He called himself a QAnon Tier I Ranger SEAL Operator, and had the 17 tabs down one sleeve to prove it. “In a situation like this, Embed, you stick to me and I’ll get you home, brother. Unless the GPS gets us lost again.”
Behind the wheel of his F-150, looking for parking near the state capitol, I knew he meant it. The eyes, always the eyes. In the backseat was his AR-15 with the handle on top, equipped with several dozen accessories from Bass Pro. His personal gear said he was ready, clothing half in arctic-urban-backyard camo, half blaze orange. “I can’t afford this s*** unless I can get two seasons out of it,” he said. He asked I call him “Mike,” though I found out on Facebook his real name is Michael. His tactical hair gel caught the light as he spoke.
“If we find free parking we approach from the east. If we have to feed the meter, I come in from the north.” The tactical radio rang. “Honey, I told you it’ll be after 6p.m. … I don’t know, get a pizza,” he said in some sort of Pepe code.
“The mission today is to occupy the space in front of the CNN crew and dominate the interviews. CNN will identify themselves by removing their heads from their own butts, so watch for the signal. Stay frosty in case we spot Maddow and I call an audible. And bunch up so it looks like there’re more of us.”
You’re right, that didn’t happen. I made Mike up. It’s funny.
But this did happen: Daily Beast published a “scoop” revealing one of the men charged in the January 6 riot had a fully assembled Lego model of the Capitol in his home, which the FBI insinuated was used as a tactical planning tool and thus seized as evidence. It formed part of the prosecution’s argument against bail. It sounds like a joke.
The problem is that it wasn’t true; the man merely had the unopened Lego set and the prosecutors lied. The accused rioter remains in jail. The Lego set is still available on Amazon.
And this is also true and not so funny. Most of the 539 people arrested for the January riot did not commit acts of violence, and face accusations of little more than gussied up trespassing. Many were charged simply with violating a 6 p.m. curfew. Yet almost all have been denied bail and are being held in solitary as a “safety measure”—lockdown 23 hours a day.
In any other context such treatment of innocent people would raise a woke storm. The ACLU claims “prolonged solitary confinement is torture and certainly should not be used as a punitive tool to intimidate or extract cooperation.” Except, that is, in what has become a punitive political prosecution. The decision maker on jail conditions? Biden’s attorney general.
Meanwhile, after six months, the first person was finally tried. He pled to a misdemeanor charge of “parading in the Capitol building” and was given probation. The second prosecution ended with time served on a misdemeanor charge. Next up was a yet-unsentenced plea to “obstructing Congress.” Another trespasser had his bail revoked and was sent to solitary for leaving a voicemail to the court referencing “the size of his genitalia.” Brownshirt stuff, amiright?
In another pending case involving no violence or vandalism, prosecutors demanded maximum penalties, stating though “individuals convicted of such behavior may have no criminal history, their beliefs make them unique among criminals in the likelihood of recidivism.” A thought crime.
The single felony conviction out of all of this led to only an 8 month sentence for “obstructing an official proceeding.” Somehow not a terrorism, sedition, or treason charge to be found in D.C. Prosecutors demanded a much greater sentence by claiming the action was an “assault on democracy.” As a metric, Hitler was sentenced to 5 years for his failed “beer hall putsch.”
Only 534 cases more to go to see justice. Rarely have so many resources been used to accomplish so little.
This is true but not so funny, too. The day after the Capitol riots, the FBI asked Americans “to step up” and identify people who participated. Not only did friends and relatives rat each other out, but armies of unrelated people jumped at the chance to roleplay Stasi. Even somewhat news organization CNN helped identify people on behalf of the FBI. The New York Times published a guide to militia symbols so would-be sleuths could tell their Oathkeepers from their QAnons. The AP called these citizens “sedition hunters” as America weaponized the Kancel Kulture Kids into an e-mob.
“I put my emotions behind me to do what I thought was right,” said Jackson Reffitt, whose GoFundMe hit $140,000 after he turned in his own father to the FBI.
Tech found its niche. While the mob was still in the Capitol, groups including Bellingcat scraped everything posted to build evidence for the FBI. Reddit users created a 12GB tranche of videos. Intelligence X (whose customers are “companies of all sizes and governments”) has 1,300 files. The goal was to crowdsource identification so no rioter escapes.
“If you look at the history and incidents like the 1812 breach of the Capitol as well as the 1933 German Reichstag fire it highlights the need for accurate and original data in historical context,” said Intelligence X’s CEO. Wired reminds us how “Previously, third-party groups archiving video and photo evidence have been crucial in the process of identifying war crimes happening in Syria.” The 1812 breach was by the British Army in time of war. There was no fire, Reichstag or otherwise, on January 6, and certainly no war crimes.
Further extending the private sector’s reach into Americans’ rights and privacy, the Department of Justice hired a contractor (Deloitte at $6.1 million) to catalog all this tech-collected data, surrendering the decision of who is prosecutable to private industry. A judge recently put the project on temporary hold.
Working the other side of the operation, Facebook, Twitch, and YouTube deleted live streams of the Capitol riot and demonetized the accounts. Twitter went further, tagging Trump’s tweets about the riot with a warning, deactivated most engagement “due to a risk of violence,” all before removing the Trump material completely. For next time, Facebook revealed it has a tool called CrowdTangle which tracks users’ engagement levels with whatever the hell Facebook thinks is a right-wing media source. The tool is available only to selected academics and journalists, of course.
And this is not funny at all. The FBI published a manual for citizens to use to report on each other for “displaying a readiness to commit a violent act” or even “displaying a mindset oriented toward committing a violent act.”
Most of it is recycled from some post-9/11 “How to Spot an Islamic Terrorist Under Your Bed” campaign, making it even more obvious white militia is to be this generation’s jihadi bogeyman. Though a jaunty warning reminds that many of the FBI’s “indicators” are also constitutionally protected acts, such as owning a gun and criticizing the government, the main point is when in doubt, turn them in, Citizen.
Funny as it is, despite the wishes of Democrats, their FBI, and their MSM, the January 6 riot was just not an attempt to overthrow the U.S. government or change an election. The rioters had absolutely no path to doing that, no mechanism for stopping Joe Biden becoming president. They hardly even qualified as vandals: no fires set, no destruction of priceless paintings or statues, no ransacking of files. They dispersed relatively quickly and simply went home. In contrast, BLM riots took multiple lives and did millions of dollars in damage across the nation for months.
Apart from fear mongering, the Democrats also have larger goals in mind. They want to get people used to working to further political law enforcement, and to become more comfortable with, if not demanding of, unequal law enforcement as a political tool.
So no surprise the Biden administration just unveiled a national strategy to combat “domestic extremism,” calling for ideological screening of government employees for ties to “hate groups.” The plan highlights a shift in the government’s approach, which for decades prioritized fighting foreign terrorists. Those same tools of war will now be turned inward, on us, to validate the Democratic dystopia the party plans to run on. And that for sure is not funny.
Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.