Let's focus on "the most evil" part of the description. In an OpEd for Haaretz this morning, David Rothkopf wrote that Trump "is undoubtably America's worst president, the only president to be impeached twice, the only person to lead a coup against the United States government, the president who presided over and was personally responsible for the greatest one year loss of life in American history, the only president since Herbert Hoover to actually leave office with fewer people employed than when he was sworn in, the only world leader to have been summarily banned from virtually all major social media sites because his words were so inflammatory, the most prolific liar if not conspiracy theorist in U.S. political history (which is saying something), a man who managed to be at once the most corrupt, the most odious, the most ignorant, the most ineffective and the most evil political leader in U.S. history."
And yet... 74,216,722 voters chose him (46.9% of the total). And he received over 60% of the vote in 10 racist bastions of an American yesteryear: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, North Dakota (the worst-plagued COVID hellhole on Planet Earth), Oklahoma, South Dakota (the second worst-plagued COVID hellhole on Planet Earth), Tennessee, West Virginia (68.62%) and Wyoming (69.94%).
Another opinion column today-- this one in the NY Times-- was written by Farhad Manjoo, who prefers to be referred to as they, is more frightening: The Capitol Was Just The Start. "These," he wrote "were not just the Trump loyalists of lore, that economically marginalized, over-elegized white working class of the heartland. No, the crowd that stormed the Capitol was a big tent of whiteness, a cross-section of American society bridging divisions of class, geography and demography. They were doctors and lawyers, florists and real estate agents, business executives, police officers, military veterans, at least one elected official and an Olympic gold medalist. They’d all come to coup for America. What had drawn together this motley mob, other than race and party? A preposterous lie incubated in a digital-media fantasyland. Just as tech C.E.O.s had once boldly envisioned, disparate strangers from across the land really had come together online to forge common purpose out of shared philosophy. That the philosophy was conspiratorial lunacy and the common purpose insurrection-- well, nobody’s perfect, I suppose."
One way to think about the attack on the Capitol is as a clash between long-festering, partisan digital fantasy and stark physical reality. What scares me is that even with reality flash-banging all around them, the rioters still clung like stubborn barnacles to their online fantasy. Their mental model of America could not be undone even by the events playing out before their pepper-sprayed eyes-- a depth of indoctrination that really does not bode well for our future.
The fantasists did not achieve their objective last week, and it may look as if the conspiracy is reeling. President Trump is gone from Twitter and soon from the White House. Rioters are being arrested and charged by the dozens. QAnon-- the collective delusion alleging that America is run by a cadre of pedophiles whom Trump is fixing to take down-- a major presence in the crowd, has been kicked off the respectable web, and hate-filled redoubts like Parler are on their heels.
Yet none of this is over-- far from it. Now that the conspiracy mob has effected such carnage on the real world, we’d be foolish to suppose that its appetite has been sated, rather than only whetted. Monstrous online lies are not done with us. The Capitol is just the beginning.
Manjoo found the insurrectionists-- self-proclaimed "patriots"-- filled to overflowing with entitlement and, when confronted with hard reality, genuinely surprised. Cops were pepper-spraying them, not BLM and Antifa. "They’d flown in to undo an election as if it were no bigger deal than a weekend getaway. They expected to march on the Capitol, restore Trump to the throne, memorialize the moment for Instagram and then travel home unscathed, as if what happens in Washington in broad daylight with the world’s news media watching stays in Washington. Many were shocked that the police put up any resistance at all. 'We backed you guys this summer!' a man can be heard shouting at the police, probably in reference to Black Lives Matter protests. 'When the whole country hated you, we had your back!'"
Legal trouble may shake the rioters’ delusions. Lounging with his feet up on a desk in Nancy Pelosi’s office, Richard Barnett looked as if he’d conquered the world; in his booking photo he’s vaguely stunned, the look of a man who has just had cold truth splashed in his face. An attorney for Jake Angeli, the horned, shirtless fellow who calls himself the “QAnon Shaman,” told a judge on Monday that Angeli had not eaten anything since his arrest on Saturday. His mother told reporters that he requires a strict organic diet. So I suppose it’s possible that jailhouse menu options may deter future conspiracy-fueled mobs.
But my optimism runs thin. Even if internet companies are now, belatedly, taking action against the forces that led to last week’s riot, the conditions that led us to the brink remain unchanged. The internet is still ruled by viral algorithms and advertising metrics that prize outrage over truth. Vast swaths of the media, including the most popular corners of radio and cable news, are still devoted to unhinged propaganda. America is still a bitterly fragmented nation, and the whole thing could still blow up again with the slightest of sparks.
Who would have guessed that the real caravan, was the one headed from Ohio filled with gun-toting Trumpists backed by far right congressman Bill Johnson, whose wretchedly poor white Appalachian district could only muster 26.5% of it's vote for Biden this year, far less than the 42.7% it had given Obama in 2012.
Yesterday, the NY Times reported that the FBI has been urging police chiefs across the country to be on high alert for extremist activity. The U.S. government issued a dire intelligence bulletin warning of potential violence ahead of the inauguration and warning "about potential attacks on state capitols, federal buildings, the homes of congressional members and businesses... Extremists aiming to trigger a race war 'may exploit the aftermath of the Capitol breach by conducting attacks to destabilize and force a climactic conflict in the United States,' officials wrote in the bulletin issued by the National Counterterrorism Center and the Justice and Homeland Security Departments, which was disseminated widely to law enforcement agencies around the country... Officials warned of possible activity by the 'boogaloo,' a movement that seeks to start a second civil war."
The FBI further warned that the Trump-created "shared false narrative of a 'stolen' election may lead some individuals to adopt the belief that there is no political solution to address their grievances and violent action is necessary." They warned that antigovernment militias and extremist groups "very likely pose the greatest domestic terrorism threats."
You may know Kim Kelly's work from Teen Vogue but this week she did a powerful column for the Columbia Journalism Review, What covering heavy metal taught me about spotting Nazis. Like Kelly, I'm a devoted anti-fascist and I love metal music-- started the first all underground-metal radio show in San Francisco and was playing Metallica garage tapes before they ever recorded an album-- so her perspective as a self-described Nazi-hunter on the DC insurrection fascinated me. She started with the escapee from the Village People, Phoenix QAnon cultist Jacob Anthony Chansley, who goes by the name Jake Angeli, recently "arrested alongside a few dozen others, but not before the far-right social mediasphere tried to paint him as an 'antifa spy' planted among the insurrectionists. The efforts at misdirection were in vain, however-- Angeli is a notorious pro-Trump presence at rallies in his home state, and he’s pleaded publicly for recognition as a true 'patriot.' In case there remained any uncertainty, a close look at his hairy torso made Angeli’s leanings clear: when I zoomed in on his tattoos, I noticed white power symbols-- Angeli was quite literally wearing his fascist sympathies on his heart. I knew what I was seeing because I recognized some of the same iconography hidden in the margins of black-metal albums." NOT the Village People, who are less popular in Wyoming (and Lynchburg, Virginia), the dual founts of black metal fascism, than overtly Nazi propaganda bands.
"For the uninitiated," she wrote, "black metal is a subgenre of heavy metal music distinguished by its aggression, over-the-top theatricality, and affinity for the occult, as well as its unfortunate history as a hotbed for white supremacy. The vast majority of black-metal artists avoid politics in favor of the supernatural-- and a growing number have embraced anti-racism and leftist politics-- but a small, virulent subset is rife with anti-Semitism, racism, far-right rhetoric, and bigotry of every stripe. As a longtime music journalist and metalhead who is also a dedicated antifascist, I’ve had to become adept at deciphering the white supremacist code words, symbols, and dog whistles that litter the black-metal scene... As right-wing extremism has risen in America and abroad, white supremacists have used black metal as a vehicle to spread hate and radicalize nominally apolitical metal fans; those efforts have increased as 'anti-antifa' sentiment has gained a foothold in the broader metal community. National Socialist black metal (NSBM), a catchall term for bands that overtly promote fascist and white supremacist ideology, has been knocking around since the nineties. The satanic or otherwise occult influence in black metal has also made space for various neo-Nazi groups to gain purchase flogging racist paganism, Luciferian ideals, Evolian philosophy, and esoteric fascism. Atomwaffen, a neo-Nazi terror cell, has made liberal use of black-metal aesthetics in its propaganda; last year, one of its leaders, James “Rape” Denton, was spotted Sieg-heiling at a gig for the band Horna. Operation Werewolf, a biker-themed crypto-fascist fitness collective that has become popular in the black-metal community, abounds with white power sentiment; its founders’ original group, the Odinist cult Wolves of Vinland, is openly white nationalist. I could go on; the web of connection between black metal and fascism is astonishingly vast. What I didn’t realize was how it would lead, ultimately, to an attack on the Capitol.
As a teenage metalhead, Kelly eventually "learned about how insidious and widespread white supremacy remains in metal culture, as well as the damage it has caused to metalheads with marginalized identities. As a means to correct my past behavior, I made it my mission to fight back. I trawled the forums where artists and fans converge-- the places where right-wing iconography, code words, and fascist ideologies tangle with album news and tour listings. Symbols like the swastika, Totenkopf, and sunwheel are obvious; others, like the valknut, othala rune, or Order of the Nine Angles symbol, are more obscure but just as damning. The Encyclopedia Metallum, a kind of crowdsourced metal Wikipedia, has been an invaluable resource in examining album details and discovering links between seemingly harmless artists and their racist collaborators. Sometimes a werewolf is just a werewolf, but often it’s a sign of something more malignant."
From Hitler admirer Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) and Proud Boys supporters Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) to Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), a follower of QAnon, right-wing politicians have embraced violent nativism and extreme far-right rhetoric. Identifying these things for what they are involves many of the same techniques used by a music writer-- hearing words not only as they appear but listening in and searching for references.
Just last week, for instance, a couple of days before the attack on the Capitol, Greene tweeted from her official account, “I’m here to fight for my children’s future and the next generation’s American Dream.” The sentence immediately felt strange to me; upon reading it again, I realized that it held a striking similarity to the white supremacist “Fourteen Words”: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” Greene’s message was fourteen words long. Was it a coincidence, or a dog whistle? Given Greene’s QAnon connections and strong white nationalist support base, it bears closer examination-- and a fluency with the extensive literature of white supremacist symbology.
Beyond Donald Trump, several members of Congress have been directly implicated in the insurrection; others had made clear their sympathies with white supremacist ideology long before the rioters stormed in. To the antifascist and other political researchers who have been sounding the alarm on these communities for years, the warning signs were obvious. The same goes for those of us closely following the extreme metal scene. For the other journalists only now catching up, the need to understand fascism’s many calling cards is urgent, and requires a willingness to accept that the far-right voices occupying the halls of power in Washington, DC, are just as dark, bellicose, and dangerous as those lurking in any satanic-black-metal forum.
It was a conspiracy. Kevin McCarthy, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, Louie Gohmert, Andy Biggs, Ted Cruz, Mo Brooks, Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorn, Tommy Tuberville, Lindsey Graham, and Josh Hawley need their hides nailed to the wall-- and insurrectionists like Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs, Katrina Pierson, Tucker Carlson, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham need to be off the public airwaves, arrested and tried for sedition. America needs to protect itself... for real.