Why the Thugs Attacked, And What We Should Do About It

The first images of the siege of the Capital highlighted the freaks. It was hard to not laugh at the guy who gives a friendly smile and a wave at the photographer as he cheerfully walks by with Pelosi’s podium over his shoulder. A good number of those people in the mob were certainly fringe characters with some obvious signs of drug and alcohol abuse. It was tempting to write them off as a bunch of putz’s who got lucky and got into the Capital; they were too few, too disorganized, too stupid to be a concern.

But as subsequent videos and images showed, the outside crowds was bigger than those who made inside the doors of the Capital. The crowd was also more violent and dangerous than we originally understood; the Viking guy was a massive distraction. There were reports that the crowd chanted, “hang Pence.” If they got their hands on an actual Congressperson, things would have not gone down well.

Yes, there were a number of people in that crowd who are pathetic losers, who need mental health support. Part of me can’t imagine how any rational person could support Donald Trump; anyone who actually got in a truck and drove down to Washington, DC for last week’s rally must be on the far end of insanity. But the size of that crowd means I can’t simply write off their actions as a meth delusion.

Back when I started blogging, there was a lot of talk about echo chambers — cable TV and Internet have created too many sources of information, where people can self-isolate with like-minded people. Today, those chambers have multiplied. Those information bubbles enabled people to totally believe that election results were fraudulent, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

In recent years, those subcultures, ensconced in their chambers of falsehood, rallied behind these Tinfoil Leaders, like Trump, rather than mainstream Republican politicians and media. They shared information with random dudes on Twitter with handles like “Trump’s Loyal Patriot,” rather than reporters from CNN, the New York Times, and even Fox News.

What are we going to do about this? This weekend, social media sources shutdown Trump and are sending warnings to thousands of random twitter folks who retweet reports about election fraud. Apple shutdown a social media service, Parler, which these rioters used and has reported connections to Russia. When I flipped on Fox News this weekend, the news anchor was more concerned about Parler than a mob, who wanted to hang Pence. Do we need to shutdown Fox News, too?

Part of me isn’t thrilled about cutting off these forms of communication, because I do want to know what the freaks are thinking. It worries me that they are finding other ways to communicate, and they’ll surprise us with some other nonsense soon. But I think we have a clear cut case for the “crying fire in a crowded theater” exception to the First Amendment. If we don’t shutdown this movement immediately, there is a danger than they’ll plan something worse.

The other way of cutting them down is to checkmate their king. Republican leaders can pressure Trump to resign or to invoke the 25th Amendment. Congress can impeach and convict him. They can discredit and marginalize assholes, like Ted Cruz, who have enabled him over the years.

There are pros and cons to all those moves. An impeachment process will distract the nation from a much needed COVID response. With a finite amount of time, Congress won’t have time to get money to folks who need it desperately. It’s not clear that any of those punishments will matter much to the president. He is most likely in conversations right now with Russian oligarch and far right wingers with deep pockets to set up an alternative media source. One advantage of going through an impeachment process is that it will make it impossible for Trump to hold elected office in the future.

I used to believe that Trump’s supporters were simply confused, economically marginalized, or drug addled, and that simple logic, better economic options, and medical care would bring them around. I no longer believe that. Those people are unreachable. If Mitt Romney and Mike Pence can’t corral those people, then we have serious problems.

We have seen the limits of populism. We need to push back.

That picture of General Sherman is from The Photographic History of the Civil War. According to wikipedia, towards the end of the Civil War, General Sherman’s forces “followed a scorched earth policy, destroying military targets as well as industry, infrastructure, and civilian property, disrupting the Confederacy’s economy and transportation networks. The operation broke the back of the Confederacy and helped lead to its eventual surrender.”

Worth thinking about.

22 thoughts on “Why the Thugs Attacked, And What We Should Do About It

  1. I’ve said this before, but Trump is Trump. We have known what he is from the very beginning and have also known that there is no one he won’t turn on, no principle other than allegiance to himself. The problem has always been those who are adjacent to him, who repeat his lies, who humor him to reach a goal, who support his fantasy world. As of Wednesday that included the mob that invaded the house, but also the eight Republican Senators and 139 Republican House members who voted in support of his fantastical assertion that the election was illegitimate.

    Before the actual assault on the Capitol, I found mildly amusing the lines Republicans would draw, starting with, “What’s the downside of humoring him” to “If he looses Trump will concede gracefully” to “There will be no Trump coup.”

    The assault on the Capitol was fed by the official Republican unwillingness to speak truth to fabulists (from Trump himself, to Pence, to McConnell to Cruz to Hawley to the rest) reinforcing their ideas on those networks, and not just the reinforcement of the networks. As long as the Republican Party continues playing the fire they will fan the flames. Pence and McConnell needed to speak up sooner (and not just sooner like a month ago, sooner like years ago) and bear whatever losses resulted and rebuild their party without, say, at the very least, the votes of QAnon believers.

    And, I still don’t believe we are on that path, because as others have said, there have previous incidents after which some Republicans take a stand, but then drift back (comments on McCain, grab women, good people on both sides, to name just a few).


  2. I think there should be an impeachment because it is right, because Trump has committed impeachable offenses. I think the Twitter ban was long coming and that it might have changed things if they had enforced their policies earlier, rather than giving a “newsworthy” exception to Trump. I think the Parler takedown is being addressed the way that it should — by filing an antitrust suit against Amazon. Does Amazon have monopoly power on web hosting? I don’t think so, but if they did, Parler would have a complaint.

    We’re hearing of corporations saying they won’t give to Republicans who voted against certifying the election. I think that’s a good plan, and if it prevents Democrats from voting against certification (as they did in 2005), that’s a good thing, too.


  3. It seems to me that both sides live in fantasy worlds divorced from reality, fed by life in their respective echo chambers. It’s clear, for instance, that large numbers of BLM protesters absolutely believed the “Hands up, don’t shoot” story. (It would be otiose to note that Laura was among the believers.)* There are a handful of pundits who seem totally informed, rational and objective to me (Eugene Volokh and Kevin Drum come to mind), but they are lonely voices.

    *This is called preterition.


  4. My wife wants me to take down the Biden sign for fear of somebody shooting into the house. I figure once you start thinking like that it doesn’t stop, so the sign stays until the inauguration. Plus, I’m wearing my Biden hat whenever I can.


  5. Actually, I’ve decided that any sort of political discussion is too dangerous in the current environment. I don’t want to lose my job. So I am abandoning this blog.


    1. y81 said, “Actually, I’ve decided that any sort of political discussion is too dangerous in the current environment. I don’t want to lose my job. So I am abandoning this blog.”

      That’s unfortunate.

      See you after retirement, or when things settle down?


    2. Y81, you’ve been commenting here for years, and I have no idea who you are. I’m not sure how anybody else would figure it out. And then go to the trouble of contacting your employer. But you should do whatever makes you feel most comfortable.


  6. Just commenting on the scorched earth policy of Sherman.
    My understanding was that it left a heritage of multiple generations of hatred between the South and the North.
    A pyrrhic victory, I would have thought.


    1. I really don’t think that added much to it. The South had one political goal after they lost, and that was to recover the ability to politically establish white supremacy. The north let them go back to it after barely a decade.


    2. Quite shortly after the end of the war Reconstruction was abandoned. Reconstruction: the brief period after the Civil War when those who had fought to uphold the institution of slavery were limited from running government and the formerly enslaved were able to participate in governments in the South. White Southerners regained control and used it to establish dominance over the formerly enslaved. Adam Serwer writing about incomplete work of Reconstruction in The Atlantic last year. White Southernor soon got everything they wanted without any progress made towards a mutli-racial democracy because of calls for civility and moving on https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/12/adam-serwer-civility/600784/

      And, more recently, Serwer wrote about the actual age of American democracy, which he dates to the passing of the Voting Rights Acts that restored votes to Black Americans in the South, 1965: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/01/multiracial-democracy-55-years-old-will-it-survive/617585/ tying recent event to the incomplete work of ensuring full participation in our democracy.

      I interpreted Laura’s comment as metaphorical — a scorched earth policy of holding all the rioters and their agents and supporters responsible for their attempt to disrupt and overthrow our democracy.


  7. Re: moving to other places to organize. We have friends in Hong Kong, so my husband has accounts on various obscure social media sites. He uses those to communicate with friends in HK who are concerned with the Chinese government monitoring what they say. Over the past week, he’s been getting all sorts of notifications about people he may know joining these sites, as the far-right tries to find a place to converse and organize (we live in a fairly conservative community in a liberal state, so there are quite of few of those types among our neighbors). So there’s that sort of spillover effect too – by driving these people to those platforms, we may end up making the world less safe and free for legitimate protestors in other places.


    1. On the other hand, repeated death threats are less effective when the people threatened are not listening to the people making them.


    2. My view about Twitter is that it has a right to refuse service in the same way that a restaurant does. To the extent that Twitter engages in monopolistic practices, the right tool is to disrupt the monopoly, not to tell them how they run their business.

      If, DOJ sued Google, aleging that it was violating anti-trust laws by engaging in anti-competitive behavior. That’s a valid cause of action. From Wired (https://www.wired.com/story/google-antitrust-lawsuits-explainer/): “It claims that Google has used anti-competitive tactics to protect its monopoly over general search and prevent rival search engines from getting a foothold. Most notably, the complaint describes the lengths Google has gone to to make sure it’s the default search engine on browsers and smartphones—like paying Apple as much as $12 billion each year to make Google the default on Safari and iPhones. ”

      The blather of Republican AGs (who joined the suit), including the AR AG, about how Google is “agin them” isn’t a very good argument, I think.


  8. Earlier I wrote that Twitter should have removed Trump earlier for violating their policies. But, I realized that I was being naive about their business decision. By waiting until now (insurrection, end of the presidency) they’ve clearly made it more difficult for a rival service to gain traction. If at a greater height of Trump’s power they had removed him, and he had moved elsewhere, they would have helped a rival. And Twitter has benefited significantly from Trump’s participation in their network.


  9. “Cruz is directly mentioned in the video filmed by the New Yorker’s Luke Mogelson. It depicts two men rummaging through a lawmaker’s papers in the Capitol.

    “There’s gotta be something we can f—ing use against these scumbags,” one says.

    “I think Cruz would want us to do this,” the second man says soon after. “I think we’re good.”


    How closely can one align with those believing lies to overturn democracy before personal culpability? There are clearly Republicans who won’t reject the crowd until they personally suffer consequences.


    1. I think you are more aware than I, especially given that it’s PA that’s actually not seating a duly elected Democrat, gratuitously effecting a mini coup.

      2/3 Republican congressman in WA voted in favor of impeachment (9/10, total) — Rodgers did not. So, there’s a bare hint of Republicans with a conscience here in WA. But, unfortunately, even here, without further movement on the part of Republicans nationally, I can’t work alongside them. Someone asked me to write in favor of a Republican sponsored bill and I can’t, as long as Republicans as a party aren’t repudiating the thugs and working in favor of Democracy.


      1. They did finally seat that guy. But the Pennsylvania Republicans very deliberately blocked early counting of mail ballots so Trump could run the lie that he did. It’s not a question of alignment with others. It’s them that did it.


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