Tag Archives: Capitol insurrection

Who Believes The “Big Lie”?

As America slowly emerges from the chaos of the last five years, many of us remain mystified about the significant number of people who still support Trump and Trumpism. Virtually every political conversation includes sentiments of bewilderment: who are these people? What explains their devotion to someone so personally repellent? What accounts for their willingness to believe a blatantly illogical fabrication promoted by a documented liar?

The evidence produced at Trump’s second impeachment trial–and especially the films showing the insurrection– prompts most rational observers to wonder what could have motivated those who participated in the horrific assault on the nation’s capitol? The problem with efforts to understand that motivation is that it can lead us to categorize disparate people, to define “them” as a group sharing particular personalities or bigotries, and of course, it’s never that simple.

That said, what do we know? What similarities do “they” possess, if any?

One of the confounding elements of the assault that has been widely remarked upon was the number of middle-class participants without a history of violence or lawbreaking who joined with the Q crackpots and the Proud Boys and their ilk. What impelled their behaviors?

Academic researchers investigating those participants are finding some intriguing and suggestive commonalities. As a Washington Post article reported,

Nearly 60 percent of the people facing charges related to the Capitol riot showed signs of prior money troubles, including bankruptcies, notices of eviction or foreclosure, bad debts, or unpaid taxes over the past two decades, according to a Washington Post analysis of public records for 125 defendants with sufficient information to detail their financial histories.

The group’s bankruptcy rate — 18 percent — was nearly twice as high as that of the American public, The Post found. A quarter of them had been sued for money owed to a creditor. And 1 in 5 of them faced losing their home at one point, according to court filings.

Clearly, there is no single factor that accounts for someone’s decision  to join a mob assaulting the seat of government. But what pundits call Trump’s brand of grievance politics “tapped into something that resonated with the hundreds of people who descended on the Capitol in a historic burst of violence.”

“I think what you’re finding is more than just economic insecurity but a deep-seated feeling of precarity about their personal situation,” said Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a political science professor who helps run the Polarization and Extremism Research Innovation Lab at American University, reacting to The Post’s findings. “And that precarity — combined with a sense of betrayal or anger that someone is taking something away — mobilized a lot of people that day.”

I have seen the term precarity used increasingly in articles describing the effects of America’s huge economic disparities. It’s a term that gets beyond superficial comparisons of poverty and wealth, and for that reason, it is especially useful. When people feel that their position–whatever it may be at a particular time–is precarious, it is unnerving, unsettling. Those feelings of threat and insecurity are consistent with another finding of the research–the larger-than-expected number of participants who had been involved in episodes of domestic violence.

Research into the rise of right-wing extremist groups in the 1950s linked that rise not to  impoverished people, but to people who felt that their positions were precarious–that they were losing status and power. The Post cited a 2011 study that found household income wasn’t linked to whether a young person supported the extreme far right in Germany. “But a highly significant predictor was whether they had lived through a parent’s unemployment.”

Insecurity. Precarity. Fear of loss, and resentment of those identified as the cause or beneficiary of that loss. It doesn’t excuse anything, but it explains a lot.


Antifa And The Right

Sometimes, when I was a little girl (eons ago–it may have been the Ice Age) and had done something I knew was forbidden, I would protest innocence: it wasn’t me! It must have been someone else! To which my mother would respond with an old verse:

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away…

These days, the “little man who wasn’t there” is likely to be a member of Antifa–currently the favored scapegoat of the Right. “It wasn’t us! It was Antifa!!”

Just who– or what –is Antifa? After an inquiry from a lawyer friend, I decided to do some research.

Is Antifa the the highly organized group of “terrorists” portrayed by Trump Republicans–a source of rioting and looting?  Or is it more accurately described as an idea–a dismissive label for people opposed to fascism and white supremacy?

Actually, according to an investigation by CBS News, it’s something more than a description of people opposed to fascism, but considerably less than an organized movement. (I’ve noticed that the quarrelsome Left has a lot more trouble organizing than the authoritarians on the Right.)

In general, people who identify as Antifa are known not for what they support, but what they oppose: Fascism, nationalism, far-right ideologies, white supremacy, authoritarianism, racism, homophobia and xenophobia. Some antifa activists also denounce capitalism and the government overall.

To the extent they “belong” to anything, Antifa followers tend to be members of small, local cells that sometimes coordinate with other movements, such as Black Lives Matter. Self-described Antifa members have organized to confront Patriot Prayer, the Proud Boys, and other far-right groups during public demonstrations, typically through researching and tracking those organizations, although some confrontations have become violent.

CBS was able to confirm only one instance in which a person self-identifying as Antifa was linked to a deadly attack at a protest. Michael Forest Reinoehl, 48, was considered a prime suspect in the August 2020 killing of a right-wing activist who was shot during demonstrations in Portland. (Reinoehl was later shot to death by federal authorities as they moved to arrest him.)

Given the hysterical accusations from Trump, Cruz and others, it is noteworthy that the Trump administration’s own Department of Homeland Security and FBI didn’t share the view that Antifa poses a significant threat to domestic law and order.

A DHS draft document from September 2020 reportedly named white supremacist groups as the biggest terror threat to America. That same document doesn’t mention Antifa at all.

The FBI also considers far-right groups the “top of the priority list.” FBI director Christopher Wray said in February 2020 that the FBI places the risk of violence from racially-motivated extremist groups “on the same footing” as the threat posed by foreign terrorist organizations such as ISIS and its sympathizers.

Antifa has certainly been involved in sporadic violence, and to the extent that its members have broken the law, they should be punished. But according to the FBI and other government agencies, a number of rumors about Antifa have been spun from whole cloth– sometimes by people later identified as right-wing extremists. According to the CBS report, Twitter shut down multiple “Antifa” accounts in June of 2020 that were later found to be fake. Those fake accounts were advocating violence against white suburbs; subsequent investigations tracked the accounts to Identity Evropa, a white supremacist organization.

In the wake of the Capitol insurrection, Trump and several Republicans insisted that the rioters were really Antifa. Thanks to the behaviors and selfie-documented identities of the participants, that didn’t begin to pass the smell test. As Forbes Magazine reported:

FBI Assistant Director Steven D’Antuono said Friday there is no evidence that Antifa activists were involved in the violent riots in and around the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, debunking the baseless conspiracy theory propagated by several prominent Republican lawmakers and right-wing pundits that anti-fascist leftists—not a pro-Trump mob—were responsible for death and destruction at the Capitol.

As my mother would have said,

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away…