The YouCoup: How the attack on the US Capitol resembles narcissistic terrorism
A pro-Trump mob enters the U.S. Capitol Building on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C.. - Win McNamee/AFP North America/TNS

At first glance, one might think the attackers of the U.S. Capitol have little in common with ISIS or Al-Qaeda. But they are both cut from the same cloth: narcissistic terrorists who see vindication not in their purported ideology, but in a belief system where they see themselves as the center of attention, capturing their exploits on video to broadcast to the world via social media. Thus, the events of January 6, 2021 can be called "The You-Coup."

Only slightly less shocking than the assault on the U.S. Capitol was how many of them livestreamed their own participation in their bid to destroy the American legislature as members officially counted the ballots for the 2020 Election. There was little attempt to wear practical masks, or much of an attempt to disguise oneself among the mob. Perhaps some thought in the new authoritarian system that would replace the U.S. Constitution, that they would be regarded as heroes and wouldn't face accountability. But for most, it didn't matter if their own video would lead to their incarceration, loss of a job, and potential family estrangement. For the narcissist, public attention and adoration matter more.

Having a manifesto is nothing new. After all, the Unabomber of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s had one. But he took many steps to conceal his identity and didn't seem to relish the spotlight upon capture, having hidden from all society. Though an ideologue, he did seem to enjoy taunting law enforcement in their inability to capture him for so long.

But the modern-day terrorist seems less interested in the ideology, which is more of a means to an end. Personal fame and power appear to be the real goals. Though bragging about their efforts to combat nebulous human trafficking and unsubstantiated pedophilia of Pizzagate fame, for example, few of these QAnons express sympathy for kids incarcerated at the border in cruel circumstances, or the disappearance of a number of these migrant children.

Nowadays, you're not among the cool killers unless you have your own uploaded rationale for all to read on social media. And technology has enabled these contemporary narcissistic terrorists to film themselves slaughtering others. We used to think that Al-Qaeda assassins and ISIS cutthroats were broadcasting their beheadings for Islam, to intimidate the West into leaving their homelands. But a closer scrutiny of the perpetrators reveal that they cared more about self-glorification and hero worship, with belief system or defending others in their country a distant second or third at best.

And those who hate Muslims, blacks, Hispanics, or Jews, are united with these Middle East terrorists in the common goal of getting more clicks, or one's name and image and audiovisual actions in front of as many people as possible, a means of compensating for a life of average anonymity. The Norwegian killer of kids on an island wanted to behead the former Prime Minister on live broadcast, but settled for shooting down youngsters. The Charleston Church executioner made his own website justifying his hatred of blacks. The El Paso Wal-Mart shooter posted his white supremacist screed online before gunning down Hispanic shoppers. The California Synagogue anti-Semite broadcast his attack, noting his admiration for the New Zealander who killed 50+ Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, all livestreamed. Ditto the Austin Bomber, who videoed his final message. Without the heroic defense of many in the Capitol Police, we probably would have been shown images of zip-tied representatives executed on a live broadcast, as the so-called heroes of their own fantasy can enact revenge for not being more popular earlier in life.

"Narcissistic personality disorder involves a pervasive grandiosity, an extreme desire for attention, a sense of entitlement, a willingness to exploit or mistreat others, an excessive need for admiration and a lack of empathy," writes Anne Manne with The Guardian. "Yet narcissists can be fragile too and prone to outbursts of humiliated rage. Their grandiose self-beliefs are built on foundations as solid as quicksand, hence the need for constant admiration and attention, shoring up their unstable sense of self."

Manne continued "Psychologists warn that narcissism is on the increase. Invisibility is a central terror of the narcissist, and in our world of hyper-individualism, the competitive pursuit of attention produces winners and losers, those who painfully feel passed over and excluded. One response to the shame of exclusion and marginalisation is violence, which enacts revenge at the same moment that it lifts the person out of oblivion." Could the tools of social media be exacerbating not just the desire to act out these fantasies, but the means to show them to others?

That's perhaps why the biggest vitriol by the attackers (ISIS, mass murderers, Capitol attackers) doesn't involve prison time, but a loss of a platform on Parler, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. Even if they create their own system or develop a new one, it just means only a handful of watchers. Returning to that anonymity is the most terrifying punishment most of them can experience.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.