On Cold, Slippery Ground at the Stupid Coup

According to the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, 40% of the people charged with crimes on January 6th are business owners or have white-collar jobs. Compared with previous rightwing extremists, relatively few of them were unemployed. Only about 10% had “identifiable ties to right wing militias or other organized violent groups”. Most were identified as “mainstream T____ supporters” (The Guardian).

Mark Danner tells what it was like outside the Capitol on January 6th. 

Harsh and gray dawned the day of the Stupid Coup, with a lowering sky of dense dark clouds, slippery muddy grass underfoot, and a stiff, unforgiving wind that kept the “Stop the Steal” flags flapping. Face-painted and brightly festooned pilgrims bearing banners—snarling T____ straddling a tank, pumped-up T____-as-Rambo brandishing a machine gun, grimacing T____ as motorcycle gang chieftain—milled about the archaic hulk of the Washington Monument looking like the remnants of a post-apocalyptic cult, with beefy bearded men in camo pants and Harley jackets, and women wearing red, white, and blue sweatshirts and draped in red “Make America Great Again” flags like Roman togas. And everywhere on hats and helmets and sweatshirts and pants was that double-plosive syllable he had spent his life affixing to buildings and airplanes and “universities” and steaks and vodka: “T____: NO BULLSHIT!” “FIGHT FOR T____!” “JESUS IS MY SAVIOR, T____ IS MY PRESIDENT.”

As I advanced toward the White House and the booming, reverberating electronic voices, the crowd began to thicken and finally to coalesce. Before I knew it I had been pressed into a mass of bodies straining toward a faintly gesticulating figure hundreds of yards away, echoed by the crudely pixelated image of an amped-up Eric T____, magnified a hundred times on the jumbotron, just glimpsable through the MAGA hats and flags. The crowd moved roughly as one, borne along by its rhythmic chants (“USA! USA! USA!” “Stop the Steal! Stop the Steal! Stop the Steal!”), and atop its messy bulk swayed the flags and the stretching hands clutching cell phones, on which the figure on the jumbotron (now the brass-voiced Evita of T____ism, Kimberly Guilfoyle) was replicated a few thousand times as far as one could see. Pressing my elbows against the bodies beside me I struggled to keep my footing on the wet ground, swallowed the incipient claustrophobic panic, and breathed in the acrid smell of marijuana wafting over us. All we needed was a mosh pit.

“Oh, I love him!” “Yeah, he’s amazing!” The dark-haired young women jostling against me from behind were struggling to hold a sightline to stare adoringly up at D____ Jr., now kissing his girlfriend Kimberly. With his slicked-back hair, open-necked shirt, and gaping jacket, he looked for all the world like a just-past-his-prime used-car salesman. “This isn’t their Republican Party anymore!” D____ Jr. roared. “This is  D____T____’s Republican Party!” Preening like a rock star, he extended his hand-mic to the crowd to catch the answering roar. Did the Republicans now gathering at the Capitol hear it? Did Vice President Mike Pence, presiding over the electoral vote certification, hear it? For D____  Jr. was shouting out a simple truth that for all its undeniability many in the party had never quite believed or managed to grasp in all its implications. T____ owned them. And as his owner’s prerogative he imposed an unstinting and singular loyalty: not loyalty mostly to him, with some prudently reserved for the Constitution and the law. No. Loyalty entirely to him. Today would be the day of choosing.

It is a testament to the powers of ambition and self-delusion that the thousands of garishly costumed people around me could see this clearly even while the sophisticated members of Congress and the media and intelligentsia could not. Moments before, as the royal family chatted in a tent in front of the White House and prepared to come out on stage, a broadly smiling Guilfoyle, clad in a smart black cape and shimmying briefly for the camera, said she hoped Pence would have “the courage or brains to do the right thing” and block the certification of Joe Biden’s election. Guilfoyle, a former Fox News anchor, is a lawyer who worked as a federal prosecutor and an assistant district attorney in California, and here she was, in a video later posted by D____ Jr., professing to believe that the vice-president would soon be turning the 2020 election over to the loser. T____ himself had been explicitly pressuring and then threatening Pence for days, both on Twitter and especially at the rally in Dalton, Georgia, two nights before, on the eve of the state’s two Senate runoff elections, where he mused that Pence “is a great guy. Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much.”

Shortly after Rudolph Giuliani appeared (“Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!”) to propose that the election be settled by “trial by combat,” T____ himself slowly sauntered onstage to the strains of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American.” After admiring the crowd and praising the grandeur of the Washington Monument, he laid out in laborious and disordered detail all the ways the unprecedented landslide “we” had won had been stolen—a litany he had recited two days before in Georgia and the week before that during his hour-long cajoling and whining and threatening telephone call with Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger. And after he had read out once more all the discredited claims about all the dark doings in inner-city Detroit and Philadelphia and Atlanta—adding ruefully that the wily Georgians had now succeeded in stealing the election again—the president came to the point of what lay before us this day:

We’re going to have to fight much harder. And Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us. And if he doesn’t that will be a sad day for our country…. We’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down to the Capitol and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing…. We fight. We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.

Deafening paroxysms of jubilation and rage greeted this doctrinal statement of T____ism, for who could better summarize the philosophy, such as it was, in fewer words? T____ as Rambo, as tank commander, motorcycle gang leader, and on and on. The imagery of T____ism is about strength and cruelty and dominance even as the rhetoric is about loss and grievance and victimization: about what was taken and what must be seized back by strength. And we would have to bring that strength, for certain it was that the politicians would turn out to be traitors, just like all the rest. From that fateful ride down the gilt staircase in the pink-marbled lobby of T____ Tower five years before—T____ism’s March on Rome—it had been about this: “Taking back the country.” Taking it back from the rapists and the killers, the undocumented and the illegitimate, the Black and the brown from “shithole countries” who should go back “where they came from.” Now it had all come down to this.

“Fight for T____! Fight for T____!” Above my head a tall homemade flag on a jointed metal pole flapped and waved and finally extended out fully for a moment, and I could read the words that had been printed in black type: “Lead Us Across the Rubicon!” And on the other side: “The die is cast!” I managed to nudge with my elbow the clean-cut, thirtyish young man gently waving the pole. “I like your flag,” I said. He turned his head back at me and smiled: finally, one who understood. “Yes,” he said. “It’s time.”

To the strains of “Tiny Dancer” and then “YMCA,” the mass began to loosen and separate. I slowly followed my new friend’s flag at a distance, my shoes wet and caked with mud, my feet near frozen. Caesar had led his soldiers across the Rubicon: the river had been the unwritten boundary beyond which a general was not permitted to bring his forces into Republican Rome. And yet the parallel had much to recommend it. Could his legions have been more loyal to their commander than these were to theirs? Was not our republic, too, beset with maladies its feckless leaders had proved powerless to remedy? Infestations of grasping and illegitimate foreigners. Obscene inequalities of wealth and power. Long-stagnant incomes. Senseless and unending foreign wars. Dispossessed and desperate veterans. And most of all a corrupt political class that had lost the confidence of the people. What was preserving the republic worth when set against such mortal ills? What was that supposedly noble cause but an excuse to maintain the rotting status quo?

In our dense procession we marched up Constitution Avenue. All the museums were shuttered, all the buildings closed. Washington had been shut down, first by the pandemic, now by us. Shops and hotels had covered their plate glass in plywood. The side streets were near deserted, except for the black-and-white police cars blocking the corners with their flashing blue strobes. This day would set a record in pandemic deaths and the next day would set another, surmounting for the first time four thousand dead. We were marching in a time of plague, and I felt vulnerable in my mask. Self-conscious, too: not one marcher in ten wore them. “They’re locking us down, taking away our freedom and our country, too!” someone exclaimed. Were the words meant for my ears? Few masks, yes, but fine makeshift costuming: we were a parade in motley, a dense Children’s Crusade of T____sters, with our flags pointed half forward now, as if we were advancing full-tilt on Jerusalem.

Lined up against the wall of a museum, men in tactical gear stood with backs turned, pissing. A woman in a kind of red, white, and blue pajama suit gazed down at her phone and shouted, “Pence just threw T____ under the bus!” A blond-haired woman in a woolly T____ hat said to no one in particular, “The courts won’t help. The Supreme Court won’t help. The only one left is us…”

Unquote. The article, written January 14th for The New York Review of Books, goes on from there, but it’s his first-hand account that evokes the event and who showed up.

Statistics for a Sunday Afternoon

Over the past 20 years, the US economy has grown at an annual rate of 1.9%. Goldman Sachs predicts a rate of 7% for 2021 (Washington Post).

The provision in President Biden’s Covid relief bill to send almost all families monthly checks of up to $300 per child would move close to 10 million children above the poverty line, cutting child poverty nearly in half (Los Angeles Times).

Asked to describe what happened during the assault on the Capitol, 58% of [the unindicted co-conspirator’s] voters call it “mostly an Antifa-inspired attack that only involved a few of [his] supporters” (USA Today).

We’ve had almost 500,000 confirmed Covid deaths in the US. To include that many names, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial would have to be 87 feet tall (Washington Post).

hith-vietnam-vets-memorial-2 (1)

The number of atoms in your body is roughly 1028 — that’s a 1 followed by 28 zeros (New York Times). There are around 1,000 different species of bacteria living on your skin (Nature).

In the Aftermath of January 6th, a Terrible Story

From The Washington Post:

District of Columbia police officer Jeffrey Smith sent his wife a text that spoke to the futility and fears of his mission.

“London has fallen,” the 35-year-old tapped on his phone at 2:38 p.m. on Jan. 6, knowing his wife would understand he was referencing a movie by that name about a plan to assassinate world leaders attending a funeral in Britain.

The text confirmed the frightening images Erin Smith was watching on live stream from the couple’s home in Virginia: The Capitol had been overrun.

Six minutes after Smith sent that text, a Capitol Police officer inside the building shot and killed a woman as she climbed through a smashed window next to the House chamber.

Smith, also inside the Capitol, didn’t hear the gunshot, but he did hear the frantic “shots fired” call over his police radio. He later told Erin he panicked, afraid rioters had opened fire on police, and wondered whether he would die.

Around 5:35 p.m., Smith was still fighting to defend the building when a metal pole thrown by rioters struck his helmet and face shield. After working into the night, he visited the police medical clinic, was put on sick leave and, according to his wife, was sent home with pain medication.

In the days that followed, Erin said, her husband seemed in constant pain, unable to turn his head. He did not leave the house, even to walk their dog. He refused to talk to other people or watch television. She sometimes woke during the night to find him sitting up in bed or pacing.

“He wasn’t the same Jeff that left on the sixth. . . . I just tried to comfort him and let him know that I loved him,” she said. “I told him I’d be there if he needed anything, that no matter what we’ll get through it. I tried to do the best I could.”

Smith returned to the police clinic for a follow-up appointment Jan. 14 and was ordered back to work, a decision his wife now questions. After a sleepless night, he set off the next afternoon for an overnight shift, taking the ham-and-turkey sandwiches, trail mix and cookies Erin had packed.

On his way to the District, Smith shot himself in the head.

Police found him in his Ford Mustang, which had rolled over and down an embankment along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, near a scenic overlook on the Potomac River.

He was the second police officer who had been at the riot to take his own life. . . . 

Newly released audio from D.C. police at the riot shows how police were overwhelmed. “Multiple Capitol injuries, multiple Capitol injuries,” one officer screamed over his radio. Later an officer shouted, “We’re still taking rocks, bottles and pieces of flag and metal pole.” And an officer pleaded for help: “We lost the line. We’ve lost the line. All MPD [Metropolitan Police Department], pull back to the upper deck, ASAP” . . . 

Hours after the siege at the Capitol had ended, Smith later told his wife, he found himself with other officers outside a hotel where insurgents were believed to be staying. Their orders were to arrest any who came outside, at that point breaking a citywide curfew imposed by the mayor to restore order.

At 9 p.m., he told two supervisors he was in pain from being hit by the pole, and he was sent to the Police & Fire Clinic in Northeast Washington, run by a contractor and the first step for nearly every officer injured on the job.

He checked in at the clinic at 10:15 p.m., according to records shared by his family.

On his police injury form, he wrote: “Hit with flying object in face shield and helmet.” He added that he “began feeling pain in my neck and face.”

He checked out 1:31 a.m. on Jan. 7, his status listed as “sick,” though no diagnosis is noted. Erin does not know if he told the staff about any emotional issues.

“He told me it was chaos,” she said of the clinic. “There were so many people there.”

Erin has questions about her husband’s care at the Police & Fire Clinic. She said he told her he was seen for only about 10 minutes when he returned Jan. 14 and was approved to return to work the following day.

She wonders whether there were indications of a serious head injury or signs of emotional distress, and she is seeking his complete medical file. Police officials would not comment on specifics of Smith’s visit, citing privacy laws. Representatives for PFC Associates, which runs the clinic, did not respond to an interview request.

Smith didn’t talk much about the details of what he experienced during his hours at the Capitol, Erin said. She didn’t press, but even from the little she learned, she thinks the images she saw on live stream did not fully capture what police experienced. Before the riot, the family’s lawyer said, Smith had not been diagnosed with or exhibited signs of depression.

Erin is convinced the trauma of Jan. 6 made the thought of returning to policing unbearable for him. . . . 

Experts caution suicide is not typically due to a singular event, even a traumatic one, and precise reasons are generally rooted in a wide variety of factors that are often never fully understood. . . . 

Smith’s family attorney said the officer did not attend any counseling sessions while he was on sick leave. He also said no one from the department reached out to Smith about attending. . . . 

How the Federal Government Is Prosecuting the Capitol Mob

From Talking Points Memo:

Twenty-three days after a mob ransacked Congress in an attempt to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential win, federal prosecutors have charged more than 150 individuals for their involvement in the breach and have opened over 400 case files.

And over three weeks and a steady stream of charging papers, some themes have begun to emerge.

Yes, dozens of people simply incriminated themselves, posting selfies from the Capitol Rotunda or bragging to frenemies on social media who quickly ratted them out to the FBI.

But the feds have made pretty quick work of that group, and their priorities have shifted in recent days to others who engaged in violence against police and the media during the attack — and especially those who came prepared for battle.

“Look at Jan. 6 as like a bug light for domestic extremism: It brought everybody there, but everybody wasn’t of the same capabilities,” said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, which has catalogued the hundreds of court filings related to the Capitol attack.

As the government works through one of the most expansive investigations in its history, it’s largely dealt with the trespassers. Now, it’s after the conspirators and seditionists.

— The Internet Stars —

In a conference call earlier this week, the capital’s top prosecutor distinguished between some of the more serious, complex criminal cases authorities continue to investigate and, well, the easy ones. 

“We picked off the internet stars,” Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., told reporters.

“You know, the rebel flag guy, Camp Auschwitz, the individuals in Pelosi’s office. The easily-identifiable individuals that we were able to quickly find and charge with misdemeanors, then we tacked on federal felony charges.” 

Easily-identifiable doesn’t really do it justice. There aren’t many “Camp Auschwitz” hoodies in circulation; the man who wore one to the Capitol was allegedly a regular at at a Newport News, VA convenience store. Investigators tracked his car and home address from there.

Then there’s the white supremacist from Maryland who convinced his probation officer to let him travel to D.C. to distribute bibles. His court-ordered monitoring device pinged his location as he milled around the Capitol steps. 

— The Violent Assailants —

Beyond the straightforward trespassing and disorderly conduct cases, prosecutors are focused on violent and pre-planned behavior. 

On bus shelters and highway billboards around the country, wanted posters show yet-unidentified faces with two consistent offenses: “ASSAULT ON FEDERAL OFFICERS AND VIOLENCE AT THE UNITED STATES CAPITOL.”

The leader of the Capitol police union on Wednesday detailed some egregious examples: One officer was “stabbed with a metal fence stake,” others are dealing with cracked ribs and spinal injuries. Some protesters used bits of inauguration scaffolding to attack police.

Those cases take more time than scanning Facebook or checking in with probation officers, because they fuse evidence from a number of sources; prosecutors have said they anticipate a swell in assault-on-police cases as hundreds of hours of body-worn camera footage are analyzed and combined with other evidence.

In one such officer assault case, filed against a man filmed crushing police officers as part of a large crowd attempting to force their way through a Capitol tunnel, an FBI agent’s affidavit describes the defendant’s minute-by-minute movements and cites footage from three YouTube videos and multiple officers’ body-worn cameras. 

Prosecutors are also focused on rioters who assaulted members of the media, Sherwin said. 

“It’s the height of hypocrisy, some of these individuals that claimed they were just First Amendment protesters targeted and directly attacked members of the media,” he said. “We take that very seriously, and we’ve devoted prosecutors to specifically look at that violence.” 

— Planning, Forethought, Intent —

But more than even the assault cases, the feds have described spending a great deal of their energy on conspiracy charges: Individuals that allegedly planned to break laws ahead of time, including those that may have committed sedition. 

Their go-to example is that of three affiliates of the Oath Keepers militia group. They’re charged with conspiracy against the United States — specifically, an effort to obstruct the counting of Electoral College votes. Text messages allegedly show discussions of logistics details and committing violence on Donald Trump’s behalf for weeks ahead of the actual attack. 

Even if the groups conspiring ahead of attack ultimately weren’t as violent as some unaffiliated individuals, as was apparently the case with the trio of Oath Keepers in question, Hughes noted that law enforcement may see them as more of a threat moving forward.

“It has less to do with Jan. 6, and more to do with Jan. 7, 8 and 9,” he said. “They’re looking if there’s a network they need to be worried about. That’s why the focus is squarely on the Oath Keepers and the militia folks, and less on the QAnon and the selfies.” 

Faced with hundreds of individuals who may yet face charges, prosecutors work to assess who may be a concern moving forward. So while Capitol attackers who ascribe to the QAnon conspiracy theory are concerning (QAnon anticipates mass executions of Trump’s political enemies), “they’re also not training at a camp in Georgia. [That’s] just a different level of lethality,” Hughes said. 

Prosecutors recently articulated these sorts of concerns in the case of a Capitol breacher who’s come to be known as “Zip Tie Guy,” due to photos showing him carrying flex cuffs inside the Senate chamber during the attack. He faces a conspiracy charge and other offenses. 

In a recent filing that convinced a judge to keep the man detained, prosecutors noted that he fist-bumped an apparent member of the Oath Keepers, before the Oath Keeper allegedly told him, “There’s 65 more of us coming.” The filing draws the conclusion that Zip Tie Guy intended to “contribute to chaos, obstruct the Electoral College certification, and sow fear,” and notes that evidence amassed so far subjects him to further felonies, including sedition.

‘The nature and circumstances of the alleged offenses all indicate forethought and specific intent to obstruct a congressional proceeding through fear, intimidation, and, if necessary, violence,” the filing stated. 

“These threads—planning, forethought, intent—are all indicative of a capacity and willingness to repeat the offense and pose a clear threat to community safety.”