She looked dead as soon as she hit the ground. Eyes open, blood on her face. She fell onto her back where a flag had been draped over her shoulders that bore Donald Trump’s name.
The death of a woman killed at the U.S. Capitol yesterday as insurrectionists forced their way into the building is no less tragic than that of any American or any human who died fighting for what they believed in. Instead it’s more tragic, because what she believed in was so obviously incorrect. She died for a false cause.
Trump lost a free and fair election, the kind of thing that many countries around the world do not enjoy. In some of those places, oppressed people take over government buildings and commit other acts of insurrection to assert their rights. That’s what happened in the United States yesterday, except no one’s rights had been infringed upon by the November election of Joe Biden to become president. It was free and fair, but Trump has convinced his supporters — and they have convinced themselves — that it was not. These past two months of Trump’s fire-stoking, compounded by the flamethrower that has been his apocalyptic presidency, came to fruition Wednesday as radicalized right-wing extremists stormed the Capitol. It was the first time the building has been breached since the British invaded it in 1812. But instead of the King’s Cross, it was the stars and bars that flew for the first time in the history of this country in the Capitol.
“We were normal, good, law-abiding people, and they did this to us,” one man said as British TV cameras rolled, announcing to the world that America is no longer the globe’s strongest and most stable democracy.
The insurrectionists had been preparing to breach the Capitol for weeks, Buzzfeed reported. A researcher tracking extremist chatter online noted that one of the first posts to come to their attention yesterday was a militia chat about being “ready for blood.” In person outside the Capitol, insurrectionists attacked reporters, proclaimed they were “at war” and that they were “coming for bodies.”
But that doesn’t mean there won’t be further actions in what feels like an escalating conflict.
“Wait til we come back with rifles,” one man said as night fell and police cleared the Capitol grounds. “I’ll see you from 600 yards.”
The radicals in D.C. yesterday truly believed they had a chance to overturn the results of the election — a false promise they greedily consumed from Trump and other Republicans’ constant lies. There was never a constitutional path to a second term for Trump, but the extremists went to D.C. anyway wrongly believing there was. When they realized there wasn’t, they took matters into their own hands.
That is why this is an insurrection and possibly even a coup attempt. Prevented by law from their goal of Trump as president, they stormed the Capitol to make it so by force.
“This is our country,” another man in the British newsreel said, as if he was taking it back from foreign invaders.
That’s what this is all about: taking something they believe was taken from them. Unfortunately they believe this because of the lies of elected officials, the algorithmically-altered social media bubble they live in, and the right-wing news outlets that feed the engine, speeding up the radicalization process in the past five years.
That radicalization engine isn’t going away anytime soon. Americans will continue to be radicalized and fed conspiracy theories — already extremist influencers on the right are pushing the tale that yesterday’s insurrection was an Antifa false flag operation — and become enraged to the point of taking matters into their own, well-armed, hands. The only question now is when and how they’ll carry out their next act of violence.
The photo on this post is from Mike Thieler of Polaris Images.
It was just the latest in a string of cruel, desperate and seditious actions coming out of the White House in the final days of this past horrendous year — and this historically corrupt and inept president. When the history books are written they will no doubt detail Donald Trump’s near-criminal mishandling of the coronavirus among his many failures and obvious crimes. There is no way that a rational person — whether writing up this period of American history or simply considering it — could come to any other conclusion. But we are not living in rational times.
The divisions in this country make clear that there will be two versions of history: the real one and the one based in the un-reality that both Trump’s most ardent supporters and many everyday conservative — or radical right — Americans believe. In this version of history, the virus’s carnage on Americans is impossibly both all China’s fault and overblown by the media and Democrats. And the historic defeat of an incumbent president for the first time in decades thanks to Joe Biden winning the most votes of any presidential candidate in American history was actually a historic win for Trump, with some combination of corrupt Democrats, rigged voting machines, and ballots filed in the names of the dead stealing the election from him. Incredibly, this alternate reality includes lifelong Republican bureaucrats like Georgia’s secretary of state — who voted for Trump — carrying out the theft.
There is also the not-so-small matter of about a third of this country believing Trump’s presidency was a roaring success and that he worked hard every day to help all Americans. But as astoundingly wrong as that point of view is, it’s nowhere near as dangerous as that same swath of America disregarding the deadliest pandemic in 100 years and believing the election was stolen from Trump. The implications of those two pillars of this false history will play out for years to come, possibly signaling the beginning of the end of the American Empire.
Men like Donald Trump and, to a lesser extent, Chris Collins, will be thought of the vanguards of our fall.
A Cold Civil War in this country has brewed since the actual fighting stopped 155 years ago, but the last decade-and-change has seen it heat up. There was the election of Barack Obama, which polarized the country and stirred up racial tensions — and racism — that had bubbled largely under the surface since the raucous 1960s and 70s. The popular right’s response to Obama was to try to recreate the Tea Party in the face of his supposed totalitarian or socialist regime. In government, the right simply did everything it could to stop every part of the Obama agenda, whether it was politically anodyne or not. Less than two years into the Obama presidency, the right saw what we can now consider an early predecessor to the culture war bomb-throwing of Donald Trump. In a September 2009 address to both houses of Congress, Obama laid out his healthcare plan that would eventually become the Affordable Care Act. He attempted to allay fears that his plan would somehow end up insuring undocumented immigrants when Rep. Joe Wilson, a Republican back-bencher from South Carolina, shouted “You lie!” The outburst was shocking, and Wilson even apologized — an unheard-of gesture in the Trump era — but still went on to insist to Sean Hannity that Obamacare’s insuring of illegal immigrants was a possibility. Of course, undocumented immigrants never did receive health insurance under Obamacare, and Joe Wilson has been re-elected to office every election since.
Wilson’s outburst — ironically a lie itself — was one of the first volleys in this recent chapter of the Cold Civil War. Not as hot as successive volleys, it was nonetheless hot enough to motivate a certain type of American to support aggressive and previously unheard-of radical tactics like yelling at the President of the United States in a congressional address. This is when all those norms that Trump has shattered every day for the last for years began to break down apace. The Tea Party rose and with it sanctimonious politicians like Ted Cruz, who fought every Obama initiative even if it helped the working class Americans wearing tricorner hats and waving the Gadsden flag on the steps of the Capitol. Better access to health care, flawed as Obamacare was? That’s socialist; don’t tread on me. Higher taxes for the rich who enjoy among the lowest tax rates in the world and continually become more and more wealthy while the income gap widens? Also socialist; I might be rich, too, one day because rags-to-riches is the American Dream. Plus those are the job creators, so if you tax them more, they’ll just send the jobs away.
Wilson is a footnote in the story of our Cold Civil War, but an important one. Not only wasn’t he punished for his norm-busting performance on that September evening, he was embraced for it. He did what many tea-partiers and conservative whites had wanted to since they heard Obama speak for the first time: tell that smart-ass to fuck off. This is what Trump heard the first time he heard Obama speak, and he’s been telling him to fuck off in one way or another ever since.
If Joe Wilson made many Americans’ own-the-libs fantasy of shouting down a liberal president come true one night, Trump has given them four years’ worth of that catharsis. Trump’s daily indignities handed out to liberals and culture war fear-mongering are chum in the water for conservative Americans. The problem is, as one of the authors of a recent scientific study on polarization said, that chum is making the sharks even more aggressive.
Noting that liberals and conservatives increasingly see each other as “morally bankrupt” thanks to political sectarianism that divides Americans on moral, and not policy-driven, lines, Eli J. Finkel told Scientific American that that moral viewpoint can cause a by-any-means-necessary mentality that poses a threat to the stability of democracy.
“And when you face a situation like that, is it acceptable to suppress the vote a little bit or to engage in some sort of political chicanery that isn’t really best for democracy? Well, when those are the stakes, of course,” Finkel said.
While Republicans are largely arguing that’s what Democrats have done with the election, that isn’t the case, as Georgia and its Republican leaders refuting Trump’s voter fraud claims, shows.
So, we are left to witness stunning displays of desperation and cruelty as Trump’s time in office ends. Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr have ramped up executions of federal inmates — a practice not seen in decades and one that Joe Biden has said he’ll halt. The work of Trump, his lawyers, and sycophants in Congress and state legislatures to try to subvert the will of the people in their un-democratic attempt to overturn the results of an election that hurt the president’s feelings continued on Saturday, with Trump begging Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger to “find” 11,780 votes for the president — one more vote than the count by which he lost to Biden.
Then there are the pardons. Mike Flynn is free and clear now, despite lying about his secret chats with a foreign government, the exact opposite of Trump’s supposed “America First” agenda. Roger Stone, an admitted dirty trickster who has been trying to subvert democracy for decades going back to his work with Richard Nixon, who he is obsessed with, is also free of his punishment for lying about communications with Wikileaks concerning stolen Democratic emails. Finally, for now, there is Chris Collins, the first member of Congress to endorse Trump for president and a millionaire who not only used his position as a lawmaker to try to help at least one of his companies, but violated federal law by engaging in insider trading from the White House lawn.
It’s obvious why Trump did this — because of Collins’ support at a time when a President Trump seemed like an impossibility — but that obviousness doesn’t make it any less troubling. Collins admitted to investigators that he had broken the law. He did so in the same nonchalant way that he told congressional ethics investigators about how he tried to get government scientists to help his company’s research on a groundbreaking multiple sclerosis drug that might have made his company billions of dollars. He admitted these things because he honestly didn’t believe he did anything wrong. He, like Trump, believes that laws, rules and norms are simply things that can be manipulated for personal benefit. Trump and Collins do so even as the people who vote for them are barred from that level of access and privilege. Those people vote for the Trumps and Collinses anyway, perhaps believing they’ll reach that status one day with enough hard work. Mostly, they are wrong.
Men like Trump and Collins expose the brilliance of the Republican strategy for securing working class support in the last 40 years. It isn’t that they’ve convinced blue collar Americans they can be rich — that’s a falsehood they’ve applied to themselves, famously encapsulated by John Steinbeck’s quote about the working class viewing themselves as “temporarily-embarrassed capitalists” — it’s that the GOP has distracted the working class from pocketbook issues with cultural ones. While Republicans have riled up the working class by driving fear of immigrants, degradation of the second amendment, abortion rights, and politically-correct culture, they’ve gamed society and the economy for their personal benefit, becoming richer and richer as most people become poorer or at best live off the same relative wages they did 40 years ago.
To stay in power, Republicans — and some Democrats in very recent times — have had to radicalize their messaging and governing. But most of the radicalization is on the GOP side, which is how Democrats and the media become “the enemy of the people,” and how you get Republican members of Congress planning not to certify the results of the election on Wednesday as Trump himself works to cheat his way into a second term. There is no sweeping Democratic plan to take white America’s guns or open the floodgates to illegal immigrants; but the lack of that plan doesn’t matter when the other side has convinced their base it does exist — and it’s being put in motion.
All of this culture war fighting also takes place in the absence of any real policy debate, as Michael Grunwald pointed out in 2018. Grunwald explored how Americans on both sides of the right-left divide wage their own daily battles — rolling coal or driving a Prius, for instance. (Not satisfied with simply thumbing their noses at environmentally-conscious Americans, the top video on YouTube for rolling coal is a compilation of trucks spewing black exhaust fumes on Black Lives Matter protesters, “TrumpHaters and TreeHuggers.”)
Grunwald aptly described Trump as “a culture-war general firing up his internet troops. It wasn’t a real war, like the one that Trump skipped while John McCain paid an unimaginable price, but it made the spectators feel like they were not just spectating, like they had joined an exhilarating fight. They got the adrenaline rush, the sense of being part of something larger, the foxhole camaraderie of war against a common enemy, without the physical danger.”
When conservative America supports the decision to pardon white collar criminals with a level of wealth most Republican voters will never achieve simply because those felons were warriors for Trump, it’s worth considering what else they’re willing to do. Get behind an attempted coup to keep the White House in Trump’s hands? Yes. Launch domestic terror attacks because they believe they’ll prompt a hot second civil war? According to the FBI, possibly.
But the biggest question may be whether this cold war actually turns into a hot one, or simply keeps flaring up after a bad police shooting, a right-wing terror attack, or a falsely questioned election. Much of that depends on what the “culture-war general” does in the coming weeks. With history as our guide, that will surely be fanning the flames instead of extinguishing them.
The photos in this post are mine, with the first one coming from Minneapolis in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. Everything else is from Sapelo Island, GA, where a group of slave descendants is fighting to hold onto their rightful land. (My wife is handling social media and PR for them.) I’ll be spending quite a bit of time there this summer to tell that complex and fascinating, but troubling, story. Thanks to all who continue to read this newsletter, and if you like what you see, pass it on to a friend.
The events of the past week have distorted many things and clarified many others. One of the things it has clarified is that the Republican Party has no interest in upholding the most basic tenet of a democratic republic: free and fair elections. As they perform the very un-democratic task of calling Joe Biden’s win into question, the GOP and its media allies are also pushing a narrative that the Democratic Party is led by far left radicals who want to do everything from take your guns to cancel Christmas to perhaps provide you decent health care.
This, of course, is not true. Yes, Beto O’Rourke once boasted that he would take away your AR-15, but Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have largely avoided even discussing gun control, let alone whether they have any plans to push forward on the issue. Instead, they’ve spent the days since winning the election doing what presidents-elect normally do: setting up a team to adequately run the federal government and implement their policy goals. Those goals are not nearly as radical as the Trump sycophants taking to the airwaves and spewing their bullshit online would have you believe.
In fact, it’s the Republican Party that has become more radical in the last four decades, as my colleague Jeremy Borden pointed out in April — a trend that went into warp speed with the election of Donald Trump, an obvious fascist with no respect for democracy or the laws that protect it. Meanwhile, Democrats have wrongly tried to meet the GOP in a middle that is increasingly right of where the center was 30 years ago. But before we get into that, let’s examine some of the claims Republicans are making regarding voter fraud in this election.
In Pennsylvania, the state Republican party found that 21,000 dead people were on state voter rolls — which is legitimately concerning! But the Breitbart story laying out this explosive development notes, cautiously, that the Philadelphia GOP “alleges” that 840 dead people supposedly voted in the election. In a tweet, the state GOP said you could “see it here for yourself,” while linking to the page on the secretary of state’s website that allows one to search for names of individual voters to see if their ballots had been counted. One would think that that legal team pressing the claim that tons of ballots were cast on behalf of the dead would go through the work of putting together a list of the 840 dead voters, complete with proof that they’re the same person who has had an obituary printed in the local newspaper. But that’s basic shit. And the people who are running Trump’s legal team in Pennsylvania — which include reporter-beating Corey Lewandowski and corrupt former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi — do not, clearly, know how to do basic shit. A second story on dead people voting in Pennsylvania provides a single example of such an occurrence — albeit without any examination of whether there could have been someone with the same name and date of birth as the alleged deceased voter in question.
In Michigan, Republicans have said more than 14,000 dead people were on the voter rolls. When CNN randomly chose 50 names of deceased Michiganders’ and ran them through the state voting website, they found not a single corpse with a vote.
In Georgia, un-elected Kelly Loeffler and her fellow insider trader David Perdue have called on the secretary of state — a Republican — to resign over his alleged mishandling of the election here. Naturally, they provided no such hard evidence that anything nefarious occurred, instead choosing to eat one of their own in the hopes it turns out enough of their Trump-loving base to put them back in Washington after a forthcoming January runoff.
In Wisconsin, the Trump campaign has failed to pay the $3 million required to start a recount, which tells you all you need to know about the president’s belief in his chances in that state.
Nationwide, the campaign is asking its supporters for money to boost its legal efforts — all while noting in the fine print that as much as 60 percent of money received will go to paying off old campaign debts, which again tells you all you need to know about Trump’s belief that he can actually win all these legal battles.
Most of the GOP and the attorney general are now complicit in an effort not just to avoid the results of this election but call it — entirely and unfoundedly — into question. Even though it appears the actual lawyers working on these lawsuits are mostly mailing it in, the fact that they’re doing it all is very concerning. Yes, most of this is in service of Trump’s ego but it’s also so Republicans can call future elections into question. They’re setting up a significant number of Americans to believe that this election was stolen from by Democrats so that in 2022, 2024 and beyond they can remind them of this “fraud” and they’ll buy it.
Republicans know this. Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham know this. It doesn’t help democracy or their working class supporters and makes the prospect of societal unrest more likely, but it helps them stay in power, which is what all of this is about. That’s fine, as far as politics goes. We all believe our side is right and that we can improve American life through our own politics. But there used to be norms, norms that Democrats stupidly still abide by, thinking that their Republican colleagues will one day do the same — perhaps once the storm of Trumpism has passed! This is wrong. What Democrats have failed to understand is that, even before the madness of Trump, Republicans had no interest in Democratic norms, or civility, or “working across the aisle.” It was always about unmitigated power. This is why the authoritarian part of the Republican brain has always been more prominent than the libertarian one. That’s why this is not the time for Democrats to come toward the center, for the “center” has been skewing right for decades — at the expense of working people and democracy. And even — and Joe Biden would do himself a favor to say explicitly — at the expense of the white working class.
That’s how you clarify things for a people who voted for a child of millionaire Manhattan privilege who, just a few weeks ago joked in Erie, Pennsylvania that, if it weren’t for his unending need for affection and to be re-elected would never have previously ever gone to Erie, Pennsylvania — because why would he have? Erie sucks, he alluded. Why would he ever come there if the people there weren’t telling him they loved him? He told them he’d bring the jobs back but he hasn’t. And he and the Republican party never will. They busted your unions and colluded with corporations to ship your jobs overseas. They told your people in the working class that lower taxes on corporations would keep your jobs here even as they met with those corporate fat cats and came to an understanding that, to keep tax revenue flowing and corporate donations coming in for their political campaigns, they were willing to sell you out. I shouldn’t say you; I should say us. As much as I’ve hated on Trump over the last four years, I recognize that many people I know and love have supported him, giving more in common with many Trump supporters than I have differences. At this moment, I hate no more. I just want you to understand — as a son of the Midwest, as a son of coal-digging Prussian immigrants and Midwestern meat packers — that Donald Trump never cared about you. The only reason he went to you in Erie or Wilkes-Barre or anywhere else was because you gave him some of the affection he’s always sought. It’s sad to say it, but in private he jokes about people like you and me. He makes fun of us. We’re the suckers, he believes. We’re the workers who do what he needs for him to make 10,000 times the amount of money we make. We provide the strong backs to an operation that has made him billions that he has squandered, and our backs will never be the same.
The radicalization of the Republican party over the last 40 years has publicly focused on social issues. Privately, it worked to undermine the working class — the very same people who were being riled up by a stew of pro-life, second amendment and impending-socialism fear-mongering. Now, they’ve added the lie of fraudulent elections to this mix. One more thing for you to be scared about and hate Democrats for. None of it’s true, of course. But truth is a very relative thing for much of this country, and Republicans have exploited that void perfectly.
This is a radical position. Questioning an entire election just because the president’s feelings are hurt and his dad never took him to a fucking baseball game is not only absurd but very dangerous. There’s been much talk of a future authoritarian president — not hindered by Trump’s crippling stupidity and stunning incompetence — actually succeeding at doing irreparable damage to democracy. Republicans, radicals that they are, have put themselves in position to embrace that, democracy be damned.
All the photos from this post are from a very strange period in 2016, when it became apparent to me that Trump might actually become president. The first is from Trump’s rally in Chicago that never happened because Chicago doesn’t play and protesters shut that shit down. The second is from an abandoned building in East St. Louis. The third is of a veteran I met on the road somewhere in Ohio. His chopper went down in Iraq and everyone but him died, so he had it tattooed on its arm to memorialize his comrades. The final photo is from an abandoned Days Inn, somewhere north of Indianapolis off I-65. Thanks to all readers of Where Do We Go From here, and remember, if you like what you see, tell a friend.
Election Night used to mean several things in the news business. Cold coffee and free pizza is the newsroom stereotype. There was also the grueling and annoying task of calling local election officials to see what the returns looked like. It’s been almost a decade since I sat at a desk in a newsroom on Election Night and made those calls, ate too much pizza and drank coffee deep into the night to add my small part of the larger news-gathering operation that needed to get into the paper before deadline. But that doesn’t mean I don’t fondly remember it as a moment when the wheels of democracy peacefully rolled along a track toward some shared future.
It’s an idealistic vision that is somehow able to invade the minds of otherwise very cynical journalists. It’s one I can’t imagine possessing anymore, not with everything I’ve seen and covered in the last six years since I left newspapers for good.
We are on the precipice of something not seen in this country for several decades. A choice between a very dark future or a relatively normal one. This Election Night will not be like any of the others in my time behind a computer screen. That idealistic vision of a peaceful transition of power is gone, bludgeoned to death by the same dim violence of Donald Trump’s madness that has ruined much of the American experience in the last four years. The normal preparedness — lining up all the phone numbers at far-flung election boards two counties away; preparing to do the thing I hate most about reporting: approaching random people to ask them their political opinions; and reaching out to losing and winning campaigns — now must be joined by preparing for unrest.
A recent email from an editor stuck out to me in its indication of this new, disheartening normal. He just wanted to make sure I was available for deployment in the event of clashes at polling places, acts of vigilantism, and general chaos. Forget calling polite and competent local election officials to get vote counts; I and many other people are making sure our cars are gassed up and gas masks cleaned because of the fucked precipice we as a nation now find ourselves on.
Another realization of this danger zone we are all about to march into came yesterday when my wife asked about all the possible scenarios. I began talking about early voting numbers being probably good for Biden, the likely possibility of a “red mirage” on Election Day, and a new poll showing Biden ahead in several swing states. That wasn’t what she was asking. She wanted to know what I thought were the various scenarios and their consequences on the streets.
In order of least likely to most, they are as follows:
This very implausible scenario would cause more confusion than anything else. After that, the left would take to the streets nationwide just as they did in historic numbers after Trump’s first election. But the protests will be more subdued, I believe, because many in the crowds will understand that their efforts to incapacitate a second Trump term will be better used elsewhere — donating to Democratic politicians, backing liberal groups, and supporting organizations that defend migrant, abortion, voting and other rights under attack from Trump and Republicans. There is the slight possibility of a left-wing domestic terror attack, but that’s not historically been part of the left’s playbook, and in the last few years has increasingly been part of the right’s.
This is the best possible Election Night outcome not just for humanity but for a chance to avoid unrest. A Biden landslide will defuse those on both the left and the right who would otherwise take to the streets in any of the scenarios below. Trump will make his typical complaints about a rigged election, but the numbers will be too overwhelming for many Republicans to back his claims. More importantly those numbers will be too damning for many of his radical supporters to do anything other than complain. But, if Trump refuses to leave office — and is subsequently removed by law enforcement or the military — his supporters may enact revenge on the various groups they blame for his defeat. Finally, as is the ever-present danger of American life, a militia group or a lone wolf, enraged by Biden’s victory, could pull off a mass shooting or other act of domestic terrorism.
A close win on Election Night
Where all this is almost certainly headed, the tight numbers on Election Night will likely cause the nation to freeze. Trump voters, who apparently believe the coronavirus is not a threat, will turn out in large numbers on Tuesday, prompting Trump to claim victory as millions of mail-in votes stream in and are counted — or not, as the president has directly told Americans he intends to prevent. If Trump does something crazy, like sign an executive order saying no more votes can be counted, DC will burn. Short of that, as the numbers go up and down for each candidate in the days and weeks following Tuesday, there will be flare-ups in places where votes were discounted or added to either side’s tally. Imagine the Brooks Brothers riot but in several different states and involving supporters from both sides. Behind the scenes, lawyers from both campaigns will be maneuvering to have their votes counted and their opponent’s thrown out. Then will come the court cases and the lawsuits — which are already twice the number that came as a result of 2000’s contested presidential election — and the worst possible scenario for mass unrest: a Supreme Court case.
2000, but worse
Clearly part of the playbook considering how much emphasis Republicans placed on quickly nominating Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, a decision at the country’s highest court for either candidate will cause acts of violence. That unrest will be more widespread if the decision comes down for Trump, which early indicators point that it will. Protests in major American cities will turn violent when police try to crack down on protesters. Right-wing agitators will embed themselves in the crowds to stir the pot just as they did in the wake of George Floyd’s killings. The president, emboldened, will insist on a heavy-handed law enforcement response. His supporters might take to the streets themselves, feeling justified by the Supreme Court decision and protected by law enforcement who overwhelmingly support the president, to enact their own violence on protesters.
The unsettling truth is that something will burn and someone will be shot on or following Election Day. The unrest has already begun in New York City, where Trump supporters and protesters clashed on Sunday afternoon, with police intervening. If it’s flames, it will be because Trump either won or stole the election through the courts. The fire will come in a riot, because riots are the weapon of the left. If it’s a shooting, it will be because Biden won and Trump claimed — as he has been telling us that he will do for months — that the election wwas stolen from him. Someone will be shot by someone on the right because the weapon of the right is the gun. It is their weapon both because they are cowards who could never kill someone with their bare hands and because the gun is a ruthlessly efficient weapon that has proved very successful in the killing the right’s enemies in Black churches, Jewish synagogues, Walmarts filled with brown people, and all the other places I’m forgetting right now where the president’s supporters and right-wing terrorists have murdered their fellow American in the past four years in support of Trump’s fascist ideology.
Everyone has something to lose in this election. But Trump’s white working class base — the same people likely to be armed or involved with militia groups — have not only a higher propensity for violence but something they desperately can’t afford to lose: identity. Their jobs didn’t come back from China, as Trump promised. Their taxes aren’t any lower and their wages no higher. Their healthcare isn’t any better than it was before as a pandemic sickens or kills their family and friends, upending their lives. All they have is the sense of white identity that the president provides through his daily rages and grievances. This is what comforts them — it is all that they have — and losing it could send them over the edge.
All the photos from this post are from Inauguration Day in 2016. I had forgotten that millions took to the streets following Trump’s election, which is a good reminder when considering what will happen in any of the scenarios above. I will be covering events on Tuesday from my home in Savannah. If anyone has anything that needs looked into or hears about plans of violence or unrest, please let me know. As always, if you enjoyed this post, please share this newsletter with a friend. To all, godspeed.
It’s a terrifying vision. Shadowy groups of left-wing extremists and anarchists, raising money and sending their foot soldiers all over the country to bring havoc to peaceful, law-abiding communities.
Except it isn’t happening. With the full investigative power of the federal government behind them, President Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr have yet to identify a single incident of this kind — even as they baselessly speculate that this invisible network is roaming the nation to foment unrest and commit violence. In some cases, it’s come down to local law enforcement to convince citizens and right-wing vigilantes that this fantasy is not occurring. These are the same law enforcement agencies Trump and Barr claim to be protecting with what will likely be deemed an unconstitutional order to strip federal funding from what Barr’s Justice Department has now called “anarchist jurisdictions” of New York City, Portland and Seattle.
This is not how any of this works. But you can’t really blame Trump, Barr, their fellow Republicans, the GOP’s media allies and average Americans on Facebook for believing that things do work this way. None of them can really be blamed because the people who believe these things have ever been to a protest themselves, let alone actually protested.
They’ve never been to a protest or protested because they come from the parts of our society that control it. Simply put, they’ve never had anything to protest against because their interests have always been aligned with the current subjects of nationwide outrage — law enforcement and the structures that uphold systemic racism. So it makes sense that they would have to concoct a reason why people would travel to take part in a protest — entirely their right, regardless of political affiliation — which some people most certainly do.
But not in the way Trump, Barr and Americans consuming a toxic stew of misinformation from right-wing media helpfully provided to them in heaping quantities by Facebook’s mind-warping algorithms.
Yes, protesters and activists travel, even across the country, to take part in actions. Yes, some of them identify as Antifa and anarchists. But besides the fact that there is no proof they are doing this in large numbers and in highly-organized fashion, there is nothing inherently wrong or illegal about travelling to take part in a protest. It most certainly is not sedition, as Barr would like to charge. Any illegal action would only come at the protest itself.
Ironically, it’s largely right-wing groups who act in the fashion Barr and Trump claim is rampant on the left. The Proud Boys are regularly seen at events nationwide alongside more militant groups like the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers. In all my travels covering unrest in the last six years, the only somewhat-organized left-wing groups I’ve seen in American cities experiencing unrest are the Revolutionary Communist Party of Chicago, who I first came into contact with in Ferguson, and, far less frequently, the New Black Panther Party and its affiliated splinter groups.
Protesters and activists — or the nebulous Antifa, which Barr and Trump would have you believe is a paramilitary organization and not simply a loose connection of like-minded individuals — aren’t flying around the country for several, very logistical reasons. First, it’s very expensive to do so. My rule of thumb for covering unrest is that it takes a minimum of $1,000, per man, per week to be able to properly function in that environment. (And I do it on the cheap. Television news reporters, with their camera crews and extensive gear, rack up even higher bills.) To parachute in as reporters like myself do — and as Trump and Barr insist Antifa does — requires one to immediately drop upwards of $2,000 on flights, hotels and car rental. Most Americans, especially those on the left, don’t have that kind of scratch just lying around. Secondly, most people simply don’t have the time to drop everything and catch a flight across the country just to join in on protests. Reporters have that luxury because it’s our job.
Instead, what often happens is that protesters and activists will travel within their region. Situated in between Chicago and Milwaukee, Kenosha surely would have seen more than its fair share of outsiders coming into town following the police shooting of Jacob Blake. But that’s really no different than other cities and towns outside major metropolises. In the wake of George Floyd, Minneapolis would have drawn in protesters from St. Paul, Duluth, Milwaukee and Chicago. (I briefly saw a protester from Chicago that I used to be in regular contact with back in the Ferguson days at the George Floyd memorial.) But any protest in any city now draws right-wing agitators and pro-police types as well — a change from the two years following Mike Brown’s killing in Ferguson to the election of Trump, when national media abandoned stories of police killings and the Black Lives Matter movement in favor of his historically fascist presidential campaign.
In Minneapolis, there were all kinds of rumors about white supremacists embedding themselves with protesters to stir unrest — rumors I tried, and largely failed, for days to confirm or deny. (The closest anyone got was police saying a man holding an umbrella who was caught on camera casually smashing the windows of an Auto Zone just prior to a particularly violent night of rioting was a white supremacist intent on stirring the pot. Police have issued a warrant for “the Umbrella Man.”) In Kenosha, the only outsider proven to have caused violence was a white, Trump-supporting teen and wannabe cop who killed two protesters and injured a third with his assault rifle.
The myth of the professional rioter is an especially powerful one, particularly for those Americans who have never attended a protest, seen a riot in person, or protested themselves.
Many Americans are primed to believe that outside agitators are sowing destruction because it’s easier than dealing with the fact that so many people are so genuinely enraged. To do that, to understand that society can break down so quickly into chaos, is to confront an uncomfortable truth that terrifies many. It would also require those people, including Trump, Barr, and much of the Republican Party, to confront the reasons that have caused the rage.
The photo in this post came from that particularly violent night in Minneapolis, when much of the neighborhood around a Minneapolis police precinct burned. Thanks to everyone who continues to read these increasingly-sporadic posts. Since covering the Rayshard Brooks killing in Atlanta, I’ve been buried in my private research work which has left little time for new, original reporting. There have also been the not-so-small matters of getting married and buying a home, which have taken up quite a bit of time. I may get out to Portland before the election to cover the ongoing events there for a book I’m pitching about the events of this summer and the months approaching the election. Until then, onward.