The United States Department of Justice on Wednesday released new videos in a case of alleged Proud Boys.
Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Charles Donohoe have been charged with Conspiracy; Obstruction of an Official Proceeding and Aiding and Abetting; Destruction of Government Property and Aiding and Abetting; Entering and Remaining in a Restricted Building or Grounds; Disorderly Conduct in a Restricted Building or Grounds.
Court documents allege Nordean, Rhel and Donohoe are all presidents of their respective local chapters of the Proud Boys.
NBC News reporter Scott MacFarlane allegedly showing two men carrying a police riot shield.
And -- per court docs -- here's the stolen police riot shield being carried by Donohoe & accused Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola. You can hear others in mob in this video express surprise that someone would steal a riot shield... pic.twitter.com/zv7k6QpCVI
— Scott MacFarlane (@MacFarlaneNews) June 22, 2021
McFarlane also posted two additional videos.
REPOSTING this newly released court exhibit in case of accused Proud Boy Charles Donohoe .. in which one person in… https://t.co/W9udzkxfxt— Scott MacFarlane (@Scott MacFarlane) 1624326680.0
Yelling at them doesn't work. Appealing to their empathy doesn't work. Rebutting their disinformation and conspiracy theories not only doesn't work, it actually just makes them dig in their heels more deeply. So rather than continuing to bang our heads against the wall, or simply throwing up our hands in despairing futility of talking to our radicalized relatives and neighbors, is there anything that does work to change anybody else's mind? Can we even, for that matter, change our own?
It's not your imagination — we are living through an astonishingly polarized moment in history. A Pew Research report last fall painted a bleak portrait of "the increasingly stark disagreement between Democrats and Republicans on the economy, racial justice, climate change, law enforcement, international engagement and a long list of other issues." I've been spending my summer so far doing coursework in conflict resolution, and it's taught me the value of empathic listening — and the simple truth that you can't negotiate with anybody who won't sit at the table.
To understand how we can become less contentious (or if we even can), we have to recognize how we got to this place. No huge surprise here — as Robert Kozinets wrote for Salon back in 2017, social media has played an oversized role in rewiring our unruly, addiction-prone brains. "One of the most effective ways to achieve mass appeal," he observed, "turned out to be by turning to the extreme."
Who cares if it's even true? As "The Hype Machine" author Sinan Aral explains of his research, "Novelty attracts human attention because it is surprising and emotionally arousing.... False news was indeed more novel than the truth, and people were more likely to share novel information." The more extreme, the more arousing the information is, the brighter it lights up our brains.
That rush that social media provides also, unfortunately, creates what Facebook cofounder Sean Parker ruefully has called "a social-validation feedback loop ... exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology." We gravitate to the heady cocktail of reward and anxiety that our notifications provide, in that endless, agitating loop. But it's not just social media that's a problem: it's media media, as the multitudes of us who have "lost" family members to Fox News know.
Our minds are more vulnerable and our thoughts more untrustworthy when we're scared. And while the far right takes the gold medal for anxiety-stoking — there's scientific evidence that conservatives have a "greater gray matter volume in the amygdala"— we on the progressive side of the aisle are no strangers to fearmongering either, as my 3 AM doomscrolling can confirm. The trap here is that none of our brains are not super reliable about distinguishing perceived threats from actual and immediate ones, especially at 3 AM.
Dr. James Giordano, Professor of Neurology and Biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center, explains that we all have our own individual "peak performance" stress range.
"As stress levels get higher, we begin to fatigue not only biologically, but psychologically and socially, and we perceive the stress and perhaps the stressor as threatening," Giordano says. "The more vulnerable we feel, often, the more volatile we become. That volatility can be a prompt to aggressiveness and violence."
And it doesn't necessarily matter if the stressor is legitimate. "Perceived stress," he says, "is very important. A perceived threat can instill a sense of dread in an individual or group of individuals, and be very influential in guiding their thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Hence," he continues, "the effectiveness of propaganda in advancing ideas whereby a defined other, often also portrayed as 'inhuman,' is intrinsically threatening."
Dehumanization is a highly effective empathy killer. And while I'm not engaging in false equivalences by any stretch here, I can certainly cop to my own fears of the faceless enemies of my ideologies, and how far stuck they are in my own brain.
So before I can even hope to change anyone else's mind, I have to try to understand my own. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, neuroanatomist and author of "Whole Brain Living: The Anatomy of Choice and the Four Characters That Drive Our Life," says, "Inside of our brain we have four distinctive characters. The better we get to know those four different characters, our two emotional and our two thinking, we can identify when we're being which, and then we can recognize that in other people."
She continues: "When we dig our heels into something that we are emphatic and passionate about, we are using our limbic system, our emotional system. The left hemisphere emotion is looking for our differences and it is bucking against our differences. This is our fear and our anxiety. The emotion in our right brain is connected to humanity, and is looking for how to collaborate and focus on our similarities. If we're recognizing someone else is in their emphatic, emotional, 'I need to be right, you're wrong' mind, I don't have to react with my comparable character. I can observe. I don't have to engage."
But if for some compelling reason I actually do want to engage, pediatric neuropsychologist and parent coach Dr. Sarah Levin Allen has some ideas. "Our brains compartmentalize and group 'like' information together to be more efficient," she says. "Then, we learn by connecting new information with what we already know. In order to change people's minds, you literally have to find what people already know and slowly connect the dots (or neurons — the cells in the brain) to the new information."
The challenge, as she acknowledges, is finding ways around the intense pressure and high reactivity many of us are facing, and looking for the right openings to approach.
"Most of the time, people whose brains aren't stressed with other things (like processing work or emotions) can find the thing that is 'like' the new information and begin to make the pathways themselves," she says, "thus creating a change of mind. When the new idea is too much of a deviation from what someone knows or when stress reactions block the ability to make pathways, brains need help. When trying to change the mind of someone who is stressed, we actually need to do one of two things: either reduce the stress hormone in the brain by making a connection and reducing negative emotion first or slow down the process delivering ideas in very short bursts that the brain can slowly process."
In other words, you don't have to love your enemies, but you're definitely not going to win them over to your ideas without first getting them to chill out.
Of course, belief and behavior are two separate entities. Your sister-in-law may believe that face masks cause demonic possession; she might still choose to wear one if she wants to go to Applebee's. A Florida man may believe he won a re-election, he still has to hand over the nuclear football. Ultimately, life affords us plenty of opportunities to settle for grudging acceptance, if not grateful conversion. (See: Everything you've ever browbeaten your children into doing.)
But in many spaces, we don't have to compromise; we don't have to find common ground. We can choose information — and disinformation — that affirms and exacerbates our deepest anxieties. We can stoke the fires of our amygdalas and never run out of fuel; that's totally an option. We can refuse to engage with those too far gone to reason with; that's often a healthy choice.
The harder work, if we want to take a swing at getting those who still have ears to hear us to listen and neurons to engage, is to consider Allen's advice. "Meet people where they are," she says, "and bring them to where you want them to be."
Tucker Carlson, whose nightly prime time show on Fox News draws millions of viewers, used his massive platform to preposterously claim he's being silenced. This time the "silencing" was over his recent floating of a flat-out silly conspiracy theory that the FBI was behind the January 6 insurrection.
"'You can't say that,' they screamed, 'that's not allowed!'" he accused others of saying, when in reality, the tenor of the criticism was closer to "that's utter nonsense" and "Tucker Carlson is a lying POS." The Fox News host held out the fact-checking, mockery, and other debunking as evidence for his conspiracy theory, accusing those who insist on reality of "hyperventilating" and "being hysterical."
Call it the Tucker Two-Step. It's Carlson's favorite strategy for normalizing ideas that are so fascist, ridiculous, or otherwise repulsive that even the notoriously gullible and authoritarian Fox News audience might balk.
First, Carlson does a provocative segment presenting his grotesque views, hoping to draw liberal outrage. When liberals inevitably condemn him, he follows up with a segment falsely equating criticism with censorship. He argues that the outrage is proof in itself of the validity of his claims, insisting that "they" wouldn't be so eager to "suppress" his ideas by, uh, arguing back vigorously.
His "liberals hate it so it must be good" logic is nonsense, of course. Otherwise, it would justify things like child molestation, slavery and genocide, all of which upset those on the left. Still, his audience is so addled by their singular desire to "trigger the liberals" that they ignore his fallacious reasoning.
And while Carlson is the master at playing the victim, the martyrdom strategy has spread. A growing number of right-wing pundits and politicians seek to flip the reality of what happened on January 6 on its head, turning the right into the victims instead of the perpetrators.
Over the weekend, CNN drew a great deal of condemnation on social media for an article about the death of Ashli Babbitt, who was shot by law enforcement after she entered the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot. The article embraced a misleading "both sides" narrative, falsely equating those who want to turn Babbitt into a martyr with those who view her as a domestic terrorist, even though the video footage from the day made it quite clear Babbitt was at the front of a crowd that was attempting to run down fleeing members of Congress. As Simon Purdue from the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right told CNN, Babbitt's death "is going to be used for many, many years" by right-wingers as "proof that a revolution is necessary." Unfortunately, this wisdom is buried in a sea of quotes from Babbitt's family and friends trying to buff her image and deny the truth of why she was in the Capitol that day.
It's doubly unfortunate CNN chose to go the false equivalence route because there's a deeper story here about how fascists and other authoritarians have a long history of propping up false martyrs, claiming the mantle of victimhood in order to justify their desire to victimize others and bring in new recruits. The most famous example is probably Horst Wessel, a Nazi and just generally worthless scumbag who enjoyed starting street fights with leftists in 20s-era Berlin. Wessel was killed by communists in 1930. Joseph Goebbels, then a party organizer and later Adolph Hitler's chief propagandist, turned Wessel into a martyr whose death was leveraged as an all-purpose excuse for any Nazi actions. The story was so central to Nazi mythology that a song about Wessel was even made into an official national anthem of Nazi Germany.
Today's American authoritarians want to use Babbitt for the same purposes.
Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona — who stands out as one of the most fascistic Republican congressmen, a true feat in such a highly competitive field — has been at the forefront of turning Babbitt into a Wessel figure for Trumpism. During a congressional hearing last week, Gosar spun a ridiculous lie about how a Capitol police officer was "lying in wait" for Babbitt and then "executed" her. But, once again, the video footage from that day was clear: The insurrectionists were attempting to breach a barricade that police had hastily thrown up to give members of Congress an opportunity to escape and Babbitt was shot by an officer trying to hold the crowd back. Whatever criticisms one might have about the level of force used, it is indisputable that Babbitt was shot in response to a deliberate attempt to chase down people trying to run away.
Gosar is leaning into the same instinct that drives Confederate apologists and Holocaust deniers. It's why conservatives are always whining about "cancel culture," even though the evidence shows that they are the ones passing literal laws to silence teachers who wish to teach historical facts.
Carlson also got in on the action, shamelessly airing a clip of Russian President Vladimir Putin lying about the "assassination of the woman who walked into Congress. Carlson said Putin was asking "fair questions," which, of course, isn't true. Putin is trying to deflect attention from his own habit of ordering political assassinations, which Carlson almost certainly knows. And by playing the clip, Carlson is giving the game away, exposing how he shares Putin's authoritarian beliefs.
On Sunday, Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo hosted Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin on Fox News and continued the trend with a self-pity fest that denied the Capitol riot was a serious and violent attempt at a fascist insurrection.
"I've been trashed every day along the way," Bartiromo whined, and, posing as a brave freedom fighter, declared, "Keep trashing me. I'll keep telling the truth!"
But, of course, she is not telling the truth. She is lying, as is Johnson, and harping on how few guns were confiscated onsite in order to minimize the storming of the Capitol. Of course, that wasn't because the insurrectionists weren't serious, but because they were explicitly afraid that bringing illegal guns to Washington D.C. would mean getting arrested before they could attack. They (mostly) left their guns at home or in their cars as a strategic choice, meant to improve their chances of success. Bartiromo likely knows this, however, and is just lying to prop up this narrative where the insurrectionists are hero-victims instead of people who literally tried to overthrow democracy through violence.
From spinning conspiracy theories as "forbidden knowledge" to painting the insurrectionists as martyrs instead of villains, the right has clearly settled on a playing-the-victim strategy in order to rewrite the history of January 6.
What is even more disturbing is why they're doing this.
Justifying and minimizing the insurrection isn't just about the past, but the future. It's about encouraging more anti-democratic action and radicalizing more conservatives to the authoritarian cause. It's all propaganda, to turn the events of January 6 into a more serious and long-lasting effort to end American democracy.
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