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Home/Rod Dreher/To Hell With January 6

To Hell With January 6

QAnon Shaman in the well of the Senate on 1/6/21 (Luke Mogelson)

I’ve been away from the keys this morning, in church celebrating the Feast of Theophany, the baptism of Christ. That’s how I prefer to think of January 6. I am in a distinct minority in this country, at least this year. The entire episode makes me angry at everybody. Let me get this off my chest.

    1. I have no sympathy at all for the rioters, or for the president who encouraged their shocking crimes. I supported the second impeachment of Trump precisely because he stoked the mob’s rage, and did not call them off at the first opportunity. What that mob did at the Capitol was as close to a desecration as is possible in a secular building. Every one of those people who went into that building knew what they were doing was wrong, or should have known. It is right to hold them accountable.
    2. Ashli Babbitt is no hero, and a victim of only herself. Before she even arrived at the Capitol, she was a crazy person, driven by her own rage.  She has been made an ex post facto martyr by the Right in the same way that violent druggie George Floyd was made a martyr by the Left. But in Floyd’s case, he didn’t deserve what happened to him. In Babbitt’s case, I don’t see where the Capitol Police officer who shot her had a choice. Ask yourself, conservative: if that had been a Black Lives Matter mob invading the Capitol, and Babbitt had been a BLM activist barreling through a locked door into a chamber where members of Congress were sheltering, would you blame the cop for shooting her? If that January 6 event had been a Black Lives Matter riot, every white conservative in this country would know exactly what to think of it. To hell with double standards, on both the Right and the Left.
    3. Trump bears a lot of moral responsibility for that atrocity, because of his lie about the “stolen election.” Shame on members of Congress who stand by that lie.
    4. If you have forgotten how despicable the mob action of a year ago was, watch this video by Luke Mogelson, taken inside the riot. There is no legitimate defense of this. None.

Having said that…

    1. The pageant of victimhood that the Democrats and the media are staging is absurd. I said last year when those useful Trump idiots stormed the Capitol that the Democrats were going to make this MAGA riot into a Reichstag fire moment — that is, they will use it to justify taking extreme measures against their opponents. That has happened in particular with the US military. Over the past few months, I have been publishing e-mails and the results of conversations with conservative active-duty and recently retired members of the Armed Forces, all of whom are afraid and disgusted by the atmosphere of persecution that they say now reigns in the ranks. Conservatives who had nothing to do with the January 6 riot, and who have no affection for those cretins who carried it out, are now leaving the military, or planning to, because they are sick of the woke political indoctrination coming down from the Pentagon, and are afraid that any connection that can be demonstrated to conservative institutions or thought will be used against them to destroy their military careers. Numbers of former or current Armed Forces members have told me that they will do everything they can to prevent their children from going into the military service under these conditions.
    2. Today I was driving home from church and listening on podcast to a story from NPR this morning about the radicalization of the American middle class. Check it out here. The reporter, Odette Yousef, says that after January 6, radicals started focusing on local issues, like attacking school boards to protest “racially-inclusive education.” Say what? These were parents who don’t want their children force-fed Critical Race Theory, which many on the Left falsely said wasn’t being taught in schools, despite the fact that there was abundant evidence that it was, in many places. (A version of the Law of Merited Impossibility: “CRT is not being taught in public schools, and wherever it is, you bigots deserve it.”) You have to be skeptical of everything the media have to say about any of these issues. I don’t blame middle-class conservatives for being radicalized by events in this country, because every major institution in America has become or is in process of becoming radicalized to the Left by wokeness. The story that NPR and the mainstream media tell themselves about what is going on in this country is at best a half-truth — and people are not wrong to reject it. For example, the media are very concerned (and rightly so!) about the lies Trump and his supporters tell about the 2020 election, but they have no compunction at all regarding spreading the malicious, destabilizing lies of the 1619 Project.
    3.  Do you remember that time in 2017 that a left-wing activist carried out a mass shooting of GOP members of Congress at a baseball park in suburban Virginia? He nearly killed Rep. Steve Scalise, who underwent extensive surgery because of his wounds. The Virginia attorney general later described it as an act of terrorism. Where was the ongoing spasm of media What-Does-It-All-Mean over that atrocity? Where was the anguished introspection over what that says about the radicalization of the Left in America? That event was sent right down the memory hole. Of course there are important differences between that event and the January 6 riot, so I am not saying they were an exact equivalent. But that was a much bigger deal than it was treated at the time by the media and by the official culture of US elites.
    4. Do you remember the 2020 mass riots all around the country after the George Floyd shooting? The BLM riots? We all saw how the media and official culture worked hard to explain away that violence, and to make us all think that the rioters might have pushed it too far, but they had reason: Systemic Racism made them do it. Remember how so many in the medical profession, who had been telling us all to mask up and lock down and avoid crowds, changed their tune when it came to BLM mass protests? We on the Right saw that, and we call bullsh*t. It’s harder and harder to tell when things are straightforward, and when they are politicized. When people can see a vast discrepancy between the world they perceive with their own eyes, and the world as construed for them by the media, by the education system, by Big Business, and by the government, you damn well better believe they are going to be radicalized.
    5.  As I said above, there is no excuse — none — for the January 6 riot. But some riots are more morally acceptable to our elites than others. Again, see the BLM riots. We on the Right know how this works.
    6.  The very last thing that the media will do is ask itself what they are doing or have done to advance the radicalization of Americans on both sides. The very last thing Big Business, or the US military, or the schools and universities, will do is ask itself (and its HR departments) what it is doing to radicalize Americans. They are all going to keep sitting back and wondering how on earth it all happened. NPR, for example, has been in the news this week because of a recent exodus of on-air personalities of color. The Washington Post reports that some of them say that NPR stifles POCs. To be fair, I don’t know what the atmosphere inside NPR is like; maybe they have a point. But I do know that NPR over the past four years or so has become unlistenable, because of its obsession with race, gender, sexuality, and identity. If that’s not progressive enough for NPR, what is? The question nobody at NPR or in the national media asks about the network is why is its coverage so biased towards the Left? It’s not just an NPR thing; it’s all the national media. After George Floyd’s killing, the media went through more spasms about whether or not they had done a good job of reporting the realities of life of black America. Any conservative, white or otherwise, can tell you that the media do a crappy job of reporting on our lives and our worlds — but again, this is of zero concern to the media. So, screw ’em.

Whether you are on the Left or the Right, it is very hard to live not by lies in America today. There are so many people in authority in both worlds who are eager to tell themselves lies (or half-truths), and to spread them to others. This is very, very dangerous for our country. Hannah Arendt warned that a sign of coming totalitarianism is the willingness to believe lies because they suited us. From Live Not By Lies:

Heda Margolius Kovály, a disillusioned Czech communist whose husband was executed after a 1952 show trial, reflects on the willingness of people to turn their backs on the truth for the sake of an ideological cause.

It is not hard for a totalitarian regime to keep people ignorant. Once you relinquish your freedom for the sake of “understood necessity,” for Party discipline, for conformity with the regime, for the greatness and glory of the Fatherland, or for any of the substitutes that are so convincingly offered, you cede your claim to the truth. Slowly, drop by drop, your life begins to ooze away just as surely as if you had slashed your wrists; you have voluntarily condemned yourself to helplessness.

You can surrender your moral responsibility to be honest out of misplaced idealism. You can also surrender it by hating others more than you love truth. In pre-totalitarian states, Arendt writes, hating “respectable society” was so narcotic, that elites were willing to accept “monstrous forgeries in historiography” for the sake of striking back at those who, in their view, had “excluded the underprivileged and oppressed from the memory of mankind.” For example, many who didn’t really accept Marx’s revisionist take on history—that it is a manifestation of class struggle—were willing to affirm it because it was a useful tool to punish those they despised.

Here’s an important example of this happening in our time and place. In 2019, The New York Times, the world’s most influential newspaper, launched the “1619 Project,” a massive attempt to “reframe” (the Times’s word) American history by displacing the 1776 Declaration of Independence as the traditional founding of the United States, replacing it with the year the first African slaves arrived in North America.

No serious person denies the importance of slavery in US history. But that’s not the point of the 1619 Project. Its goal is to revise America’s national identity by making race hatred central to the nation’s foundational myth. Despite the project’s core claim (that the patriots fought the American Revolution to preserve slavery) having been thoroughly debunked, journalism’s elite saw fit to award the project’s director a Pulitzer Prize for her contribution. Equipped with this matchless imprimatur of establishment respectability, the 1619 Project, which has already been taught in forty-five hundred classrooms, will find its way into many more.

Propaganda helps change the world by creating a false impression of the way the world is. Writes Arendt, “The force possessed by totalitarian propaganda—before the movement has the power to drop the iron curtains to prevent anyone’s disturbing, by the slightest reality, the gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world—lies in its ability to shut the masses off from the real world.”

In 2019, Zach Goldberg, a political science PhD student at Georgia Tech, did a deep dive on LexisNexis, the world’s largest database of publicly available documents, including media reports. He found that over a nine-year period, the rate of news stories using progressive jargon associated with left-wing critical theory and social justice concepts shot into the stratosphere.

What does this mean? That the mainstream media is framing the general public’s understanding of news and events according to what was until very recently a radical ideology confined to left-wing intellectual elites.

It must be conceded that right-wing media, though outside the mainstream, often has a similar effect on conservatives: affirming to them that what they believe about the world is true. For all users of social media—including the nearly three quarters of US adults who use Facebook and the 22 percent who use Twitter—reinforcement of prior political beliefs is built into the system. We are being conditioned to accept as true whatever feels right to us. As Arendt wrote about the pre-totalitarian masses:

They do not believe in anything visible, in the reality of their own experience; they do not trust their eyes and ears but only their imaginations, which may be caught by anything that is at once universal and consistent with itself. What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.

Every single one of us, no matter what our political beliefs, are subject to these forces. Below, an example of what Arendt is talking about. The person who posted these tweets says that this is a “perfect example of the Left,” but I can tell you from my personal experience that there are plenty of people on the Right who would do the same thing.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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