New York Times called out for once again elevating sedition
he New York Times got a lot of attention this weekend, none of it good, for their latest zoological profile of pro-Trump, anti-democracy voters. The Times did not go the sleepy small-town diner route this time, but instead profiled Jan. 6 insurrectionists who marched to demand the toppling of our government but, like, did it less violently than some of the others. People who didn't enter the U.S. Capitol building, but only took a few flashbangs from the officers trying to defend the building. People who didn't bring guns, but who now regret not doing so. To overthrow the government. Because Donald Trump wanted them too.
There's a whole lot to be said about this, but the Times itself continues its tradition of elevating extremist, anti-democratic, pro-sedition voices while almost completely ignoring the origins of their beliefs, the dangers they pose, or whether or not attempting to end democracy on a madman's turgid whim might be bad. Whether democracy lives or dies in this country is emphatically not something the Times wants to take sides on inside of individual stories. The opinion side of the paper might pipe up with it (alongside, of course, conservative columns arguing the opposite) but identifying the larger frameworks in which fascism is not just growing, in America, but is able to pose a genuine threat to government—that's right out.
What's especially galling is that the Times freely uses the word insurrection to describe the events of Jan. 6. The Times is able to identify the goal of the extremists who marched that day just fine. So what does that make the people who marched to do it?
Oh, you know. Jus' folk. Can't draw any conclusions here.
What's maddening about the Times story is how far the paper goes, in fact, to not draw any conclusions about the gaggle of conspiracy cranks, far-right extremists, and willing seditionists that it holds up for reader perusal. It is like going to a zoo in which all the animals are wrapped in burlap sacks; do you want to know what this creature looks like? Then figure it out yourself, dear visitors, this is how each animal was delivered to us and we're not going to the work of unwrapping them. Trying to determine how each of these specimens fits in the grand ecosystem of "people who want to end American democracy rather than abide a single election loss" is left entirely as an exercise to the reader. It's a fascism-agnostic sudoku puzzle.
We open the piece with the tale of Paul Treasonguy—we don't need to give him the publicity of using his real name, the Times is already giving him all the advertising he could ask for—who is not at all sorry about his participation in a march to topple the government at Trump's behest. "It definitely activated me more," says Paul, and "it gave me street cred." Paul is now promoting himself as an anti-vaccine "lawyer for patriots," using his support for sedition as launching pad, a way to devote himself to far-right causes professionally rather than just as hobby.
Why is the Times helping him? Very good question, but our Texas-based insurrection marcher is quite pleased that they did.
But what does this American mean by "activated"—a word conspicuously out of place, one associated more commonly with cults, extremist groups, and militias? Being identified as a pro-insurrection marcher, getting fired from your job and being dumped by a fiancee gives street cred on what particular street?
We are told that, in interviews, the insurrection has "mutated into an emblem of resistance" that is a "troubling omen should the country face another close presidential election." We are told that "many" of the insurrectionists have slipped smoothly into anti-vaccine resistance, now citing "Mr. Biden's vaccine mandates as justification for their efforts" to nullify the election.
Mostly we learn that none of these people appear to be regretting a single damn thing about the insurrection. Mostly.
"Most everybody thinks we ought to have went with guns, and I kind of agree with that myself," says Oren Treasonguy, a landscaper. And "I think we ought to have went armed, and took it back." He admitted to bringing a baton and a Taser with him when he travelled to the insurrection but "did not get them out," which is evidently why he is in in the profile of "nonviolent" seditionists. But he doesn't sound nonviolent. He sounds like he thinks the crowd's nonviolence was the main problem of the day.
And he's not shy about saying that the goal of the insurrection was to "take" the election results "back." He, like the rest of the crowd, intended their actions to be an insurrection.
The next mini-profile is of a Jeff Treasonguy. Jeff is now running for public office—another case in which the violence of the day is being used to boost the conservative "cred" of those who participated. Jeff, along with his adult son, "took two flash bangs" during the crowd's drive that "pushed Congress out of session." "I'm hurt but we accomplished the job."
Jeff believes "Covid-19 was a bioweapon meant to convert the United States to socialism," among other things. Jeff is par for the course, among this group. He talks a lot about Jesus, is quite proud of destabilizing the country, and would "absolutely" do it again.
Okay, but Jeff here is undeniably a member of a seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government based on batshit theories scraped off the insides of a fever dream. Why are we hearing from him at all? What purpose does it give to parade a series of unrepentant and paranoia-obsessed backers of a violent insurrection before the nation but yet beat so thoroughly around the bush on what it means?
Now we go to Greg Treasonguy, a Michigan city councilman who is meant to demonstrate the "sense of community" among those that attended Trump's "march" to erase a United States election rather than abide the embarrassment of losing. We learn that Greg "found solidarity, he said, in similar men's groups growing in Hungary and Poland" and hold right the hell up, this man voluntarily pipes up with admiration for the democracy-toppling, authoritarian far-right groups of Hungary and Poland because "men got to step up" in service to masculinity?
How, exactly, does one form a positive view of the pro-authoritarian far-right movements of Hungary and Poland? What newsletter is Greg here getting that endorses the pro-authoritarian, xenophobic, eliminationist far-far-right looking to scrub out democracy in their own countries? Is it Tucker Carlson? Is it a militia group? Greg here is tapped into the zeitgeist of American fascism to enough of an extent that he knows he should be emulating Hungary's malevolent thugs, but we don't get any explanation of that? He just drops that bomb into the conversation and the Times thinks well, that's as good a closer as any?
The word insurrection is used repeatedly in the Times piece. Words not used: Insurrectionist. Sedition. Authoritarian. Anti-democratic. Conspirator. The premise of the piece is an examination of the nonviolent—or at least, less violent—Americans who responded to Trump's call to overthrow the government, and while we are told that the group tends towards conspiracy theories, remains enamored with Trump's particular conspiracy theories, and has taken up the anti-vaccination cause like they were born for the moment, but the central trait that ties them all together is a belief that democracy should be nullified if democracy is unwilling to ensconce them, personally, as social victors.
The Times, however, is quite willing to portray them in their own terms—as supposed patriots, and portray the central goal of their fight, the nullification of elections that do not end with conservative victors, as a social choice.
"Many who marched"\n"A galvanizing new beginning"\n"The spirit of the day carries on"\n"The sense of community resonates"\nhttps://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/23/us/jan-6-attendees.html\u00a0\u2026pic.twitter.com/NgSXeRsDO7— Magdi Semrau (@Magdi Semrau) 1642954279
The problem with all of this is that, yet again, we have a major media outlet using the conventions of neutrality to obscure the severity of the moment rather than clarify it. The facts now all conclusively point to the same determination: This was an insurrection, it was intended as an insurrection, those that boosted it did so as part of a very real plan to capture government, there was a propaganda campaign to encourage and justify it, the propaganda campaign continues, and the Republican Party is behind all of it. The people who were summoned by Trump that day do not regret their actions—except for when asked by a federal judge, immediately before that judge is to decide whether or not to throw them in prison for a spell—and, if anything, are restructuring their lives around their new authoritarian devotions.
What is this new movement that the Times has found, then? It is a movement based incontrovertibly around false propaganda intended to discredit United States elections by claiming that they have been corrupted by an imaginary other. It is a movement that seeks partisan control over elections, including the ability to overturn results that go against them. It focuses on a need for national renewal, or "saving" the country from their enemies. The enemies list includes immigrants, nonwhite citizens, the sexually "deviant," universities, schoolteachers, journalists, scientists, and a supposed secret cabal of elites responsible for all of it. It insists that a loss of "masculinity" is responsible for the world's ailments; it features demands that its political enemies be jailed as central rhetorical planks, not just in the chants of a know-nothing rabble but in vows from top party leaders.
And it celebrates the use of violence as a path towards that national "renewal," with top party voices insisting that those who participated in an attempted insurrection be freed—and honored.
These are the traits of a fascist movement, down to the individual details, the performative religious bent, and the focus on a central, buffoonishily hyper-"masculine" leader and the supposed savior who will make the rest of it come to pass.
So why are readers led through a series of mini-hagiographies that glance through each trait example-by-example, but left to their own devices to ponder out what actual "news" can be gleaned from it?
What do you call people who were willing to attack police officers in an attempt to nullify an American presidential election rather than abide by results they did not like? Insurrectionists; seditionists; coup participants.
What do you call people who assembled that day to demand the nullification of an American election, but who only provided bodies to fill out the crowd, leaving it to others to do the actual fighting while they took advantage of whatever crimes were committed to get closer to their goal? Insurrectionists. Seditionists. Coup participants.
What do you call people who assembled that day to demand the nullification of an American election, timed to coincide with the constitutional acknowledgement of that election, even if they did not enter the Capitol at all? Insurrectionists. Seditionists. Coup participants.
But what if they were tricked into it, and only wanted to topple the legitimate United States government because they were told the government was invalid and needed to be toppled?
Then they are insurrectionists. Seditionists. Willing allies of a hoax-premised coup.
Anyone who gathered that day to demand the erasure of an American election, violent or not, allied themselves against their country to side with a hoax-spewing, toxic buffoon. That goes for those in Congress who allied with the effort and helped promote the hoax used to incite the crowds; that goes for the lawyers who tossed countless false statements towards judges with full knowledge that they were promoting nonsense. Anyone who brought a "baton" or a "Taser" to Washington, D.C., in case violence was needed to erase an election is a seditionist. Anyone who waved a Trump flag and screamed their agreement when he told the crowd that his defeat was invalid and should be overturned chose the ravings of a belligerent clown over loyalty to their own nation. Anyone who called elections workers to threaten hangings based on hoaxes that they need no evidence to believe.
None of these people need to be understood. It should be enough for them that most will not be imprisoned. The press should be exposing them as dangerous, not providing publicity for their new anti-democracy ventures. It is indeed news that many or the majority of those that participated in an act of sedition remain eager to do it again—but that makes them enemies of their nation, not subjects for wispy examinations of sedition as new social fad.
If journalism intends to ally itself with democracy, it is both reasonable and necessary to portray those who would topple the country in service of growing fascist beliefs as unreasonable. As not just odd characters, but willfully dangerous. It is not necessary to feign neutrality on a fascist coup or those currently running for small-time office or staking new legal careers on ambitions of being more successful the next time around.
It is a fascist movement. It consists of people who have demanded and are still demanding that democracy either bend to it or be erased. They believe paranoid and delusional things—paranoid and delusional things that should not be spread in national newspapers as merely alternative belief systems, but should be highlighted as dangerous hoaxes promoted by propagandists and embraced by fools.
It is fine and reasonable to condemn those that want to end democracy and have already proven willing to take action to do it. Journalistic neutrality does not mean that those that attack the country and those that protect it should be given equal respect. Do not respect them!
The Times continues to drift through political events with practiced unawareness, unwilling to commit itself to standing for anything in particular. Reading through its pages is like wandering into the foyer of a particularly unambitious natural history museum, with individual bones of current historical changes bolted together haphazardly into skeletons that may or may not look anything like the creatures they are supposed to represent. We are allowed to gawk, but there are no curators who can tell us anything or who can differentiate between a ancient femur and a rusty 6 iron—and we get sniffed at if we even ask.
It is unremarkable for a newspaper to ally itself with democracy and to assert, in its pages, that those that would erase it are doing harm. This is not a high bar. The Times knows full well how close the coup came to succeeding, and how the individuals it profiles are retooling things to allow a near-future version to more efficiently trundle over the obstacles that stalled it the last time around. For the love of God and country, stop hiding the danger of the moment behind gauzy profiles of democracy's self-declared enemies.
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