Friday, December 17, 2021

Narratology: American Reichstag

Uncredited photo via Washingtonian.


One of the most baffling things for me about the insurrection of 6 January has been Trumpers' insistence that "antifa"—the disorganized collection of goodhearted but unstrategic young campaigners against fascism taking inspiration from the antifascist streetfighter youth of Germany at the end of the Weimar Republic and the later European and American kids who used to show up at punk venues to protect concertgoers from attacks by skinheads—were somehow responsible for the mayhem of the assault on the Capitol.

Because there just wasn't anything you could interpret that way, in the videos we all saw, or the reports. It was easier to consider the theory that FBI provocateurs were involved, but basically it was the Trumpiest crowd imaginable, basically the indignant white petits-bourgeois, the middle-aged Beavis and Butt-Head, plus the retired cops and military, and later research backed up the impression:

the demographic profile of the suspected Capitol rioters is different from that of past right-wing extremists. The average age of the arrestees we studied is 40. Two-thirds are 35 or older, and 40 percent are business owners or hold white-collar jobs. Unlike the stereotypical extremist, many of the alleged participants in the Capitol riot have a lot to lose. They work as CEOs, shop owners, doctors, lawyers, IT specialists, and accountants. Strikingly, court documents indicate that only 9 percent are unemployed. Of the earlier far-right-extremist suspects we studied, 61 percent were under 35, 25 percent were unemployed, and almost none worked in white-collar occupations.

What made the Trumpers think they could get away with blaming the riot on the black-clad young anti-fascists? They weren't in any way there!

But a new column by Will Bunch/Philadelphia Inquirer clarifies that in a big and ingenious way, which in turn clarifies a lot about the coup plot and how and why it failed. The plotters had been expecting a big antifa contingent to show up. They'd done their best to entice the enemy—

the then-president had been increasingly focused since the spring of 2020 — and the at-times destructive protests over the police murder of George Floyd — on what he claimed was a domestic threat posed by “antifa.” In June, Trump promised in a tweet that “the United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization” — even though experts agree such extreme leftist elements are small and lack any umbrella organization.
Although it didn’t receive a ton of attention at the time, violence between pro-Trump groups like the Proud Boys and leftist counterprotesters may have peaked on December 12, 2020, at rallies which in hindsight look like trial runs for January 6. A man was shot in Olympia, Washington, while several dozen people on both sides were arrested or hurt in the D.C. fighting that lasted well into the night. In another bit of foreshadowing, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio posted mysterious pictures from the White House portico. Trump previewed the “wild” January 6 rally one week later.

—but the enemy hadn't taken the bait:

People on the left who’d spent four years actively resisting Trump in the streets shared a surprising new message in those two weeks ahead of the insurrection: Stay home on January 6. This was reinforced by a number of Democratic officials who pushed out the same message to both traditional leftists and Black Lives Matter activists.

Which explains in the first place what the actual program was: While the Republican congressmembers were in the joint session carrying out their side of the conspiracy and refusing to certify Biden's election, the Trumpy crowd marching from the Ellipse to the Capitol would be attacked by violent leftists, giving Trump himself, with the assistance of the personnel of the purged Pentagon, an excuse for declaring a national emergency and summoning the National Guard. The streetfighting on Pennsylvania Avenue was going to be his Reichstag Fire. I have a feeling somebody (Roger Stone?) must have had this explicit thought (the Reichstag building—"Imperial Diet"— now Bundestag or Federal Diet, was the German equivalent of the Capitol, of course).

Only there weren't, as we now know, any violent leftists to be had, anywhere in Washington. Mo Brooks told the mob at the Ellipse to "kick ass" and "fight for America", Rudy Giuliani invited them to "trial by combat", but there was no ass to be kicked or combat to be tried. Nor, for that matter, was the other wing of the plan going well—Pence had become convinced that he couldn't stop Biden's election and told Trump so, which got Trump pretty upset.

Roger Stone must have been first to realize that the plan had fallen apart; that's why he skipped the rally altogether, ridiculously (according to Michael Wolff's Landslide) telling Giuliani he hadn't even been invited, even as the night before he'd been exhorting the crowd to prepare for the march as an "epic struggle for the future of this country between dark and light—the godly and the godless—good and evil." 

Alex Jones and Ali Alexander were still there, though, with their Proud Boys and other paramilitaries and a big contingent of more-or-less innocent Trumpy tourists, and before Trump's speech had begun, left with them for the eastern portico of the Capitol, where Jones told them Trump would be addressing them separately, which was of course a lie. Meanwhile Trump gave his own lengthy pep talk on the perfidy of Pence to the remaining hordes and sent them off with the immediately broken promise that he'd be walking with them, to the western side. There—I don't think anybody knows exactly how or why—they found themselves pushing and smashing their way into the building, in combat with the Capitol police, and a few minutes later the Jones group breached it from the other side.

My own thought—Bunch thinking about the missing antifa doesn't go there, and neither, from a different direction, does Marcy Wheeler's account of the Jones attack—is that the double-sided assault on the Capitol, cops, and lawmakers wasn't part of the coup plan at all, but the result of its failure, failure with Pence and failure with antifa. 

Brooks and Giuliani, Stone and Jones, had keyed up the mob for a battle that wasn't going to take place, without telling them who they'd be fighting. Trump was keyed up with rage at Pence's perceived betrayal, and told them so, and they must have thought Pence was the intended enemy. Stone, before he fled, or Alexander or Jones may have thought of encouraging them (a good berserker rage is a terrible thing to waste) but that may not have been necessary. Instead of defending the Capitol, as planned, from the invading antifascists, they ended up invading it themselves, and the trashing began.

Insiders like Ingraham and Hannity quickly realized something was going wrong; so did Junior, wherever he was glued to a TV set. Inside the Capitol, Trump's loyalists were horrified. All of them started trying to make communication with the White House, in those texts revealed by Mark Meadows and no doubt many others. Trump, who probably didn't have a very clear idea how the intended program was supposed to work, watched his own TV, entranced at the size of the crowd he'd finally lured to Pennsylvania Avenue and how much it loved him, and unable to try to stop it until a good three hours had gone by.

And that's the story, with the sweep and randomness of the Napoleonic narratives of Stendhal and Tolstoy, a colossal fuckup brought on by people who may have thought they were Napoleon but weren't really anybody at all.

No comments:

Post a Comment