I am trying to cope with anti-democratic social collapse during a pandemic by reading local news stories about the people who stormed the Capitol. There was the remorseful CEO from the Chicago suburbs—“In a moment of extremely poor judgment … I followed hundreds of others through an open set of doors to the Capitol building”—and the son of a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge, wrapped in fur and a bulletproof vest, seen in photos carrying a police riot shield because he “found it on the floor.”
Then there were the real estate agents: the woman who flew to D.C. on a private jet in a bachelorette-style outing with some girlfriends—“This is a prelude to war,” she exclaimed—and the one who celebrated with a glass of champagne after making it onto the east steps of Congress. There was a marketing employee from Baltimore who wore his work badge during the riot and an aging adjunct professor from Pennsylvania who used to be a member of the state legislature.
Current and former agents of the state were well represented in the crowd: the ex-cop from the Bay Area who was told by the reporter interviewing him that, “to put it plainly, you may be in some legal jeopardy” and the West Virginia state delegate who livestreamed himself breaking into the Capitol—“We’re in! We’re in!” he shouted in a now-deleted video; “Derrick Evans is in the Capitol!”—and has since succumbed to public pressure to resign.
Taken together, you have this soupy thing going on: The storm on the Capitol was extremely goofy and extremely frightening. The people who, once inside the building, stayed within the rope lines like your standard D.C. tourists were part of the same chaotic swirl as the zip-tie guys wearing tactical gear. This is what tends to happen when a lot of people show up somewhere. It can look very stupid, even as something important is happening.
There are other versions of how this works: Occupy Wall Street, a movement that set into motion a global struggle against plutocracy and helped turn demands like debt cancellation into achievable policy, included studied organizers with a strategy to build power as well as countless stoner guys whose participation was limited to playing bongos and eating Kind bars. This is why figuring out what the Capitol crisis meant—these bigger questions about small-d democracy and small-f fascism—will require some dexterity.
The heavy career-day vibe at the Capitol was also another reminder that coverage of the Trump coalition and anti-democratic movements in this country is often lazy class caricature. A recent analysis of turnout in the 2016 election revealed that “support for Trump was strongest among the locally rich—that is, white voters with incomes that are high for their area, though not necessarily for the country as a whole.” About two-thirds of his voters that year had incomes above the national average, and he picked up more of them in 2020. This doesn’t mean that every guy who rushed a police barricade was a small-business owner, but the presence of working-class people in D.C. on Wednesday doesn’t make th