When MAGA protesters forced their way into the U.S. Capitol Building on Wednesday, January 6th, those watching events unfold on cable news saw what appeared to be a highly disorganized mob breaking windows and aimlessly wandering around the building posting evidence of their crimes to social media. As more information has come out about the actions and intentions of some of those there that day, what happened has begun to seem a little less chaotic and more sinister.
Mixed in with the Qanon cultists, Proud Boys, white supremacists, Groypers and self-proclaimed ‘patriots’ were people like retired Airforce Lt. Col. Larry Rendall Brock Jr., who was photographed carrying a large number of twist ties like those used as handcuffs by police and by the American military in war zones.
Although Brock claims he found them on the floor in the Capitol, the fact that he wasn’t the only person carrying zip ties and that they’ve become a popular accessory for rightwing groups over the past few years is disturbing. As reported by the Daily Beast, the trend probably started with their use by militia groups detaining undocumented people at the country’s southern border during the Obama Administration.
Fox News host Kennedy, who self identifies as libertarian, was quoted in the reporting cited above making a more recent endorsement of the use of the ties, also sometimes called ‘flex cuffs’ during the uprisings that followed the police killing of Geroge Floyd last summer, saying, “If you’re going out protesting and you are a peaceful protester, take some zip ties and subdue some of these people in a citizen’s arrest.”
There were also disturbing images circulating after the events of January 6th showing groups of people dressed in army green helmets. fatigues and body armor seeming to use the crowd for cover as they made their way up the Capitol’s steps. Some of those dressed in this way, who were also carrying what appeared to be tactical radios, were also filmed breaking windows allowing others to get inside the building.
They were identified as members of the Oath Keepers militia, which focuses on recruiting serving and retired members of the military and law enforcement to fight those they decide are ‘foreign or domestic enemies’ of the U.S. constitution.
As James Townsend, a photojournalist present at the Capitol on January 6th told France 24, “Militia members were very present throughout the day. I saw the Oath Keepers always together in pods of around ten members, sometimes moving with a hand placed on the shoulder in front of them so they couldn’t be separated. They were the only group I saw that was wearing their militia name on their vests, shirts and helmets as a uniform. I also saw some people wearing Three Percenter badges. Other groups seemed to be operating in pairs, without identification.”
One aspect the attack on the Capitol that’s been well covered in the mainstream press (if less so on cable news) was the fact that what happened echoed similar scenes at statehouses in Michigan, Ohio and Oregon where much more heavily armed protesters against pandemic related public health orders like mask mandates engaged in similar behavior.
In one incident during a special session devoted to the pandemic at the state capitol in Salem, Oregon on December 21st, Rep. Mike Nearman allegedly opened a pair of locked doors while leaving the building and allowed armed protesters in. Thankfully, local and state police were more effective than Capitol police in Washington, DC in confronting and removing the trespassers.
Further, calls to arrest or even execute members of Congress and even Mike Pence were a chilling reminder of the plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer by the obviously 1980s inspired militia, the Wolverine Watchmen, which led to 13 arrests (with six facing federal charges) in early October of last year.
There were also other signs of planning that were a little more obscure than these widely reported incidents, especially during a time of overlapping crises when last week’s news often feels like it occurred in the distant past.
For example, the idea that the clunky “Stop the Steal” hashtag and slogan used as a rallying cry by the self-proclaimed patriots who stormed the capitol was created after Donald Trump’s election loss is untrue. It was the creation of perennial ‘dirty trickster’ Roger Stone after a close Florida Senate race and recount in the 2018 midterm elections.
As reported by RightWing Watch at the time, this is what former Infowars reporter and current Proud Boy Joe Biggs said on Twitter in reference to the race that pitted Rick Scott against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, “I’m no new Floridan. I’ve spent most of my life there and in Texas. I love both places more than life itself. Which is why I will be helping #StopTheSteal. I will [go] back home to Florida from my other home in Texas tomorrow. We will not let radical leftists destroy our home!”
When Scott was declared the victor by just over 10,000 votes soon after the slogan was retired for a time before being revived by the cynical Republican ‘strategists’ involved in organizing the Capitol ‘protest’ like Ali Alexander and grifters like Biggs (who was arrested on Wednesday after being identified as one of those inside the Capitol Building), to sow doubt about and even outright mislead the American public about the fairness of their country’s elections.
As is so often the case with rightwing talking points, the discourse around election fraud is pure projection, inverting the truth of active voter suppression on the part of the Republican Party at all levels, especially through gerrymandering, to blunt the ability of traditionally marginalized communities, especially African Americans and indigenous people to have a say in policy making.
Worries about almost non existent fraud also led to calls for intimidation at the polls in both 2018 and 2020 and even more worrying threats against officials and workers counting ballots after last November’s presidential election, the kind of behavior that could be even more corrosive to the country’s already dated and conservative constitutional republican form of government over time.
Oddly, 2020 might come to be seen as a high point in terms of voter participation under the incredibly difficult circumstances created by an unprecedented pandemic, with record numbers of people voting for both major candidates.
Finally, it’s important to name some of those on the right who used their often huge platforms to make their followers question the results of the November 3rd election and in some cases subtly call for the kind of action we saw during the Capitol riots.
From former progressives like Dave Rubin and Tim Poole to Charlie Kirk of conservative ‘youth’ organization Turning Points USA, these figures continually argued that the former president was just one court judgment away from overturning the election results, giving false hope to their audiences. Before he deleted the tweet, Kirk bragged about providing more than 80 buses to bring people to the Capitol on January 6th to ‘stop the steal’.
Although the rightwing media figures pushing the absurd claims of a stolen election well past the point when it was obvious that they were based on lies were bad enough, the worst purveyors of this type of disinformation were those using their pulpits to spread this nonsense to gullible religious fundamentalists who had been told for 4 years that a president steeped in debauchery was some kind of messianic figure.
Even before the new U.S. president had been installed in office there were already calls to move on from the events of January 6th made by the same Republican politicians who also helped to legitimize the doubt that led to the violence of that day and to five lives lost. Allowing them and their followers to distance themselves from what happened would be the kind of strategic blunder we too often see from the centrist wing of the Democratic Party so it will once again fall on the progressive left to remember this somewhat farcical but also blatant attempt by those with the nerve to call themselves patriotsto overthrow their country’s government and install an unelected dictator.