People outside the USA will often ask “How do you not know what’s going on in your country?” They hear constantly about the latest school shooting, financial fraud collapsing the market, neo-fascist rally, neo-fascist winning a Congressional seat, climate change disaster, inadequate federal response to disaster, police brutality, atrocity in our jails/prisons, etc.
It’s a good question. People in the future will also ask how we didn’t know. What’s massively obvious to them is not at all the case for us. Part of the problem is that the “obvious” itself is a construct. Many people think “states’ rights” is “obviously” an issue because of the success of Confederate propaganda.
But I find myself wondering about how I don’t know. I watched January 6th live on television. I read reporting about the extremist groups involved and their ties to various figures around Trump. I kept up with some news of charges, indictments, and inquiries. So how come The New York Times’ “Day of Rage” feels like new knowledge? What about it gives a clarity that I didn’t quite have before?
I’ve said for a while that we live in the shadow of Jan. 6th. I’ve been aware it was a day of enormous, dangerous political consequence. Still, I think it’s prudent to examine what the video taught me. How do some details present themselves as most relevant, pushing toward accountability?
Timestamps from the video are in parentheses.
(01:14) “A million mentions on social media of storming the Capitol. Maps were shared of the building’s layout…. [there was] discussion over which lawmakers should be targeted first.” There’s been coverage of how much the attack of the Capitol was planned. Ken Dilanian and Ben Collins talk about the rioters’ extensive use of social media for this purpose. Still, what strikes me is “a million mentions.” Yes, there are bot networks and “Trump trains” that mindlessly retweet or reblog or share posts. A million of anything, though, is a lot. When we see what eventually happened—that Congress was attacked—the linkage between the posts and the event does not seem irrelevant. I tend to think that what’s said online is only idle chatter. That’s a mistake on my part. Some people are looking to radicalize others or be spurred to action themselves.
(01:25) A rapid-fire montage of those in the Trump orbit saying the election was stolen and that something needed to be done. Trump himself, Kevin McCarthy, Sidney Powell, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Lindsey Graham, Steve Bannon, Jason Miller, Alex Jones. I don’t consume conservative media every waking moment of my life. But a lot of people did listen to Rush Limbaugh, daily, for his full 3 hour show. The phrase “conservative media bubble” I don’t believe does justice to what it’s like to be in thrall to Fox News.
The montage is a quick taste of something people are getting from all angles all times of day. I feel like it’s trying to overpower me. I can only imagine that it has broken a number of Americans. That even if they wanted to challenge the narrative in which they’ve been absorbed for years, they wouldn’t know where to start.
(02:24) “There began a campaign to whitewash history, starting at the top.” Another montage of lies fed to the right-wing on continuous loop. Trump declaring there was “zero threat,” Senator Ron Johnson calling it a “peaceful protest,” a Representative who worked to keep protestors from breaching the House chamber saying that was part of a “normal tourist visit.” I find it hard to believe this could convince anyone, and then I remember the last two encounters I had with Trump supporters. One called the former President “innocent,” “harmless." Another lost a friend he’d had for years because he wouldn’t acknowledge that Trump helped create the conditions for the attack.
(04:55) “More extreme groups” are part of Trump’s rally, the video argues, not just “ordinary” people who happen to believe the lie. I don’t know how seriously to take this distinction, but that’s not important right now. Of more relevance is how nicely the narrator describes the groups in brief. This is not a small thing; it is very easy for those of us who’ve encountered people with extreme positions to get wrapped up in the details of their constructed worlds. This makes it hard to describe what we’re dealing with to anyone, including ourselves. I suspect part of the answer to “Why don’t I know exactly what’s going on?” is that it’s not just overwhelming, but overwhelming in multiple ways. One of those ways includes knowing about cults which amass power by using social media to make and fuel wild accusations.
QAnon is rebranding, but it is thoroughly transforming more conservative religious sects, if not religion in America more generally. Adrienne LaFrance's "The Prophecies of Q" is an older but thorough read about Trump-inspired spiritual life.
(05:25) The organization of the Oath Keepers can’t be understated. They’re communicating via radios, wearing body armor, moving neatly in lines and keeping their things in neat piles. They say they plan on taking members of the “Deep State” into custody. It is difficult to process this sort of planning, preparation, and willful intent working side-by-side with people who listen to too much talk radio. I can’t quite believe it myself.
(More on the organization of the radical groups— "Revealed: walkie-talkie app Zello hosted far-right groups who stormed Capitol.")
Not much later, the “Proud Boys” are mentioned. They’re clearly using the “OK” gesture to mean “White Power.” If someone from the future asks how we couldn’t tell what was a threat and what wasn’t, the answer is that we got caught up in endless debates about what exactly was meant in the gestures and sayings of violent groups inciting and committing violence.
(10:25) How exactly the police were assaulted and the barricades were stormed is stunning. It is highly coordinated, with the first guy to challenge the police line making contact with a militia commander of sorts before he proceeds. This results in the immediate “overpowering” of the police, and hundreds of protestors from other directions attacking police and closing in on the Capitol. This isn’t just an angry mob acting out of sheer emotion or delusion. The mob itself is being wielded as a weapon.
I don’t think a lot of Americans want to believe that white nationalists are this well-organized and dangerous. They’d rather believe anything else. By “Americans,” I’m including President Biden, the Attorney General, and a number of Democrats in Congress. A few convictions of a few rioters is not a serious search for causes, oversight investigating departmental failures, or serious scrutiny of organized, violent groups. It’s a state of denial.
(12:50) One rioter is shouting “Let’s get their guns!” through a bullhorn while people are fighting with the police.
(14:18) The riot has a goal: stop the certification of the Presidential election results happening the House and Senate. In this, the riot succeeded. I do not need to comment, I don’t think, about what happens in other countries when the legislative body cannot conduct business and an executive with authoritarian tendencies has armed personnel under his command.
The riot gave Trump exactly what he wanted.
(Further reading: "I Lived Through a Stupid Coup. America is Having One Now.")
(15:30) “These rioters believe they’ve been deputized by their President to stop a crime.” Authoritarians look like tinpot dictators to a number of us. But there are people who really love taking orders, who see in orders permission to act however they want and be praised for it.
How do we not see what’s going on? Look at how confusing this can be to someone trying to give the rioters the benefit of the doubt. They take orders, they seem loyal to a higher cause. —Maybe a reason some people don’t like the word “racist” is because it utterly destroys the legitimacy of those “orders” and the sanctity of the “cause.”—
(19:30) Once the rioters are in the Capitol, they’re 2 minutes away from the Senate chamber. The Senate begins evacuating. Mitt Romney is turned around by Eugene Goodman right before he walks straight into a group of rioters. Mike Pence, his family, and the nuclear football have to be quickly moved.
I knew this stuff before. What I can tell you is that it isn’t easy to process, even now. I don’t know how patriotic I am, but there’s a big difference between getting emotional because one said the Pledge of Allegiance on the bus (the opening of this video) and wondering if one’s country has run its course.
(19:50) Not commenting extensively on the actions of the various security personnel, including Officer Goodman, because they deserved better than January 6th. Their actions were commendable. Still, in order to fight fascism, police have to be defunded so communities aren’t spending all their money on armed patrols. Prisons need to be abolished. The carceral state directly serves the interests of the rioters. They’re extremely open about using Trump, the police, and the military to punish whomever they decide is their enemy.
Still, this interview is something to behold:
(22:00) An unbelievable sentence: “It’s now 2:24 p.m., some 90 minutes after the siege began, and the mob is about to overrun the building.”
(23:10) An active-duty officer in the Marines holds the doors open for rioters to pour into the Capitol. He has been charged with 9 counts. However, there is a report he was training other Marines as of a week or two ago.
I’ve written over a thousand words so far and haven’t spoken explicitly about the radicalization of the military or the police. One thing The New York Times video does not directly address is how many ex-police and ex-military were rioting.
(23:35) The Oath Keepers move in a coordinated, organized fashion. The mob is a good distraction for them. “We’re going to yank them [Representatives] out of their seats.”
(24:00) One man working with the Proud Boys has entered the Capitol twice. In case you were wondering how the mob was getting in, how they were being used. It’s worth reflecting that if a police officer was battling protestors this whole time, they would have virtually no idea of the scale of what the extremist groups were doing.
(24:40) There are staffers in the Capitol who are not being immediately evacuated. They’re hiding, recording, and scared for their lives.
One reason why we, in the present, in the midst of crisis, don’t know what’s going on: we don’t pay attention to the people around us.
(25:30) Rep. Paul Gosar, who has made no secret of his love of white nationalism and anti-Semitism, objects to the election results in the House. He is being allowed to do this; he could be told to stop and Representatives could leave. Instead, House members are sitting there and listening to him, losing time to evacuate as the mob closes in.
(30:20) “…how failures by Capitol Police leaders to prepare put the safety of these officers at risk.” This has the potential to be a horribly misleading statement. If the leaders prepare by turning the federal district into a Green Zone, as they have now, that is not acceptable.
The only real preparation is taking white nationalist and fascist movements seriously. The police leaders can be blamed for the intelligence which could have been gathered and assessed prior to the storming of the Capitol.
But the larger failure is not the Capitol Police’s fault. A lack of Congressional oversight, an inability to hold Trump or his regime accountable to the law, an unwillingness to confront disinformation, racism, and thieving billionaires—these things directly empower radical movements. The Trump “rally” which sent thousands to the Capitol had sponsors.
(31:45) QAnon is near impossible to explain to normal people, but the rioter in a Q hoodie screaming “We the people, we are the storm” shows exactly what it is in one image.
(32:15) I can understand why The New York Times wants to make its case for the police. The desperation in their voices is moving. They want to do their job. There’s a sense of “it’s all over” that I won’t forget.
There’s no doubt the United States is badly governed. But if it falls to an authoritarian backed by military cosplayers and cultists who accuse anyone and everyone of pedophilia, what would result is unthinkable.
On January 6th, that nearly happened.
One more thought.
The way most of us go about the news is as a form of entertainment or distraction. I’ve got one friend who is diligent in using the news as something to talk about, nothing more. His diligence in this regard is impressive. The house next to his could be burning, but if it’s on the news, then it’s something to talk about. Never anything personal, of consequence to him or people he loves, or relevant to larger ideas or causes.
But even if one is trying to understand how this world works—a bold proposition, given that it doesn’t look like this world “works” at all—it looks like it takes time to grasp what happened. We can’t really jump from event to event, not if things are to have meaning. We’ve got to be able to say on a more personal level why something matters. Why it matters to us, why it might matter to people we care about, why it might matter to people we don’t know.
The January 6th insurrectionists are obsessed with the news in their own way. A number of them see signs, prophecies, and judgment in everything. I can’t help but think how impersonal that sort of perspective ultimately is. I’m struggling with why so many of my fellow citizens want authoritarianism. What I see are movements that at their core have a deep disregard for other people, often disguising that misanthropy as a strong sense of value.