It will take weeks and years to put together a complete and accurate story of what happened on Jan. 6, but anybody who tries to tell it with any sympathy for the insurrectionists, or with revisionist disassociation, is duplicitous and wicked. The USA has a history of political violence, some of it righteous. But this direct attack on the democratic process and Constitutional order is of a piece with the South’s secession and the segregationist terrorism of Jim Crow. The attack and the calculated political conspiracy that led to it is the most evil and depraved thing I’ve witnessed play out on American soil in my 54-year life. I am so angry that I can scarcely put words together, but we all need to make a record of this time and our place in this society.
Only on Saturday did my understanding and perspective begin to take shape, thanks to the extraordinary heroism of journalists on the scene and others compiling cross-referenced evidence. Among the accounts that helped me understand:
The Post had this harrowing beat-by-beat account from inside the Congress.
Buzzfeed on black Capitol Hill Police confronting the naked racism of the insurrectionists.
Chris Hayes with a must-watch report on the true nature of Jan. 6. For some, it was a mass kidnapping/assassination attempt and straight up coup. This piece shook me to my core. It includes video of the police killing of the woman who tried to be first to breach the Speaker’s Lobby, which appears to be an incredibly brave and level-headed use of force. Footage of the human battering ram standoff with heavily armed and cornered law enforcement is disturbing, but it must be seen.
Also yesterday I paid a rare visit to Facebook, an entity with enormous culpability for what’s happened (groups and monetized algorithmic radicalization, beyond my scope here) to see what the few Trumpists I’ve known on there were saying. Two of them were just silent. No posts since Jan. 6. But three of them had written or shared some variant of the version of events pinning the violence on Antifa, a Big Lie even more condescending and disprovable than the fiction of a Stolen Election. One of these distributors of this self-insulating disinformation is a reasonably successful 1990s era Nashville songwriter named Karen Staley whose descent from basic conservatism to distilled Trumpism I watched with grim curiosity over the years, because she’s one of those social media warriors with a preening arrogant certitude and contempt for rational discourse. One is bluegrass musician Dave Peterson, a very talented fellow whose music and company I have enjoyed very much over many years, before he threw in with the mob. Among his comments defending his position was to let his “friends” know that ANY account of events from the “mainstream” media is banned from his page as a matter of personal policy. One is a person I will not name because I know them to be kind and humanistic in person and who strikes me as the quintessential victim of soft online radicalization. This person is beyond the reach of fact or even shocking revealed truth, a Christian of the kind who is constantly looking for signs from God and who is yet incapable of recognizing a burning bush the size of the US Capitol. All of these individuals were cheered on and affirmed by numerous comments from their friends.
A twisted, fanatical concept of God and Christianity is central to this corrupted wreckage of a political movement. So is virulent racism. So are classic, time-tested methodologies of cult leaders, jacked up with modern neuro-marketing and shame-based fund-raising. So are the longstanding, fear-based appeals of televangelists. So is dehumanizing trash television, where abuse has been laundered for decades as harmless fun. So is the seemingly impossible-to-kill will to power of patriarchal misogynists who’ve translated the language and tactics of domestic abuse to the nation’s political stage. And yet even these forces, long massing and metastasizing in American society, could be kept somewhat at bay by democratic means if not for a fundamental new dynamic, the embrace of lies as strategy by one of our two major political parties.
The definition of a lie in American politics circa 2010 was one thing, a little monster that lived in a box and occasionally caused trouble. In the Trump era, Stalinesque weaponization of disinformation and misinformation became the rocket fuel for a movement whose logical conclusion and apotheosis (so far) played out on Jan. 6. We knew Trump was a messenger of lies with no limits by the time he was elected, and like authoritarians across time, he established the new ethos on day one of his presidency with his peculiar, brazen falsehood about his inauguration crowd. The White House podium, thanks to Sean Spicer, was, by Trump’s design, made a test of loyalty to a man, not the truth. That’s when the concept of “alternative facts” was invented by the loyalist Kellyanne Conway, who now, NOW is aghast at the violence perpetrated against the Capitol and the democratic process. Trump lied so many times in the four years since that dedicated fact-checkers couldn’t keep up. But in 2020, Trump, with well-documented pre-meditation, promoted the lie that he was cheated, despite overwhelming evidence that the election was free and fair. His pre-emptive cries that the election would be rigged were a disqualifying crime against democracy when he shouted them in 2016. He insisted after he won that there had been massive cheating and every GOP attempt to prove it failed embarrassingly. So you’d have to be quite a dupe to believe him a second time, wouldn’t you? Except that’s not what this is about. It’s about fascism enabled by domestic terrorism. Right here. Right now.
We’ve seen quite a few Republicans express shock and horror at Jan. 6 and even some very powerful ones willing to name Trump as the key instigator of the failed insurrection. The weird new GOP establishment is fracturing, but all of these players bolstered the big lies right up until the hideous moment of truth. They have much to account and atone for. They need to grasp that the mob animated and frenzied by Trump himself, along with the GOP media ecosystem, set in motion the very near assassination of Trump’s own vice president. And yet even as they reassembled in the aftermath of this shocking attack, a half-dozen senators and more than 100 congresspersons voted to endorse the lie that sparked it. For many of them this was a thrill. For others, they are, as they have been, afraid not only of being primaried for putting the Constitution over Trump or truth over lies, but of physical harm to themselves and their families back home. They know who the fanatic MAGA are and what they say to each other online. And they have coddled and protected them until it was just too late. Those officials should resign and some need to be prosecuted for participating in the planning of Jan. 6. They have to confront themselves and each other, because failure to do so is to wish death to me, my family and my entire recognizable community. MAGA is not a coherent ideology. It is rabble, empty of solutions, ideas or good will. For some it is a death cult. For most, it is a philosophy of force that dehumanizes not just their political opponents and fellow citizens, but themselves.