This week, the political and media class emotionally marked the six-month anniversary of what they call the January 6 “insurrection.” The commemorations were reminiscent of an elementary school kid who insists on celebrating their “half birthday” — a juvenile self-indulgence, but understandable for a child. Less so for adults who are supposed to be governing the country.
Members of Congress gathered for gauzy network TV interviews to gush about the meaningful and tight-knit “support groups” they have formed. They’re proudly donating articles of clothing worn on that day to the Smithsonian, so future generations can bear witness to the experience of wearing a suit while a Congressional workday was temporarily interrupted.
The latest surge of attention around January 6 is another opportunity for elected officials to demand the public give them sympathy for everything they’ve been through — an inversion of the typical elected official/constituent relationship. For the past six months, constituents have been lectured into providing comfort and support for the politicians they hired to represent them. Pretty nice setup if you’re an elected official, with the usual expectation being that constituents get to demand things of you. So, from a self-interested perspective, it makes sense that they’d want to keep this event front-and-center in the nation’s consciousness for as long as humanly possible.
“Not even during the Civil War did insurrectionists breach our Capitol, the citadel of our democracy. But six months ago today, insurrectionists did,” read a White House statement that purports to be authored by Joe Biden — which went on to proclaim that the event posed an “existential crisis.”
Unless your brain has been permanently addled by the torrent of hyperbole, no one attempting to be minimally objective could possibly say with a straight face that a several-hour delay of legislative business was in any sense an “existential threat.” We know this because the “existence” of the country was never in jeopardy due to the actions of a marauding MAGA mob, most of whom appeared to have no idea what they were even doing inside the “citadel.” The government was never at risk of being overthrown, and any insinuation to the contrary has always been beyond laughable. But there’s still political utility to be mined from casting this event in the most maximalist, incendiary terms: a “swiftly dispersed goofball riot” likely would not be marked with six-month remembrance ceremonies, even though it’s a more accurate description of what occurred.
Constantly hyping the “existential” nature of the MAGA threat affords Democrats with the talking point that it’s “existentially” necessary for them to retain power. This is a continuation of the rhetorical tack taken by Democrats and their media appendages during the 2020 election, in which it was widely alleged that the country would dissolve overnight if Trump were to win a second term. (Yes: Trump and Trump supporters engaged in a mirror-image version of this kind of catastrophism. Somehow domestic US politics always seems to revolve around the cross-partisan belief that the world’s leading economic and military superpower is perpetually teetering on the edge of imminent collapse.)
If you haven’t been following the near-daily deluge of new January 6 prosecutions — touted as the most far-reaching federal prosecutorial effort in US history, with at least 560 arrests — you might be unfamiliar with what the alleged violators are actually being charged with. “Existential threat” isn’t the phrase that would immediately come to mind in many instances.
Much to the delight of pundits and Democrats, these arrests continued even as the six-month anniversary commemorations were underway. One of the latest — executed today, July 9, 2021 — was of Matthew Purse, of Irvine, CA. Purse is alleged in the charging documents to have “entered the US Capitol at approximately 2:59 pm” on January 6. Upon entry, prosecutors allege that Purse “appeared to be standing off to the side, observing the crowd’s interactions with the law enforcement officers.” The complaint concludes that “PURSE exited the US Capitol at approximately 3:12 pm.”
That’s it. That’s the extent of the illegal activity alleged to have been committed by this individual on January 6. For the crime of being present within the US Capitol Building for a total of 13 minutes, Matthew Purse has been pursued by federal prosecutors for over six months, and now faces four separate charges and the prospect of prison time — not to mention the everlasting public scorn of a political and media establishment which declares that his actions somehow posed an “existential” threat to the Republic. As though milling around inside the Capitol Rotunda for 13 minutes nearly resulted in the most powerful state in world history being #literally toppled.
In retribution for these 13 minutes of terror, his residence was surveilled:
And of course, that’s only one example among hundreds. Jacob Chansley, the infamous “Q-Anon Shaman” who was supposedly going to seize control of the Pentagon by yodeling half-naked, remains jailed six months after voluntarily turning himself in to authorities. Even though he’s not alleged to have committed any act of violence.
The virulent demand that everyone who discusses this event accede to the preferred hyper-inflammatory terminology — “insurrection,” “attempted coup,” or “domestic terrorism” in the words of the FBI Director — serves a number of purposes. For one, it fosters a passive acceptance of these prosecutions as presumptively legitimate, which is great news for the federal law enforcement apparatus. In a tweet to me today, Rep. Thomas Massie elaborated on the dynamic at play:
And of course, it gives political fodder to all manner of aspiring elected officials, who are now able to portray themselves as desperately-needed bulwarks against an ongoing “existential threat.” If you paint yourself as a safeguard against the literal descent of the country into insurrectionary oblivion, you can basically just be a potted plant when you’re elected. No need to do anything else. Your mere occupancy of the office is sufficient to ward off the hordes of “insurrectionists,” so why bother formulating any concrete agenda beyond that?
The idea that “insurrection” just happens to be the most accurate and neutral term to describe what occurred on January 6 is propagandistic nonsense; it was plainly chosen for its political and emotional resonance. Recall Jake Tapper on CNN immediately screeching that what just unfolded was a “MAGA terrorist insurrection.” Yeah, sure — totally dispassionate terminology.
Meanwhile, the citizenry is expected to get on its knees and give thanks that politicians and the FBI have spent these last six months doing all they can to aggressively punish hundreds of people who are alleged to have committed the “existentially” threatening crime of “Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in a Capitol Building.”
I’ll be doing a Rokfin livestream on this subject Sunday, July 11 at 12:00pm EST!