The domestically grown attack on the Capitol was not just un-American. It was inhumane. President Donald Trump stoked the worst demons in a crowd of thousands outside the White House, rallying them to storm the Capitol shortly thereafter. But what happened on Wednesday was simply the culmination of the drastic misinformation campaign peddled by Trump and his supporting cast. And he has been doing it for five straight years.
The devout followers of demagogue Trump have been fed a glutenous stream of lies and disinformation. And when the beliefs of one man set the ideology of a movement at his whim, it is not a surprise that a crowd of thousands can transform into a riotous mob. Even those who have ardently supported the president’s lies were unsafe. It was astounding how quickly some of the most revered members of the MAGA movement found themselves in the cross hairs of the rioters.
Vice President Mike Pence’s crime was siding with the United States Constitution. Earlier in the day he decided to part with the president’s assertion that the vice president could overturn the election when both the House and Senate convened to certify the states’ vote count. For that, chants of “hang Mike Pence” were shouted from the crowd intent on breaching the Capitol.
Mitch McConnell was condemned when he gave an assessment of the Nov. 3 election that was fit for a statesman. He said it was time for America to accept the results of a free and fair election that was not particularly close. Adding that Joe Biden will be the duly elected president next week.
Senator Lindsay Graham was bombarded with verbal attacks in an airport two days after voting to dismiss objections over Arizona and Pennsylvania’s vote count. He was viciously cursed at and had to be escorted by police officers to a safe location.
One of Trump’s most ardent supporters, Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt, has been called an Antifa infiltrator, of course, only after she was shot through the neck while trying to break through a door. She died in her hospital bed later that night.
It’s obvious that the crowd’s loyalty lives and dies with one man who doesn’t have a philosophy at all, other than his devotion to making it appear as if he’s fighting for the “common man.” But the dangerous side effect is that truth is not just relative in the MAGA movement, it is nonexistent. That fact is scrawled all over Wednesday’s assault on the Capitol.
The death count as a result of the assault reached five on Sunday. All the deaths are devastating, but especially that of the capitol police officer, Brian Sicknick, who was beaten to death after being hit with a fire extinguisher. These were the very same “blue lives” many Trump supporters proclaimed to want to protect over the summer when the killing of George Floyd roiled parts of the country against police.
The “law and order” president who unearthed one of America’s most chilling phrases from American history, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” said to rioters on Wednesday that they were “special” and that he loved them. On Wednesday, blue lives, McConnell and Pence were not the only ones feeling the yoke Trump has placed on so many scapegoats. The execution of democracy was under attack as well, both on its physical presence and its symbolism.
Right after a rally where Trump implored his crowd to head to the Capitol, rioters scaled the walls of the largest monolith to worldwide freedom with intent to bring it down in Trump’s name. Photos have since been made famous of an Arkansas man, Richard Barnett who put his flag down, feet up and wrote a frightening message on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk. “We will not back down.” Office after office had their files and desks upended leaving a mess for humble Capitol staff to cleanup.
The rotunda with Constantino Brumidi’s painting ‘The Apotheosis of Washington’ shows our nation’s first President ascending into the heavens while looking down at the atrocious chaos one man can conduct as a sea of red-hatted rioters posted their flags on statues of former presidents. Others took time to grift artifacts from either chamber of Congress. Meanwhile, Americans and the world watched on televisions and streaming devices as rioters descended from the gallery in the chamber of the Senate.
One of the most ubiquitous photos circulating that is sure to find itself into the history books is that of a cadre of guards pointing their guns behind a barricaded door. Rioters forcefully broke through glass and the guards were making their last stand as representatives were being whisked away. Many have asked in the days since, how much worse could it have been?
Since 2016 Trump has been the “troll-in-chief” for his Twitter mischief. Name calling, lying and goading is all a part of his spotlight grasping repertoire. Just like any other internet troll, he squirms his way out of any direct confrontation. He has repeatedly said, “that’s what I heard,” or, “that’s the rumor,” or, “It’s just a retweet, I don’t know.” And at every turn a journalist has come to bring truth to light. Just to be beaten down by the MAGA movement and wrongly painted as “fake news.”
Fake news as a term was coopted by Trump when he first used it to describe CNN. Long forgotten now, but it was a term created by journalism institutions to describe attempts at deceiving the public by making articles fabricated out of whole cloth look like they came from an established institution. Since the creation of fake news, we are now seeing emboldened “news” sources built with the intent to misinform their audience. But there is a reason the rank and file of Trump’s movement turned to these outlets that peddle conspiracy theories, and it is not just because of social media. Although they have played their role, and only now realized the damage they have wrought by letting influential conspirators go unchecked.
Impeccably sourced and well reported journalism still—absent the corporate influence of preserving money over integrity—would not have reached the rioters who stormed the Capitol. But journalists and well-intentioned news organizations all over America need to do it anyway. Now is the opportunity to show that journalism is not dead and is needed today more than ever, and not just at the national level. It is needed at every level of government. Luckily, journalism has the right people in place to bring America the news it needs.
During the riot, journalists were in the thick of the chaos. Reporters from the conservative-friendly cable network Fox News were being harassed, grabbed and jostled all the while relaying their observations into the camera. “Murder the media” was carved into a Capitol door. Another frightful scene saw a group of reporters and cameramen driven away from their post. Trump supporters turned their flag poles into weapons and swung toward thousands of dollars of equipment as journalists fled for their lives. By this action—not to dismiss plenty of others over the last four years—it’s obvious that Trump supporters genuinely believe their leader’s dangerous assertion that the “media” is the “enemy of the people.” That is tantamount to saying the First Amendment is the enemy of the people.
The very mechanism that holds leaders to account in America has withstood the bombardment of past administrations. Nixon comes to mind, among others as well. For all of the president’s whining and griping, the First Amendment has weathered his attacks. For five years Trump has perpetually cast doubt on well-established news organizations that have made far more accomplishments than mistakes when they questioned him on his multiple scandals. Trump has never beaten the media—although there has been a proliferation of right-wing news outlets that have aligned with his views and attacked well intentioned and long-credible news networks—because the first right in the Bill of Rights allows journalists the right to question power. And established journalistic institutions who work to find facts, add context and tell people what is going on in their town, state and nation are required for a healthy democracy.
What last Wednesday’s riots had shown, was what happens when not even half the country lives in another world of information entirely. For that reason, it is incumbent on Americans to use their unique right to express themselves with the news that informs them, and reject the lies that steer them toward unrighteous revolt.