The men and women in these photos, Donald Trump’s most ardent, extremist followers, stormed the US Capitol today in a brazen attempt to stop the democratic transition.
They call themselves patriots, but the flags they fly, and the symbols they use, show us where their loyalties really lie.
First, let’s break down the image at the top of this story.
1. It’s no surprise Confederate flags like this one are flying front and centre, or that one was later dragged through the halls of the Capitol. Both Trump and the Confederacy represent a failed reactionary attempt to destroy the republic. Both are, at some base level, driven by a desire to maintain racial hierarchy. Like the Confederacy, Trumpism will no doubt be sustained in the minds of its cult-like adherents for years to come. But the Confederacy never made it to Washington DC. Trump brought its descendants there.
2. Above it in the image is the Gadsden flag, a rattlesnake against a bright yellow background emblazoned with the words “don’t tread on me”. Initially a symbol of the American Revolutionary War, the flag has slowly been appropriated by racists and the far right by way of the Tea Party — that groundswell of Republican populism that paved the way for Trump. It’s now become a fixture at Trump rallies, erasing any plausible deniability that ever existed around its true meaning. What once stood for folksy Libertarianism is now merely another expression of fealty to Trump.
As the rioters broke through police barricades and stormed the Capitol, we got an even closer look at the faces of the coup attempt.
3. The man in the Viking helmet is Jake Angeli, a voice actor from Arizona. He’s well-known in conspiracy circles as Shaman Q.
QAnon, the baseless belief that Trump is a messiah, battling to save the world from a cabal of satanic paedophiles, is everywhere in the DC riots. American flags are matched by people in shirts emblazoned with Q. The conspiracy has truly broken out of the online sewers where it festered, and marched on Washington to attack democracy.
That should give you some idea of who these people are. They’re an assortment of conspiracy theorists, white nationalists and far-right militiamen. Once upon a time, many were probably relatively normal people. But four years of Trump — of brains being hollowed out by the internet and Fox News and filled with poison — have brought them to this point.
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Their truth inhabits a parallel universe, where Trump did not lose the election by 7 million votes — where it’s the Democrats, not Trump, trying to destroy American democracy.
And that’s what’s most terrifying about today’s spectacle. Sooner or later, the riff-raff will be dragged out of the Capitol. The Senate will do its thing. Biden will be inaugurated. But the incredible power of the cult of Trump remains. And its nihilistic followers have shown themselves truly willing to burn the house down rather than give up fighting.