By Andrew Cremata
Like most other Americans, I sat watching the events of Jan. 6 unfold in real-time. Before electoral college votes could be counted, images of insurrectionists swarming the Capitol Building in a wave of unbridled violence played out on the news and social media. Members of the U.S. Congress and Senate took cover as insurgents equipped with tactical gear, zip-tie handcuffs and assorted weapons maneuvered through hallways virtually unhindered. Outside, a newly built gallows stood tall, its noose waiting to fulfill its only purpose.
I saw these events unfold with my own eyes and ears, which is why I can say with certainty that these events were planned. In fact, the only thing that surprised me about this attempted coup was that it wasn’t more successful. For weeks leading up to Jan. 6, I was certain a violent attempt to thwart the 2020 Presidential Election was inevitable. I also thought there would be coordinated attacks on state capital buildings, going so far as to warn government friends in Juneau to stay home from work.
Still, I couldn’t help but wonder how a small-town mayor in middle-of-nowhere Alaska could somehow surmise the events of Jan. 6 beforehand, while the Department of Defense, the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security remained oblivious to the obvious.
In the week since the failed coup attempt, federal law enforcement agencies have determined there was considerable chatter about an insurrection attempt leading up to Jan. 6. Prosecutors revealed that insurgents were planning to take hostages and execute them on live television. Apparently, they almost succeeded.
We were about 60 seconds away from watching Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi bound, gagged and either shot or hung from a swinging noose. Had so many of these traitors not stopped to pose for selfies and post live videos to their social media accounts, we would probably be having a very different conversation. Score one point for abject narcissism. Fortunately, one highly aware capital policeman lured the mob away from our federal representatives, saving their lives and quite possibly, our republic.
For at least two hours, federal troops were withheld from offering assistance. As the insurgency unfolded, the president of the United States was pressuring members of Congress and the Senate to overturn the election. A flag bearing his name was used to replace the American flag on the Capitol steps. Indoors, someone defecated in the hallways. Even worse, a man flew the Confederate flag, proving that some people will never get over a loss.
Before the dust settled, online media personalities and various government officials, including one from Alaska who attended the riots, were claiming that the insurgents were “Antifa.” It’s almost as though a disinformation narrative had been planned well before the attempted coup failed. Considering the fact that the F.B.I. has since stated there was no evidence of antifa involvement, it’s hard not to draw such a conclusion.
Throughout the day, I ran into multiple friends that were brought to tears. The common refrain was, “How did we get here?”
That is a question worth answering.
As a young man, I often debated with friends over differences in political opinions. Even if we were unwilling to accept the other’s point of view, we could agree to disagree, crack open a beer and toast to our differences. At some point over the last 30 years, something changed. The politics of left versus right has become more personal and vitriolic.
The words “liberal” and “conservative” have become pejoratives. Worse, those who hold opposing political views are often labeled as “evil.” By branding a person with an opposing viewpoint as evil, one infers that they themselves are righteous. Obviously, both are highly subjective terms but they are effective tools for marginalizing and vilifying those with opposing viewpoints.
In the years leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection, I’ve experienced more people labeling “leftists” and “liberals” as evil. I’ve been labeled as such and even called a Nazi for supporting wearing masks during a global pandemic. It’s a dubious designation for someone like me that supports gun rights (with certain restrictions), hunting, fishing, supporting military veterans and patriotism. But then, the goal of identifying a foe as evil isn’t to engage in meaningful dialog. It is a lazy albeit effective way to dehumanize someone because of their political or ideological beliefs.
Most Americans are far from evil, whether they voted for Trump or Biden. But those same people are easily influenced by the media they consume. There is a misconception in America that “media” only refers to the news media. The truth is that we all consume media throughout almost every waking hour. Social media, advertising, television shows, motion pictures, magazines, books — the list goes on.
Right-wing media has flourished in this country for three decades and it especially dominates the AM dial of the radio. It seeps into every nook and cranny of America’s rural landscape and it’s accompanied by mainstream conservative media outlets like Fox News and Breitbart.
Liberal media is also pervasive, although the events of Jan. 6 seemed more fueled by its competitors. The end result is that many Americans identify with one side of the equation and label the other side as evil, a subjective designation at best, but no less useful for promoting the idea of separateness.
The algorithms that function as the engines for social media also promote the falsehood of separateness. Your Facebook feed is mathematically gamed to place you squarely into an echo chamber where your emotions can be constantly manipulated. Why? Because the goal is to sell you stuff you absolutely do not need.
Decades of labeling leftists as evil created a foundation for militant groups of far-right agitators to thrive. The pandemic revealed these deep-rooted divisions in the United States, where friends become enemies over wearing a piece of cloth over their face. The president fueled these divisions while seeking to discredit mail-in voting before the election. When he lost, he acted on his premeditated narrative and used the bully pulpit and the conservative media machine to spread the false narrative of a stolen election.
The catchphrase talking point, “Stop the Steal” was embraced by those who already viewed liberals and democrats as evil minions hell-bent on turning the country into a socialist state. At that point, the die was cast and we began our inevitable downward spiral toward Jan. 6.
Adding fuel to the fire were groups like QAnon, using an online presence to disseminate propaganda that liberals are pedophiles harvesting children’s pineal glands at Satanic rituals to appease their unyielding desire for human flesh. The main thrust of the QAnon conspiracy promotes the idea that the President would apprehend the leftist pedophiles and see that they meet justice. Before you think this is a fringe conspiracy, consider the fact that Forbes Magazine reported that 56% of Republicans believe that QAnon conspiracy is mostly or partly true.
Indeed, QAnon flags were proudly flown during the Jan. 6th insurrection along with the banners of numerous hate groups that routinely espouse racist and anti-Semitic ideologies. Within these now mainstream groups is a seething hatred for the “media.” Largely unreported, so-called “liberal” news media crews were viciously attacked during the events of Jan 6th.
What qualifies as “liberal” media? Anyone opposed to the president’s narrative.
Even conservatives who dared defy the president’s narrative of a stolen election were targeted by insurgents, including Vice President Pence. Insurgents were heard chanting, “Hang Mike Pence!” and the phrase trended on Twitter immediately following the uprising. This proves that the line between good and perceived evil is a bit blurrier than conservative versus liberal.
We have a word for groups of people that rally around an individual and seek the extermination of any opposition — fascists. Fascists seek no middle ground. Their self-perceived righteousness has its roots in racial prejudice, manipulation and violence.
In the Bible, Mark 3:25 says, “And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” The more updated version comes from our own Revolutionary War, from a song written by founding father John Dickinson, “By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!”
Today, the false notion of separateness prevails in America. As a nation, we have two very different realities coexisting in the same timeline. One of them just tried to overthrow the government in an effort to prevent the will of the voters from being realized. They almost succeeded.
Now the F.B.I. is reporting more violence and civil unrest is on the way. Meanwhile, innocent people are dead and hundreds of insurrectionists who plastered their own unmasked faces on the internet are facing prison sentences and charges of sedition. It’s highly possible government officials were involved. Meanwhile, there are 200,000 new COVID cases popping up every day, and businesses across the country are shutting down.
I’m angry and disappointed but mostly I’m sad. Sad for the families of the police officer who was killed by a wannabe American fascist. Sad for those who will spend years behind bars for putting their trust in entertainment media, materialism and a president unwilling to admit defeat. Sad that so many elected representatives in the federal government voted to prevent the counting of electoral votes mere minutes after The Capitol was desecrated, in part because of the false narrative they chose to defend. Sad because we all know it’s unlikely anything is going to change.
That is, unless enough of us are willing to beat the sword of division into a plowshare capable of cultivating a renewed sense of American unity. Our country can only thrive if we all recognize that everyone of us is part of a symbiotic whole.
We’ve already seen where division leads us. Perhaps we can try unity for a while and see whether we end up in a better place.
Andrew Cremata is a freelance writer and mayor of Skagway.