Laughing Through the End Times: 6 Absurd Responses to the Collapse of American Democracy
The attempted coup that took place at the Capitol building on Wednesday was equal parts terrifying and hilarious.
In times of crisis and chaos, it's important to keep a clear head and stay on top of the facts.
It's important to acknowledge that this was an unprecedented breach of security that could easily have been avoided and that it resulted in the deaths of at least four people.
But once you've processed the horror that entails, it's equally important to allow yourself a break from the tension and anxiety. Now and then it's essential to look at things from a different angle and just laugh at the absurdity.
Wednesday's attack on Capitol Hill was a great reminder of that lesson. Amid images of fascists and white supremacists taking over the Capitol building to disrupt the functioning of the federal government, chase legislators into hiding, and delay the confirmation of Joe Biden's clear victory over Donald Trump — waving the confederate flag, smashing things, stealing things, and generally getting away with it — there was also an abundance of clownish, hilarious behavior.
Some of the absurdity involved people being intentionally funny, while some of it displayed a raw, natural talent for being obliviously laughable. But all of it provided potent relief from the sense of American democracy falling to a movement of delusional bigots led by a petty conman (though that's still a disturbing possibility).
So as we move forward and focus on action to ameliorate the risk of further violence — anti-coup protests, impeachment, the 25th amendment — it's worth looking back at some of the highlights of absurdity that sprouted from Wednesday's waking nightmare.
"We Love You. You're Very Special."
Moments after President-elect Joe Biden urged soon-to-be-former-president Donald Trump to denounce the domestic terror attack that evolved from that morning's Trump rally, the president complied...sort of.
In a brief video shared on Twitter, Donald Trump urged his violent supporters to "go home," while continually reinforcing their motivation for being there by harping on baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent and stolen "from all of us."
As infuriating as that is, it's kind of funny that this tweet, along with another referring to his "sacred landslide election victory," were soon deleted, and Donald Trump's Twitter account was temporarily deactivated. But what's far funnier is the weirdly paternal tone he took toward his terroristic supporters in that video, saying, "We love you. You're very special ... But go home."
This tone was brilliantly captured by impressionist James Austin Johnson, who has perfected every detail of Trump's bizarre speech patterns — the intonation, the wandering message, the odd word choices, and the audible breathing. In a video he managed to take while driving, Johnson spoke as Trump to his supporters, promising them the opportunity to join "daddy" in "the big nice bed" until 9:30, watching Spongebob Movie, and playing with a brand new Lego set.
It's surreal to hear such a convincing simulation of Donald Trump talking to his "very special boy" about the changing price of Lego, but only slightly more surreal than listening to the real thing.
"The Pushed Me Out and Maced Me."
For those who haven't seen this clip of a woman who identifies herself as "Elizabeth from Knoxville, Tennessee," it may be hard to imagine what could be funny about a woman who is clearly in distress at having been pepper sprayed. Admittedly, the pain of having chemical irritants sprayed in your face is no joke, and anyone in her situation would likely be in a similar state of disarray.
Still, there was something so bizarre about the tone of offense in her voice as she seemed to complain that her plan of "storming the Capitol" as part of "a revolution" would be met with any kind of resistance at all. The clip quickly made the rounds on Twitter, with people marveling at the sense of entitlement — how she seemed to find it insulting that she only "made it like a foot inside" of a federal building that she was illegally entering.
But the clip was brought to new heights of absurdity by The Gregory Brothers, who "songified" Elizabeth saying "they pushed me out and maced me" and placed it perfectly within the open section of the Animaniacs theme song.
Doxing "Via Getty"
Absolutely losing it over the fact folks think this asshole’s name is “Via Getty” https://t.co/A2e6rmroGD— Nerd Girl Says (@Nerd Girl Says) 1609981850
Of course the absurdity is never entirely on one side — only the vast majority of it. There's more than enough foolishness at any given point on the political spectrum, as liberal Internet sleuths demonstrated on Wednesday as they sought to identify and shame the most visible members of the insurrection.
Among successful identifications — like violent white nationalist Richard Barnett of Arkansas, who broke into Nancy Pelosi's office, and guitarist Jon Schaffer of heavy metal band Iced Earth — there were some definite misfires. The most amusing was this smiling man carrying the House Speaker's lectern, who was widely identified as "Via Getty."
For those who don't know, Getty Images is a media company that sources images for news outlets, so when an image is captioned Via Getty, that refers to where the image came from, not the person pictured. So enthusiastic efforts to track down and bring "Via Getty" to justice are unlikely to pay off.
Fortunately, the man in that image has since been identified as Adam Johnson of Parrish, Florida.
Rep. Jimmy Neutron says he has found some computer evidence that it was actually ANTIFA who hacked the mainframe https://t.co/47dMB4fk1X— tom mckay (@tom mckay) 1609993611
One of the funniest responses to the whole mess has been the facile attempt to blame all the violence and chaos on the perennial boogeyman of Right-wing politics: Antifa.
It might seem like a group of Trump supporters were angry at the prospect of their favorite billionaire losing to a man as uninspiring as Joe Biden. It might seem like they were riled up that morning by calls to aggressive action from Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr., and the president himself, and by consistent lies telling them that their country was stolen.
It might seem like a violent uprising would be a natural result of these circumstances. But that would also kind of reflect badly on the president and other far-Right figures who have stoked unrest and distrust since November, so...no. Must have been Antifa. The Left are the real violent ones.
So, just like Via Getty, people have sought evidence that various individuals pictured illegally inside the Capitol building were actually "members" of Antifa — despite the fact that it's an ideology of active resistance against fascism, rather than a formal organization. As evidence, people shared side-by-side images from the Capitol, and from Antifa accounts.
Does it matter that the people only look vaguely similar, or that the post was not of Anti-fascist activists, but of neo-nazis that the account was warning about? Nope.
This is all predictable enough, but the parallels to the 1933 burning of the Reichstag wouldn't be complete if it was just random people on Twitter speculating. It has to be the official party line. That's where representative Matt Gaetz of Florida stepped up.
On Wednesday night, Gaetz took to the floor of the House of Representatives to claim that there was "some pretty compelling evidence" of Antifa involvement. That evidence? An article in The Washington Times claiming "Antifa members" were spotted by a tech company's facial recognition software.
The article has since been debunked, but the fact that The Washington Times is owned by the far-right cult known as the Unification Church — AKA the Moonies — should have been a hint. Nice going, Matt.
Spotting a "Crisis Actor"
In the even more unhinged parts of Right-wing politics in America, the world is run by satanic pedophiles, and there is no such thing as organic dissent against the Trump administration — only paid protesters and crisis actors. According to these conspiracists, people like David Hogg and Sandy Hook parents are paid to lie and sow chaos. But what happens when that logic is turned against the conspiracists themselves?
That's what happened to Jake Angeli — AKA the QAnon Shaman — the face-painted, shirtless, buffalo-horn wearing man who proudly paraded around the Capitol building on Wednesday, wielding an American flag zip-tied to a spear. When some incredulous Right-wingers started digging though his history, they discovered that he had a profile on backstage.com promoting himself as an actor, with a link to a Fiverr account for voiceover work.
Rather than realizing that this man might just really, really like attention, these detectives came to the obvious conclusion that he had been hired for a role as a crazed Trump supporter to make the whole MAGA crowd look bad. Thrilling stuff.
Apparently it's a recurring role, as he's been spotted at various protests and rallies, found posing for a picture with Rudy Giuliani, was interviewed in May calling himself a Trump supporter, and — months ago — posted a video of himself loudly ranting about QAnon and "pedophile symbols" in an Arizona mall.
Removing the Barricades, Posing for Selfies
But of all the absurd behavior that came out of Wednesday's chaos, none of it stands out as much as the behavior of the Capitol police.
While certain officers should be commended for their bravery in trying to defend our government institutions from violent insurrection, others seemed not to care at all. While it's undoubtedly the case that there were not enough personnel on hand to handle the crowd, the question remains as to why they weren't prepared for this very predictable chaos.
And even if a lack of manpower necessitated abandoning their posts and letting the crowd pour through the temporary perimeter, why did they have to remove the barricades themselves? So no one would get hurt while climbing over to smash their way into a historic federal building?
Maybe their tactics make sense in some way that non-cops will never understand. Or maybe, when we see them posing for selfies and escorting protesters down the steps, or when we hear stories about them calmly pleading for the intruders to leave or saying "bet they like us now" of liberal politicians — maybe it's exactly what it sounds like.
Maybe a lot of these police officers are sympathetic to this Right-wing insurrection in a way they aren't to Black Lives Matter protesters — whom police beat, gassed, and shot at for the sake of a Trump photo shoot back in June.
At any rate, with all this absurdity, you have to laugh...or cry...or both, simultaneously while huddled in your closet.
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