Protesters storm the U.S. Capitol in clashes with police in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021. (Shannon Stapleton / Reuters)
One of the unfortunate habits of extremely political people these days is to insist that any violence caused by people on their own side must in fact be a conspiracy of their disguised false flag political opponents. This was a surprisingly frequent effort among progressives during the George Floyd riots (as I mentioned at the time), with large voices insisting that all of the violence was really the work of white supremacists or right-wing agitators, and we now have people on right The media and politics (including Matt Gaetz on the floor of the house) have alleged that today’s break-ins, looting and violence at the Capitol were actually the work of Antifa and other left-wing infiltrators.
At the individual level, of course, it is always possible – even if the crowd is large enough – that a violent crowd includes a certain number of people trying to discredit the cause for which it is being protested. In almost all cases it is also true that any violent crowd is only a subset of a larger, peaceful crowd protesting for the same thing. Neither of these facts matters – not Wednesday, not in the case of the spring and summer riots, and not in other cases of mob violence. The obvious, logical conclusion that the experience regularly confirms is that the bulk of any violent mob is who they say they are, which in this case means Trump loyalists. This seems more obvious here, as some of the Capitol rioters gleefully passed their names on to reporters and can be easily verified. A large number of arrests would help, as they helped this summer find out who is behind the mess. And there should be such arrests: anyone who violated the Capitol should spend time in federal prison.
Another issue on the other end of the spectrum is that the rioters were white supremacists. Now, white supremacists tend to be the most extreme extreme political people and are quicker to violence and violations of the law. They were undoubtedly more represented among the rioters than among the general peaceful demonstrators on Wednesday. Some of the well-known white supremacist groups were clearly active in pre-organizing. But basically the presence of white supremacists is neither here nor there. Since the Stop the Steal rallies were not about white supremacy, the problem they pose is in no way confined to, and is not entirely driven by, white supremacy. It’s just something some of them have become attached to, and focusing on their involvement risks getting the nature of the problem misdiagnosed.
There are bad actors in any political movement, and if they are continually fed with lies and conspiracy theories about stolen elections that destroy our democracy, those people are more likely to activate and expand their ranks with people who have been newly radicalized. Once you get that dynamic in motion, some of the nation’s existing bad actors on all sides – white supremacists, Antifa, what have you – will always come along to solve their usual problems. But finding a few fake flags in a crowd of Trump’s most unfortunate supporters is a red herring. Even if some of them were there, it doesn’t change what happened or why. And if you’re trying to sell the theory that leftists were a driving force in all of this, you better have hard evidence because you’re swimming against the tide of common sense, basic human experience and what we can do see with your own eyes.