The problem with striving to maintain a considered, reasonable, and truthful worldview is that major developments require painstaking work to incorporate into one’s observations, filter through one’s beliefs, and apply to one’s plans for moving forward. At the same time, the propaganda floats down from all sides insisting that one must see events a certain way, and now.
Perhaps it’s counterproductive or perhaps it’s helpful, but at such times, I find myself unable to stop clicking around social media and the Internet. This can be counterproductive in that it is a minefield of useless distractions and fruitless interactions. It can be helpful in that it bombards the wanderer with many different opinions, which are typically either (1) obvious talking points or (2) not yet filtered, thus lightening the requirement for an additional layer of analysis concerning the editorial process thoughts underwent as they become words.
Quite clearly, last Wednesday is a tale of two entrances. To some millions of Americans, the Storming of the Capitol looked like this — that is, like spectators being permitted into a concert or sporting event:
Capitol police open doors for the protestors. They stand aside and invite them inside. pic.twitter.com/OnSd3KGzz5
— Christina Bobb (@christina_bobb) January 8, 2021
And to some millions of Americans, it looked like this* — that is, a civilian government building being invaded by force:
So, which is the more-accurate picture? Both and neither. Not only is it absolutely true that many people who attended the Stop the Steal rally went nowhere near the Capitol, but it is entirely possible that many who went so far as to enter the building had no idea what was going on elsewhere around it. One can make similar points about causation. Yes, President Trump spoke of marching to the Capitol (although it’s clear from the transcript that this was a call for peaceful demonstration to give his legislative supporters the backbone to go forward as he thought they should). And yes, Democrats and the media contributed to this environment with explicit support and excuse-making for left-wing rioters, along with violent fantasies targeting the President and condescending rhetoric dismissing his supporters, all followed with contemptuous dismissal of concerns about the security of the election.
These are the true and complicated realities that we have a responsibility to digest.
To decide for ourselves what actually happened, and how these events ought to be characterized, we have to look past the rhetoric. The entire news media has quickly flipped from a reluctance to call even the most violent, destructive riots anything more than “mostly peaceful” to the first-line-in-the-story assertion that Wednesday was “a violent insurrection by pro-Trump activists,” or some variation of those words. Instead, go through original source material and judge it for yourself.
Watch, for instance, this lengthy video from an Infowars reporter, which begins around the time part of the crowd initially pushed through an exterior barrier, from a perspective farther back in the crowd, where nobody knew what was going on at the front. The video follows the reporter’s journey all the way into the building until he witnesses the moment of Ashli Babbitt’s killing. His commentary captures the change of tone. As he gets closer to the building, he moves from an obviously peaceful protest, through a zone where people are somewhat amused at the appearance of tear-gas canisters in their midst, into an early wave of those pushing toward the building, who clearly see it as a move to “take back the People’s house.” That they mainly file through one door and leave a group of police officers unmolested suggests that, for most in this group, the rhetoric was symbolic — “taking it back” meaning walking into the building and making sure their voice has been heard.
Outside, as evidenced by some of the comments from protesters who’ve lost their jobs because online cancel mobs identified them from videos, another wave of protesters moved forward with no idea what had happened or what was happening inside. They were able to walk easily up to the building, and some left after doing so, while others continued on.
Inside, the impression of this particular video is more of a crowd going with the flow than a battle-by-battle infiltration. At one key point, when the crowd broke through a line of police, the videographer is right at the front and starts shouting, “I’m being pushed! I’m being pushed!,” suggesting that the crowd just swelled to the point at which nobody could stop it. Then people were wandering around, not really knowing what to do. When they came to the fateful entryway, it took just a couple of people to break the glass (more on this in a moment). You can see Ashli Babbitt shouting, and then a moment later, she pulls herself up into the window, and that’s it.
Because he was closer to begin with, video from John Sullivan (who has been identified as a BLM activist) comes closer to showing the “battle-by-battle infiltration,” although it’s much more a matter of pressure than fistfights. The police find they cannot stop the crowd, so they fall back. Several times, one can see that the word has been given to abandon a barrier. Note, here, that this was not the Storming of the Bastille; police and others were not chased down. Artwork was not torn off the walls. Statues were not toppled. (Indeed, from time to time, one hears the demonstrators telling each other not to do those things.)
At one lengthy standoff, about fifty feet from one of the actual chambers, the people at the front of the crowd stop and speak with the dozen of so officers holding that line in a conversation somewhere between a negotiation and a frank warning that the pressure of the crowd is just going to be too much to stop. This is a key moment, so let’s focus in on it. At about 55:33 in the video, Sullivan comes to the discussion underway. It appears that this leading edge of the crowd and the police are having a discussion of how best to handle this situation (obviously, their preferred outcomes appear to differ some).
Seven minutes later, one of the demonstrators calls out with a megaphone, “We have permission to go into this room, but we have to be respectful, and there can’t be any violence.” “Everybody needs to calm down.” “We can go in this room if we are calm and if we commit there’s no violence.” He asks, “Is everybody in agreement with this?” It looks like the answer is, “yes,” at least among those nearby, but then something happens.
About a minute earlier, a young man with a fur-lined hat had strolled in from behind the police officers, shouting, “Heeeeeyyyyyy,” appearing crazy, on drugs, or perhaps playing a character. With the question about agreement, he starts shouting at the police, turning to the crowd and screaming. Demonstrators try to usher him more deeply into the crowd to stifle his effect, but he starts to fight back. One of the demonstrators who had been helping to set the calmer tone walks over with a worried look on his face. Then comes the massive thrust of people through the police.
Fast-forward to the fateful entryway where Ashlie Babbitt lost her life. The embedded video on this page (at about 0:12) shows this same fur-hatted guy single-handedly breaking the windows on the doors with his fists over the shoulders of the police officers. The viewer hears others shouting at him to “chill out.” The video cuts out and moves to John Sullivan’s coverage of the incident, with somebody saying “they’re leaving,” meaning the police. As soon as the officers move out of the way, a handful of the crowd, led by the fur-hat guy, begin pounding on the door, despite shouts from those around him about a gun.**
Note, by the way, that as the officers had moved away, somebody apparently handed him a crash helmet and what looks to be a MAGA cap. He takes off his fur hat (perhaps intending to put on the MAGA one for the pictures) and uses the crash helmet to bludgeon the doors, also smashing out the window through which Ashli Babbitt soon climbs. He’s right there behind her, when she falls, and he makes his escape down some stairs that tactical officers had just come up and the departing officers had gone down.
Counterfactuals and the Man with the Megaphone
We should keep at the front of our minds that this is only the story of one journey through the Capitol, and this one man was obviously not the only violent or destructive person on the property, but his influence illustrates how crowds can diverge from one reality to another. The moment of calm negotiation and agreement suggests that things could have gone very differently. It’s too easy to criticize decisions after the fact, but had the Capitol not been completely closed to the public and had there been some prescribed process and route demonstrators could have taken to be assured that legislators heard their actual voices, the violent elements would have been more easily isolated and controlled. The tone of the entire incident might have been one of orderly protest.
That’s especially true, given the protest standards of our times. The extra-legal rules for protests that the government and media have established over the past year have been that wrestling with police over barricades is not, technically, violent, that occupying public buildings is “what democracy looks like,” and that vandalizing public property is a (sometimes lamentable) expression of grievance from crowds that are “mostly peaceful.” When people are arrested, celebrities bail them out of jail. Judges let them go. High-profile politicians rhapsodize about the voice of the people. COVID takes a holiday.
The Storming of the Capitol didn’t occur in a cultural vacuum, and the question of which path to take is still very much on the table. We’re standing at the entrance to a hallway, and on one side, a person with a megaphone is telling us we can move forward if we stay calm and respectful. On the other side, a wild-eyed person is ranting and sowing chaos. Which do we follow?
I’ll put myself on the line and be honest: I don’t think Joseph Biden was legitimately elected to the presidency. I think the next two years, at least, are going to be a time of disaster and peril, during which those on the Left will attempt to ensure that they can never be surprised again and hard-code their rule and their terrible policies into American law.
If you disagree with my confession, you can call me crazy, try to silence and shun me, go after my livelihood, blacklist me, and more. Or you can try to understand why I come to that conclusion and offer contrary evidence. You may not convince me, but we’ll each have a better understanding of the other side and perhaps a more nuanced view of our own, and if you do convince me, then I’ll have more credibility than you as I try to persuade others who have yet to be convinced.
That is the path of agreement to remain calm, and I fear powerful voices have already chosen a different path — did so almost instantly, perhaps in advance. For a year, we’ve been instructed to focus on the grievances of rioters and protesters rather than the damage and violence they were perpetrating. Last Wednesday, by contrast, I saw relatively mainstream Democrats calling for conservative protesters to be shot. One national conservative commentator called for them to be jailed in numbers so large that new prisons would have to be built.
In short, there isn’t even a hint of considering their grievances. The current standard bearer for the Democrat Party, Joe Biden, has insisted that we not even “dare call them protesters.” Congressional Democrats, including Rhode Island’s own David Cicilline, are charging forward with plans to impeach a President who has already said he’ll be peacefully leaving office at the end of his term in a matter of days. The tech giants have exerted their massive power to shut down an alternative platform and ensure that we deplorables have nowhere to go to express ourselves as efficiently as social media.
This is sure to be a calamitous approach. In a factional situation, one faction does not reconsider its beliefs when the other simply dismisses or attempts to crush it. Rather, its members conclude that they cannot get a fair hearing. That they are unrepresented. That they have no choice but to go underground and to escalate.
Ultimately, when it comes down to fists in an ally, one person’s political office, social class, and institutional power mean nothing at all. You’d think the Storming of the Capitol would have provided opportunity for that lesson, but apparently not, or perhaps like the fur-hatted rioter there’s something else there — whether lunacy, drugs, or dark schemes perhaps we’ll soon learn.
* Note that this video is labeled as the moment officer Brian Sicknick was beaten, ultimately to death. Others have suggested that the fatal incident was actually this one, which accords with early reports that a fire hydrant was involved.
** One wonders if the shooter took these shouts to mean that somebody breaking through the doors had a gun.