In little-kid history, the word “ragtag” conjures motley groups of men who band together, with fife and drum, to join the Revolution. Well, if ever a group looked ragtag, it was the one that smashed its way into the Capitol last week. Jimmy Kimmel called it “a psychotic Price Is Right audience”; others said it started out like Comicon and then exploded.
Many rioters wore and carried paramilitary gear (what a disappointment not to need night-vision goggles), and a lot of folks wore fuzzy Trump hats or MAGA ballcaps or wrapped themselves, quite literally, in the flag. A t-shirt read “Camp Auschwitz” and another said 6MWE (Six Million Wasn’t Enough). A sweatshirt was emblazoned with Q, the invisible mastermind who is hunting down a pedophile ring despite zero evidence of its existence. Among the flags that were waved aloft or used to smash reporters’ cameras: the Confederate battle flag; the flags of Texas, Tennessee, and North Carolina; the flags of South Vietnam, India, and Tibet (?); flags from the American Revolution (the U.S. Betsy Ross, the Bunker Hill flag, the Appeal to Heaven flag, the Bedford flag, the Fort Moultrie flag, and the good ol’ Don’t Tread on Me flag); the 3 Percenters anti-government flag; the Come and Take it gun-rights flag; the Thin Blue Line pro-police flag; the Gays for Trump flag; the old Mississippi state flag; Trump as Captain America.
It stands to reason that participants wanted to advertise, in costume, their political beliefs, because once you dive beneath support for Trump and blind faith that the election was stolen, the agendas vary dramatically. Dressing more consistently would approximate a uniform, and uniforms tell the world that you are all fighting together, in a hierarchical and disciplined way, under the same authority. Most of these folks chafe at any authority—unless, of course, it is absolute, on their side, and determined to flout the traditions of governance. Maybe that is why they are so annoyed by Antifa, with its unified adoption of black shirts and pants? Maybe not; Black skin is even more inflammatory.
The circus of attire on January 6 does throw down clues, though. The Comicon resemblance, for example, reminds us how much of this is based on fantasy. Comicon participants do not act on their fantasies, but these are people whose fantasy has taken over. Some are acting out old assumptions of White supremacy. Some see themselves as the patriots of 1776. Some are infatuated with the machismo of police or military power. Some are caught up in the QAnon conspiracy, aglow at the notion that the people they hate commit the most evil acts imaginable. Little is more comforting than the belief that your enemies do Satan’s work.
A friend writes to me outraged by what he sees as hypocrisy from people who dismissed the damage done by the summer’s civil rights protests as negligible but were deeply upset at rioters trashing the nation’s sacred seat of government. I say that both the motives and the facts were different, but what I really want to say is that at least the summer’s protesters, even those who broke the law, were fighting for something greater than themselves. They did not show up in outlandish costumes to draw attention to their personal beliefs or take selfies with accommodating police officers or use hate to shore up oppression. They were fighting for racial justice, and they used their phones to film people getting assaulted by police officers.
Those who invaded the Capitol would argue that they are fighting to restore greatness and protect Christianity and the traditional family. But there is a reason a Confederate flag waved, and virtually all the faces were White, and participants made the OK hand signal now co-opted by White supremacists. (At first I thought the noose represented lynching; then I realized it was to hang Mike Pence.)
Down the street, after National City Christian Church hung a sixteen-foot Black Lives Banner, two White guys reenacted George Floyd’s murder beneath it, one kneeling (tentatively, without any weight, so as not to cause discomfort) on the other’s neck. But wait—“George,” clad in a plush leopard-patterned vest, needed to adjust his ball cap so the camera could see the words “I can’t breathe.” There was an awkward pause while he spun the bill to the front, then they resumed the tableau for the camera.
What strikes me as I look at these images is how much fun these people are having. The summer’s protests were not fun. Even the glee of anarchy was a pent-up rage founded in centuries of injustice, not the whipped-up rage of people who feel cheated of birthright privilege. Now that they have a gang, they are like pissed-off teenagers vandalizing the principal’s office.
The most captivating image (admit it, you looked) was the elaborate costume of the guy pumping his bicep on the dais of the U.S. Senate. Jacob Anthony Angeli Chansley, also known as Jake Angeli, also known as the Yellowstone Wolf, is a former part-time actor from Phoenix who now describes himself as a “QAnon Shaman,” “a multi-dimensional or hyper-dimensional being,” a “digital soldier,” a spiritual and political consultant, an Energetic Healer, and a Seeker of Truth. Bare-chested, with red, white, and blue war paint on his face, he wore a horned bearskin headdress that was once ceremonial for the Plains Indians—and worn only by the most distinguished male warriors. His Twitter handle is AlphaMale @USAwolfpack. He held a six-foot spear from which hung a U.S. flag. His tattoos are Norse, now coopted by Germanic Heathenry, neo-Nazi groups, and White supremacists. One is Odin’s hammer, another Odin’s Volknut, a triple triangle that represents Odin’s power to bind the mind and is now also the logo of a Swedish paper manufacturer. A third tattoo is a Norse tree that endows warriors with ultimate power.
We all acknowledged that power by gawking at him, and I am perpetuating it now, but only to make a point: The goal here is personal attention as much as social change.
Read more by Jeannette Cooperman here.