Call of Duty: Capitol insurgents playing the role of heroic avengers who kill without consequence

Jan 24, 2021

Donald Trump and the Republican Party alone have the capacity to restore stability to the United States. They have to acknowledge that the game is over, and their claim that the election was “stolen” was a big lie.

When the insurgents began their march towards the Washington Capitol on Epiphany Day, many of them armed, with painted faces, horns, buffalo skins and various costumes, Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter, sent a tweet. “American patriots!” she said. Soon after she deleted it. But she shouldn’t have. According to the rules of the game that the First Daughter and her father had made up, she had not been wrong.

From the invaders’ point of view, they were acting correctly and consistently, and yes, they were patriots. They were convinced that through a gigantic conspiracy, the Radical Left had stolen victory from their idol, their guru, their god and electoral candidate, President Donald Trump.

He had said it over and over again in his sermons: he had won the election legitimately, and not by a narrow margin but by a landslide. He himself had urged them to fight in defence of democracy and the Constitution. And, true to their obligation as citizens, they had responded. They were at the forefront of most Republican voters who, according to polls, believed the leader.

But I don’t know if Trump would have been so brave. I don’t know if he would have joined the chorus of “Hang Mike Pence!” that rumbled through the Congress building. But I understand his followers’ point of view.

Pence, the Vice President, had betrayed his boss. He had announced that he was not going to obey Trump, that he was not going to reject the official electoral result. Effectively, he was joining the conspiracy of the Radical Left. And what is to be done with traitors to the homeland? Well, you know that…

Now, three days before the inauguration of Joseph Biden, the FBI is in the process of arresting hundreds of the President’s faithful, many of them identified by the selfies they gleefully took inside the corridors, offices and Chambers of the Congress. Poor people.

They did not realise that it was all a game invented by child Donald. Or maybe in some mysterious place in their minds they believed it was a game, like Play Station’s “Call of Duty”, in which one plays the role of a heroic avenger and kills without consequences. The Epiphany insurgents are also children. Children playing with fire.

There is nothing new about this. Paul Krugman, a Nobel laureate in economics and a New York Times columnist, wrote this week that the world view described in a famous 1964 essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, is virtually identical to that of those who believe in the conspiracy fantasies that abound today.

I know these paranoids. I met them in deep Pennsylvania in October. I met them in 1995, the year a former military man named Timothy McVeigh planted a bomb in a federal building in Oklahoma City. McVeigh had been connected with a group called the “Militia of Montana”. I went to see them.

The Militia’s big idea was that the United Nations was preparing to invade their country, with the collaboration of the government of President Bill Clinton. They knew, among other things, because they claimed to have seen unidentified black helicopters flying over their hideouts. The group consisted of about 20 men, all armed, dressed as paramilitaries.

I saw that these were primarily individuals who felt like losers, the worst one can be in the ruthlessly competitive American society. They were lost souls. I said goodbye, convinced that 10 per cent of them were dangerous and the other 90 per cent were sad clowns.

Today, it is estimated, there are more than 250 of these “militias”. The big difference from other times is that they have received the seal of approval from the President of the United States and from the majority of the representatives of the Republican Party in Congress.

Will blood flow this week in Washington, or somewhere in America for months or years to come? It is probable. If only 10 per cent – or one per cent – of the fanatics resort to violence, the danger would be considerable in a country where there are 300 million guns in private hands. If we see atrocities, I bet the day they return to the shadows will accelerate. But you never know, and the truth is that there is a lot of fear in Washington. The army has taken to the streets on the eve of Biden’s inauguration.

Although the new President will speak in his inaugural address of the need to unify the country, he will know he has no moral authority over the Trumpian militias. Those who have it are Trump and Republican leaders. They speak today of the need to heal the wounds that they themselves caused. However, they are the ones who have the solution.

It is very simple. They just have to declare that it is not true that the presidential elections were fraudulent. They just have to admit that what happened on Capitol Hill last week is based on a big lie, nothing more. As Biden has said, the insistence on repeating Goebbels-style day after day, hour after hour, that the elections were illegitimate, that Trump was the victim of the robbery of the century, is the root, the only root, of the chaos in which the US finds itself today.

So long as the inventor of the game recognises that it was only a game, the game is over. Of course, he won’t. Partly because in his delusion he almost believes in the lie; partly because he is unable to put the good of his country before his ego. That is why impeachment is important. If enough Republicans vote to convict Trump in the Senate trial, they will have the implicit opportunity to apologise for the great lie in which they collaborated.

It will help restore stability to their country, and will recognise, with a certain minimum of elegance and courage, that by giving their unconditional support to the madman in the White House for four years, it was they who betrayed their country.

This column appeared in Clarín, Argentina, on 16 January 2021, and is translated by Kieran Tapsell.

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