A close look at the hate propaganda lately spewed against the “insurrectionists” by the New York Times, and “our free press” overall

From Dylan Harnett:

I think the most important part of “90 Seconds of Rage,” the long New York Times front-page article about the January 6th “insurrection,” is the phrase “medieval civil war” in this passage from the introductory section summarizing that day’s alleged events:

After Trump tweets it is time to go home: 4:27 p.m. With dusk approaching, violence erupts. The Trump-inspired rioters attack the police guarding the Capitol, using flagpoles, crutches — even chunks of wood — as they wage a medieval civil war.

That wild hyperbole hearkens back to the “deplorables” trope, casting the rioters as primitive/”medieval” beings, while “medieval” also reaffirms the image of Trump’s followers as dangerous “science deniers.” And, if Trumpism is a semi-religious cult, it follows that Trump supporters might want to subvert the separation of church and state, etc. Maybe the metaphor is supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek way of poking fun at the rioters’ grandiose self-image as patriotic rebels, but I don’t think that would be its primary connotation.

Later on, the imperial British of our early history are invoked to further smear the rioters by contrast: “Glass shattered, and a dark-clothed man climbed over the shards of a broken window and leapt down like a cat burglar to the polished floor. The moment, at about 2:13 in the afternoon, marked the first sustained breach of the Capitol since a fiery attack by the British in 1814 — only this time, the attackers were American. Other insurrectionists followed, including one wielding a bat and another holding a Confederate flag.” That quote is under the subheading “UPSIDE-DOWN REPUBLIC.”

Above all, of course, the Times has doubled down on the key misconception that most of the rioters were violent, when in fact, their conduct was mostly peaceful.

In any case, to read the words “medieval civil war” and NOT question the Times’ journalistic integrity demands blind loyalty to that newspaper. I can’t imagine that the authors of the article don’t know, or sense, that their readers feel that loyalty. It reminds me of this NYT article from February, the thesis of which is that the public cannot decide for themselves the difference between good information and mis/disinformation: “You often make a better decision with less information than you do with more”; “Critical thinking is deep attention…whenever you give your attention to a bad actor, you allow them to steal your attention from better treatments of the issue”; “Stop overthinking what you see online,” and so on.

Thus the Times tends to infantilize its readers—and maybe they enjoy being put in a submissive, unquestioning position. (I experienced something like this myself. I realized when I read that article about misinformation in February that I had previously taken comfort in the seeming authority of the Times.) I think a similar effect is achieved in the January 6 article by opening it with such a bang. The readers want to believe the pro-Trump protesters are like archetypal fanatical religious crusaders of the Middle Ages, without any overtones of righteous struggle. And the unabashed hyperbole/fantasy of the opening paragraphs can shock readers into accepting the rest of the article as gospel. It acts like a signal for readers to absorb the narrative without skepticism, like story-time before they get tucked in for the night.

Throughout “90 Seconds of Rage,” the Times’ scribes flex their rhetorical muscles with their hysterically inflammatory choice of words: 

  1. “4:27 p.m. With dusk approaching, violence erupts. The Trump-inspired rioters attack the police guarding the Capitol, using flagpoles, crutches — even chunks of wood — as they wage a medieval civil war. And blood spills on the marble steps.
  2. The American flag became a blunt instrument in the bearded man’s hands. Wielding the flagpole like an ax, he swung once, twice, three times, to beat a police officer being dragged down the steps of a United States Capitol under siege.
  3. “Other officers also fell under mob attack, while the rest fought to keep the hordes from storming the Capitol and upending the routine transfer of power. Sprayed chemicals choked the air, projectiles flew overhead and the unbridled roars formed a battle-cry din — all as a woman lay dying beneath the jostling scrum of the Jan. 6 riot.”
  4. “Amid the hand-to-hand combat, seven men from seven different states stood out … they worked as if in concert while grappling with the phalanx of police officers … The moment was a flicker in the chaotic panorama, a 90-second flash of unhinged violence overshadowed by the high drama inside, where rioters menaced in packs, legislators hid in fear and a protester was shot to death.”
  5. “But it may also help to slow down the video evidence, linger on those 90 seconds on the Capitol steps and trace back the roots of the violence and its perpetrators. Doing so provides a close-up view of how seemingly average citizens — duped by a political lie, goaded by their leaders and swept up in a frenzied throng — can unite in breathtaking acts of brutality.

It’s hard to imagine a more damning depiction of Trump’s “base” as Our Enemies in an apocalyptic war. It’s a crazy idea, but countless Times readers have accepted it as fact, especially as the same loony narrative has been reaffirmed all over TV news. Note also the entrancing rhythmic effect to the flashy formatting of the introductory section in the online version of this article. Even the title, “90 Seconds of Rage,” is theatrical/cinematic.  

Even in the midst of its deranged exaggerations, the Times plays therapist, loftily diagnosing the “deplorables” as victims of mental illness:

Amid the spasmodic violence, the unthinkable became routine: the throwing of poles like spears at the police, a vandal working unimpeded to smash a Capitol window. And at the archway’s edge, a woman sprawled on the ground, unconscious. This was Rosanne Boyland, 34, from Kennesaw, Ga., a passionate Trump supporter whose embrace of conspiracy theories had worried her family. It was as if these outlandish beliefs — including that top Democrats belonged to a global pedophile ring — had become a replacement addiction for Ms. Boyland, who had worked hard at sobriety after years of substance abuse.

 So much for the “insurrection” propaganda from the New York Times. Here’s how CNN, AP and other propaganda choristers have piled on, creating an all-pervasive fog of war around that minor (relative to actual coups and countless instances of vast bloodshed throughout history) fracas in the Capitol:

CNN has weighed in with this headline: “Trump is again upsetting the US system of checks and balances” (Analysis by Zachary B. Wolf). Wolf elaborates on that upset:

Democratic lawmakers are set with a Thursday vote to hold former President Donald Trump’s ex-adviser Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress because he won’t comply with a subpoena in their January 6 investigation. Trump is also ignoring Congress by asking the National Archives to squash congressional requests for documents related to the insurrection.

…The root is a lack of respect for Congress. The unwillingness of Trump aides like Dan Scavino and others who are just simpatico with Trump like Bannon is a problem for the fact-finding element of January 6 investigation. That they feel entitled to ignore congressional subpoenas is a much deeper problem — a glitch in the system of checks an balances.

And here’s some foreshadowing of frightening (to CNN’s audience) impacts of elections to come, from the same article:

That [Republicans] could allow, abet or accept the effort to overthrow the election should, you’d think, be disqualifying. But that’s not the way any of this works. We’re in a situation where history suggests a majority of Americans will vote in 2022 in favor of a political party that tried to undermine an election. While the voters wouldn’t specifically be voting for Trump in 2022, the end result of a Republican victory is that the House investigation would surely go away.

That’s the end of the article. Could the subliminal message to readers be that if the Republicans win the midterms, then the stage will be set for another “coup” in 2024? 

Here‘s CNN on the Capitol police officer, Michael A. Riley, who was arrested for obstruction of justice. In the days following January 6, Riley told one of the rioters, Jacob Hiles, to take down Facebook posts about being inside the Capitol building, in order to help Hiles avoid being charged with trespassing or even a felony. CNN makes a bit of a stink about Hiles’ hyperbolic, half-joking social media comment about “a revolution”:

Hiles, of Virginia, said on social media that he traveled to Washington, DC, while thinking about starting “a revolution,” according to investigators.

In selfies from January 6 found by the FBI on social media, Hiles wore a gaiter mask and ski goggles and a sweatshirt that said “F*ck Antifa.” He had also posted on his Facebook page, “Feelin cute … might start a revolution later,” tagging himself on Capitol Hill, according to documents supporting his arrest

… [Hiles] pleaded guilty to one federal charge, of parading or demonstrating inside the Capitol … He has agreed to pay $500 for damage to the Capitol and could face a maximum of six months in prison when he is sentenced in December.

More examples of how the media characterizes the Capitol rioters:

“Soldier with ‘Hitler mustache’ is first to be thrown out of military after Capitol riot charges”Soldier with ‘Hitler mustache’ is first to be thrown out of military after Capitol riot charges” (Washington Post) 

“This N***** Voted For Joe Biden”: Here’s What The Jan. 6 Capitol Insurrectionists Yelled At Police Officers (Buzzfeed) 

“US Capitol rioter who downplayed the attack is sentenced to three months in jail” (CNN). This one contains some apologetic and pathos-inducing statements from the Capitol protester, Robert Reeder, who says his family is ashamed to share his last name. It seems his sentence was lengthened due to his views. 

A federal judge on Friday sentenced one of the US Capitol rioters to three months in jail, saying that the punishment should be a warning to other defendants that they deserve incarceration if they deflect responsibility or downplay the attack.

“It has become evident to me in the riot cases that many of the defendants who are pleading guilty are not truly accepting responsibility,” District Judge Thomas Hogan said.

…His comments came during the sentencing for Robert Reeder, of Maryland, who pleaded guilty in June to unlawfully demonstrating inside the Capitol. Hogan sentenced Reeder to three months in jail, and ordered that Reeder pay $500 for damages to the Capitol complex.

Though defendants who have pleaded guilty are not required to apologize, it could persuade a judge to show leniency at sentencing. Prosecutors have already cited defiant comments from some rioters to argue that they deserve time behind bars, and this sentence could set a benchmark for judges as they deal with other low-level cases with defendants who have denied the severity of the insurrection.

… Though the plea deal prosecutors signed with Reeder gave the Justice Department the chance to charge Reeder for the assault, they declined to do so. Instead, prosecutors increased their recommended sentence to six months in jail, citing what they called a “rewrite of reality” in Reeder’s claims to the FBI that he was nonviolent at the riot, not a Trump supporter and believed he had permission to enter the Capitol.

In an emotional testimony, Reeder, at times crying, described losing his family, his job and his church community after January 6.

“I am embarrassed. I am in shame,” Reeder said. “The hurt that I have caused to other people, not just to myself … has left a permanent stain on me, society, the country, and I don’t want to be ever remembered for being part of that crowd. I accept full responsibility for being there. I want you to know that it was not only a mistake, but the biggest mistake of my life. I wish I had a chance to take it back and redeem myself.”

AP calls the Capitol riot “deadly”:

The House committee tasked with investigating the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol has been ramping up its efforts in recent weeks, issuing subpoenas to nearly 20 individuals, including four of former President Donald Trump’s advisers and associates.

AP calls it an “insurrection,” while implying that the suspicion of Trump’s criminality in this case is more justified than the claims about Trump were during Russiagate:

Unlike some previous investigations in the Trump era — including the Russia probes and the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s interactions with Ukraine — the central facts of the Jan. 6 insurrection are known. A group of Trump supporters, fueled by his false claims of a stolen election, brutally assaulted police and smashed their way into the Capitol to interrupt the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

“One of the darkest days in American history,” according to the Daily Beast

For those eager to revisit one of the darkest days in American history, Four Hours at the Capitol provides a first-hand account of the insurrection carried out by then-President Donald Trump’s delusional acolytes on Jan. 6, 2021.

This story about a Capitol police officer who killed himself and the other stories like it could get more coverage, since it allows the media to claim that the actions of the rioters led to deaths outside their own circle of Trumpists. The part from the officer’s widow is a real tearjerker:

Erin Smith told NBC’s “Weekend Nightly News” in an interview set to air Sunday that Jeffrey Smith, a 12-year veteran officer, changed after the “traumatic situation” at the Capitol.

“He got more distant. He got angry. He was very short tempered. And he was not himself,” Erin Smith said, according to a transcript of the interview shared with Insider.

She told NBC News’ Leigh Ann Caldwell that the behavior was “very out of character” for Jeffrey Smith, who she described as a “fun guy” who “was always dancing around the house, making jokes, kind of an uplifting person that would keep you smiling and laughing.”

If it wasn’t for January 6, he would still be here,” Erin Smith said.

Mr. Smith is said to have suffered a bad head injury that led to his suicide. I guess that’s plausible. But there’s still something odd about four alleged suicides from cops who guarded the Capitol that day. The media could spin it that domestic terrorism is a mental health issue for the entire nation… or, a pandemic of anti-fascist frustration.

Another inadequately explained coincidence is this story about the “random” assignment of U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkin to Trump’s lawsuit to evade the subpoenas ordered by the House select committee on January 6. Chutkin has not tried to hide her bias surrounding the riot. It’s as though the punishment for the crime is determined by whatever language one can conjure up to describe that crime:

Chutkan has previously handed down harsh sentences to Capitol-riot defendants.

… In a separate court case earlier this month, Chutkan described the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol in January as a “violent mob seeking to overthrow the lawfully elected government.” She added that the crowd posed a “very real danger” to democracy, CNN reported.

The comments came during her sentencing of Matthew Mazzocco, who pleaded guilty to illegally demonstrating in the Capitol. Chutkan sentenced Mazzocco to 45 days in jail, marking the first time a Capitol-riot participant had been sent to jail without prosecutors asking. The prosecution had asked for home confinement. But, The Washington Post reported, Chutkan said, “There have to be consequences for participating in an attempted violent overthrow of the government, beyond sitting at home.”

CNN is still insinuating that the Capitol rioters somehow killed Brian Sicknick: 

More than nine months after the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, which left more than 140 law enforcement officers injured and resulted in the death of US Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, the newly obtained email provides additional evidence that law enforcement dramatically misread the situation in the critical days before the riot.

The headline of that article, “DC police warned other agencies before January 6 rally that attendees were urged to ‘come armed,’ according to new document” is likewise supposed to sound scary. It also conforms to the pattern by which the media reports facts that might lead a more objective mind to suspect that the January 6 “insurrection” could have been staged (because why would security be unprepared if the FBI had foreknowledge of the event?) But the media is able to use those facts to play up their emotional appeals, like that the insurrection was so bad, our best men had no chance stopping it.  

But, there’s also some real substance in this article and others like them. I guess it’s easy to play up the threat of violence. 

While it’s impossible to know precisely how many firearms were taken to the Capitol on January 6, it’s already clear from court documents that at least some of the people present were carrying guns that day. And as the police officers who testified before Congress this summer made clear, rioters also used numerous other objects as weapons, such as knives and bats.

Speaking of the media’s tendency to twist otherwise suspicious facts to their advantage, here’s another example, from Yahoo News, of that sort of “coincidence theory” thinking, as it pertains to January 6. 

One of the narratives accompanying the invasion of the Capitol on January 6 was that the police didn’t do much to stop it. Mobile phone footage showed officers calmly talking to the protesters. The insurrectionists encountered little resistance as they stormed the building. The police’s fatal shooting of Ashli Babbitt appeared to be their first decisive act.

Four Hours at the Capitol (BBC Two) showed just how false that narrative was, through the testimonies of officers who were there and from video taken at the scene. We had seen only a fraction of this on the news reports at the time, and in viral social media posts. The police, it was plain from this gripping, vivid documentary, were vastly outnumbered and afraid for their lives.

Jamie Roberts’s film made clear that this was a war zone, and it took us right into the heart of the battle. In a tunnel-like entrance on the lower west terrace, 40-50 officers fought to hold back a crowd of thousands. “It looked like some medieval battle scene,” said officer Mike Fanone, who had turned up as part of the reinforcements. He was grabbed by the mob, beaten and tased, and was lucky to survive.

But why weren’t enough officers brought to the scene for a riot that the intelligence agencies knew was going to take place on the Capitol?

More of the coincidence theory from Buzzfeed:

A pair of US Capitol surveillance videos disclosed last week by prosecutors offer a new perspective into how a mob overwhelmed police officers and repeatedly breached a main access point to the building during the Jan. 6 riots.

The footage shows a small team of US Capitol Police officers vastly outnumbered by the crush of people trying to get in. There are at most five officers in the frame at any given moment; hundreds of people flow through that entry point on the Upper West Terrace of the Capitol over the span of roughly 13 minutes.

A Senate report released over the summer described widespread “intelligence and security failures” that left police officers on the ground unprepared for the surge of thousands of supporters of then-president Donald Trump who descended on the Capitol. In the new videos, the officers who initially try to contain the Upper West Terrace breach aren’t wearing helmets or other special protective equipment, and there doesn’t appear to be a coordinated plan for how to secure the doors. There’s no officer stationed at the exterior doors at first; the officers are seen responding to rioters who are already inside the building and encouraging them to leave, and the departing rioters make the initial breach possible when they open the doors to go out.

The US attorney’s office has opposed releasing surveillance footage from the Capitol in several Jan. 6 prosecutions, arguing on behalf of the US Capitol Police that revealing the vantage points of cameras inside the building creates a security risk; a judge in another case recently sided against the government and ordered disclosure. Prosecutors initially fought allowing the videos in Nordean’s case to become public but filed a notice in court on Oct. 8 that they were dropping that position. (A media coalition that includes BuzzFeed News had petitioned the court to make the footage public, but that became moot once the government no longer opposed it.)

CNN, “What Liz Cheney just said about January 6 is *really* important,” and some mental gymnastics perhaps suggesting that Trump planning a rally is a crime, and perhaps even “language” is a crime: 

At a meeting of the House select committee investigating the January 6 riot at the US Capitol, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican and vice chair of the committee, said something very, very important about both Donald Trump and his former political svengali Steve Bannon.

Here it is:

“Based on the committee’s investigation, it appears that Mr. Bannon had substantial advance knowledge of the plans for January 6 and likely had an important role in formulating those plans. Mr. Bannon was in the war room at the Willard on January 6. He also appears to have detailed knowledge regarding the president’s efforts to sell millions of Americans the fraud that the election was stolen … Mr. Bannon’s and Mr. Trump’s privilege arguments do however appear to reveal one thing: They suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6. And this committee will get to the bottom of that.

Which, well, whoa!

What Cheney is saying is that the actions of late taken by Bannon and Trump — both have cited executive privilege for their refusal to cooperate with the committee’s requests for information — are, in and of themselves, suggestions that both men did things in the run-up to the riot at the US Capitol (and on the day of the insurrection) they are trying to hide.

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chairs the committee, said this on Wednesday afternoon:

I think ‘plan’ is relative. There’s no question [Trump] tweeted about it in the very beginning. The majority of the people in this country didn’t know what January 6 was all about when he did it. He created the narrative up to the point. Planned the rally — and obviously he said, you need to go to the Hill and let people know you don’t like what’s going on.”

And Cheney also said this Wednesday before the House Rules Committee:

“It’s critically important for us to recognize and understand how the language that the (former) President, President Trump continues to use to this day, sparked what we saw happen on the sixth. There’s a much larger story that we need to understand about exactly what the plans were for that day they went so far beyond the President’s legitimate right to challenge the results of the election through our court system.” 

Here is more detail within CNN’s portrayal in that article of alleged Trump-Bannon planning. The idea that Bannon admitted to plotting the “insurrection” seems to me a misrepresentation of what Bannon actually said, which was to “expose” Biden (or the Powers that Be, or whatever). 

As for Bannon, he was knee-deep in January 6. As authors Bob Woodward and Robert Costa recount in their book “Peril“:

“Bannon told Trump to focus on January 6. That was the moment for a reckoning.

“‘People are going to go ‘What the [expletive] is going on here?’ Bannon believed. ‘We’re going to bury Biden on January 6th, [expletive] bury him.’

And in the wake of the January 6 insurrection, Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, invoked Bannon in trying to understand the origins of that day. “It was a planned revolution,” Woodward and Costa wrote. “Steve Bannon’s vision coming to life. Bring it all down, blow it up, burn it, and emerge with power.”

Bannon, speaking on his “War Room” podcast in late September, confirmed that had huddled with Trump to plot a way to fundamentally undermine the Biden presidency on January 6 and even sort-of declared victory.

“It killed itself,” Bannon said of the Biden presidency, according to an account in Newsweek. “Just look at what this illegitimate regime is doing. It killed itself. OK? But we told you from the very beginning, just expose it, just expose it, never back down, never give up and this thing will implode.”

Below is a very tentative theory of why the media has been focusing so much on January 6 lately.

But first— my friend Evan Dominguez offers a different (and, I think, better) explanation: news reports on January 6 are like the Two Minutes Hate ritual from George Orwell’s 1984. By scapegoating a convenient political enemy and expressing hatred of that enemy, participants in the ritual both cleanse themselves of frustration they no longer want to feel, and benefit from a newfound sense of righteousness. “Liberals” are distracted from their own Establishment’s authoritarian tendencies, violence, infringements on press freedoms, and general erosion of civil liberties when the blame is shifted toward those purported far-right enemies of democracy — the ones who exercised their 1st Amendment right to protest on January 6, 2020.

And now for my own tentative thoughts: The media may be doubling down on the “coup” because there is too much populist sentiment surrounding Trump, and They could be concerned about the consequences of the potential growth of that sentiment in a second Trump term, even while knowing that Trump is a fraud.

Biden’s alleged approval rating is about the same as Trump’s when he allegedly lost in 2020. It’s also lower than Bush’s when he “won” in 2004 and H.W. Bush’s at the start of the 1992 election year. The average approval rating during Carter and Ford’s terms are higher than Biden’s current 43.7%. One recent poll has Biden at 37%, which is almost as low as LBJ’s approval rating when he did not seek the nomination in 1968. Biden’s approval has been declining fairly consistently since late July (and arguably even earlier). If those polls mean anything, they suggest the likelihood of a loss for Biden in 2024.  

They, the powers that be, could be concerned that Biden will lose by so much that They won’t be able to make up the difference through fraudulent means. And that concern is compounded by the fact that the Bernie wing of the Democratic Party is not likely to become more supportive of Biden, unless motivated by the fear of Trump. Maybe They need to start the 2024 election season by Christmas 2021 in order to mount a successful media drive against Trump and any Republican candidate who can be seen as sympathetic to Trump. The best way to do that is to polish the most frightening aspects of the narrative that Trump incited an insurrection, and the conspiracy theory that Trump will try to steal 2024. It’s a new and improved RussiaGate.

Here’s an example from Robert Kagan’s opinion piece in the Washington Post of the mass media’s conspiracy theory about Trump wanting to steal 2024: 

The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves.

The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial. But about these things there should be no doubt:

First, Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for president in 2024. The hope and expectation that he would fade in visibility and influence have been delusional. He enjoys mammoth leads in the polls; he is building a massive campaign war chest; and at this moment the Democratic ticket looks vulnerable. Barring health problems, he is running.

Second, Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary. Trump’s charges of fraud in the 2020 election are now primarily aimed at establishing the predicate to challenge future election results that do not go his way. Some Republican candidates have already begun preparing to declare fraud in 2022, just as Larry Elder tried meekly to do in the California recall contest.

If they can make it increasingly taboo to question the deadly seriousness of January 6, then they can also take advantage of the reaction to that false narrative. I think this Paul Waldman opinion piece in Washington Post is representative of the media’s approach with these ideologically pivotal narratives. That approach is to equate debate about reality with the fundamental estrangement from reality, and ultimately to assert that diverging opinions are disingenuous at their core:

Going by the name Truth Social, the new Trump platform is billed as a way for him (and all of us) to “stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech,” most especially Twitter and Facebook, which have banned him for repeatedly violating their terms of service

… This is just the latest of many recent attempts to create a Trumpist Twitter, all supposedly devoted to free speech. There was Gab, then Parler, then Gettr — none of which exactly set the world on fire — and now Truth Social.

The problem the first two encountered, and this one will as well, is that a safe space where they can converse free of engagement with liberals isn’t just not what devoted Trumpists want. It’s the opposite of what they want.

As a political style, Trumpism isn’t about avoiding the libs, it’s about triggering the libs, owning the libs, enraging the libs. If you’re a liberal, have you ever found your blood boiling because of something someone said on Parler? Of course not, because you’ve never even heard about anything anyone said on Parler. It might as well be a social media platform on Mars.

Not only is the defense of free speech supposedly put on (by “Trumpists”) for show, but even the idea that conservatives and independents have speech is doubtful, according to this. They’re only there to serve as foils for “liberals.” It’s like they don’t even exist.

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