Imagine a fictional 2012 America. Barack Obama is running for his second term against Donald Trump, who many people feel is a mentally unstable white supremacist wannabe dictator. At every campaign rally, Obama says that he’s hearing that Republicans are going to cheat and steal the election. On election night, Obama thankfully appears to be well ahead of Trump, but by morning, Trump is suddenly leading Obama and wins. Obama does not concede. Instead, he says that there were significant voting irregularities and even tampering with voting machines, and without those, he would have won by a landslide, as it looked like he would on election night.
Fox News and Alex Jones assure everyone that the election was perfectly fair and nothing underhanded happened, but the news outlets that you go to for information repeat Obama’s claims of an election that was very questionable and may in fact have been stolen. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer say that the election raised serious questions that need to be looked into. Your friends say the same, and send you videos and articles that they say show clear evidence of ballots being changed, batches of Obama votes being thrown out, batches of Trump votes being brought out from under tables, vote counters keeping observers at a remote distance, and voting machines being reprogrammed. Some states hold recounts at Obama’s request, but Obama raises questions about how the votes were recounted and who did the counting.
Despite the videos and the constant questions that you’re hearing on the news, from politicians, from your friends, and from the President whom you’ve trusted for four years, things keep moving forward to inaugurate Donald Trump. You fear the totalitarian government that Obama has repeatedly said that Trump will impose. Obama announces, with affirmation from some Democratic Senators and Representatives, that there is one chance to save America from a Trump Presidency: during an obscure ceremony that has normally barely been noticed, the Vice President can call into question the vote counts from some states, and if he does so, it will allow for the possibility of Obama rightfully serving a second term.
Obama posts on social media and sends out emails encouraging Americans who want to see him remain President to come to Washington DC for a “Save America” rally on the day of that ceremony, to encourage the Vice President to “do the right thing.” Obama says that it’s going to be a wild time. You care about your country. You believe that America’s democracy is about to be stolen, and you want to protect your country from the fascist regime that you are certain will come if Trump becomes President. You buy a plane ticket, book a hotel room, and attend the rally. You hear Obama, less than 75 feet away from you, say that the future of the country is at stake, that you have to fight to save it or you won’t have a country left, that Republicans have done unprecedentedly criminal things to thwart his legitimate and rightful election. He ends the emotional rally encouraging you and the rest of the crowd to march on the Capitol.
What would your mental state have been at that point? Having started marching from the “Save America” rally, would you believe that you were headed to the Capitol to save your country? Might you see it as your patriotic duty to take action to prevent a Trump Presidency? If people around you at the Capitol became unruly, would you leave immediately, or might you possibly start thinking of the founding of America that you had learned about in school, and see this moment on the Capitol steps as a time that you need to be a patriotic hero for your country in a battle just as important as that waged by people 250 years ago who fought for our nation’s independence? How far would you be justified in going against a government that was ignoring your concerns about democracy and was instead bulldozing forward installing an illegitimately elected fascist?
To be certain, there were opportunistic neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the crowd on January 6, 2021, just as there are often violent antifa and anarchist elements among protests of the left. But it is doubtful that they were anything more than a small minority among the rioters. Most of the Capitol crowd saw themselves and the situation through the lens of standing patriotically against an election stolen by people who want to see America become another China. Yes, this was completely divorced from reality, but it was what they believed. California State Assemblyman Randy Voepel said of the riots “This is Lexington and Concord. First shots fired against tyranny. Tyranny will follow in the aftermath of the Biden swear in on January 20th.” One rioter going through the halls of the Capitol shouted “This is 1776!”
This is in no way to justify their actions, but merely to explain them. The people who stormed America’s Capitol on January 6 have been called terrorists, insurgents, insurrectionists, seditionists, rioters, a mob attempting a coup. From the world of objective, factual reality, all of those are accurate and appropriate descriptions of their actions. The rioters who broke into the Capitol Building are now being arrested, and many will likely face years in prison, as they should. They are America’s Taliban. The ones who planted bombs and plotted kidnappings are America’s al-Qaeda. They are a threat to America and deserve long prison sentences.
But it is too simplistic to just dismiss them as nut jobs and walk away. It is important – not to them, but to the rest of us – that we recognize that the source of their terroristic act was the delusion that they were defending the U.S. Constitution from a coup via a fraudulent election. That belief is very real to them, and to many others who were not at the Capitol. That belief persists, and will last long past the Inauguration of Joe Biden. It is dangerous to allow that belief to simply be smothered without being addressed. Among Republicans, 35% blame Joe Biden for the events of January 6 – a leap of logic that would not even have occurred to most Americans – and the majority of Republicans would like to see Trump able to run for President again.
The most unifying thing that Biden can do for our country is to have a thorough investigation of all the election fraud allegations, conducted by a team of investigators from the reality-based community working together with a team of investigators chosen by Trump supporters and Q-Anon believers who Trump supporters see as legitimate. The purpose of the investigation would be to uncover the truth, a thorough report on which would begin to help Trump supporters see that they were lied to about election fraud. The truth is almost certainly that America had a legitimate election with about as many irregularities as we have in every election, and no grand scheme to change votes, manufacture votes, or destroy votes. However, the people who most need to be convinced of that currently believe something very sinister. It is vital to America’s future that we whittle away at the cult of Trump, and such an investigation would be an excellent first step.
– rob rünt