Arguably the most iconic image of the premeditated criminal is the burglar: An anonymous figure, dressed in all black, operating in the dead of night, wearing a mask and carrying an unmarked bag.
Usually, criminals want to avoid detection when committing a crime. But the violent mob that descended on the Capitol on Wednesday, leaving destruction, terror, and four of their own dead in its wake, didn’t bother with Criminality 101. They waved Trump 2020 flags and wore sweatshirts emblazoned with phrases like “Civil War,” “Camp Auschwitz” and “Fuck Your Feelings.” They gave out their names and didn’t bother with masks — not even during a raging pandemic. One Maryland man even wore his work ID badge to the insurrection. (He has since been terminated by his employer.)
Why bother hiding when you believe you’re only doing what you are entitled to do?
During a time when so many of us have spent the better part of a year apart, here was a crowd of unmasked people, gathering en masse to storm the Capitol building to hamfistedly attempt to overturn the results of a sound democratic election. They didn’t seem to have a plan — not really — other than destruction.
They smashed windows, erected makeshift gallows, smoked joints and cigarettes (“We can smoke in our house,” one of the rioters told The New York Times). They tagged the walls with catchphrases like “Murder The Media,” smeared feces on the walls, smashed photojournalists’ cameras, trampled their own. They took selfies with Capitol police officers, took selfies with each other, took selfies with the gallows, posed for photos in House Majority Leader’s Nancy Pelosi’s chair. They did so with relative ease and little consequence — a stark contrast to the way Black bodies were treated by law enforcement over the summer during the national surge of Black Lives Matter protests. They engaged in domestic terrorism at the urging of the president of the United States, enabled by cynical political henchmen like Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Josh Hawley.
It’s all so dangerous. And it’s all so mortifying.
When scrolling on Twitter in a fugue state yesterday, after hours glued in front of the television watching Confederate flag-clad rioters storm the Capitol building, a tweet by comedian Jess Dweck popped up that seemed to sum up the moment.
“I didn’t know something could be so terrifying and embarrassing at the same time,” she tweeted, alongside a photo of a domestic terrorist wearing face paint and horns, shirtless with his arms flexed in the Congressional chambers. The work papers abandoned by members of Congress mid-certification of the 2020 election results lay strewn around him. Meanwhile, a fellow MAGA rioter stands a few feet away taking photos of him; one can only assume he plans to post them on Instagram. Even in the darkest of moments, it’s impossible not to notice the nightmare aesthetics of these wannabe right-wing agents of terror.
The whole scene looks both otherworldly and so very American. Welcome to Influencers In The Wild: White Supremacist Treason Edition.
On Thursday, The New York Times reported that Trump has been discussing pardoning himself before he leaves office. Presidential pardons only apply to federal crimes, and it is unclear whether the courts would uphold a self-pardon. But whether or not he actually does this, the fact that he is considering it at all is telling. Trumpism is inextricably linked with perceived impunity. Take, destroy, leave death in your wake. Forgive yourself and move on without consequence.
The rioters on Wednesday seemed to operate by the same philosophy.
These white terrorists see themselves as the ultimate victims; their insurrection reframed in the delusional QAnon collective imagination as a righteous “revolution.” They are committed to the delusion. Even as reports circulated that five people — four Trump superfans and a Capitol police officer — had died as a result of the mayhem, people were insisting in my Instagram DMs and comments that “no one got hurt,” and that antifa was the real problem and that we were all overreacting because this was the “first time white people act[ed] out.”
MSNBC’s Joy Reid summed it up: “In their minds they own this country, they own that Capitol, they own the cops, the cops work for them, and people like me have no damn right to try to elect a president.”
In the case of the Capitol rioters, the tacky display and subsequent documentation seems to have been the point. They even made Civil War merch emblazoned with the date, Jan. 6, 2021. They did not worry about being harmed, even as they committed a litany of obvious crimes: breaking into a federal building, threatening violence against elected officials, destroying federal property, attacking police officers and stealing mail. They viewed the Capitol police officers not as adversaries in their treasonous mission, but as friendly helpers. When rioters couldn’t find Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office, they asked a Capitol police officer, who “tried to direct them there.”
The utter brazenness of it all. The entitlement. The whiteness. The deadly combination of all three.
Two days later, it’s still impossible to find the right words to articulate what we saw, what we know, how much needs to change. I’m still processing. You probably are too. So much hurt. So much exhaustion. So much despair. Some glimmers of hope. (Here’s lookin’ at you, incoming Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.)
While we continue to metabolize everything that has happened and demand that the people who incited the violence face consequences, let’s try to show ourselves some grace. We are all sorting through the emotional rubble.