From the beginning, it was obvious 2021 wouldn’t bring an end to many things that the progressive left hoped they’d seen the last of, from the Covid 19 pandemic and the inflation brought on by the widespread supply chain issues it created, to the hold of far right demagogues over their increasingly agitated and occasionally violent followers.
The dangerous influence of far right populists over their voters was probably best displayed by the violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021, in response to then President Trump’s ‘Big Lie’ about a stolen presidential election. The riot bordering on insurrection that resulted from the spread of disinformation about the vote brought together not just QAnon believers, Proud Boys and Oath Keepers but most alarmingly, ordinary Republican voters, many of them very privileged members of the upper middle class.
A lot of those appearing in news reports and live streams that day looked like cosplayers, with the self-proclaimed ‘Qanon Shaman’ Jacob Chansley, face painted in an American flag pattern and horned helmet becoming a symbol of this unique moment in American history, somewhat obscuring the reality that 20% of those arrested had some connection to the U.S. military and many others worked in law enforcement.
Hundreds were arrested for their actions at the Capitol, from assaults on police to vandalism, with many cases still slowly moving through the courts. While some have received punishments up to 5 years of incarceration, hundreds of others still haven’t been identified and have so far managed to avoid any consequences.
Having watched the chaos unfold in real time, including scenes of police opening gates for and talking calmly with those trying to breach the building, major questions remain about the lack of preparedness on the part of authorities despite previous violent protests at state houses and in Washington, D.C. before the riot and online chatter planning the attack in the weeks leading up to Joe Biden’s electoral college certification.
At an anti-Black Lives Matter rally in November of 2020, two Proud Boy associates claimed to have been stabbed by activists and, after law enforcement seemed to back these untrue claims, the mainstream press ran with the story as it fits a long running narrative about a violent left. This and other cases around the country showed the favoritism of some authorities to these far right groups, which may have played a role in the response of Capitol police on January 6th.
As Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who chairs the House select panel investigating what happened that day told Politico, “It was the worst-kept secret in America that something was going to happen, and why our agencies did not pick it up in real-time and be better prepared is one of those weaknesses we have to make sure we fix.”
Those following the story are learning more through the work of the January 6th committee in the U.S. House of Representatives but it doesn’t seem like the former president or his allies like Josh Hawley, who encouraged the mob that day, will face any real consequences. People like Chansley, who is serving a 41 month jail sentence are punished while those who provoked the violence continue to raise money off of calls for a new civil war.
One of the more interesting things about the Capitol siege as its anniversary passes is that it offers an example of historical revisionism happening in real time. This is made easier by a closed rightwing media eco-system that tells readers and viewers what they want to hear, whether it’s lies about January 6th or ‘critical race theory’ (CRT), which somehow became a winning issue for Republicans over the last year.
As Alison Dagnes who teaches political science at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania explained it to Lancaster Online, “There has been a very concerted effort to create an alternative media system in contrast to traditional media. It’s closed, self-reinforcing. A solid 32% of the American public gets its news from this ecosystem and they don’t leave.”
The fact that the American right exists in a media echo chamber is further demonstrated by polling that showed 56% of Republicans view the Capitol siege as “a defense of freedom”.
Thus, even the clear evidence that can be seen with one’s own eyes of an attempt to overthrow the American government, complete with its own hastily constructed gallows, is portrayed as in some way noble or for the more conspiratorial, dismissed as some kind of ‘false flag’ operation to smear the then sitting president and the self proclaimed ‘patriots’ that seem to want him installed as president for life.
The events of that day have been presented as both a ‘Deep State’ operation led by the FBI targeting the right and a patriotic uprising, often at the same time by some pundits like millionaire frozen food heir Tucker Carlson of Fox News, who created a documentary series “Patriot Purge” that ran with both of these views even though they contradict each other.
Even more widespread in rightwing media is the continued insistence that the election was somehow stolen with a Yahoo/YouGov poll in the summer showed that 66% of Republicans believe the lie about a stolen election spread by the former president and his political and media allies. It doesn’t matter that the courts, including conservative judges, have shot down these lies in 59 out of 60 cases; with the case they ‘won’ finding that a small number of voters in Pennsylvania had 6 rather than 9 days to correct errors on rejected ballots, which wouldn’t have changed the result.
Many in the corporate press and on cable networks that portray themselves as ‘objective’ reacted with shock to the events of January 6th, they were soon back to treating politics like a horse race while Republicans proceeded to curtail voting rights in the states Trump lost and others where Democrats appear to be gaining momentum, making the theft of a future election more rather than less likely. Just as they normalized proto-fascism with ‘both sides’ coverage in the 4 year lead up to the attempted coup, mainstream outlets continue to make excuses for a Republican Party in the thrall of ever more fantastic lies and conspiracy theories.
While it can easily be argued it began much earlier, it became more and more clear after January 6th that in the United States the view of reality itself had diverged in partisan ter(LINk One party rule is now the credo of Trump and his followers)(LINk One party rule is now the credo of Trump and his followers)ms for the right and that this ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality has spread around the world, helped along by restrictions imposed during the ongoing pandemic. Looking at protests against public health measures from Germany to Australia to here in Canada, Trump flags were ubiquitous throughout the last year.
Contesting the results of democratic elections by the right will likely become more common in many countries in the years ahead, creating enough of a distraction that the social and economic changes demanded by working people will be even more difficult to attain. This will be good for the big business interests that bankroll the right by ensuring that issues like climate change will remain on the back burner until it’s too late.
While the pandemic was an obvious factor in sending so many down various conspiracy rabbit holes last year, even when the public health emergency finally comes to an end there is no guarantee that those living in them, especially those profiting from spreading lies, will extricate themselves from cult like online ‘movements’ that are pushing so many towards political violence.