Gaslighting the Republicans

Denver Riggleman, who most recently worked for the January 6 select committee analyzing the message traffic that led up to the rush into the Capitol, has written a book treating the matter as an attempted coup.

A former one-term Republican congressman from Virginia (2018-20), he is also highly critical of the Republican Party.  While his title The Breach is relatively neutral, on content he joins the ranks of one-time right wingers who have produced books with titles such as How the Right Lost Its Mind (Charles J. Sykes) or The Party Is Over: How Republicans went crazy, Democrats Became Useless and the Middle Class Got Shafted (Mike Lofgren).

While Riggleman makes valid points about Trump’s indulgence (verging on support) for some of his paranoid followers, he himself is far too ready to dismiss as 'paranoia' the legitimate and accurate criticisms of the right about the 2020 election, the interpretation of the goals of those who “breached” the Capitol, and the behavior of internet gatekeepers in shaping public opinion.  As for the mistreatment of those arrested, he ignores the issue altogether.

Riggleman first became disillusioned when he ran for Congress and encountered the movement called “QAnon” which espoused what he calls “a toxic stew of conspiracy theories” involving “a secretive Satan-worshipping, child-killing global cabal that included Democrats, celebrities, and the media.”

The QA believers, writes Riggleman, genuinely believe someone they love could end up murdered in some sick ritual slaughter in tunnels underneath the halls of Congress.

 Despite this, says Riggleman, Trump invited "Lionel," an influential QAnon voice and talk show host, to the White House and there were days when Trump retweeted QAnon accounts multiple times.

Riggleman also cites Katrina Pierson, a one-time national spokesman for the Trump campaign, who in one of the texts uncovered by the January 6 committee told rally organizer Amy Kremer about Trumps’s affinity for Alex Jones and other on the fringe of what's supposedly the far-right. According to Pierson, the president wanted Jones to speak at the Ellipse rally on January 6. Jones is chiefly known for bizarrely (and cruelly) spreading theories that the killing of 20 first graders and six educators at the Sandy Hook elementary school was staged by the government and victims’ families as part of an elaborate plot to confiscate Americans’ firearms.  

”He likes the crazies" Pierson said of Trump.

But if this is fair criticism, much of what Riggleman writes is based on assumptions, not looking at the evidence.  Rational people have pointed out that so-called “reforms of the electoral process” have made our elections less fair and secure, for example here, here, here and here.  

Riggleman dismisses suspicions of the 'deep state' based on no more solid basis than his intuition that our bureaucracy must represent many points of view.   This is simply not correct; for instance, in the 2022 cycle, the American Federation of Government Employees has doled out over a million dollars, 94% of which went to Democrats. 

Riggleman uncritically buys media accounts that "peaceful protesters" were violently removed from the White House area at a Black Lives Matter protest in 2020.   According to law professor Jonathan Turley, the reality, was that the protestors were not peaceful, that dozens of officers were injured, that the violence continued for several days with “extensive property damage and the attempted burning down of the historic St. John’s Church. The attacks around the complex were so great that the president was moved into the White House bunker.”

Riggleman refers dismissively to a Texas congressman, Louis Gohmert, and others who “promoted a conspiracy theory” that there was a secret technology shadow-banning conservatives across all platforms.  Shadow banning means that the target of the ban doesn’t even know that his material has been either banned or its impact minimized.  Riggleman correctly points out that there is no way for one program to work across operating systems and social media platforms.  And yet, the Republicans turned out to be right about shadow-banning.   We know this because after buying Twitter, Elon Musk allowed selected journalists to examine internal Twitter documents and they found that it was pervasive.  Indeed, the situation was worse than most Republicans had guessed with heavy government (potentially illegal) involvement in the censorship.

As far as the motives of those involved in the January 6 Capitol riot, Riggleman sees “authoritarianism,”  but according to a study  at Harvard University of their motivations, Trump and his allies convinced an unquantifiable number of Americans that “representative democracy in the United States was not only in decline, but in imminent, existential danger.”  In other words, the protestors were trying to protect democracy, not overthrow it.  This is not to excuse the riot, though some trespassers meant to be peaceful, some of the January 6 footage is quite violent.

A day before January 6, a man named Ray Epps told people attending the pro-Trump rally in Washington that they should enter the Capitol the next day. 

According to contemporaneous reports, the reaction from some of the people around him was to chant “Fed, Fed, Fed.” In other words, they thought he was a federal informant trying to entrap them into doing something illegal. Epps was never arrested in the massive roundups after the Capitol breach, compounding suspicions on the right of his role. Riggleman gives no credence to such suspicions, in part because Riggleman went through Epps’s (unencrypted) message traffic and found only one (non-incriminating) message to the FBI.  Riggleman adds that the crowds that didn’t hit the cops and stayed outdoors have largely received a pass from law enforcement, and Epps did not go into the Capitol.  Whether Riggleman is right about Epps or not, the incident suggests some of the people around Epps on January 5 had no intention of going into the Capitol the following day.  

Finally, Trump himself had asked for a National Guard presence in the days before the riot, which was not the action of someone plotting a coup.

What Riggleman ignores is also important:  What is going on in a jail a few miles from the White House: Ronnie Sandlin, one of the J6 protestors, wrote this about a year ago:  "I’m sitting in solitary confinement in my cell not much bigger than an elevator writing this cry for help. I’ve been sitting in solitary confinement for almost a year with no trial date in sight facing 20 years in prison. Many of the Jan 6ers, including myself, are heavily medicated in order to endure the severe emotional, physical, and spiritual toll that has been inflicted on us. International standards state that solitary confinement should not last more than 7 days because it’s considered cruel and unusual punishment, yet the Biden regime has no problem subjecting perceived political rivals under this severe form of punishment indefinitely."   Sandlin's full description at TheGatewayPundit website is even more hair-raising.

Much of the left has fallen into an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole.  My 13-year-old niece was told by her public-school teacher that boys can be girls and vice versa and remarked to me on participating in one school group where she and one boy where the only kids who did not think they were ‘gay’ or in the case of one girl ‘pansexual’.  A graduate of Mount Holyoke college tells us that the four years she spent there left her totally indoctrinated and believing we live in an oppressive patriarchy.

Our country is increasingly insane, and we on the right can’t afford the sloppy thinking that characterizes the left.   The problems we face are serious enough.

Image: Screen shot from CNBC video, via YouTube

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