these things so openly. The last time anyone mentioned Bilderberg in print, it was in two column inches of a free Metro newspaper that couldn’t be found unless you knew where to look. Engaging with it only validated concerns.’

For the interim, the plan to assassinate the President hardly made mention. When Michael mentioned it to Nate, often at the end of the day, he would frown as though he misheard him. He would tell him he was tired or hungry, or ignore it altogether for the subject of tomorrow’s club activities. The memory of that meeting was clear in his head, but he had to conclude it was a dream. That just made him listen to his new companions all the harder for clues, at first.

At the side of these loving if unnerving conspiracy theorists, Blair was a paragon of rational thought. “You must remember our University’s motto: ‘rerum cognoscere causas’ – ‘to discover the causes of things’. We don’t accept repeating headlines here, or whatever some politician states from his podium. Always ask questions. Know the situation, learn what you are capable of and you can achieve anything – I really believe you can. With our combined capabilities, it’s possible to change the paradigm for the better. With us, you have that power, and you must use it responsibly.”

It was a speech she made so often that it became true. In fact, it was the sort of optimism that young people Michael’s age heard thousands of times before having it stolen away by the reality that the system simply didn’t allow for fifty million high achievers. By the time many high-achieving students reached the University of Sheffield, the machine of academia had worn them down and asked them to ignore the reality because, ‘you’re at a top research university – what more could you want?’ It only denied that, for all they had, the machine had left them empty. Blair Wright was different: she acknowledged the machine. She addressed their woes with what was known in sociological circles as a ‘theodicy of disprivilege’: an explanation for suffering – or, for a group of hyper-educated, mostly hyper-privileged students, the impression of it. When all that remained was the stress of achieving the highest grades alongside other high achievers, hacking into the NHS to re-appropriate funds for needful services gave more immediate results for their labour.

For a leader, she had a higher rate of delivery on campaign promises than most, not least because she created the circumstances that made it possible. She had sown an environment that made executing those promises desirable for a set of followers guided into a circle of mutual approval.

Far more impressive was that she rarely named a villain. In fact, she did not need to; between the driven ambiguity of her message and the suspicion games, her followers finished her sentiments for her. It was a similar technique used by Hoope himself: early in his presidency, the enemy of the week was often whoever his supporters wanted it to be during his vague addresses. ‘We’ve got to keep our country safe!’ he claimed during a rally that February, ‘you look at what’s happening in Germany… you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden… Sweden! Who would believe this?’ Like that, there was a terrorist attack in Sweden that never existed, and the crowd already had a culprit in mind.

I ask Michael if Blair at least believed in the lies and propaganda she was telling. ‘I don’t think so,’ he says, ‘but if nothing else, she believed in her right to tell them. All she asked for in return was unquestioned allegiance.’

During a coffee morning put on by the Knitwear Society in November, one companion decided to question it. Without a stitch of knitwear on him, apparently late to help set up, Michael watched from the coffee machine as Patrick took Blair aside and asked her what she planned to do about the welfare issue. When she asked him to be quiet and clean some mugs, he told her that he thought she was mishandling it, that he thought she did not care about disability support at all and she was just stringing every one of them along for reasons they never heard. She had him leave immediately. When he refused, Nate guided him out by the shoulder with a gentle chide when he struggled, shutting the door on him with finality.

Blair turned to address the group. “When I took on the office of society chair, it became my duty to defend the integrity of the office, as handed down by the leaders who came before me; this office which has guided this society for 189 years. A threat to the Chair and the title of ‘Wright’ is a threat to all of us.”

From that moment, the dynamic changed significantly. Since that day, no one would mention Patrick’s name. He attended every social and stood out of the way, not permitted to leave yet not allowed to soak up their loving support, either. He did not trust Blair enough. He questioned the breadth of her care and plan for them. They turned instead to Michael to contribute, and when he turned to Nate, he gave his approval. When he played the suspicion game, he made arguments he feared were too irrational to make before, and they received them with a smile.

The truth was beginning to set him free, but in the back of his mind, he was glad he had not been trapped. The last time he saw Patrick, it was during the first week of December; he did not come back to the Knitwear Society after that.


 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

© 2017 Kevin Burnett, ‘Burnit Write’