For me the message that has resonated the most after the shocking events in our nation’s Capitol Wednesday were words that came from an organization that serves farmers.
We must come together, the message said. Not as farmers or city workers. Not as suburbanites. Not as environmentalists. Not as Republicans or Liberals. So-called moderates, Libertarians, Antifa, Proud Boys, or whatever.
We must all come together. As Americans. We must put aside bitterness. Disappointment. Outrage. We must rally instead behind the principles that forged our great nation — in a time of great and desperate division — and which has ultimately held us together through two world wars and more besides.
We must do this. Because we cannot sustain our Republic, and our liberty, if we don’t.
I have been in the news business for going on 30 years now. And I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve felt compelled to write an editorial. Particularly an editorial about politics.
I much prefer to focus on telling a good story. I like writing about farmers. Oil and gas workers. I love gee-whiz, ain’t that cool science. It’s my goal every day to help people understand the science in their everyday lives, without ever realizing I’ve taught them anything particular about that at all.
Given that I have a degree in chemistry, and the writing bug since I was 6 years old, I am ideally suited to this mission. That is where my head is most of the time. But what I saw happening Wednesday afternoon could not be denied, and it demands my words now as a patriotic American citizen.
I saw men and women carrying Trump flags, and Confederate flags, and wearing Make America Great Again hats, chanting something that sounded like “Fight for Trump” in our Capitol, the hallowed halls of the people.
I’ll agree that some of them did look relatively harmless, strolling along a roped corridor like high schoolers sneaking into the teacher’s lounge for a soda. But others carried weapons. And some planted pipe bombs. A woman was shot, and at least one Capitol police officer has since died of injuries sustained during the conflict.
To say what I saw was intimidating is to understate it dramatically. It was terrifying, and I was not even there in person.
Moments after posting an article about this mob swarming the Capitol, I was confronted by conspiracy theories that somehow were already circulating. It was Antifa, I was told in no uncertain and scolding terms. A closely cropped photo of some guy in horns was posted as some kind of murky proof.
The individual’s name, I later learned, is Jake Angeli, a longtime, well-known Trump supporter. The sign he was carrying, oh so carefully cropped out, said “Q sent me.” The individual scolding me with this “proof” failed to mention Angeli’s true purpose at the BLM rally was to heckle them, and to maybe recruit followers.
We’ve reached a moment in time where people seem to think nothing of bending photographs, videos, and other details online to fit whatever reality they most want to believe in. This has not come about all at once. I have seen it creeping upon us over the last two decades in my social media feeds.
As a reporter, I have always welcomed all walks of life on my feed. Republicans. Moderates. Liberals. Libertarians. You name it. They are there. I appreciate all of them. They help me see the world through their eyes and educate me as I decide what is worth my words on any given day.
But it’s also been disturbing to watch over the years as alternate realities have risen to life, with such devoted adherents that you do not dare utter one word of disagreement.
I have even been unfriended over such things. The latest was when I pointed out to an old classmate that Trump supporters are not necessarily supporting him because they are racist. I thought a better understanding of why folks actually supported him might help my liberal friend understand why Democrats are not doing well in so-called fly-over country. For the record, I’ve been unfriended by conservatives as well, but I digress.
There’s now a sect in my feed that firmly believes vaccines are harmful. If they were, I’ve pointed out, you would see a lot more people suffering, since we’ve vaccinated literally everyone for decades. Not to mention, the scientist who first made the claim has since admitted he faked his study.
There’s another group convinced Hillary Clinton runs a porn ring in a pizza parlor. Still. Even after some poor soul showed up at said pizza parlor with a gun. That allegation was made up by a guy who later admitted he wrote that story just to boost Internet traffic. It certainly worked.
More recently, there’s been an even more outrageous claim that Lady Gaga is drinking stressed out children’s blood to remain young. The photo for that particular myth-information came from an episode of a television horror series.
The folks who believe these outrageously false things are all people I know. People I consider intelligent. Some of them are attorneys. Others are teachers. None of them are stupid. Yet, seemingly, the more outrageous the claim, the more likely they are to take it up, post it, and then fervently argue for it against all comers. Even when it is provably false. The truth, seemingly, has no traction.
This dynamic has culminated in the violence we saw in the Capitol, where men like Angeli, an enthusiastic Trump supporter and QAnon devotee, bragged about, what to me anyway, is unimaginable. Assaulting our Capitol. Intimidating our lawmakers with violence. Talking about bullet boxes instead of ballot boxes and telling elected officials to toss ballots that they have somehow determined from afar are illegitimate “or else.”
The fact is that we have the world’s best legal process and it has already examined theses allegations of election fraud and found that there isn’t just too little evidence. But no evidence. At all.
“Charges of unfairness are serious,” wrote Trump appointee, Justice Stepanos Bibas. “But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”
He and 90-some other justices in 60-some court cases filed by Mr. Trump and his supporters.
I can remember, as a callow youth who didn’t really understand things as I do now, laughing at third world countries for this type of Banana Republic behavior. But I see now with sadness that there was nothing to laugh about. It deserved much more somber reflection than I was capable of then.
As tough as it may be to take, as angry as it may make you that I say it, we are all of us to blame for this breakdown of our society. There are no high roads here.
Maybe you are a liberal unable to understand the terrible fears that are driving the words and deeds of your Republican counterparts, which seem to you divorced from reality. Perhaps you are a Republican, doing the same in reverse to so-called “Libtards” who you believe to be “truly evil.” Or maybe you are a Libertarian, and thinking that makes you above it all, because you are neither of these bickering partisans.
But you are all wrong. All of you. I hope that what we all saw Wednesday, Jan. 6, serves as a wakeup call to you, regardless of which “ism” you claim.
We have to stop this.
Your opponent is not Darth Vader, and you are not Luke Skywalker defending Democracy. In fact, when you cast your opponent that way, you are attacking something foundational to Democracy, because you are ignoring the deeply felt concerns that your fellow American has. It’s the equivalent of kicking a fellow American when he or she is down. And that is truly un-American.
I saw a scientific study not too long ago that found all these outrageous lies online are like mental chocolate for the brain. They fuel endorphins that make us feel good.
But it’s time now for all of us to stop consuming these toxic treats.
If something makes you mad online, stop for a moment and ask yourself who profits if you believe this item, particularly if it leads to something foolish, like storming the Capitol of our nation while China, Russia, and other countries that don’t like us gleefully look on.
Continuing to consume these outrageous lies may feel good in the moment. But it won’t bring any of us anything lasting. It certainly won’t preserve our Republic.
And isn’t that what we all really want above all else?
Renée Jean is the interim editor of the Sidney Herald and has covered oil and agriculture for the Williston Herald.