World

The Capitol riot transformed right-wing activism in America

6 January 2022

10:21 PM

6 January 2022

10:21 PM

The invasion of Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021 represented the rise and fall of pro-Trump anti-governmental activism in a matter of hours. Its sensational success ensured its immediate collapse as the power of law enforcement came down on its head.

Anyone involved must have experienced emotional whiplash. At the time, as millions of us watched on social media, there were smiles, and pranks, and a sense of deranged pageantry. “I can’t believe we’re doing this,” seemed to be the mood, perhaps accompanied in some cases by, “What can we do next?” Soon, many of the participants had an answer as they were booked into extended spells in jail.

One year on, the organizations involved in the “Stop the Steal” rally and the subsequent rioting are in pieces. The eyes of the world, and the arm of the law, turned upon them and they crumbled.

The Oath Keepers, an anti-government constitutionalist militia, and the Proud Boys, a bizarre paramilitary group established by the co-founder of VICE, are being sued by the District of Columbia after many of their members took part in the rioting. According to Karl Racine, Washington’s attorney general, “If it so happens that we bankrupt them, then that’s a good day.” Racine is taking inspiration from a recent case in which organizers of the 2017 “Unite the Right” demonstrations in Charlotteseville, such as Richard Spencer, were ordered to pay millions of dollars in damages.

Within the right, fingers are being pointed at these groups as rumors swirl that different members were involved with the FBI. While it would be silly to pretend that there was not sincere pro-Trump rioting, the chairman of the Proud Boys has been outed as a former FBI informant so these speculations are not wholly paranoid.


Other people and institutions represented, or seemingly represented, at the rally have made themselves scarce. The leaders of the one chapter of the Three Percenters, a network of militia groups, dissolved their organization after the events at Capitol Hill. (Several members of Three Percenter groups would be indicted for their involvement in the riots.) “We were determined to always hold high standards and morals,” the organizers said. “Violence is never the answer and we have condemned those who fought with police and stormed the Capital on January 6.”

At the rear-end of right-wing activism are chameleonic e-celebs. Ali Alexander, a failed documentarian who founded Stop the Steal, the organizers of the January 6 rally, has insisted that the House select committee investigating its degeneration will exonerate him, Republican members of Congress and Donald Trump himself. This might be the case, though reports that he is being accompanied by Jacob Wohl, a compulsive liar who has spent a lot of his young life aiming bogus accusations of sexual misconduct and infidelity at Robert Mueller, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Anthony Fauci, make it hard to trust his honesty or sense.

Professional nuisance Baked Alaska, meanwhile, whose history of desperate attention-seeking stunts had led him from recording songs with names like “We Love Our Cops” to macing random members of the public, actually entered the US Capitol and faces charges of disorderly conduct and violent entry. The charges can be added to a heap of other legal issues, which also followed pepper-spraying a security guard and defacing a Hanukkah display. (How long can this man stay out of prison? Place your bets.)

Viewing the January 6 agitators as a parade of farcical eccentrics does not preclude the possibility that some of them would have done serious harm to elected representatives of the United States if they had had the chance. But they are still a parade of farcical eccentrics.

I hope everyone involved will have a fair trial. Certainly, if organizers of protests are prosecuted on the basis of violence that occurs at those protests then it should be demonstrated that those organizers had a role in the illegal aspects of their events. (You can only imagine, futile as it is to do so, what would happen if left wingers were not paid this courtesy.)

Yet to say this is not to exhibit sympathy for the sort of manic LARPing that caused chaos last January. Its criminal implications were deeply significant, of course, but it was also a disaster for the American right. Participants looked dangerous and pathetic — and afterwards, the organs of the state were emboldened to pursue legislation reminiscent of the post-9/11 PATRIOT Act.

Ironically, American right-wing activists went on to achieve far more success through dogged, unromantic, unheralded and entirely legal means in the following months. Parent protests were a major obstacle as politicians attempted to impose dangerous, pointless mask mandates in schools. Parents also took the work of Christopher Rufo and others on divisive, often ahistorical “Critical Race Theory” and protested its inclusion on school curricula. Such activities might not have offered them the raw thrill of spontaneous rebellion. They might not have promised triumph overnight. But as well as being more grounded and responsible, they were more effective, pursuing concrete goals through means that were and are difficult to suppress. We are left hoping that even if Trump makes a political comeback, right-wing activists bear this disparity in mind, rather than following the siren song of ill-fated disorder.

The post The Capitol riot transformed right-wing activism in America appeared first on The Spectator World.

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