Big boys playing dress-up: Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are dangerous — and deeply embarrassing

Big boys playing dress-up: Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are dangerous — and deeply embarrassing
The Proud Boys' Enrique Tarrio and other members of the Proud Boys at a gun rights rally in Richmond, Virginia, on January 20, 2020, Wikimedia Commons

The hearings of the House Jan. 6 committee that began on Thursday night presented plenty of evidence of plain old-fashioned wrongdoing, infantile fantasizing by people old enough to know better, and hundreds of instances of people committing overt criminally indictable offenses at the behest of a president of the United States. But the evidence showed something else, too: an entire political party that has lost the capacity to be embarrassed.

There is so much evidence of behavior and attitudes that are embarrassing that you hardly know where to begin: with the whiny look on Jared Kushner's face and his whiny tone of voice as he described the White House counsel's threats to resign as "whiny"? The aw-shucks shrug of the shoulders given by former Attorney General William Barr, who was the highest law enforcement official in the land, as he explained — if that is even the word — resigning his office because he had finally had enough of what he called "bullshit"? Committee vice-chair Liz Cheney's lengthy recitation of all the phone calls Donald Trump didn't make and orders he refused to issue while a violent attempt was made to overthrow the government of which he was in charge?

See what I mean?

To me, however, the most embarrassing thing of all is the fact that nine veterans of service in the United States military have been indicted for seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government for their roles in the violent assault on the Capitol. Not only that, but they dressed up and play-acted their parts as veterans. Some of them, specifically the Oath Keepers, wore military-style camo outfits complete with bulletproof vests and Kevlar helmets, and used a military-style "stack" formation to lead the breach of the Capitol building. Others, the Proud Boys, gave orders to their membership not to wear military-style gear and remain incognito: "come as a patriot" and "do not wear colors!" (referring to their yellow and black Proud Boy uniforms) and "be decentralized and use good judgement" because "we are trying to avoid getting into any shit."

Reading the indictment of five Proud Boys — four of them veterans — that was handed down by a Washington grand jury last Monday is like reading a script for a remake of "Rambo." Using an encrypted social media chat app, the Proud Boys talked about their "Ministry of Self Defense" or MOSD, their "Leaders Group," their "Operations Council" and their "Marketing Council." They even formed a "MOSD Prospect Group" to recruit new members for their paramilitary operations at the Capitol on Jan. 6. (Note: All that excited capitalization is from the texts cited verbatim in the indictment.)

The Proud Boys established something called the "Boots on the Ground Group," and exchanged text messages asking, "Are we going to do a commander's briefing before 10 a.m.?"

"Standby," came the response in primo-mil-speak.

All of the above was in preparation for the assault launched by the Proud Boys on the Capitol. Many of the texts were exchanged before the rally on the Ellipse had even begun.

At 12:53 p.m. on Jan. 6, during the time Donald Trump was speaking on the Ellipse, the Proud Boys effected the first breach of the protective barriers established by police around the Capitol, pushing one of the police officers to the ground. Her head struck the pavement hard enough for her to lose consciousness and suffer severe trauma. Moments later, a Proud Boy text announced, "We have just taken the Capitol," as if the seat of the government of the United States was a military objective. At 1:00 p.m., a member of the so-called "MOSD Leader's Group" texted, "They deploy the mace yet?" One of the Proud Boys, who turned out to be an unindicted co-conspirator because of his cooperation with the Department of Justice, replied: "We are trying."

The indictment lays out this embarrassing behavior by military veterans in excruciating, painful detail. It describes the childish delight they took in each other and the pride in the crimes they were committing by citing the selfies they took, to which they attached such grand comments as, "So we stormed the fucking Capitol. Took the motherfucking place back. That was so much fun." Another Proud Boy added, "January 6 will be a day in infamy."

The Proud Boys used the Washington Monument as a rallying point before they began their attack on the Capitol. From the little hill where the Washington Monument stands, the following memorials to other veterans are visible: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean Veterans Memorial, the World War II Memorial. Constitution Gardens is also visible, and so is the Signers Memorial, commemorating the men who signed the Declaration of Independence.

The Proud Boys used "1776" as a private code for what they called their revolution throughout their text messages to each other. The year of the signing of the Declaration of Independence has also become a key part of the rhetoric of many of Trump's defenders, as if by invoking the founding of the country they can excuse its destruction.

Wearing military garb after you've left the service isn't indictable, neither is using military slang, and neither is singlemindedness to the point of being blind to what you're really doing. But it is embarrassing, in ways none of them will ever understand.

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