In which in the middle of a political insurrection, the virus continues to rage unabated
Any writer of horror will tell you that of all the horror sub genres – body horror like the Human Centipede, torture horror like Saw, ghost horror like Poltergeist, monster horror like 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead, alien horror like Signs and Invasion of the Body Snatchers – that the king of them all in terms of most difficult to pull off is comedy horror. It’s so difficult almost no one even tries to pull it off, but pull it off we did, we being Americans, the best of us whom were definitely NOT represented on social media round the world as the riot in Washington DC this past Wednesday, January 6th unfolded. It was a day when armed insurgents stormed the Capitol, gaining access to the interior with what can only be called relative ease, then jammed together on the staircases, hanging off balustrades, and climbing walls: we saw men in plaid and camo and fur and animal print, men in and face paint and horned hats, also men in military grade combat gear including helmets, Kevlar vests, many-zippered and flapped camo-printed pants and such. As I watched events unfold, the pendulum of emotion swung back and forth between deadly seriousness and incredulous laughter (though of course nothing is funny about any of this , not really).
It is hard to know how to react, honestly. The situation was at once so predicted, horrifying, weirdly hilarious, dangerous, inept and just overall generally – dare I say it – deplorable, you can’t help cringing imagining the rest of the world looking on, aghast as American ‘patriots’ stage the kind of coup that has me half wondering if Borat will claim responsibility. I watched a guy with a beer belly climbing up a wall and then fall from a pretty high distance, like a sack of potatoes, right onto a metal barrier two *other* guys were propping up against the wall, presumably to climb, right under him. It looked like he might have been seriously hurt – and all the while not one but two staircases just steps away. So it’s funny – except when it’s not, like the woman and the police officer who died. And it’s really angering (why wasn’t security as beefed up as it has been in the recent past, isn’t deterrence the best option?) and it’s frightening too. People were hurt, people were killed. It’s such a shocking thing to write. There were pipe bombs found at the RNC, the DNC, and a cache of 11 Molotov cocktails, ‘ready to go’. And on Twitter there’s reports another riot is expected before or on inauguration day. Will it happen? Will it be more inept? Will the Capitol be more ready to fend it off, and with little or no violence?
Meanwhile, the markets are soaring – apparently investors don’t see the end of democracy riding in on the unlikely shoulders of a shirtless, buffalo horn-hat wearing tattooed guy who yells Wooooooo! and TRUUUU- UMP! Also meanwhile, the virus and its economic fallout continue to rage unchecked in the US, where there is record hunger and unemployment along with infection and death rates. Some countries like the UK are looking at 100 more days of lockdown as a new, more infectious variant of the virus erupts across the infection rate statistics. The world has become a crazy juxtaposition of interlocking facts. We’re physically distant and yet more connected – many of Wednesday’s rioters live-streamed the action on a newly popular video streaming platform, getting hundreds of thousands of views. We all watched on social media as the videos came streaming in, documenting the revolution in real time.
While Wednesday’s insurgency event dominated the news, the coronavirus kept on spreading and killing people at a record pace: on January 8th, there were 300,594 new infections and 3,895 deaths. In the Bay Area where I live, reporter Jay Barmann described the quickening pace of the disease in three elegant steps, noting:
- it took over six months for the Bay Area to reach its first 100,000 COVID cases
- it took almost three months to reach 200,000 cases on December 15
- it’s taken less than one month to get to 300,000 cases – predicted for today
The numbers make me nervous. The husband and I have been super careful these last 10 months and we don’t want to lower our guard now. Today on NPR I heard a man about my age talk about how he got it over the holidays, and the only place he could have gotten it was the grocery store because that’s the only place he goes. That’s pretty much a good description of my own life, so I’ll be much more paranoid at the grocery store next time, though admittedly paranoia seems sort of futile when I watch thousands of people, unmasked, hollering and dropleting all over the place and each other and then will go back to their many different states to spread the virus one of them will have inevitably caught.
Not all crowds are a superspreader event. Earlier in 2020 my daughter and I joined a Black Lives Matter march in San Francisco. Everyone was wearing masks, physical distancing was practiced, and so the virus did not spread as a result of these marches, according to public health officials. I’m not sure we’ll be so lucky with the insurgency – in all the photos I see on the internet of the riot, in a crowd numbering an estimated 8,000 there are more unmasked faces than masked, which bodes ill.
As I write all of this, it certainly sounds awful, frightening, serious, implicatory – but then, if you really look closely at the “insurgents” and listen to the videos, frankly it’s *almost* more sad and funny than anything. These people mostly just milled around yelling Trump! A few of them spread poop around. Poop! They mostly posed for selfies ‘tiil it looked for all the world like a special cos play tour of Washington buildings that vaped for the first time in the bus before coming into the building. I don’t mean to be rude, but I can’t take their threat seriously. The main message of the ‘riot’ was that there are a whole lot of folks with too much free time on their hands, and not enough beard grooming products.
Even Trump himself publicly expressed disgust on aesthetic grounds over how “low class” his supporters looked. “He doesn’t like low class things,” an adviser said, explaining that Trump had a similar reaction over the summer to a video of Brad Parscale, his former campaign manager, caught shirtless on camera being holding a beer while being tackled by police. Even Marco Rubio is distancing himself from Trump’s followers, saying “these are not conservatives” and calling the rioters whackos and nutjobs.
And then just as you are laughing at all this fucking inept criticizing the inept at their inept revolution whipped up out of thin air that has become thick with grievance…you see a video of a bunch of guys chanting “Hang Mike Pence” and you’re shocked for real to see police standing calmly in their midst, as a scaffolding is erected and as the beeping alarm sound of the crashed out door can be heard in the background, and you see that some people really were serious, they watched the Handmaid’s Tale and they saw themselves as future “Commanders” of a new American political order other than the one that had just been voted in, where you could oppress the hell out of whomever you want, for whatever real, made up or even no reason, like some evil fairy tale that you’re in charge of now.
And so we are swung from one extreme to the other – comedy to horror and back again. Then I look at pictures of representatives lying on the floor behind their chairs and suddenly the possibility of laughing at any of this evaporates. The clear terror in their eyes. I feel an echo of it in my own heart – watching movies like The Clan, I’ve always felt very grateful that America is ‘above all that’ – that our system of government and our dollar are not vulnerable to thuggery, whether ideological or physical – thuggery of the type we’ve seen in Argentina, Brasil, Venezuela, Spain, the Philippines, Syria, but never the US. Events of Wednesday make me wonder – fear – if that is changing.
Then I look at pictures of shirtless guys wearing horns and their faces painted howling in the Capitol rotunda while taking a selfie and pretty much the only thing to think is, at least when America goes off the democratic rails it is doing so in the most creative, stupid, made-for-reality-tv way you could hope for in your darkest most ironic heart. Certainly not everyone had this same empathetic reaction to middle aged Congressional representatives lying on the floor praying for their lives. Specifically, children of the mass shooting era were vocal on Twitter:
Certainly not all Congressional representatives were hiding – some, in fact were pointing the way for the mob and seemingly looking forward to it, like U.S. Rep.-elect Lauren Boebert to released Tweets that said things like “Remember these next 48 hours. These are some of the most important days in American history.” Some lawmakers were even part of the mob – there were newly elected state legislators from seven different states, including West Virginian Derrick Evans who livestreamed his invasion of the Capitol building.
The attempted insurgency was the last straw for @Jack (founder/CEO of Twitter) who at 3:37pm on January 8th permanently suspended the personal Twitter account of the president. It’s such a momentous event, social media has become such a power in the direction democracy takes, that I predict this is a date and timestamp that will live in infamy. Whoever was in the room when that button was pushed, I hope you get a book contract – this is a story that I personally want to read, it’s like this era’s All The President’s Men. I think the only social media platform where the soon-to-be-former President can still post might be LinkedIn…there’s Parler of course (the President’s lawyer has already been banned from Parler), but Amazon said it’s not hosting Parler anymore so the platform itself will soon need a home.
As the videos are released the pendulum keeps swinging from horror to comedy.
- A man wearing a head-to-toe animal pelt was a subject of media interest, bringing us reportorial statements that are unintentionally hilarious, such as “Mostofsky can be seen in photographs standing next to a different man wearing furs and a horned hat, who has been identified as Jake Angeli, an Arizona QAnon supporter. It’s unclear if the outfits are related.” It’s unclear if the outfits are related – that’s comedy gold right there.
- After some rioting in the rotunda, one fellow exits, complaining dismissively that “nothing’s going on”. He can then be heard saying to his fellow rioters, Let’s go get a beer, as if they’d just finished the annual downtown St. Patricks’s Day Fun Run. I’m half surprised no one was towing a keg in a red wagon around the Capitol grounds and hallways.
Reporter Olivia Nuzzi says “the legacy of the Trump administration is going to be that the president sparked an insurrection and people died because he tried his best to not abide by the Constitution and the tradition of a peaceful transition of power that’s been the norm since our founding”. Nothing else is even going to be a side note, she says – but personally I think, human nature being what it is, this insurrection will be mined for comedy both foreign and domestic for years and years to come. It’s already starting.
I think we make a mistake thinking of Orwell’s 1984 as a cautionary tale – after all, everything that happens in the novel has happened in the world, more than once. Just as with Stalin, and in Oceania, Trump regards Truth as the enemy, and in all of these regimes the more intelligent you are the more likely you are to die. Remember the fate of Syme in 1984? The equivalent of an ardent Trumper, Syme was a talented linguist behind NewSpeak at the Ministry of Truth. He loved the Party and did it’s work cheerfully and with skill. Still he was deemed too intelligent and therefore risky to have around and was made an Unperson, ‘vaporized’, a process in which you were not just quietly murdered, but just as stealthily erased from history. Wiping out all records and traces that someone existed allows the Party to control history, even existence itself – if a person is born and all record of their life is wiped out, were they ever really alive?
1984 shows us that to control history is to control reality, because if you can erase all memory of what really happened and replace it with what you want to say happened, and vaporize any who will say you nay, well what are you but a god? There is no limit to the chaos a god can achieve, even a cheap sixth rate one.
If you want to know what to expect next, the plan for the next insurgency has been posted here:
If at 2:00 on Sunday 1/17 it is becomes obvious that the will to fight for America against democrat tyranny is not strong enough for the turnout to be effective, the PAFA2021 will be declared a lost cause and Joseph Biden will be allowed to be inaugurated.
According to the website, “the estimated number of armed patriots needed for the PAFA2021 to move forward is approximately 15,000. This number would allow a force of 4,000 patriots per location in Washington, D.C., and establish road blocks at set locations to assist in maintaining order at the lock down points.“
So if at 2:00p there are more than 15,000 armed people on the steps of the Capitol building, expect more riotous-type trouble – they plan to bar entry for all Democratic lawmakers, allow Republican lawmakers in to work unobstructed by those dang Democrats, everyone else that wants in will be approved one by one by the President himself, to wit: “If at ANY point during the PAFA2021, patriot forces encounter physical attack or gun fire, that event will be classified as an initiation of war against America and will officially change the classification of the PAFA2021 to civil war. Final details and execution methods have been established and will be revealed the afternoon of January 17th if the force is sufficient to move forward.“ So, a successful insurgency on the 17th will result in three day civilian militia protecting Republican lawmakers from being interfered with by their Democratic colleagues while they do whatever they can to redefine the laws to make overturning a democratic election and staying in power lawful.
Then what? Shhh, no one’s thought that far.
The cure for what ails us is not the same information sources. After all, it was the social apps that everyone has – Facebook and Twitter – that accelerated us to the place we are now. The cure for what ails us is not even to have the same information – that way lies Oceania. No, the cure for what ails us is community. Intriguingly, philosopher Hannah Arendt agrees, sort of – she has said that the big lies of fascism only work in lonely minds; that their coherence substitutes for experience and companionship.
In other words, community. Real community, feet-on-the-ground community. Places that aren’t shrines to shopping and have space enough for everyone, old and young. Places for community that have pandemic precautions built in, like the ability to socially distance the seating and floor level air ducts and maybe even, someday, something that reads the viral load in the air for all known seasonal viruses, like we do for the presence of carbon monoxide now. Online, you can strike an incendiary tone and spread it ’til it catches; in a community, if you toss a hateful match, some community-minded person is likely to stamp it out before it can find fuel and spread with wanton, uncaring destruction.
One of the rioters who has been identified and arrested is a former Air Force fighter pilot described in a New Yorker article as “all in on Trump – he went all in on the alternative-news-source world. He actually believes liberals and Democrats are a threat to the country. You can see how the logical conclusion to that is, We’ve gotta take over.” In his own mind, the pilot was no doubt as righteous as the Founding Fathers, because he’s been listening to a non-stop propaganda narrative of the news (that if not engineered then is at least guaranteed to incite) and from the leader of the free world himself, that the actual country is in danger – a call any good Americans would answer, he must have thought as he packed for Washington DC. He must have been further inspired by the thousands he saw pouring in, either naively unquestioning of their motives, or just dumb as a shaggy water buffalo gathering with a herd of others to thunder around enjoying the sound of their own loudly proclaimed but curiously action-free sense of power and accomplishment. Was he aware that in the same crowd joining him in the same chants were people wearing “Camp Auschwitz” and “Six Million Wasn’t Enough” right there on the front of their hoodies?
That the pilot, and all these other people, are aggrieved there is no doubt. But they seem to be united only in grievance, not in the specific grievances, of which there seem to be many, based on the messaging we saw in professionally produced signs and merch: there are the grievances of the white nationalist groups, the white men with beer bellies and beards group, the neo Nazi group, and the Q anon believers group, and the anti antifa group (which is saying they are against being against fascism, i.e. defining *themselves* as fascists)…the ex vets group. There is this guy, who is famous the world over, hanging one-armed from the balcony and then dropping special-forces style (as I’m sure he imagined himself) into the Chamber. Before being taken into custody he dropped videos in which he proudly admits yeah, that was me in Nancy Pelosi’s chair, she’s a bitch! Later he films himself admitting he doesn’t know what to do next. (he also didn’t know whose chair he was in, either – it was the Vice President’s, not the Speaker’s.) Maybe he caught up with the guy who sat in Nancy’s office chair and they went together to have that beer.
There is like maybe five percent of me that wants to say on behalf of women who have been called bitches everywhere fuck you, bro, who is the bitch now? The rest of me just thinks how lucky he is that law enforcement showed restraint or so many more people could have been hurt, including him. Because despite everything I’m not rooting for that. He’s just a guy, with loved ones. Odds are he is more wrong than he is evil, and if so then I think there might still be hope for him to figure out what to do with his sense of grievance without destroying democracy and the country he professes to love. As a person loved on this earth, he’s worth a chance not to go down in history with his primary accomplishment being associated with a mob action that included two guys re-enacting George Floyd’s murder on the steps of a church, or this guy reported by The Atlantic,
On the West Lawn of the Capitol Wednesday, a man in a pom-pom beanie clamored for blood. “Execute the traitors!” he shouted into a megaphone. “I wanna see executions!”It Was Supposed to Be So Much Worse, The Atlantic
The news is reporting Federal agents discovered a truck full of rifles, shotguns, and bomb-making supplies parked outside the RNC headquarters. The leadership behind the weaponry is reported as saying “The lemmings are starting to see the light. Our ranks are growing”. I’d like the bitch-slinging, what-should-we-do-next-rioter to know, you don’t have to die a lemming for guys like Trump. There’s plenty of room over here on the side of those of us who want to protect our loved ones from all forms of violence, in real life and online, from virtually viral to actually viral. And there’s some evidence you’re on that side, too, based on your statement issued to the press that included this quote:
“While in the Chamber …some of them wanted to trash the place and steal stuff but I told them not to and to leave everything in it’s place. We’re still on sacred ground. I recognize my actions … have brought shame upon myself, my family, my friends, and my beautiful country…and I beg for forgiveness from America and my home state of Idaho.“
I hope you find the forgiveness you seek. Hopefully your penalty will not be as severe – ten years in prison – as Trump himself once advocated for rioters. That would be an ironic and tragic turn for you, hoisted by your own petard like that. I hope you take your penalty like a man, and go forth and be fascist no more. Maybe be a Civics teacher, or a folk song writer. Or a politician like your fellow Mormon, Mitt. Or maybe you can start a GoFundMe for the journalists who were attacked by the mob, their equipment wantonly destroyed. But I’m afraid your need for forgiveness isn’t going to amount to much when it comes to stopping the momentum of what you helped set in motion (or maybe just got swept up into). Listening to the guy in the video below, I can’t say I understand who he thinks are the “traitors” but I clearly understand he’s willing to try again, and even die, for the cause of removing them and just like that we’re not in a comedy anymore but a horror show.
There are people recorded in the mob confronting the armed officers protecting the Capitol and chanting at them “New World Order sellouts”, which sounds really awful but be sure and click the link and listen, because it’s like watching the Three Stooges in the Call of Duty, or something. It’s just wrong – and stupidly hilarious – on so many levels. Again, that tug between chaos and hilarity, horror and comedy. The drama that keeps unfolding before our eyes in an endless stream of there-at-the-scene coverage is hard to take in, and is more compelling than anything any prestige TV series on HBO or Hulu or Netflix has on offer. It’s playing out like an alternative ending to The Stand, a less optimistic one than King’s, the one where the Las Vegas wins – except, as unreal as it seems, this made-for-Duck-Dynasty-TV insurrection is real enough. People are injured and people are dead because the president urged a mob to “stop the steal”. And the group that has suffered the most appears to be law enforcement – more than fifty injured, one dead, and facing off with the mob as depicted in the video below. I hope they can hold the line against anything else that is to come, which I hope against hope will come to nothing, now that everyone is taking the whole surrealistic concept of actual insurrection and the possibility of not waking up in a democracy seriously.
It might serve us well to remember now that, a dozen years after Hitler’s failed beer hall putsch resulting in his arrest, charge of high treason and five year prison sentence came not oblivion and obscurity but the rise of the Third Reich, destroying millions of lives and changing the flow of history. When historians reported the atrocities of a group of armed thugs overrunning a country and said “never forget” this is the kind of situation in which we are specifically supposed to be not forgetting, the object lesson where power, seized and unchecked, has led before and can lead again.
Good News: More than fifty arrests have already been made among insurrectionists.
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