Our Capitol has been breached. They brought weapons, planned to detonate car bombs and wrote “Murder Media” on the walls of Congress. This was domestic terrorism. Encouraged by their fascist leaders from Trump to GOP members of Congress to conspiracy peddler Alex Jones, they waved Confederate flags alongside Trump flags as they broke windows, ransacked offices and terrorized our country. These domestic terrorists’ goal was to disrupt and stop the final count of electoral college votes that puts Biden into the Oval Office and humiliates their dear leader Trump. This specific act was unprecedented in American history – but the forces that led to it very much aligned with American identity.
This is who we are
We have already heard cries of ‘This is not who we are’ or ‘UnAmerican’ or ‘This does not represent us.’ But yes…yes it does represent us. This is who we are too. We are heroes and we are villains. America has brought us Mohammed Ali but also Timothy McVeigh. Thomas Edison and Ted Bundy. Martin Luther King Jr and Alex Jones. We can’t just turn a blind eye to the parts of our identity we don’t like. It may be difficult and ugly, but it’s necessary to stare into the abyss of our dark selves. If we don’t, that abyss stares back at us and terrorizes everything good about who we are.
You don’t have to look too far in our past to see how this happened. Some terrorists brought with them signs that read “Q sent me”. Of course they are referring to QAnon, the online poster who has sparked a whole conspiracy around itself that involves the Deep State keeping Trump from making America great. This summer two distinct movements of protests occurred across the country: one to support Black Lives Matter, and one to complain about wearing masks and closing businesses while we are in a pandemic. Black Lives Matter protestors were met with tear gas, rubber bullets, mass arrests, and more police brutality. Anti-mask protests were met with kid gloves, selfies and a general lack of seriousness.
These terrorists were living a dystopian reality: reinforced by social media echo chambers, amplified by political leaders, protected by white privilege and class privilege, coddled by the legal system, fueled by conspiracy theories that divorced them from objective reality. As they fell deeper and deeper into this dystopian reality, they saw signs everywhere that they were getting to the Truth.
The President of the United States incessantly claimed voter fraud before, during and after his loss. The utter lack of pushback they got from law enforcement when they protested ‘for the freedom’ not to wear masks and save lives showed them that the legal system would protect and support them. They even moved to a new social media app, Parler, to increase the size of their echo chamber around them. Egged on by conservative grifters from Fox News to OAN to Alex Jones, all around them they were told they are patriots who have found the Truth and must be ready to stand up for it.
What did we expect?
We’ve known for years this was coming. Trump gained popularity politically by pushing the racist conspiracy theory that Obama wasn’t born in America. We’ve heard for years the victimhood rhetoric conservative leaders have used to describe the “attacks” on themselves by liberals. There’s been a consistent ratcheting up of demagogic language portraying media as ‘the enemy of the people’. When leaders constantly vilify any political opposition or media outlet as destroying this country, stealing this election, and crushing everything their followers hold dear, are we supposed to be surprised when their followers believe them and become violent?
Fascists, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, racists, bigots all have a long storied history in America. This is who we are too. We are Martin Luther King Jr, but we are also James Earl Ray; WEB DuBois and Jefferson Davis. Why does it feel different now?
One, we are living in the now. I suppose if the years 1870 to 2015 didn’t exist and the Civil War was just a couple years ago, this wouldn’t feel different from the insurrection of the Confederacy.
Two, fascism is something America fought globally last century. It was seen as an international problem – Americans weren’t the fascists, we were the good guys standing up to them. Much of the story of the post WWII era wasn’t about rooting out fascists in America, it was about rooting out Communists with the Red Scare. Fascists were in Europe. Communists were here.
But most importantly, this feels different because our institutions have not only failed to stop this from happening, but are actively encouraging it’s spread. There’s no grand American institution without blood on its hands today: Congress, the presidency, the Supreme Court, our news media apparatus, capitalism, local government. We can’t easily point to one geographic location to subdue this threat. There’s no Reconstruction coming – no Marshall Plan, no Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act coming that will solve this problem. The problem is so engrained in who we are as Americans that attacking it means coming to grips with a reality that many of us refuse to live in.
When my father was going through chemotherapy for his lymphoma, he lost 50 pounds, lost his hair, his appetite, his taste for food. It was the chemo that was doing that to him, not the cancer. The medicine that allowed him to survive, for as long as he could, sapped all his energy. But it also gave him a few more years with his family.
The fascist, neo-Nazi, white supremacist, conspiracy theorist ideology is a cancer on the American soul and institutions. Leaders of the Republican Party and conservative movement have benefited from this cancer. They elected a fascist conspiracy peddler to the White House. Many have been too unwilling to attack this cancer head on – preferring to dance around what it is or how its spreading. We can’t ‘both sides’ this cancer. Now it has grown too large and spread too much for one surgery to fix it. We need chemo. And that won’t be easy.
Since this cancer has spread so far, the treatment needs to attack it from several angles and in several phases: dismantling corrupt institutions, structural political reform, a national defining of acceptable beliefs and attitudes, eradication of current capitalist ideology, and a national redefinition of what it means to be American – including our past, present and future.
Dismantle our institutions
Our institutions are corrupted. The norms that have loosely held our institutions above the fray of day to day corruption have been shattered. The ‘nonpolitical’ judiciary has been politicized. The GOP have stolen two Supreme Court seats, gerrymandered districts across the country and continue to prop up other institutions like the Electoral College that allow them to stay in power even after the majority of Americans want them out.
It’s not just on the GOP or on federal problems though. The Capitol police just let the rioters in at some points. While DC police have teargassed BLM protestors without hesitation, these Capitol Police were taking selfies with the rioters. When Breonna Taylor is murdered by police in her sleep and the murderers get away with it, the whole institution of policing is corrupted and needs to be dismantled. Same goes with ICE, HHS, and other quasi-military law enforcement institution. They have been infected. They need to be dismantled.
Pass structural reform to save democracy
If we are going to dismantle the corrupted institutions, we need to replace them with needed functions. Do we need the Electoral College? Nope. Let’s pass the National Popular Vote interstate compact in a few more states and we’ll move to popular elections of US Presidents. Do we need a Congress? Probably. So, how should that congress function? Let’s pass HR1. Let’s make Washington DC a state. Let’s pass anti-corruption, anti-lobbying legislation. Let’s pass proportional representation for Congress so that every citizen is actually represented and no one party will have enough power to wreak havoc on our institutions again. Do we need local, state, federal police? Maybe. But not in the way we have them now. Congress authorized hundreds of millions of dollars for Capitol Police, and right wing rioters can just walk right past them. So maybe we should defund the police and reinvest directly in services for our communities. Do we need ICE? Nope. Nope. Nope. Do we need strong guardrails to ensure a fascist takeover of our government isn’t possible? Yep. Let’s make this happen.
Fight fascist ideology
Some of these structural reforms can help mitigate any political power coming from appealing to white supremacists, but none will actually fight white supremacy. To do that, we need to stop hiding behind ‘free speech’ excuses, stop coddling disseminators of disinformation, hold white supremacists, Nazis, fascists accountable for their actions and listen to experts in psychology, sociology and history on how to do this. Post WWII in Germany, all swastikas and Nazi paraphernalia were outlawed. After apartheid fell in South Africa, the government set up the much needed Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine past crimes and openly discuss the blatant racism, colonialism, bigotry that underpinned apartheid.
We need to fight white supremacy and fascism not only on social media but in every community in America. In our communities, we need to have conversations with our racist uncle that’s on Parler complaining about a stolen election and there needs to be consequences for believing in fascism. That also means regulating the disinformation sites like 4chan and other right-wing media. That means regulating the speech on social media – YouTube conspiracy theorists, QAnon theories on Twitter, everything on Parler. We can’t just play wack-a-mole with conspiracies and bigotry online. We need to actively inoculate people from disinformation campaigns. Active campaigns online and offline similar to Truth and Reconciliation Commissions need to grapple with our shared beliefs.
Dismantle our capitalist structure
To regulate hate speech and disinformation on the internet, that involves government intervention – rules and regulations on private companies. Facebook has been profiting off the spread of lies, disinformation and the ability of racists to connect to each other for years. Conservatives felt too regulated on Twitter when that platform finally de-authorized some conspiracy theory accounts. So they moved to a new platform, Parler. There, they connected with each other planning the attack on the Capitol. This keeps happening. They get kicked off 4chan, and move to something else. That platform then expels fascists after pressure only for these fascists to find another platform. As long as the fundamentals of our capitalist structure remain the same, there will always be a company willing to profit off disinformation, fascism and violence.
Enough with bullshit mythmaking of “America”
Finally, those domestic terrorists who stormed the Capitol thought they were doing their patriotic duty as Americans. Along with their Trump flags and Confederate flags and Nazi symbols were also many American flags and nationalist rhetoric. What is America and who are Americans?
One of the many ridiculous things Trump fought against the last couple years was any teaching of the 1619 Project which sought to tell an American story complete with the experiences of slaves brought here from Africa. The first black slaves arrived in the United States at Jamestown in 1619 – 402 years ago. The ugly degradation and dehumanizing history of slavery and racism is too often overlooked. That is our history. That is America too. Putting brown kids in cages in 2017 shouldn’t be a surprise to those who truly understand what America is and what it has the potential to be.
In our classrooms, in our media, in our constant myth-making of “America”, we can no longer turn a blind eye to this America as well. We can’t treat this cancer if we just ignore it’s existence. We’ve tried that. We have failed.
Can we change?
I certainly don’t have all the answers. None of this may work. I just know that if we don’t try, the next fascist coup may be successful and there may not be any coming back from that. If we continue down this path we are on or move forward in the name of unity without substantial change, more blood will be spilled, more extremists will be emboldened and more people will suffer.