What a not nice surprise: the radical right

by Rob Tiller

I’m still struggling to get my head around what happened in Washington, D.C., last week.  The attack on the Capitol was only a few blocks from where we used to live on Independence Avenue.  When our kids were little, we took them to the Capitol grounds for picnics.  It’s a beautiful building, and a moving symbol of our democracy.

My first impression of the mob there was that it was hapless and disorganized.  But as more information has come in, the storming of the Capitol looks more like an insurrection intended to overthrow the government.  Right wing message boards had plenty of messages about plans for the attack, and some of those involved were wearing tactical gear.  

I was stunned when, right after the attack, 147 Republican congressmen and congresswomen got behind Trump’s ridiculous lie of election fraud and voted to reverse the election.  This week, I was restunned when 197 Republicans voted against impeaching him for sedition. Most of these 197 wisely decided not to try to speak in defense of their vote, but a few doubled down, claiming that the true victim was Trump, and the true wrongdoers were liberal Democrats.  

A handful of Republicans voted with the Democratic majority in favor of impeachment, so we know that rational thinking and honesty were not impossible for the 197.  What is going on?

Some Republican representatives have reported fearing that Trump supporters would kill them and their families if they voted for impeachment.  It’s chillingly plausible that some representatives fear becoming a target.  We seem to be seeing a radicalization of the Trump base that recalls the Islamic State, with passionate, confused people looking for a meaningful cause and getting comfortable with lynchings, shootings, and other shocking crimes.

When I first heard of QAnon, it sounded like a goofy-but-probably-harmless game, like Dungeons and Dragons.  Surely, I thought,  no one could actually believe that the government, already controlled by Trump with the backing of rich Republicans, was actually a dark conspiracy of Satanist pedophiles opposed to Trump and fated to be put down by him in a messianic triumph?  If people were spending hours every day on the internet reading about such fantasies, it seemed a little sad, but at least they weren’t hurting anybody, and it was hard to believe there could be many such people.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about the one six attack, but seeing those folks at the Capitol convinced me I had underestimated the seductive power of QAnon.  For some, it has become a religion, with fellowship services over social media.  It seems to be morphing into a big tent of right wingnut conspiracies.    

At any minimum, QAnon is a friendly neighbor in the extremist swamp that includes white supremacists, gun rightists, and anti-government militias.  It’s part of  an echo chamber that amplifies fear and hatred of foreigners and minorities.  The idea that the election was fraudulent and the presidency was stolen from Trump, though provably false, seems to have become an article of the QAnon faith.

ISIS demonstrated that feelings of religious righteousness and extreme violence can go hand in hand.  QAnon believers seem to feel that they are righteous, and are fighting against terrible evil.  They see dark forces threatening their America, which must be stopped by whatever means are necessary.

There’s no way to know how many of these folks are prepared to target perceived enemies to the right and left with AK-47s and blow them up with IEDs.  But recent events in D.C. indicate that the answer more than a few.  

Thousands of National Guard members have been called to Washington, and the FBI is warning state capitols to be prepared for attacks.   Good luck to the Guardsman and local police charged with the frontline response.  May they be safe and avoid violence whenever possible.

Also, may the QAnon believers and similarly radicalized Americans avoid mayhem and find a path out of their paranoid fantasies.  May those of us with an opportunity to speak to them share a kind word of reason, decency, and compassion.  It’s unlikely any one person or conversation will change them, but we might plant a seed.  

Finally, it’s time for accountability all around.  That includes those who led the attack on the Capitol, those politicians who supported overturning the election and continue to repeat the lie that Trump won, and those in traditional and social media who amplified the long string of Trump’s lies.  It also includes the corporations that funded and are now defunding the politicians who supported the insurrection, and those that still need to stop that funding.  

There are a lot of problems underlying the one six attack, including opportunistic political leaders, dark money, seductive social media, economic stagnation and inequality, a pandemic, and deep seated racial prejudice.  The combination is  producing radicalized Americans at scale.  This is something new and dangerous.  We need to address it without delay.  

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These photos are of my Slinkies.  I’d been thinking about photographing them for a while, and this week, I did it.  It was fun experimenting with camera settings, morning and artificial light, different background colors and textures, and different processing techniques.