"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" is the much-quoted title of a song by long-ago radical poet rapper Gil Scott-Heron. As it turns out, revolutions do indeed take place inside people's souls, as Scott-Heron suggested. But in the Internet age, they're shared on social media. Too quickly, some might say.
Last week's attack on the U.S. Capitol was as much a creature of the Internet as it was a result of three decades of festering inequality and the country's longstanding tradition of anti-government sentiment and racism.
Before Amazon deleted the alt-right Facebook alternative Parler from its servers, the online magazine Gizmodo was able to map out the locations of some 70,000 GPS coordinates linked to specific Parler videos. All it took was one computer hacker and what Wired cybersecurity reporter Andy Greenberg on Tuesday dubbed an “absurdly basic bug.”
On Tuesday, Gizmodo identified 618 Parler videos linked to the Capitol attack, which federal prosecutors now contend involved a plot “to capture and assassinate elected officials.” What's more alarming is that GPS located many of these Parler users near military or police installations. One Parler video was filmed from inside a Portland police cruiser.
In other words, these people are trained. At least some of them.
In a startling report, shown below, researcher John Scott-Railton from the University of Toronto described how he and others are crowd-sourcing facial recognition for rioters at the Capitol. Scott-Railton had worked with New Yorker journalist Ronan Farrow on identifying one of the rioters as retired Air Force pilot. Later, Matthew Silverman of The New Republic slammed both for co-operating with authorities, questioning whether this kind of teamwork could lead to an erosion of civil liberties.
While Scott-Railton declined to comment, and Silverman's take seemed to embody the self-destructive insularity of the Left (do you know who your enemies are?) the question posed in the article was germane: Why isn't the government doing this? Across the country, amateur investigators are using the Internet to track the radical right.
When it came to assessing threats on Parler, why was a tech magazine doing this and not the federal government? And if government security folks were doing it, why was the U.S. so unprepared for the attack on the U.S. Capitol?
Apart from lingering questions about Trump's motivation, it may be that everyone--even security people-have become desensitized to the frat boy obscenities and threats of violence on the Internet.
But there's more. The self-styled patriots of the alt right have adopted the tactics of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, according to the Center for International and Strategic Studies, a respected non-partisan Washington, D.C. think tank.
There are three broad types of right-wing terrorist individuals and networks in the United States: white supremacists, anti-government extremists, and incels. There are numerous differences between (and even within) these types, over ideology, capabilities, tactics, and level of threat. Adherents also tend to blend elements from each category. But there are some commonalities.
First, terrorists in all of these categories operate under a decentralized model. The threats from these networks come from individuals, not groups. For example, anti-government activist and white supremacist Louis Beam advocated for an organizational structure that he termed “leaderless resistance” to target the U.S. government.
Second, these networks operate and organize to a great extent online, challenging law enforcement efforts to identify potential attackers. Right-wing terrorists have used various combinations of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Gab, Reddit, 4Chan, 8kun (formerly 8Chan), Endchan, Telegram, Vkontakte, MeWe, Discord, Wire, Twitch, and other online communication platforms. Internet and social media sites continue to host right-wing extremist ideas such as the Fourteen Words (also referred to as the 14 or 14/88) coined by white supremacist David Lane, a founding member of the group the Order. The Fourteen Words includes variations like: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” Far-right perpetrators also use computer games and forums to recruit.
Third, right-wing extremists have adopted some foreign terrorist organization tactics, though al-Qaeda and other groups have also adopted tactics developed by right-wing movements. In a June 2019 online post, a member of the Atomwaffen Division (AWD) stated, “the culture of martyrdom and insurgency within groups like the Taliban and ISIS is something to admire and reproduce in the neo-Nazi terror movement.”
The sheer number of Americans attracted to the right-wing extremism popularized by Trump is part of the problem. After four years of an administration that, according to its own counter-terrorism experts, chose to ignore right-wing extremism, the movement of self-described “patriots” has grown to startling proportions. The Washington Post reported on surveys showing that 18 million Trump supporters strongly approve of what the mob did. Twenty-four million see those in the mob as representing "people like them.”
It's difficult to know how many of these sympathizers would be willing to take up arms--and how many are trained to use them.
Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt, shot by police, was only one of the ex-service members who came to the U.S. Capitol to "save the country."
For so many Americans, the wages of globalization have been fear. ProPublica ran a story that's all too familiar. Kevin Greeson was a union member who worked at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company plant in Decatur, Alabama. A lifelong Democrat, Greeson came to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009.
Ten years later, a South Korean company had taken over the Goodyear plant. Greeson no longer worked there, and his media habits had switched from CNN to Fox, and then to Newsmax. Believing that the election had been stolen from Donald Trump, he joined the rioters at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. It was erroneously reported that he had Tased himself, but according to his wife, he had high blood pressure, and in the midst of the chaos, he had a heart attack.
Kevin Greeson became one of the fatalities of a Shakespearean tragedy: intelligence failures, political failures, moral failures. For a country obsessed with success, often to the exclusion of any other value, the attack on the Capitol exposed a chain of failure that lands squarely at the doorstep of that cultural excess.
In Washington, D.C., those failures were compounded by what's called "split jurisdiction." Washington has a unique situation when it comes to law enforcement: 33 police agencies carve the place up into duchies that can be determined by whether you’re on the sidewalk or standing in the street. When jurisdiction is split among agencies, the situation is ripe for problems.
In this case, it placed the decision of calling out the National Guard in Donald Trump's lap. In any state, it would have been a governor who made the call. Declaring the District of Columbia the 51st state is the obvious way to head off similar problems in the future.
Even if the intelligence community is adequately surveilling right-wing extremists, which they have the capacity to do, there was clearly an intelligence failure. The FBI's Virginia field office reportedly notified headquarters of a threat, but tk Sund of the Capitol police told The Washington Post that he never received the heads up. There were failures all the way down the line, according to reports that have been coming out since the attack.
To a certain extent, the Jan. 6 debacle was an overreaction to Trump’s much-criticized show of force last summer, when demonstrators flocked to Washington, D.C. to protest the killing of George Floyd. In addition to ordering the National Guard to tear gas demonstrators and clear them from Lafayette Square, near the White House, Trump ordered the 82nd Airborne to be standing ready for deployment, sparking fears of a coup. In true Trumpian fashion, he settled for a photo op.
On Jan. 5, as the nation’s capital prepared for the right-wing demonstrators, National Public Radio reported that Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department would be the lead agency and coordinate with the Capitol Police, the U.S. Park Police and the U.S. Secret Service. Bowser clearly wanted to avoid a repeat of last summer's disproportionate brutality against demonstrators.
"To be clear, the District of Columbia is not requesting other federal law enforcement personnel and discourages any additional deployment without immediate notification to, and consultation with, MPD (Metropolitan Police Department) if such plans are underway," Bowser wrote in a letter to the Justice Department.
According to NPR, Bowser requested, and received, a limited force from the D.C. National Guard. They numbered 340, though they were unarmed and their job was to help with traffic flow — not law enforcement — which was to be handled by D.C. police.
The Capitol police have had a checkered history, marked by racial discrimination lawsuits and allegations of just plain inefficiency. ProPublica recently reported that Capitol Police officers accidentally left several guns in bathrooms throughout the building in 2015 and 2019; in one instance, the loaded firearm was discovered by a small child.
And more recently, Jacob Chansley, the “QAnon shaman” was on the Capitol grounds wearing his now-famous Viking costume carrying a spear. When demonstrators—the progressive kind—reported that a man was violating the Capitol's ban on weapons, officers said they didn’t “perceive it as a weapon.”
Whatever the culture of the Capitol police ranks, Chief Steven Sund appears to have done his job. In an interview with the Washington Post, Sund said that his pleas for backup were ignored six times by the Sergeants at Arms of the House and the Senate: Paul Irving and Michael C. Stenger, respectively.
This was the timeline:
12:40 p.m. Protesters arrive
1:09 p.m. Sund said he called Irving and Stenger, telling them it was time to call in the Guard. He wanted an emergency declaration. Both men said they would “run it up the chain” and get back to him, he said.
2 p.m. Rioters entered the Capitol.
2:36 p.m. Sund joined conference call with Pentagon “pleading” for backup.
Here is a rendering of that call, as reported by The Washington Post:
“I am making an urgent, urgent immediate request for National Guard assistance,” Sund recalled saying. “I have got to get boots on the ground.”
On the call were several officials from the D.C. government, as well as officials from the Pentagon, including Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, director of the Army Staff. The D.C. contingent was flabbergasted to hear Piatt say that he could not recommend that his boss, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, approve the request.
“I don’t like the visual of the National Guard standing a police line with the Capitol in the background,” Piatt said, according to Sund and others on the call.
3:04 p.m. National Guard approved. It takes two hours for them to deploy.
5:40 p.m. National Guard arrives. By then, four people were dead.
It was all about the optics. And, perhaps unconsciously, the bias in favor of right-wing, conservative demonstrators. Studies have shown that left-wing politics play as significant a role as race in decisions by law enforcement to crack down on demonstrators.
By Jan. 8, Sund had resigned, along with both Irving and Stenger. (President-elect Biden had made it clear that they would be fired when he took office.)
It was an ignominious end for Sund, who had worked for 23 years on the D.C. police force, leaving as commander of the Special Operations Division. Widely respected, he had helped to run 12 national security events, including Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration.
Sund blamed Trump for putting his officers at risk, adding that he fears what may come next. “This is the people’s house. Congress members have always prided themselves on having an open campus,” Sund told the Washington Post. But now, “I’m not sure that will continue to be defensible.”
With 25,000 National Guard troops massed around the Capitol, and roadblocks cordoning off the area around the inauguration into green zones and red zones reminiscent of Iraq, security forces are determined that they won't be fooled again.
At a press conference this week, FBI spokesmen announced that they are amassing 170 case files, and that more than 70 people are facing charges. These numbers were expected to grow into the hundreds “in the days to come,” a spokesman said, adding that this would provide a significant deterrent.
That’s all very well, but the inauguration is just days away. A rehearsal originally slated for Sunday has been canceled because of security concerns. So has an Amtrak trip that Joe Biden was scheduled to take, a return to the rails where the glad-handing pol was known to treat train porters as if they were his friends—and ultimately they were.
There couldn’t be a starker contrast to the recent story that Jared and Ivanka refused to let Secret Service agents guarding them use one of the six bathrooms in their mansion. The missed train trip--Joe Biden's triumphant last ride after so many setbacks, may be one of the saddest footnotes to a tragic event.
In the end, Biden's most monumental task--of the many challenges he faces--will be to make concrete shifts in the U.S. economy that address the anger of people who feel disenfranchised by the new realities of the globalism and technology. And that's a hell of a job.
From the editors of Journal of the Plague Year.