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“We are happy to report this morning that the insurrection failed,” Alisyn Camerota said on CNN Thursday. Democracy prevailed with the early morning certification of Joe Biden’s victory. But deep scars remain — both at the Capitol and beyond.
It is right to decry Wednesday’s security failures at the Capitol. It is also relatively easy to do, and it’s happening all across the media landscape. It is harder to examine the engines of radicalization that led some of our fellow Americans to attack police, terrorize lawmakers, and loot the Capitol. It’s harder, but it is necessary, to dissect the extremist networks that exist right under our noses.
A “mass-delusion event”
The Atlantic’s EIC Jeffrey Goldberg walked and talked with pro-Trump activists in the hour leading up to the deadly riot. After “sponging up Trumpist paranoia, conspiracism, and cultishness,” Goldberg wrote that “this gathering was not merely an attempted coup but also a mass-delusion event, not something that can be explained adequately through the prism of politics. Its chaos was rooted in psychological and theological phenomena, intensified by eschatological anxiety.”
As I read and watched interviews with the Trump faithful Thursday morning, the word “cult” kept coming to mind. Hunter Walker of Yahoo News tweeted, “One thing that struck me in talking with many of the people who stormed the Capitol yesterday is that I would ask them what they wanted or hoped to accomplish and they didn’t know. They just wanted Trump. It’s all just Trump.”
“On some level,” Walker wrote, “I empathize with the people who stormed the Capitol. They were lied to. They were falsely told their votes were stolen. They were made to believe the democratic process was undemocratic. Those who did this to them are just as accountable as they are.”
Jess Bidgood of the Boston Globe filed a story from Georgia about the pervasiveness of the delusion, and she quoted numerous Republicans to prove the point. The “Trump won” lie “has become a widely accepted orthodoxy in the Republican Party,” she wrote, and this fact poses “a grave risk to the fabric of American democracy.” The GOP’s antidemocratic streak is a big part of this ongoing story.
They were warned
CNN’s Jake Tapper wrote Thursday morning: “How could this have happened? ask Trump-enabling politicians and media who have for years ignored warnings that something like this would inevitably happen.”
“You are being lied to”
I know a lot of reporters can relate to what WaPo’s Philip Bump said: “I get a lot of emails which are rehashes of ‘there is TOO evidence of fraud’ reiterating claims debunked weeks ago. In each case, I want nothing more than to simply reply, ‘You are being lied to.'”
Will anyone be held accountable?
Oliver Darcy writes: “It’s possible Trump might face some consequences for inciting the act of domestic terrorism we saw Wednesday. But what about the right-wing media machine that primed the rioters with lies and conspiracy theories? It seems hard to imagine folks like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, Glenn Beck and Mark Levin will face any real consequences. And it seems harder to imagine the enablers like the Murdochs and various companies that provide these propagandists with sizable platforms will see any consequences. In fact, there are signs that companies such as Fox are willing to behave just as irresponsibly as they were before the riot. The sad fact is we don’t appear to live in a society where people can be truly held responsible for their actions because a lack of shared reality works to protect partisans from their dishonest actions.”
Now there’s another “big lie”
CNN’s Marshall Cohen emails: “The rioters were incited by a ‘big lie,’ that the election was stolen from Trump. Now the same liars are pushing the next ‘big lie,’ that this was a false-flag by Antifa. It’s endless. It’s relentless. It’s shameless. And it’s destroying the fabric of our country.”
Right-wing media’s divide
Some prominent right-wing personalities have denounced the attack and distanced themselves from Trump in the past 18 hours. I noticed a very different tone on Fox Thursday morning than on Wednesday night: Brian Kilmeade began “Fox & Friends” by saying “let’s be honest,” since Election Day “the president’s behavior has been terrible.” Steve Doocy called Biden “very presidential.”
Note that I said some personalities — not all. Unfortunately Sara Fischer of Axios is spot-on about this: “The right’s favored media offered an alternate reality in which everyone but pro-Trump rioters were to blame for the mayhem at the Capitol.” For example, Pete Hegseth’s comments on Fox were widely scrutinized. Hegseth went out of his way to sympathize with the MAGAsphere and said “this is the result of frustration that a lot of people feel.”
Wednesday night’s “maybe Antifa infiltrated the crowd” narrative faded from Fox’s airwaves on Thursday morning, but it could still be heard loud and clear across the pro-Trump media universe. The “Naked Cowboy” of Times Square, who was in DC for the Trump march, went on Newsmax and claimed there were “people dressed up as Trump supporters and they were not Trump supporters.” Newsmax later deleted its tweet containing his on-air comments.
>> Another go-to narrative on the right is, as the New York Post put it, “the left erupted first,” with tons of talk about last May and June’s unrest…
“Domestic terrorism problem”
“I remain concerned that the actors that we saw yesterday are increasingly emboldened,” former Homeland Security official Elizabeth Neumann said on CNN. Neumann has been raising alarms about right-wing extremist threats for months. “We should look at what happened yesterday as a warning,” she said Thursday. “We have a very dangerous problem inside our homeland… We have ignored this domestic terrorism problem and it is time for us to reckon with it.”