Today’s Hell World features an interview with online extremism researcher Jared Holt and an essay about the events at the Capitol yesterday by military technology writer Kelsey D. Atherton. Thanks for reading. Please purchase a subscription if you are able to do so at this time. First some thoughts from me.
Everything else aside that had to be just a hugely successful recruitment exercise for the MAGA gangs right? It looked like a total blast. That’s probably not good.
I don’t know. That’s my take on yesterday’s events. I don’t fucking know. The natural alliance between these guys and cops in general and all similar caveats about why they clearly let them do it notwithstanding I am still mostly really shocked they let them get away with it so easily. Sort of at a loss for words on that.
I know the deal here is supposed to be some bad shit happens and then I synthesize it and write my little opinions and jokes and stuff for you to read but to be honest I’m still sort of processing it all and I don’t feel confident in saying anything about it definitively just yet besides: Well this sucks and it makes me feel like shit.
That’s not entirely true. There’s another thing I can say for sure which is that there’s no way any of this doesn’t end up being terrible for the left in the long run.
Miserably and pathetically and also hilariously we saw lawmakers thanking Capitol Police last night for their hard work in what has to be one of the single biggest failures in governmental security since 9/11. It was like losing the Super Bowl and then the quarterback goes up and thanks his line for getting him sacked fifteen times.
Everywhere else and especially from the lawmakers on the right who felt compelled to criticize the riots this has been largely framed as an attack on police. Like the main thing that was bad here was an injury to the honor of policing. And so as always no matter what happens in this country in terms of violence it will be used as an excuse for increasing the funding of the police and the surveillance state. That’s not exactly something any of us should in good conscience be hoping for as badly as we may want to see these people punished. And even while my first instinctual reaction was wanting to see them get their heads kicked in I just can’t bring myself to delight in it being the police doing the kicking. You just know that any on the fly anti-terrorism legislation Joe and Nancy and them whip up in the wake of this it’s going to be complete trash.
A common reaction I saw being shared a lot on Twitter last night by a lot of people so I’m not sure where it came from originally was this: I don’t want the police to shoot them like they shoot us, I want the police to not shoot us like they don’t shoot them.
That’s exactly it.
I don’t want new laws protecting legislators from protests and confrontation I just want them to not drag disability activists out of their wheelchairs and to not brutalize anti-war and clean water and medical care protestors like they don’t do to their natural right wing ideological allies.
In the meantime almost 4,000 people died from Covid yesterday. One death about every twenty four seconds. I had almost completely forgotten about the pandemic for an entire day. I’d say it was a nice little brain vacation if I wasn’t watching a potentially catastrophic and violent insurrection at the behest of an unstable authoritarian.
(If you missed that look back on the worst moments of the Trump administration mentioned above you can find it here. It was good.)
Just a scant few days ago in case you had also forgotten like I had we learned the president tried to strongarm the Georgia Secretary of State to fraudulently throw the election his way. Remember that? Just “find 11,780 votes” he said. This guy just loves doing crimes!
I’m ashamed to say I had also forgotten about this.
Elsewhere we barely even had time to enjoy the results in Georgia yesterday before these turds knocked it out of the news cycle and maybe that’s fine because almost instantly after it happened Democrats were on TV doing the one thing they do best: Telling us not to get our hopes up.
And as for whether or not we were going to see any immediate movement toward a second impeachment:
Thank you for fighting for us!!!
…This is inchoate fascism, fascism in its experimental, speculative phase, in which is forming a coalition of minoritarian popular forces with elements in the executive and the repressive wing of the state. It would be devastatingly stupid, complacent beyond belief, to expect US democracy to remain sufficiently stable in the coming years to deny this incipient fascism more opportunities to congeal, and grow. Don't tell me that the US bourgeoisie will never support fascism because liberal democracy is working well enough. Don't tell me that fascism won't gain a foothold in a society where the Left has been weak for decades, and much of the labour movement barely has a pulse. These points are beside the point. Fascism never grows in the first instance because the capitalist class rallies behind it. It grows because it draws around its nucleus those whom Clara Zetkin described as "the politically homeless, the socially uprooted, the destitute and disillusioned". And incipient fascism has shown, from India to the Philippines, that it does not need a strong communism to react against: Ernst Nolte's hypothesis was incorrect. There is an urgent need for an anti-fascist movement in the United States.
At the very least there’s a new Alice Glass song. So we have that.
Ok. To talk about some of the origins of the events at the Capitol yesterday and how it’s being processed online among those who took part and their supporters I talked to Jared Holt this morning. Jared is the host of the Sh!tpost podcast and a visiting research fellow focused on domestic extremism at the Digital Forensic Research Lab. Earlier this summer we had a lengthy discussion about QAnon and radicalization on the internet.
This had to be great for recruitment right?
It was. Even before what we saw yesterday happened extremism since the election has been growing at an alarming rate. Particularly militia and anti-government movements. Which makes sense because the president and the top arbiters of Republican power have been telling their base that the government has stolen an election from them. These different extremist groups have taken that and run with it and their numbers have exploded in recent months. What we saw yesterday was the natural conclusion of that. If you tell people the government is subverting democracy for long enough, all these extremist groups… the conversations they’re having are how to spring into action as a result of those lies. Reflecting back on it this morning I was like “What did you think was going to happen?”
Of all the protests I’ve been to in person, and some of the more dangerous ones than I’ve been at personally or seen in other cities, I don’t often think “This is fun!” It’s more like “Well this fucking sucks.” But for some reason watching this yesterday I thought “This looks like a good time.” Running around the Capitol with very little consequences for most of them (aside from the people who died of course). There has to be so many people who are already inclined to believe this shit, or young guys who don’t really believe anything but see it and think “I gotta be there next time!”
Yeah, the ease with which they overwhelmed Capitol Police and the relative freedom they had roaming around is going to put the idea into people’s heads that this kind of thing is repeatable, and they’ll be able to try to do this again with minimal consequences. Springing from the event yesterday there is already talk in the extremist groups online about trying to do something like this again but more intense. Some of the militia groups I'm monitoring are already having discussions about coming back to Washington, but this time bringing guns.
That and there’s a lot of trying to amplify the outrage over the woman who was shot and killed by police in the Capitol. Turning her into a martyr. All of this is to say that these extremist groups had a blast yesterday, and are already trying to lay the groundwork to something like it again. If law enforcement and social media companies don’t finally wake up to the fucking reality that’s been staring us in the face for the last five years, that online extremism and real life danger go hand in hand and they are not separable, this is just going to keep happening. Whether it’s some vigilante attack or another event in Washington remains to be seen. I don’t know what more it could possibly take at this point for social media companies and lawmakers and law enforcement to finally wake up to this reality.
Are there plans for anything for inauguration that you’ve seen?
There had been some chatter before yesterday. People discussing planning things around the inauguration. I’ve seen it vaguely floated in some of these groups since yesterday, but nothing specific yet.
How quickly did we see the idea that this was false flag Antifa infiltrators emerge and are you at all surprised?
I'm not surprised at all. It cropped up probably within fifteen minutes of this attack on the Capitol starting. Not just random cranks on the internet, but MAGA Trump world social media influencers trying to push this false line. Really grasping at straws. Trying to pull this guy the Q Shaman, for example. If you don’t know this guy he dresses up...
The guy with the horns.
Yeah that guy. He’s been profiled by national media over and over again. A diehard QAnon believer who has gone to BLM protests to antagonize people. A lot of these folks pointed to him, and the fact he had been anywhere near BLM protests and they were like “a-ha!”
I don’t know man. Something interesting that happened yesterday was the same online communities that incited and encouraged this behavior were trying to do this double-faced thing. I saw some tweet that was like “Half of right wing social media say this was an Antifa false flag. The other half were like Look there’s me. That’s me. I’m doing it.”
Haha right. But as we talked about before, certainly Q people, and MAGA in general, they can hold both of those competing and overwriting ideas in their minds at the same time and are ok with that.
Right. It’s not a rational or logical movement. It’s just pure passion and desperation to please the dear leader.
Let’s say you’re this big Q guy, you go to all these things, fight with BLM people, then have everyone turn on you and call you Antifa. That’s gotta be pretty frustrating!
Yeah this guy yesterday was on Twitter replying to all these accounts being like “Sir, I am a QAnon warrior. Please stop bad mouthing me.”
I think I saw him reply like that to Lin Wood. He got suspended. Do you know what that was for?
I don’t know what it couldn’t be for. The guy was harassing people. Trying to target people to get online mobs to pile on. I think it’s kind of telling in a way. Somebody like Lin Wood, who had I believe over a million followers, was inciting the very thing that motivated people to storm into the Capitol yesterday. It took a literal insurrection against the government for Twitter to think maybe we should ban this guy.
I’m sorry to say that one reaction I had at times yesterday, looking at these dudes in their goofy costumes and shit, was that it was kind of funny. It’s not of course but… Then again that’s kind part of the whole thing, whether it’s Proud Boys or whoever, this baked in idea of silliness that undercuts the real threat.
Yeah the troll aspect of it. Since a lot of these people are coming from online communities there’s a certain level of humor and tongue and cheek irony baked into the whole cake.
But there are parallels to the Klan too right? They were goofy in their way with their pomp and circumstance and titles and stuff. Is there an overlap?
Extremists are often aware that their ideas aren’t publicly popular, and go to great lengths to soften their image. Whether it’s something like community service or fundraising for a local community center. Also participating in a level of self conscious ridicule of themselves to try to minimize the threat. Particularly when it comes to whatever counter organizing or law enforcement action could be taken against them.
It gives you a plausible deniability.
As many Proud Boys will tell you if you interview them, it’s just a drinking club.
That goes back to Gavin McInnes. I forget if we talked about this before. Obviously he had a sense of humor when he was staring out, whether one think it sucks shit or not. The idea of having a sense of humor is crucial.
It also helps them recruit. If you look at these movements, some of their most prized VIPs are the people they send out to do media. They’re podcasters, entertainers, comedians. It’s a gateway. If you can get people laughing and nodding along you're in a better position to persuade them to whatever radical argument.
Right. If somebody just came up to a person sort of on the fence and said “Let’s kill the Jews!” Most of them aren’t going to go “Oh. Ok.” But if you Trojan Horse your way into their trust with affability you can sprinkle in the conspiracy shit later.
Right. A lot of extremists are thinking long term.
I’m having this feeling, it’s kind of hard to square right now, which is that politicians should be confronted all the time and scared of the will of the people, but not for this…. Am I hypocrite for that? Thinking I would have a different feeling about all this if it were for stopping a war, or some other actually righteous cause.
You know, I certainly don’t support trying to launch an insurrection against the government, but in a vague sense, the idea that public officials should be confronted and scrutinized on a regular basis is something I can definitely get behind. But what we saw yesterday wasn’t scrutiny. It wasn’t criticism. It wasn’t politics. It was an act of intimidation and terrorism. Ultimately these protestors that led this charge into the Capitol, as much as they want to lay the blame on the hands of the Capitol police for shooting and killing them, the blood is on their hands. This is something they made a conscious decision to do as the crowds were screaming “push push!” and explicitly having the goal of overwhelming the police. To be honest I’m surprised we didn’t get more headlines like that.
We still don’t know if there was something fishy about how the police prepared and acted, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was, or whether or not they were just overwhelmed. I imagine it’s a mix of the two. But as much as I know police sympathize with these guys I’m still surprised they were that hands off.
From everything we were seeing yesterday it seems they were overwhelmed, and for their own safety, or … I don’t want to speculate too much, but I can imagine if I was in their position and I saw this huge crowd coming at me, my priority might be keeping my officers safe and getting elected officials to safety, even if that means losing control of the crowd to some degree. Because as ineffective as they were at controlling the crowd, all the officials and staff were safe. No one was able to lay a finger on them. In as many ways as yesterday was a failure of policing, Capitol Police did a lot of things right. It seems to me they were overwhelmed and kicked into triage mode. “Here’s what we need to do to make sure the government isn’t actually overthrown today.”
I’m also conscious of not wanting to cheer on the police brutalizing people, even if they are shit heads I hate and want nothing to do with. I can’t be like a lot of libs I saw on Twitter being like “Why aren’t they beating their heads in?!”
I get a bad taste in my mouth with that too.
Not that I don’t want to see them get beat up, just not by the police perhaps. Facebook and Twitter are finally acting against Trump. Is that just late acting cowardice, like, he can’t hurt us anymore?
It’s just indicative of what extremism researchers and reporters have been trying to ring the alarm bell about for the last four or five years. The fact that the reaction to these movements is reactionary. It’s not proactive. Tech companies and law enforcement could have done so many things to try to get ahead of this that weren’t done. Now they seem to be in CYA mode. It seems more like an attempt to save face than a comprehensive or informed effort to crack down on the activity that inspired what happened yesterday.
Do you think Trump will be able to control himself when his Twitter ban is over?
Your guess is as good as mine. No idea.
I’m gonna guess…. No.
Yes, I would say there’s no historical precedent that would suggest that would happen!
The forever war was insufficiently violent
by Kelsey D. Atherton
Police are violence by the state, marshalled against some, lenient against others.
In the aftermath of the Trump-urged assault on the ritual certification of an election he overwhelmingly lost, it’s easy to get lost in the violence of the would-be insurrectionists. They have costumes, merch, flags -- so many flags -- and just a staggering amount of weapons. They spanned the spectrum of the right, from neo-nazis to QAnon conspiracy theorists to normie midwesterners inclined to see the National Mall as nothing more than free parking.
This mob came to do violence because they were called to do violence. The call to do violence against deserving enemies is the single animating through-line of Trump’s popular appeal, the red meat substance of his politics that allowed him to spend four years in office getting away with crimes. Trump launched his first presidential campaign half a decade ago by naming immigrants as enemies, and by promising violence against them, specifically.
His foreign policy, which the worst people on the internet misread as a kind of peace, has hinged around war crimes. He told stories pulled from the fashy feverswamps about General Pershing ordering pig-blood bullets used against Muslim foes in the Phillipines campaign. Pershing did no such thing in pursuing the then-longest war abroad fought by the United States, but it didn’t matter; what mattered is that Trump told his base that the problem with the forever war is that it was insufficiently violent.
The morning I am writing this, the day after the insurrection, my hometown Albuquerque Journal lead with the headline “‘Disbelief and dismay’ grip Washington, nation.”
Dismay I get, but disbelief? This was always the premise. Trump’s domestic politics are the same as his foreign policy, turned inward: the failure of the state was that it was insufficiently violent against its enemies. Make America Great Again was a call for a new baptism in blood, and specifically the blood of people in the United States who did not subscribe to the same specific strain of nationalism that Trump ingested on Fox News and then found throughout the entire voting base of the Republican Party.
What is unexpected about the insurrection of January 6 is how little resistance the Capitol Police put up against the attempt to storm the building, and with it, to subvert democracy at the barrel of a long gun.
The official explanations, the ones Capitol Police told reporters stuck with them in safe rooms as the unmasked mob swept through the building, is that they were undermanned for the job. If that’s the case, it’s a deliberate choice, and an absolute failure. There's a terminology debate to be had here, perhaps in the courtrooms after likely prosecutions of the insurrectionists. The absence of uniformed military actively aiding in the insurrection inclines me away from calling it a coup, though there’s a big catch to that. For violence against the government to succeed, it doesn’t need the military or police to lead it. It simply needs the military or police to stand aside.
And here is the greater problem: police forces in DC had the tools, information, and power to stop this, and chose not to.
The insurrection was known, planned, and broadcast in public. But while insurrectionist groups within the United States are awash in weapons, they are deeply lacking in tradecraft and operational security, the bare minimum skills that would let them coordinate violence in private, instead of in public.
By choosing to downplay the threat, everyone from Mayor Bowser to House leadership to the prophets of nonviolence missed the obvious: insurrectionists saw their previous uncontested rallies in the District as proof that they would, again, be free to do violence as they saw fit. Choosing to believe that this was a LARP, that Trump’s explicit and clear goal of overthrowing the results of the election was just bluster, ensured the steps that could have stopped it earlier, from mass counter-protest to simply having the national guard mobilized beforehand, were not taken.
Alone among territories and states, the executive of D.C. lacks the federal authority to directly call up the D.C. National Guard. That power rests instead, ultimately, with the president, though the Secretary of Defense can call them up without prior approval. Granting D.C. statehood, a good idea for a host of reasons, would allow it to marshall its own national guard should something like this happen again.
But also: Washington’s Mayor Bowser downplayed the risk of the insurrection, and didn't deploy the Metropolitan Police Department against it beforehand. Bowser waited until the Capitol had already been breached to announce a curfew for the District.
In the summer these curfews facilitated brutal violence by police against protestors demanding not an overthrow of government, but the right to live without being murdered by them. While the MPD night shift arrested far more insurrectionists than saw jail during the day, it was a fraction of the violence and sheer numbers deployed against Black Lives Matter protestors, or that of countless other groups hauled out of the Capitol forcefully over the last decade.
Setting aside what MPD could have done earlier, we can see what Capitol Police actually did the day of. There’s ample video evidence of Capitol Police not only falling back, but opening barricades as they do so. Lest this be seen as a prudent tactical retreat, once insurrectionists breached the Capitol, police took selfies with them inside.
Capitol Police were not wholly passive against the intrusion. Some escorted members of Congress and staff and accompanying reporters to safe rooms. Others deployed teargas in the rotunda, enough for tearful videos from a handful of retreating insurrectionists about how it sucks that they met any obstacles at all on their path to revolution.
Police inside the Capitol also fatally shot an insurrectionist in the neck as she attempted to climb through a freshly broken window.
In the grim video of the shooting, the police ascend a tight staircase, where they merge with the insurrectionists at the locked door. The uniforms, helmets, and long guns distinguish the police from the rest of the crowd, but only barely. Given the noise of the room, of the action, it’s hard to know if the people pressed against the door, doing the window-smashing, were even aware of the police behind them. If they were, having already made it through several layers of abandoned security, it’s likely they had no expectation that the cops hovering behind them, guns drawn, were ready to do any violence.
Why should this additional breach have felt any different? Police had already acquiesced to all the others.
Police in D.C. have killed for less, and with less warning. The 2013 police killing of Miriam Carey, guilty of nothing more than a u-turn a quarter-mile away from the White House only reinforces the entirely optional nature of police violence in Washington and in the United States. Where was her mercy? If she couldn’t have that, why was the same fury used against her absent on January 6?
What all of this means is that the police could have stopped this, had they been tasked and staffed or reinforced appropriately to do so. If the insurrectionists had posed as grave a threat to the police as Black Lives Matter protestors, or as glaring an indictment of the state as disabled activists urging Medicare for All in wheelchairs and walkers, they would have faced far greater violence than the armed people who showed up ready to overturn an election and kill members of Congress if they got in the way.
There will be a temptation among the most cowardly parts of Congress to see this as a reason to pass new laws criminalizing mass assembly, mass movements, and criminal trespass. Those laws are not needed. Police already have all the tools and authority they need, they just need to be willing to use them. Such cowardice will meet an alliance of the undemocratic right, willing to fund more police power and more police weapons, which will be used exclusively against groups police hate, and not against those with which police see common cause.
John Catanzara, president of Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police lodge, was eager to exonerate Capitol Police for their inaction, and to praise the insurrectionists for how they conducted themselves.
“This is not some mass insurrection, coup attempt. They’re not destroying or burning down the fricking Capitol building,” he told WBEZ reporter Chip Mitchell. “This hyperbole and this emotion that the media is spewing now, like this is some kind of end-of-times scenario, is ridiculous.”
What the anti-democratic right, in all its strains, learned from January 6 is that it has the extralegal means it can use against its enemies and democracy itself. In a close election, on a state level, such a tactic might work. That police put up only minimal resistance, while still providing the right with a martyr, will only embolden future actions.
The breach is real. The breach is durable.
Prosecutions of people who assaulted the Capitol may mitigate those lessons somewhat. But the failure to meet a mass threat with massive state force today means that there will be next times, ones that draw from the experience of today and push further.
A failure to take any action against the insurrectionists is a choice to further surrender democracy to the power of the armed mob, and the forces of white reactionary violence. We needn’t look abroad to see this outcome. Reconstruction, the United States’ first attempt at multiracial democracy, fell not just to reactionary violence, but to an inability to meet reactionary violence with consequence.
Should the government fail to act again, the second attempt at multiracial democracy will fail. A stated policy of “only looking forward” guarantees that the United States does not return to a pre-2016 status quo, but instead enters its own bloody Years of Lead.