In the weeks leading up to January 5, about 100 people in Naples, FL planned a trip to D.C. for a pro-Trump rally. That morning, they departed from a high-end grocery store owned by conservative firebrand, Alfie Oakes, who funded the trip and posted, “off to show love and support for our great President!”
By the time they returned on Thursday, the world had witnessed domestic terrorism at our Capitol. Let’s assume best intent and not paint all the participants with the same anarchist brush. One would expect that those who just went to show “love and support” would immediately condemn the violence. Right?
Oakes described the trip as “amazing… being surrounded by great Americans.” Others on the trip were “surprised that law enforcement would harass peaceful protestors.” These people weren’t wearing pointy white hoods in crazy town – although several sported MAGA Civil War January 6, 2021 t-shirts which kind of blows the whole peace and love thing. No, these were ordinary citizens who were angry.
Given the bifurcation that is our country right now, I suspect that the only thing we all share is anger.
I’m angry, too. I’m angry that the police officers on duty that day were outnumbered because their leaders didn’t prepare for an angry, white crowd the same way they have for angry, black crowds. I’m angry that former military and off-duty police and firefighters were among the crowd that day. People who should be revered for their commitment to serve and protect joined the criminal insurrection and engaged in violence against their brothers and sisters in uniform – costing one of their own his life.
I’m angry that a 14-year Air Force veteran joined the mob as a loud and proud member of QAnon – the far-right, unfounded conspiracy theory that Trump is battling a secret war against Satan-worshipping Democratic pedophiles. The day before she died, she tweeted, “Nothing will stop us…. they can try and try and try but the storm is here and it is descending upon DC in less than 24 hours….dark to light.”
I’m angry at what we continue to learn about the people and the planning behind this “peaceful rally.” Some made pipe bombs and stocked up on zip ties (presumably for hostages). Someone erected a gallows and noose on the Hill. Reportedly, members of Congress gave group tours to help rioters find their way around when they stormed it the next day.
A legislator from West Virginia, an Olympic medalist from Colorado, a consultant from Florida, a tattoo artist from Illinois, a florist from Texas, a CEO from New Jersey, and the son of a Brooklyn Judge have all been arrested for their criminal participation. And let us not forget the pipe-fitter/welder Robert Keith Packer from Newport News, VA who packed weapons and his favorite “Camp Auschwitz” hoodie for the event.
What happened at the Capitol isn’t the result of some fringe group living in an extremist compound in the woods somewhere.
What is most striking is not only how casually people accept these displays of extremism or how easily they can rationalize them as “anarchists on both sides,” but how an untold number of Americans openly perpetuate conspiracy theories, bigotry, violent threats, criminal activity, and the breakdown of democracy as if cheering on their favorite football team. What happened at the Capitol isn’t the result of some fringe group living in an extremist compound in the woods somewhere. They police our streets, teach our children, own businesses in our communities, and live next door. And, because of overwhelming online chatter that “this is just the beginning,” some are out there planning the next bad thing right now.
I’ve shared brain science behind why Facts Don’t Win Arguments and why Fake News Fools the Best of Us. But, no matter who you voted for, it’s not hard to figure out how we got here. Even as thousands of people were engaged in domestic terrorism, Trump’s message to them was “to go home” only before telling them, “We love you. You’re very special.”
As radical views escalate without consequence, we become inured, and the bar for accepting the unacceptable clicks south a notch – while the extremists become increasingly more emboldened.
And then there is that tiny, 3-letter word: but.
“I wept when I saw what happened that day, but what about the BLM riots?”
“What happened is terrible, but they didn’t set cars on fire and loot businesses. ”
“I don’t agree with what they did, but I understand why they did it.”
That little word BUT minimizes everything that comes before it and emphasizes everything that comes after it. The second part is the main point they want us to focus on.
This is no longer about political ideology. We are at an inflection point that will define the character of each of us – whether we have the courage to stand up and speak out against evil even when we feel like we simply cannot have one more hard conversation.
I get it. I’m tired, too. Like many people, I’ve worked hard to listen better. Seek to understand, not persuade. Make the other person feel heard. Find common ground. But what happens when we don’t WANT to listen anymore? What happens when we’re so tired of the hostility that it’s just easier to avoid it altogether?
We’ve all silently debated about whether to speak up or stay silent with political controversy – when someone rationalizes bad behavior, spreads conspiracy theories, or perpetuates claims that have absolutely no factual basis. No doubt the retired fireman from Pennsylvania who assaulted 3 officers with a fire extinguisher shared his outrage before the rally. I’m sure the Cleveland teacher didn’t keep quiet about her QAnon mission to expose the governmental cabal of pedophiliacs who are abducting, torturing, and cannibalizing children. Surely, all those people chanting “hang Mike Pence” said something to someone about their feelings.
I wonder how many people spoke up.
We all have the right to remain silent. While silence will definitely side-step controversy, it is also tacit approval. The literal definition of the word tacit is “without words or speech; implied but not actually expressed.” Intended or not, tacit approval communicates the status quo is not only acceptable, but that it will be allowed to continue. In today’s world of bad behavior, non-stop noise and an avalanche of disinformation, silence may be the most toxic strategy to healing this broken world.
Those of us in the 360° Nation, HumansFirst, and Bringing Humanity Together circles have talked a lot about having the hard conversations for the right reasons. As my friend, Dennis Pitocco so eloquently wrote recently, “Right now, it feels like a moment in history where choices made will have a ripple effect for generations to come. Whether you’re a partner, friend, parent, leader, teacher, politician, or a combination thereof, we are called to show up and do more good to help fuel a better version of the world we live in.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” He also said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.”
You have the right to remain silent. But will you?