Commentary, Opinion

‘Johnny, I hardly knew ye’

By Julia Purdy

If anyone doubts the existence of domestic terrorism, stoked by murderous, insane hatred and abetted by weekend wargames and pseudomilitary fantasies, it was on full display at the nation’s Capitol Jan. 6.

The irony is that these insurrectionists claimed to be defending democracy while they in fact were bent on demolishing it, egged on by a leader stuck on himself and in love with all who claim to love him. They used the American flag to bash in windows and doors of “the People’s House.” They bludgeoned Capitol police, while at home, many of them no doubt flew the “thin blue line” flag signaling their defense of the police.

They wandered through halls and offices, gawking at the splendor of the building, taking selfies in front of historic artworks, and grabbing souvenirs off desks.

And the supreme irony is this: they complain bitterly about loss of their freedoms, but even in this egregious and outrageous instance, they will still be accorded due process, the right to remain silent and the right to a defense, under our robust judicial system.

If any of those people were at all interested in how our government actually works, if they really did believe in the democracy that preserves their way of life, they could have gone there as peaceful (or maybe disgruntled) visitors anytime, observed congressional sessions, strolled the gorgeous halls of the Capitol building, stopped by to shake hands with their senators and representatives.

But no. That was too tame. Besides, they had an axe to grind.

On Feb. 12, NPR and USA Today published the latest lists of those arrested and/or charged, complete with names, home state, gender, age, photos if available, the initial charges, and how they were located. USA Today tallied 209. The NPR list totaled 231.

The marchers were estimated in the thousands, to a large extent by counting the mobile device pings that were tracked from the Trump rally to and around the Capitol, and The Atlantic estimated 800 made the frontal attack on the Capitol building.

“A nationwide dragnet involving hundreds of prosecutors and agents from all 56 FBI field offices is involved in the effort,” reported The Washington Post on Jan. 8. Posters were put up asking for information on insurgents pictured from their own mobile devices. In a story Jan. 11 and updated Jan. 15, the New York Times reported that “more than 70,000 photographic and video tips” had flooded into the FBI in response to its appeal for leads. When that story came out, the FBI was on the trail of “over 150” suspects; Bloomberg reported that the habit of taking phone pictures and livestreaming video for for bragging rights and posterity, was the low-hanging fruit that provided the FBI with “over 140,000 images.”  The FBI also issued search warrants to Facebook on specific individuals, which Mark Zuckerberg complied with, even after the suspect had deleted the posting.

On Jan. 17, The New York Times reported that “more than 70 people” had been arrested and charged. Vox reported that as of Jan. 19 more than 100 arrests had been made. Yahoo News and the BBC reported Jan. 27 in identical stories that “Michael Sherwin, US Attorney for the District of Columbia, says they have identified 400 suspects and arrested 135 to date in connection with the Capitol siege.”

The lists make for fascinating – and frightening – reading. These lists expose for all to see the adrenalin rush, ferocity and even bloodlust that are typical of mob action. Many did little victory dances or clowned in front of smartphones, or looked defiantly directly into the phone camera, seemingly having no concept that they were incriminating themselves. Some of those arrested claimed they didn’t really know what they were there for and got “swept up in the action,” or that they didn’t do or didn’t go where selfies, Instagram and Facebook posts showed they did.

It is easy to generalize this action into a much wider movement than perhaps it actually is. Yes, there were certainly people that didn’t go to Washington that day for various reasons of their own, yet who sympathize with the aims of the insurrection, who believe QAnon and Trump’s Big Lie, who have no concept of how democracy actually works, who crave an emperor, who are indelibly racist and misogynist, who identify with his Ubermensch-Bad-Boy image, or who just have been burying their head in the sand.

But what is the most interesting, and perhaps heartening, is the numbers of people who have actually provided tips and leads to the FBI via Twitter, the FBI “tip line,” online at the FBI website, or at any FBI office, American embassy or consulate. In reconstructing what happened and describing how they were found and arrested, the USA Today story revealed that multiple identifications were made by friends, acquaintances, coworkers, employers and family members of the insurrectionists.

These are everyday Americans who knew about the planned action, knew it was wrong, in some cases tried to dissuade someone they loved from going, and in the end accepted the democratic process and took sides against this flagrant attack on the nation.

Here’s a quote from one of the accounts, concerning Chris Ortiz of New York state, “Someone in Chris Ortiz’ life opposed his foray into the Capitol on Jan. 6, according to screenhots[sic] of an Instagram chat, captured by the FBI after tips from several members of the public, according to court documents. The witness, who saw one of the posts under Ortiz’ Instagram name “@chrispy0ats[sic], replied: “CHRIS WHAT ARE YOU DOING.” “Participating in government,” he replied. “WHY. GO TO A TOWNHALL MEETING MAN. This is BEYOND the worst idea you’ve ever had I am going ON RECORD saying that … I love you Chris but I will never understand this.”

Mountain Times Newsletter

Sign up below to receive the weekly newsletter, which also includes top trending stories and what all the locals are talking about!