Alec MacGillis

Judge rules Kushner companies violated multiple laws in massive tenant dispute

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.
It's been six years since Dionne Mont first saw her apartment at Fontana Village, a rental housing complex just east of Baltimore. She was aghast that day to find the front door coming off its hinges, the kitchen cabinet doors stuck to their frames, mouse droppings under the kitchen sink, mold in the refrigerator, the toilet barely functioning and water stains on every upstairs ceiling, among other problems. But she had already signed the lease and paid the deposit.

Mont insisted that management make repairs, but that took several months, during which time she paid her $865 monthly rent and lived elsewhere. She was hit with constant late fees and so-called “court" fees, because the management company required tenants to pay rent at a Walmart or a check-cashing outlet, and she often couldn't get there from her job as a bus driver before the 4:30 p.m. cutoff. She moved out in 2017.

Four years later, Mont has received belated vindication: On April 29, a Maryland judge ruled that the management company, which is owned by Jared Kushner's family real estate firm, violated state consumer laws in several areas, including by not showing tenants the actual units they were going to be assigned to prior to signing a lease, and by assessing them all manner of dubious fees. The ruling came after a 31-day hearing in which about 100 of the company's current and former tenants, including Mont, testified.

“I feel elated," said Mont. “People were living in inhumane conditions — deplorable conditions."

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh brought the consumer-protection case against Westminster Management, the property-management arm of Kushner Companies, in 2019 following a 2017 article by ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine on the company's treatment of its tenants at the 15 housing complexes it owned in the Baltimore area, which have served as profitable ballast for a company better known for its gleaming properties in New York. The article revealed the company's aggressive pursuit of current and former tenants in court over unpaid rent and broken leases, even in cases where tenants were in the right, as well as the shoddy conditions of many units.

To build its case, the attorney general's office subpoenaed records from the company and solicited testimony from current and former tenants, who provided it via remote video link to Administrative Law Judge Emily Daneker late last year.

In her 252-page ruling last week, which was first reported by the Baltimore Sun, Daneker determined that the company had issued a relentless barrage of questionable fees on tenants over the course of many years, including both the fees identified in the 2017 article and others as well. In more than 15,000 instances, Westminster charged in excess of the state-maximum $25 fee to process a rental application. In more than 28,000 instances, the company also assessed a $12 “agent fee" on court filings against tenants even though it had incurred no such cost with the courts — a tactic that Daneker called “spurious" and which brought the company more than $332,000 in fees. And in more than 2,600 instances, the Kushner operation assessed $80 court fees to tenants at its two complexes within the city of Baltimore, even though the charge from the courts was only $50. “The practice of passing court costs on to tenants, in the absence of a court order," Daneker wrote, “was deceptive."

The manifold fees suggested a deliberate strategy to run up tenants' tabs, Daneker wrote, repeatedly calling the practices “widespread and numerous." She concluded that “these circumstances do not support a finding that this was the result of isolated or inadvertent mistakes."

Daneker also found that the company violated consumer law by failing to have the proper debt-collection licenses for some of its properties and by misrepresenting the condition of units being leased to tenants. However, she found that the attorney general's office did not establish that the company violated the law in several other areas, such as by misrepresenting its ability to provide maintenance on units or in some of its calculations of late fees.

Kushner Companies, which has since sold some of the complexes and put others of them on the market, declined to be interviewed for this article. A statement from Kushner general counsel Christopher Smith suggested that the ruling amounted to a victory for the company, despite the judge's many findings against it. “Kushner respects the thoughtful depth of the Judge's decision, which vindicates Westminster with respect to many of the Attorney General's overreaching allegations," Smith said.

In previous statements, the company had alleged that Frosh, a Democrat, had brought the suit for political reasons, and was singling out the company owned by the then-president's son-in-law for a host of practices that the company said were common in the multi-housing rental industry. In her ruling, Daneker stated that she found no evidence of an “improper selective prosecution" in the suit.

The attorney general's office declined to comment, noting that the case is not yet final. Each side will next have the chance to file exceptions, as objections are known, that will be considered by the final arbiter in the consumer protection division of the attorney general's office. The state's lawyers will also propose restitution sums for tenants and a civil penalty. Once the consumer protection arbiter issues a ruling, both sides will have the right to challenge it in the state's appeals courts.

Also awaiting resolution is a separate class-action lawsuit brought by tenants that alleges, among other things, that the company's late fees exceeded state limits. A Court of Special Appeals judge has yet to issue a ruling following a January oral argument on the plaintiffs' appeal of previous rulings against both their attempt to certify themselves as a class and against the substance of their claim regarding late fees.

Despite the drawn-out process, including a three-month delay because of the pandemic, former tenants took satisfaction in the first judicial affirmation of their accounts of improper treatment. Kelly Ziegler, an orthodontic assistant, lived for two years in Highland Village, just south of Baltimore. She also didn't get to see her unit before she moved in, in 2015, and was confronted with a litany of problems: a leak from the tub into the kitchen, a loose bedroom window that she worried her young child might fall out of, and a roach infestation so bad that she couldn't use her stove. After some neighbor kids rolled a tire into her yard to use as a swing, she was fined $250 with no warning. “They did a lot of petty stuff," she said.

But when she asked to break her lease over the problems with the house, management warned her that they would take her to court. She finally got out of the lease in 2017.

When the attorney general's office approached Ziegler over her case, she was eager to share her experience. But when she found out that the complex was owned by President Trump's son-in-law, she started to worry she would face repercussions for speaking out. “It made me scared that I was doing something wrong. This is a person with power," she said. She said that her grandmother tried to reassure her: “You don't have anything to worry about. You've done nothing wrong."

Kushner has of course since left the White House and moved to Florida. Ziegler now lives with her family on a dead-end street in southwest Baltimore. It's near a high-crime strip where, not long ago, a 17-year-old friend of her daughter was fatally shot. But Ziegler is still glad to be out of Highland Village, out of Kushner's reach.

“I hope I don't run into him," she said.

The lost year: Here's what the pandemic cost teenagers

by Alec MacGillis, photography by Celeste Sloman

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

This article originally appeared on ProPublica.

Everything looks the same on either side of the Texas-New Mexico border in the great oil patch of the Permian Basin. There are the pump jacks scattered across the plains, nodding up and down with metronomic regularity. There are the brown highway signs alerting travelers to historical markers tucked away in the nearby scrub. There are the frequent memorials of another sort, to the victims of vehicle accidents. And there are the astonishingly deluxe high school football stadiums. This is, after all, the region that produced “Friday Night Lights."

The city of Hobbs, population just under 40,000, sits on the New Mexico side, as tight to the border as a wide receiver's toes on a sideline catch. From the city's eastern edge to the Texas line is barely more than two miles. From Hobbs to the Texas towns of Seminole and Denver City is a half-hour drive — next door, by the standards of the vast Southwestern plains.

In the pandemic year of 2020, though, the two sides of the state line might as well have been in different hemispheres. Texas's response to the coronavirus was freewheeling. Most notably, it gave local school districts leeway in deciding whether to open for in-person instruction in August, and in conservative West Texas, many districts seized the opportunity to do so, for all grades, all the way up through high school. Students wore masks in the hallways and administrators did contact tracing for positive cases of coronavirus, but everything else went pretty much as usual, including sports. On Friday nights, high schools still played football, with fans in the stands.

New Mexico's response last year was the opposite. The state, led by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, took one of the most aggressive lockdown stances in the country, and issued stringent guidelines for school reopening, so stringent that Hobbs was allowed to bring back only a sliver of its students for in-person instruction.

For high school junior Kooper Davis, whose family lives 10 minutes west of the border, this meant no school and no football. This was a problem, because he loved both of them.

Kooper had always gotten straight A's, despite a tendency to leave big assignments to the last minute. He charmed classmates and teachers alike with his playful ebullience. His natural high spirits had carried him through his life's primary challenge to date, his parents' breakup when he was a small child. He started playing organized football at age 5 and could not get enough of it. He played basketball, too, but football had his heart. When the youth minister at church once apologized for missing one of his high school games, Kooper reassured him that it was okay, that he did not depend on an audience: “I play for myself," he said.

Kooper started heading off to quarterback camps and private training — in Atlanta, New Orleans and Tucson, among other cities — hoping to better his odds of getting to play in college, an aspiration that became more feasible as he sprouted to 6 feet, 4 inches tall, ideal for throwing over linemen, if only he could get his agility and coordination to catch up with his height. His parents encouraged him to aim for the Ivy League, but he knew its football was middling. Instead, he set his sights on Stanford, which excelled in sports and academics, and which he had visited for another football camp.

For student-athletes aspiring to play in college, junior year is key. It's that year's video that recruiters will look at, and that year's grades that admissions officers will scrutinize. Kooper already had a highlight reel, and it included some nice-looking throws, but it was from his sophomore season on the junior varsity team. Junior year was everything: He would be vying for the starting QB slot on varsity and taking a fistful of Advanced Placement courses. He would, in general, be getting to enjoy the experience of being Kooper Davis, a well-liked kid in a small city where the admiration flowed even from the youngsters he helped out at church, one of whom, a 9-year-old boy, was overheard gleefully reporting to his father that Kooper Davis knew his name.

But the start of the school year arrived, and there was no school. Kooper and his classmates would take their courses at home using an online program, with barely any contact with teachers or each other. His teammates would be allowed to practice only in small pods, which left them mostly doing just weightlifting sessions and agility drills. There would be no actual games.

The hope was that all this would be temporary. That was what the kids heard from the adults in charge, and they tried to believe it.

The coronavirus pandemic has been not only a health catastrophe, but an epic failure of national government. The result of the abdication of federal leadership in 2020 was an atomization of decision-making that affected the lives and well-being of millions of people. States, and frequently individual school districts — sometimes even individual schools and sports leagues — have been forced to grapple with emerging and occasionally conflicting science that has sought to decode the mysteries of a newly discovered virus. Local governmental and educational officials — the vast majority of whom aren't epidemiologists or experts on indoor airflow — have had to formulate policy under intense time pressure while being buffeted by impassioned constituencies on every side and facing the reality that any decision would impose costs on somebody.

One of the few aspects of this terrible pandemic to be grateful for is that it has taken a vastly lesser toll on children and young adults than its major precursor of last century, the flu pandemic of 1918-1920. That earlier pandemic's victims tended to be in the prime of life, withmortality peaking around age 28.

The novel coronavirus, by contrast, has hit the elderly the hardest. Themedian age for COVID-19 fatalities in the U.S. is about 80. Of the nearly 500,000 deaths in the U.S. analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of early March, — five hundredths of a percent of the total. The CDC has also recorded about 2,000 cases of aninflammatory syndrome that has afflicted some children after they contracted the virus, resulting in about 30 additional deaths. Doctors are still uncertain whether children who survived that syndrome will experience long-term heart issues or other health problems.

Plenty of parents continue to worry for their children's health amid the pandemic. But the primary concern from a public health standpoint has been the role that children and young adults might play in transmitting the disease to others. A growing body of evidence suggests that younger children are the to transmit the virus, but that as children older, their capacity for transmission approaches that of adults.

This has posed a conundrum from early in the pandemic: How much should children be prevented from doing outside the home, to keep them from contributing to community transmission of a highly contagious virus? Or to put it more broadly: How much of normal youth should they be asked to sacrifice? It has been a difficult balance to strike, on both a societal and family level.

In many parts of the country, particularly cities and towns dominated by Democrats, concerns about virus spread by children has resulted in all sorts of measures: closures of playgrounds, requirements that kids older than 2 wear masks outdoors, at colleges that reopened. “We should be more careful with kids," wrote Andy Slavitt, a Medicare and Medicaid administrator under President Barack Obama who was named senior advisor for President Joe Biden's coronavirus task force, in a . “They should circulate less or will become vectors. Like mosquitos carrying a tropical disease."

In Los Angeles, county supervisor Hilda Solis, a former Obama labor secretary, urged young people to stay home, noting the risk of them infecting older members of their households. “One of the more heartbreaking conversations that our healthcare workers share is about these last words when children apologize to their parents and grandparents for bringing COVID into their homes for getting them sick," she . “And these apologies are just some of the last words that loved ones will ever hear as they die alone."

As time has gone on, evidence has grown on one side of the equation: the harm being done to children by restricting their “circulation." There is thewell-documented fall-off in student academic performance at schools that have shifted to virtual learning, which, copious evidence now shows, is exacerbating racial and class divides in achievement. This toll has led a growing number ofepidemiologists,pediatricians andother physicians to argue for reopening schools as broadly as possible, amidgrowingevidence that schools are not major venues for transmission of the virus.

As many of these experts have noted, the cost of restrictions on youth has gone beyond academics. The CDC found that the proportion of visits to the emergency room by adolescents between ages 12 and 17 that were mental-health-related during the span of March to October 2020, compared with the same months in 2019.A study in the March 2021 issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, of people aged 11 to 21 visiting emergency rooms found “significantly higher" rates of “suicidal ideation" during the first half of 2020 (compared to 2019), as well as higher rates of suicide attempts, though the actual number of suicides remained flat.

Doctors are concerned about in childhood obesity — no surprise with many kids housebound in stress-filled homes — whileaddiction experts are warning of the long-term effects of endless hours of screen time when both schoolwork and downtime stimulation are delivered digitally. (Perhaps the only indicator of youth distress that is falling — reports of child abuse and neglect, whichdropped about 40% early in the pandemic — is nonetheless worrisome because experts suspect it is the reporting that is declining, not the frequency of the abuse.)

Finally, the nationwide surge in gun violence since the start of the pandemic has included, in many cities, a sharp rise incrimes involving juveniles, including many killed or arrested during what would normally be school time. In Prince George's County, Maryland, a Washington, D.C., suburb where school buildings have remained closed, in just the first five weeks of this year.

“An entire generation between the ages of 5 and 18 has been effectively removed from society at large,"wrote Maryland pediatrician Lavanya Sithanandam in The Washington Post. “They do not have the same ability to vote or speak out."

It has, instead, been left largely up to parents to monitor their children for signs of declining mental health as they determine whether to allow their kids to return to college or summer camp, to have a friend over, to go to the mall.

My family was among those facing these decisions. Our sons, now 16 and 13, have had fully remote learning in their Baltimore public schools for nearly a year now. For them, the primary release from the hours staring at the laptop screen would be sports, and for us, the answer was clear: My wife and I would let them play. The boys' respective high school and rec-league baseball seasons were canceled last spring, but their club teams were still playing through the summer and fall. This proved a godsend, a way for the boys to keep being active outdoors and around other kids, doing something they loved to do. For my older son, the baseball meant frequent traveling to tournaments out of state, in Virginia and Pennsylvania. Almost every weekend, we'd be back on near-empty highways, staying in near-empty motels, subsisting on endless takeout chicken sandwiches whenever we couldn't find an outdoor place for a meal.

This all started before the resumption of Major League Baseball and other professional sports, and it sometimes seemed as if our tournaments were the only serious competitive sports happening in the country, a sort of speakeasy baseball. Some precautions were taken, such as umpires calling balls and strikes from behind the mound instead of behind the catcher at home plate. The boys and their parents wore their masks inside the motels; at games, the parents spread out in the bleachers or on the sidelines. The parents ran the political gamut: liberals from Baltimore, conservatives from rural towns in Pennsylvania. But there was an implicit agreement that we were fortunate that our kids could keep playing, and we wouldn't do anything to screw it up. Those weekends remain for me some of the only redeeming moments of an awful year.

Football at the teenage level differs from baseball in a crucial respect: It is based almost entirely around high schools, without a parallel universe of clubs and tournaments. If high school teams aren't playing football, there is no football being played.

In New Mexico, Gov. Lujan Grisham that football and soccer would be prohibited for the fall season. “No contact sports are going to be permitted this fall," she said. “These contact sports are just too high-risk. If we do well, if we work hard, it is possible we could just be delaying them and they could be played later in the year and later into the season. Fingers crossed, and I believe in you that we can get this done."

As the hot Southwestern summer dragged on, Kooper Davis and his teammates placed faith in that possibility. In August, they were allowed to hold practice sessions capped at nine players each — not enough for a real practice, with offense running plays against defense, but better than the July sessions, which had been capped at five players. Kooper was vying against three other players for the starting quarterback spot. His arm strength had improved in the past year, so much so that his best friend Sam Kinney, a wide receiver, jokingly complained about the passes starting to hurt. And Kooper was a great student of the quarterback position; he had “the intangibles," his coaches said. But he knew he needed to work on his agility, which is one reason he took the practices so seriously. He was the first to come, and last to leave.

Even with fall sports canceled, the Hobbs school district, with almost 10,000 students, was still hoping to open the new school year for as much in-person instruction as possible. More than just scholastic considerations were driving this. In late April, six weeks into the spring's pandemic lockdowns, the community had been stunned by the suicide of an 11-year-old boy, Landon Fuller, an outgoing kid who loved going to school and had, his mother said, struggled with the initial lockdowns.

New Mexico has consistently had one of the highest in the country — it's roughly twice the national average — and preliminary state statistics would later show the 2020 rate as unchanged. Nationwide, increased by half between 2007 and 2018, a trend that has been linked to multiple factors, from the growing availability of guns to the spread of smartphones and social media. In New Mexico, mental health experts say, the factors also include high rates of depression on Native American reservations, and rural isolation in general.

Still, the news of an 11-year-old taking his life — after riding his bike to a field near his house — had the power to shock in Hobbs. “I think the big question we all have is why, and we will never know the reason why," his mother, Katrina Fuller, told an Albuquerque TV talk show in July. “The only thing that I was able to find was in his journal, was that he had wrote that he was going mad from staying at home all the time and that he just wanted to be able to go to school and play outside with his friends. So that was the only thing that I can imagine what was going through his head at that time."

Hobbs is heavily conservative. Lea County, of which it is part, would vote 79% for Trump in 2020. And unlike in many other, more Democratic parts of the country, the city's school administrators had the support of many teachers when it came to reopening: A survey in late summer found more than 70% of teachers in favor of in-person instruction. But the district's push to reopen was rebuffed by the state education department. After initially barring any schools from reopening in August, the state released “gating criteria" for districts that wanted to resume in-person instruction in the fall. They were among the strictest in the country. They allowed only for elementary-school instruction, and required a district to stay below an average of eight new cases per day per 100,000 residents over a two-week period. For Hobbs and the rest of Lea County, population 70,000, that meant no more than five new cases per day in the whole county. (By , Kentucky's daily threshold was 25 cases per 100,000 people and Oklahoma's was 50 cases. Hawaii, one of the states least affected by the pandemic, put its threshold at 360 cases over a 14-day period.)

Statewide in New Mexico, the restrictions resulted in zero high schools or middle schools reopening anywhere in the state. This confounded Hobbs school officials, especially because they could see open schools across the border in Texas. “We've got districts 30 miles away doing it safely," associate superintendent Gene Strickland said. “I get the fear level, but we see models that show it can be done. Allow us that opportunity."

Kooper Davis had always thrived in school. He liked his teachers, and they liked him. He had won over his ninth-grade English teacher, Jennifer Espinoza, with his willingness to engage on the works they were reading: “The Outsiders," “Romeo and Juliet," “To Kill a Mockingbird."

“He was very opinionated about why a character did this, or whatever something meant," Espinoza said. “Even if he was wrong or going in the wrong direction, he wasn't afraid to put his thoughts out there." It was a great class in general, she said: “Those kids fed off each other. They would come out with amazing answers." Kooper and Sam Kinney ribbed her about her tendency to lose her phone and took daily attendance for her. When Kooper was the only boy at Hobbs to make the Junior National Honors Society alongside 20 girls, Espinoza asked him if it felt weird. He grinned. “No, I like it!"

But Kooper hated virtual school. There were no friends to cajole, no teachers to charm. Hobbs wasn't even holding synchronous classes online for older high schoolers. They mostly watched video lessons on their own, using an online curriculum called Edgenuity. Kooper procrastinated, as usual, but now also found it harder to focus when deadlines hit. His grades started slipping from his usual all-A's. And these were the grades that colleges were going to be looking at.

As it was sinking in with Kooper and his classmates that school would remain remote for the rest of the fall, they got word in early October of an additional setback on the sports front. Not only would New Mexico remain one of a handful of states to bar high school sports, but practices would now be limited to just four players per coach. This meant they would mostly just be lifting weights, never mind that this often meant having many players in the weight room at a time (albeit in four-player pods), seemingly a riskier proposition than a regular practice outdoors. The football coach, Ken Stevens, could sense the morale plunging. “I seen a lot of disappointment," he said. “Lost hope." Some players stopped showing up. Making it especially tough, he said, was the nearby contrast. “That's the frustration," he said. “How come 10, 15 miles away, these kids can compete, can live a somewhat normal life?"

Kooper was despondent. “Man, this ," he told his teammates. “We need to be back on the field." He missed football so much that, on some Friday evenings, he headed across the state line to Texas to watch a game.

The schools in Denver City, population 5,000, had shut down amid the coronavirus lockdowns in the spring of 2020, but there wasn't really any question about whether the 1,700-student district would reopen schools in the fall. The Texas Education Agency was letting districts make the decision. The Texas Classroom Teachers Association had nowhere near the sway of unions in other states. This didn't keep many large urban districts in the state from starting the school year with remote learning. But Denver City and nearby small cities in West Texas opened schools. Students could choose a virtual option, but only a few dozen of Denver City's 492 high school students took it. As for teachers, there was no option: Their job was in the classroom.

Denver City is a humble-looking town, with a Family Dollar and no Walmart, but oil-and-gas revenues had allowed it to build a new high school two years ago. The building has good ventilation, and enough space that it wasn't hard to spread desks to allow for 4 to 6 feet between them, even in a class of 20 or more. Students were attending five days a week, without the hassle of hybrid schedules used in much of the country. They were required to wear masks in the hallways or while moving around a classroom, but many teachers allowed them to take their masks off at their desks, judging the spacing sufficient, though the teachers kept their own masks on. Lunch was still served in the cafeteria, but it never got crowded because many students went into town for lunch, at the McDonald's drive-through or elsewhere.

The school did not administer coronavirus tests on its own, but if a student or teacher tested positive locally, the school conducted contact tracing to determine if any other teacher or student had been exposed to them for 15 minutes or more, unmasked, within six feet. Anyone who fit that definition had to quarantine at home, initially for two weeks, eventually only for 10 days, in line with CDC guidelines. The district, which offered daily and weekly tallies of cases on its website, determined that the vast share of transmissions seemed to be happening outside school, as to be the case in other places, too. “The weekends is where they're getting it," said principal Rick Martinez. “If we could have them all week, this is the best place for them to be."

Over the course of the fall semester, about a dozen of the 70 staff members in the Denver City school missed time for quarantine, mostly after testing positive themselves, forcing the district to find substitutes — no easy task, but not insurmountable. All of the teachers returned. There were other challenges, such as the time in August when a player on the girls volleyball team tested positive and the school made the decision to shut down the team for two weeks, just in case another player had been exposed.

Overall, though, the fall was going so relatively well that many students who had chosen the remote option at the outset decided to come back to school, to the point where only about half a dozen were still learning at home. “It's been stressful at times," said the district superintendent, Patrick Torres. “It's taken a lot of time and effort, but our kids are getting instruction face to face."

Football went forward, too. The school capped attendance at its field, and required people to register for tickets online. The team in Seminole, 20 miles south, needed to cancel some games as the result of player quarantines, but Denver City managed to get through the fall without any cancellations, though there were some weeks where the roster got thin.

Kooper Davis came across the border once with a friend to see a game in Levelland, northeast of Denver City, and another time with his father, Justin, to see a game in Seminole. Justin, who works for a company that services oil-field equipment and runs a lawn care business on the side, noticed the reaction his tall, athletic son was getting in the Seminole stands. “People looked at us, like, 'Who is this kid and why is he not playing?'"

Kooper's father and his stepmother Heather, who had been together since Kooper was nine, had considered transferring him to a school in Texas, as other families were doing. This would have entailed sending Kooper to live with Heather's brother. (Kooper had limited contact with his biological mother.) They were even considering sending Kooper and Heather to Atlanta to live near one of the coaches he'd trained with. But Heather and Justin had just had newborn twins. Plus, Kooper wanted to play with team, his friends.

His parents began to notice how much the disruption and uncertainty was wearing on their normally buoyant son. On Oct. 9, Heather went on Facebook and posted a plea for reopening. “So honestly when do we stand up for our kids?? When do we all protest and say this is enough, do we wait until our kids lose life completely?" she wrote. “So many kids are turning to the wrong things to fill a void. Sad, it's so sad. Let's respect the ones who wanna stay home and respect the ones who are ready to go back!!"

Two days later, the town learned of another life lost: an 18-year-old who had graduated from Hobbs High that spring at a local park after receiving a medical discharge from the Navy. Kooper did not know him well, but went out to join friends who had gathered to mourn him.

The next day, a Monday evening, Kooper and his classmates held a demonstration for reopening school and school sports, one of several across the county that day. They held theirs at the high school football stadium, a hulking edifice that can seat 15,000. The students wore masks and sat spaced apart on the stands, holding signs that said “Let Us Play" and “SOS Save Our Students." They had the tacit support of their coaches and many of their parents, some of whom had helped shoot a testimonial video that was going to be shown on the scoreboard screen. But the video wouldn't load right, so several students went onto the field to give impromptu speeches before the 175 or so people who were gathered there.

Kooper was among the speakers, which surprised his friend Sam Kinney. “I knew he was pretty brave, but didn't know he was that brave," Sam said later.

At the microphone, Kooper introduced himself, then said, “I play football and basketball and those sports make up a big part of my life, and when I'm not here every day doing something with those sports, honestly, I feel really lost in life. Since I'm a junior, college is starting to cross my mind, and without this essential year of learning, I feel completely unprepared for college. I know I've still got another year, but time goes faster than you really think."

He continued, “I just believe we should be here at school and we should be here playing football. It's crazy to think that just down the road, they're playing a football season — they're almost with their football season. It's honestly ridiculous. And I'm willing to keep my teammate and classmates in line, minding whatever rules, just so I can be back here doing the stuff I love."

Mental health experts struggle to identify a precedent for the challenge this pandemic is producing for many Americans. In prior pandemics where the technology was not available for remote work or remote schooling, lockdowns and social isolation were not as extreme and did not last as long as what we've lived through this past year. And the psychological stress that the pandemic has produced for so many Americans of all ages is unlike so many more acute crises that we might experience in life, said Nick Allen, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oregon. “There's a difference between a stressor that makes your life unpleasant and intolerable and a stressor that takes away good things," he said. “For a lot of people, the stressor that COVID represents is one that takes away good things. You can't go to sporting events, you can't see your friends, you can't go to parties. It's not necessarily that you're experiencing abuse, though some may be. What's happening is that we're taking away high points in people's lives that give them reward and meaning. That may have an effect over time. The initial response is not as difficult as something that's stressful, but over time, the anhedonia, the loss of pleasure, is going to drive you down a lot more."

Even before the coronavirus arrived, teen mental health was a cause for growing concern. Researchers and mental health professionals had come to the conclusion that, as David Brent, a University of Pittsburgh psychiatry professor, put it to me, “One thing that's protective against it is connection to school and family and peers. We know that participation in sports and a connection to school can have a profound protective effect."

That social connection has been attenuated in the parts of the country that have largely shuttered school buildings and associated activities. The closures have also inhibited young people's striving for independence, youth mental health experts say. “A key developmental task of adolescence is autonomy-building," said Jessica Schleider, an assistant psychology professor at Stony Brook University. “That is what teens are driven to do: to grow self-esteem and a strong sense of who they are." With school and so much else closed off to them, and daily life mostly limited to the home, “the little bit of self-directedness they had before is gone. A lot are stuck in environments they didn't choose. The futures they had been working toward aren't options anymore."

As the pandemic carried through the summer, worrisome signals started appearing across the country. In addition to the on the rising share of visits to emergency rooms by teenagers in distress, a University of Wisconsin survey of more than 3,000 high school athletes during the summer found that more than two-thirds reported high levels of anxiety and depression, .

For Kooper, autumn brought no relief. Every weekday morning except Wednesday, he got up at 6:30 a.m., drank a protein shake, then drove to McDonald's for more breakfast, before arriving at school at 7 a.m. for a weightlifting session. On the way back, he'd pick up some Burger King breakfast for his two younger sisters, ages 11 and 5. The younger one would ask why he couldn't get McDonald's, which she preferred, on the way back, and he'd explain that traffic made it easier for him to do them in this order. Kooper would chat a bit with Heather and then shower and get to work on the computer.

There were signs that mental health was on his mind. On Oct. 16, Kooper shared a grim claim from a state representative on his Facebook account, which he seldom used: “The New Mexico Athletic Association reports there have been 8 student-athlete suicides since March 20."

Kooper looked so alone and hunched over as he worked that Heather one day posted a picture of him online to share his struggle with others. “I know my kid isn't the only one hurting," she wrote. “How is this life that they are living."

The Davises were sufficiently attuned to the mental health challenges of the pandemic that they held regular family visits with a therapist, and Kooper had gotten a couple of solo sessions as well before he and the therapist decided that was no longer necessary.

For a while, Kooper went to do some of his schoolwork at the Starbucks near the local Walmart, just to get out of the house, but then it closed down again when state restrictions tightened further. On some Tuesdays and Thursdays, he'd head to school for an afternoon session with the other quarterbacks, learning how to read defensive coverage. Some afternoons, he'd head over to the church his family belongs to, Christian Center Church, which is led by Sam's father, Jotty Kinney, who set up a small weight room for the boys to use. On Sunday mornings, Kooper would be back at the church for his youth-group service and to help lead sessions for the younger kids. And one weekend late afternoon in November, when it was below 30 degrees out, two dozen boys went to school to play touch football, the closest they had come to having a game.

On Sunday, Dec. 6, as semester finals were getting underway for school, Kooper was at church as usual, dressed as a baby for a monthly skit he and Sam did for the little kids. Later that day, he put up another Facebook post, his first since the one in October: “With these tough times going around, I know there are many of those in need, and I want to give back to my community," he wrote. “If any of y'all know anyone unable to leave their homes, I am willing to wait in line and pick up their groceries for them, or even run simple errands. Please pm me if you or anyone you know could use a helping hand."

The next morning, Dec. 7, Kooper went to his Monday weightlifting session. As he left, he told Sam, in typically unabashed fashion, “Love you." “Love you, too," Sam responded. On the way out of the athletic building, Kooper swung by to see the basketball coach, Eddy Martinez, to tell him he thought he might be able to play with that team, too, if the schedule that the state had floated the previous week actually came to pass: a truncated football season in February, followed by a truncated basketball season. Martinez said he'd be glad to have Kooper and that he was welcome to join one of their four-person practice pods that very day. Kooper said he didn't have his basketball shoes, but he would come the next day.

Coach Stevens got the news from the school principal that afternoon. Like others in Hobbs, he was not unprepared for such calls: There had been at least six suicide attempts by Hobbs students during the pandemic, according to district officials. But when he heard the name, Stevens was stunned. He asked, “Are you sure you got the name right?" The principal said he thought he had, but that he'd double-check with the school's designated police officer. He called back five minutes later to say that yes, he had gotten the name right.

Jennifer Espinoza got word from fellow teachers, one of whom asked her, “Hey, did you have Connor Davis?" The name meant nothing to her, but, she asked, did they mean Kooper Davis? No, they said. “Good," she said, “because Kooper would be out of the question."

It had happened while Heather was at the grocery store picking up baby formula and something for dinner. At about 1 p.m., Kooper had texted Sam on Snapchat: “Love you, bro." “Love you, too," Sam wrote back. That was the last he heard from his friend.

The next day, Coach Stevens gathered his players and assistant coaches in the team meeting room to discuss Kooper's death. There were counselors on hand, as well as Pastor Kinney, Sam's dad. The adults encouraged the players to speak about what they were feeling, not to hold things in. But the players ended up just wanting to go lift weights together.

The day after that, Wednesday, a fleet of empty school buses arrived at the high school from other towns, one from as far as Clovis, 130 miles away. The buses had condolence messages painted on the windows: “We are here for you," read the writing on the bus from Portales. “Pray for Hobbs," said the bus from Eunice. “Artesia loves you," said the bus from Artesia.

I reached Justin Davis on the phone that Saturday, after learning of Kooper's death from a mother in northwestern New Mexico whose daughter had also struggled with the absence of school and sports. Justin, as I would soon learn, is a large and taciturn man, but he was eager to talk, and urged me to come to New Mexico to learn more about what Kooper and his friends had been through. He was at a loss over what he and Heather might have missed. “I had an open relationship with my son," he said. “It's baffling to us to figure out why he didn't come to us."

Suicide is ultimately an unfathomable act, but Justin said he was sure of one thing. “No doubt, if my son had been in school on Monday this wouldn't have happened," he said. “He would've had an adult standing next to him, a coach saying, 'Kooper, quit being a dummy.'" The only way he could make sense of it, Justin said, was that “for about fifteen seconds of Kooper's life, he let his guard down and the devil came in and convinced him of something that was wrong." His only solace was seeing the effect the loss had on Kooper's classmates, who were, he said, turning their lives over to God, sending letters to the governor, and generally spreading word of his son's goodness far and wide.“I believe God needed him now," he said.

I arrived in Hobbs two days later, just in time for the memorial inside Christian Center Church. The parking lot was jammed with oversized pickups, and the sanctuary was standing room only. The stage was dominated by balloons in black and yellow, the Hobbs High colors, and large white letters and numbers, aglow with lights, that spelled KD 10, Kooper's jersey number. His home and away jerseys, his school backpack and a school photograph were also displayed. I found an empty space to stand in the back. There were many kids in the audience, and some were wearing raspberry-colored shirts with Kooper 10 written on them. Few people were wearing face masks.

A four-person band with two backup singers played “Another in the Fire," a stirring song by the Australian worship band Hillsong United: “There was another in the fire/ Standing next to me/ There was another in the waters/ Holding back the seas…"

Stevens was one of several coaches and trainers who spoke via a recorded feed played on the big screen over the stage. “I have no doubt that God is not done using Kooper," he said. “He is going to continue to use him to impact those around him, and God's glory will shine through."

Then the screen played a long loop of photos and videos of Kooper: wearing a Halloween costume, holding his younger sister on the beach, wearing braces, buried in sand, grinning behind Justin and Heather as they kissed at their wedding, attending a Dallas Cowboys game, singing in a school musical, holding a newspaper with his name in a sports story, sitting on a hay bale, holding the newborn twins, wearing a tux for a dance.

Heather came to the stage with Kooper's sisters. She began by reading some lines Kooper had written in his journal, including his paraphrase of a verse of Scripture, “If your enemy is hurting give him food. If he's thirsty, give him water," and his interpretation of it: “No matter who it is, no matter who the person is, if they're in need, help them. Help them. I don't know who it is, but you need to help them." She talked about Justin's love for his son: “That's his boy. Kooper's been Justin's rock." She recounted all their morning chats together, after his workout sessions. “I want him to come in from football practice and tell me how practice went. I want him to tickle the babies while I go eat," she said. “But that's me being selfish. And I want his happiness more than I want mine."

Pastor Kinney spoke last. “When you'd see him smile, you didn't know what was going on under that mop of hair he had," he said. “He was one of the most driven people I have known." He described Kooper's “protective loyalty," how he once ran in from the outfield of a church softball game to confront someone who was having words with Heather. He joked about Kooper letting one of his sisters sleep in one of his shirts, his willingness to dress up as a baby during the church skit for the little kids, and how Kooper was the only one of the young people he knew who would actually call him on the phone sometimes, just to talk. “No other kid in this day and age called," he said. “He didn't text you or put it on Snap. He called you."

When the service ended, people stayed on for a while to talk and hug each other. It was unnerving to watch: lots of people, few masks, no windows. The event was in gross violation of the state rules on indoor gatherings, which were supposed to be capped at 40 people, but no sheriff's deputy was about to intervene on this day. (The mass exposure did not lead to any reported local outbreaks.)

The people of Hobbs had for months been barred from letting their kids go to school or letting them play football and soccer. And now, after the death of a boy that many of them saw as linked to those restrictions, they were effectively, saying, screw it.

I chatted with some of Kooper's teammates, asking them how they were handling remote learning. “It's trash," said one, Kevin Melissa. “It's crazy," said another, Carter Johnson. “Everyone tells us to keep positive, but it's been almost a year. It's hard to be positive."

Before the event broke up, someone encouraged all of Kooper's classmates to get together on stage for a group photo. They eagerly did so, several dozen of them bunched together, beaming for the camera. The smiles were jarring in the context of a memorial service until one remembered the broader context: It was the first time they had all gotten to be together since March.

The next morning, I met Katrina Fuller, the mother of 11-year-old Landon, in the windswept parking lot of a strip mall. She had come to bring her teenage daughter to an outdoor kids' workout session that had been arranged hastily a few days earlier, after the news of Kooper's death. Despite the cold, two dozen kids, most in their early teens, had come out to the parking lot and were now doing various kickboxing exercises — spaced apart and with masks on — under the guidance of some martial arts instructors.

Katrina, a prenatal educator, had been trying for months to draw attention to the mental health needs of Hobbs' young people. She had been writing and calling elected officials and state bureaucrats and finally, with the help of the local state senator, Gay Kernan, had gotten the state to provide some training for local teachers in recognizing youth mental health troubles.

More resources had belatedly started pouring into the state: a $10 million federal grant for school-based mental health services, plus $500,000 in CARES Act funds. The challenge was less the lack of money than the lack of people to administer it: the state education department has only a single behavorial health coordinator, Leslie Kelly, who was struck by the rising concern about youth suicide during the pandemic given that the problem had existed for years in New Mexico. “I'm glad we care about this now, but our state was high pre-pandemic," Kelly said.

Even if New Mexico's overall numbers were holding steady, to those in Hobbs, three youth suicides plus a half-dozen other attempts by students in a matter of months in a population of 39,000 felt like its own epidemic. Shivering in the parking lot, Fuller told me about Landon, who had “just wanted to be everyone's friend." He was the sort, she said, who always went over to any kid sitting by themselves on the playground. And Fuller told me about the difficult weeks of the initial lockdown in the spring, when both she and her husband were feeling the stress of a loss of income. They had tried to make things as nice as possible in those weeks, with an online birthday party for the two kids, and an Easter egg hunt. But it was still hard. “All of our moods changed," she said. And it was so hard for someone of Landon's age to grasp time; the six weeks of closure seemed like forever.

I asked if she thought school should have opened in the fall, and she hesitated. She took the coronavirus seriously, she said. Her grandfather recently died of COVID-19. She was heartened by the launch of the exercise class but knew the town needed to come up with more, “just to let them know that we love them and they're so wanted and they're not alone." She started to cry.

She said she had started hearing from many other families around the country whose kids were struggling, including a mother who'd discovered her 6-year-old's plans for how to end her own life. “These are kids without mental health issues, with good families, kids that are loved," she said. Definitive explanations were, of course, impossible to come by. “I've heard it all," Fuller said. “I've blamed myself."

She had done a lot of reading on youth suicide since Landon's death, and had learned that rates were especially high in indigenous communities, like the Aboriginal community of Australia. In reading that, she had drawn a connection to American children who were being forced into a whole different way of life during the pandemic. “The theory is they're reacting to modern society," she said of the Aboriginal children. “Well, we're introducing them to a new society here, and they're rejecting it."

Recently, Fuller told me, she had received an envelope in the mail from the New Mexico education department. She opened it and found a letter demanding to know why Landon had been truant from his online classes during the fall semester. The bureaucratic oversight stunned her. “He would be in school if he wasn't dead," she said.

After my meeting with Fuller, I went back to the church. Sam was lifting weights with another friend in the small workout room that his father had set up. After I chatted with Sam, I walked with his father back to his office. He told me that he had been running through his last interactions with Kooper, over and over, searching for a warning sign, to no avail. All he knew was that Kooper had been upset about the closures. “When you put most of your things into achieving scholastic, and achieving athletic, and those things aren't available to you, your whole life, every goal you wanted to achieve is being taken away from you," he said.

Kinney said he and the Hobbs school superintendent had been talking a few days earlier about the need to get kids back in school. “Like Texas, we have to learn to live with it," he said. “You know, marginalizing our teens for other people that are high-risk, what do you pick? You know? Because, I mean, we're losing them. Not only that, we're losing years of their educational development."

Kinney said his brother-in-law, also a pastor, had become seriously ill with coronavirus, and he did not doubt its danger. But, he said, the current generation of kids “are the people that are going to be running our country one day. We're losing their leadership. They're going to be taking care of us one day, and this is how we're treating them?" He noted that one student at the October protest had carried a sign that read, “I'm able to vote in your next election."

“They'll remember these times," he said.

That night, I went to meet with Kooper's father and stepmother at their house, which sits out on the edge of town, near a small cattle farm. Meals cooked by friends covered the island in the kitchen. Justin and Heather told me how much comfort they were taking in the outpouring over Kooper, especially among his classmates.

But they said they were thinking of all the other kids in another way, too. If normally lighthearted Kooper, despite a loving family and natural gifts, had been struggling so much, what about all the others? How much distress was invisible to parents? “He was a kid who had everything, and this is where we're at," said Justin. “What's going on with those other kids?"

On my final day in Hobbs, I made the short drive across the Texas border to Denver City. It was startling to pull into the high school parking lot and see dozens of teenagers strolling out of the school building, wearing masks and carrying backpacks, on their way to lunch. Even more startling was hearing from school administrators about how well the football season had gone — the Denver City team made it to the second round of the playoffs — and about the great event of the night prior: the holiday band concert. To avoid dense crowds, the band had held three performances, with several hundred people attending each. In the large band hall, the band director showed me the dots he had taped on the floor to keep the 70-odd musicians spaced 7.5 feet apart even as they marched, and the cloth covers that one student's grandmother had made, decorated with the school's mustang logo, to go over the tubas, to keep them from emitting moisture. It was hard not to be impressed by the ingenuity, the determination to try to make things work, even now. “Whatever it takes," said Rick Martinez, the principal.

After being in Denver City, things seemed emptier than ever at the Hobbs high school complex — in normal times, the center of communal life in Hobbs. I was there to meet with Coach Stevens, who had also been wracking his mind trying to think of clues he hadn't picked up from Kooper. He could think of nothing, other than the fact that he had noticed that one of Kooper's grades had slipped below his norm. But he also knew how adolescents had the natural tendency to magnify troubles. “I fear for all the kids," he said. “One thing that maybe our decision makers don't remember is that when you're in high school or you're a kid, thinking you're the only one dealing with something. That's what you think when you're 16: Nobody is dealing with what I'm dealing with." Not to mention, he said, that the closures have simply given kids too many empty hours. “They've got so much time on their hands," he said. “I don't care how good a kid you are, if you have so much time on your hands, you're going to find mischief."

He told me how dearly he hoped the state stuck to its plan for a football season, truncated though it was. “My biggest fear is, you pull the rug on these kids," he said. “All we've been doing is trying to sell hope and belief to these kids that it's going to happen, but at some point, they're going to quit believing in you."

My last visit in Hobbs was to the home of Jennifer Espinoza, Kooper's favorite teacher. When I entered her bungalow, Espinoza, a friendly woman in her 40s, said that I should feel welcome to take my mask off, because she had already been through a serious case of COVID-19, several weeks earlier. This startled me, but not nearly as much as what she told me next: that soon after her own illness, her partner of 18 years, Abe, had died of what had strongly resembled COVID-19, though his initial test had come back negative. He had been away from Hobbs at the time, working an oil-field job in Odessa, Texas, and a co-worker he had shared a truck with later tested positive. Abe died on Nov. 30, at 49, before she could see him.

And then Kooper had died, a week later. It had been a terrible month, and it had left her uncertain about the best course for the Hobbs schools and sports teams. As the school year started, she had been among the majority of teachers who were willing to return to classrooms. This had only been confirmed for her as she saw how poorly the remote learning was going: not only did most students leave their cameras off, some wouldn't even turn on their microphones. “I can't see them, I can't even hear them," she said. “They didn't want to talk."

But then she herself had gotten the virus — she wasn't sure where — and its severity had hit home, even before her partner's death. She had swung the other way on reopening. Now Kooper's death was making her reconsider again. “If it would prevent another Kooper, then definitely, yes," she said. “We just have to weigh the good and the bad. Do we fear everyone coming back and possibly getting COVID, or do we fear losing another student more?"

In late January, Gov. Lujan Grisham would announce that schools could reopen for all ages on Feb. 8, but at maximum 50% capacity, which meant only a couple of days per week, and under the condition that they would close if cases rose again. Sports could start a few weeks after that, with masks and without fans. Nationwide, meanwhile, President Biden's push to reopen schools was explicitly leaving out high schools, leaving millions of teenagers with the likelihood of remote learning through the end of the school year.

In the same week as Lujan Grisham announced her reopening plan, I made another check of the coronavirus toll in Hobbs' Lea County. The county had suffered 112 deaths attributed to COVID-19, which worked out to a per capita rate slightly lower than that in the three Texas counties abutting Lea. New Mexico as a whole had lost 3,145 people, two-hundredths of a percentage point higher than Texas in per capita terms. The overall per-capita case numbers in Lea County were slightly higher than the three counties across the border, while the case numbers in Texas were slightly higher than in New Mexico.

Numerous factors had affected these outcomes, needless to say. The states had taken very different approaches with regard to their young people, but ended up in almost identical places as far as their coronavirus tolls.

Other tolls would be harder to assess, in a year of so much damage done, in so many ways. “There's too much hurt," Espinoza said as I headed out of her house after our conversation. “There always seems like there's something new to cry about."

Inside the Capitol riot: What more than 500 Parler videos reveal

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

The man's smartphone camera pans the crowd on the east side of the U.S. Capitol. It's smaller than what had amassed on the west side, but still an impressive sight. As he pans from atop the steps, he gives a front-line dispatch at 2:10 p.m., an hour after President Donald Trump had finished his remarks goading on the thousands of supporters who had come to Washington to protest the official certification of his electoral defeat.

“The cops were shooting us for a while, then they stopped," the man says, referring to an earlier series of flash-bang grenades. “We're up on the Capitol. I think they're going to breach the doors. It's getting serious. Someone's going to die today. It's not good at all."

He was right. Someone did die during the assault on the Capitol — not just one but five people, not counting the Capitol Police officer who took his own life three days later. And no, it was not good at all. It was an ignominious catastrophe the likes of which the country had never seen before.

But there was something else that set the attack apart: Not only had we not seen something like this, but we had never been able to see any major civil clash in the way we did this one, thanks to a seemingly limitless trove of video documentation. The internet has been awash with viral clips taken by participants and members of the news media — of one police officer being brutally beaten in the crush of a mob, of another officer leading attackers away from the Senate chamber, of outlandishly dressed invaders in the Capitol.

In fact, there is vastly more video to examine because of the circumstances of this protest-turned-invasion. Not only were a great number of the participants using their smartphones to document themselves and their compatriots as they launched the attack, but many of them in turn shared the footage on Parler. That social media service had of late become the right's chosen alternative to “Fascist-book," as one participant at the Capitol referred to Facebook. Parler's failure to “effectively identify and remove content that encourages or incites violence against others" led Amazon to expel the site from its cloud-hosting servers.

Some people managed to grab the material before Parler went down, and one of them shared a trove of videos with ProPublica. We culled the collection to some 500 videos uploaded to Parler by people in the vicinity of the White House and Capitol on Jan. 6, and sorted them by time and location, thus giving the public an immersive experience that would previously have been impossible to achieve without being there amid the clouds of tear gas and pepper spray and the crush of bodies pressing toward their goal.

The videos are certainly not the last word on the subject, but taken together they do help us answer two key questions about the mob: Who were they and what were their motivations? In a decade, historians will still be writing doctoral dissertations about these questions, just as they did about the crowd that stormed the Bastille on July 14, 1789 or the mob in Adolf Hitler's beer hall putsch. But these Parler videos deepen our understanding and take us beyond the glimpses visible so far from the relatively small number of people who have been charged with crimes.

To watch most of these videos, as I sought to do in recent days, and see the seat of our representative government turned into the object of a violent attack by fellow Americans is overwhelming. And what struck me most about them is just how much this assemblage of people assaulting the Capitol reminded me of people I had seen and spoken with over the years at regular Republican campaign events, going all the way back to Sarah Palin's electric appearances in 2008. At my first Trump rally in 2016, at an airplane hangar outside Dayton, Ohio, I had been amazed by the cross section on display: There were husbands in golf caps with well-manicured wives, frat boys, fathers with sons. All of them, all that year, had thrilled to Trump's toxic rambles about heroin-toting Mexicans, Democratic voter fraud (a theme he had picked up from plenty of more conventional Republican politicians) and “the swamp" in Congress. Never mind that the Republican Party controlled the lower chamber of the legislature for eight years of the decade and the upper chamber for six.

And now here were many of the same people, or at least, the ones with the means and will to make the trip, a sort of travel-team self-selection of the usual crowds, combined with ranks of the white-supremacist warriors who had descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. As at all those rallies, there were the rootless young men spoiling for a fight, and there was also a huge range of more bourgeois sorts — from people who presented as suburban dads to one real estate agent who flew in by private plane, announcing her plans to “storm the capitol" on Facebook — eager for a spectacle, or something more. And they were saying the same things I'd been hearing from them for years.

Except there was one difference: They were actually there, in Washington, at the Capitol — the very targets of their rhetorical fury all those years. And one way of looking at the videos is that they are the story of thousands of people discovering the connection between the rhetoric and the fact of their presence there, at the actual building. Some are so stunned by the connection that they don't really know what to do about it and mostly hang back. Many others respond to the sudden proximity as if a forgotten, dust-covered cord had been plugged into a power source. They feel the inexorable surge, and they advance.

Another man is panning with his camera from atop the inaugural stands on the east side of the Capitol. “They're firing their tear gas at us, the flash-bang grenades, but there's nothing they can do," he says. “And we said, screw it, you've only got so much tear gas. They shot it all and now look, we took it over. This is our house. This is not their house. Our tax money pays for their salaries, our tax money pays for everything. It pays for their freaking $40,000 furniture allotment for their offices while we have families starving in the street."

Our house. It is the most dominant phrase of any of the chants shouted by the mob as it presses into the Capitol. It is an expression of entitlement — white nativist entitlement, as many have noted: This is our house, our country. It's the entitlement that leads one invader to pick up a phone in a Capitol corridor in one video and say: “Can I speak with Pelosi? Yeah, we're coming for you, bitch. Mike Pence? We're coming for you too, fucking traitor."

What is striking about the videos, though, is how often this entitlement is laced with insecurity. The attackers profess ownership of this house, but so much of their commentary betrays discomfort and alienation within it, bordering on a sort of provincial awe. “This is the state Capitol," a man says to his young female companion inside the visitor center, his struggle to grasp the grandeur of the place encapsulated in his incorrect terminology. “It's amazing," she says, as a man dressed as a Roman centurion, complete with sandals, wanders by.

Upstairs, an invader rushes into the Capitol Rotunda with the mob, but then he can't help himself. He turns astonished tourist, as his camera sweeps up to the dome. Outside, a young man in the crowd pressing past the inaugural stands' scaffolding shouts out to no one in particular: “All these fucking years I couldn't see in here. I'm going to see it today!" Nothing, in fact, had ever kept him from seeing this public building. But in his mind, he had been barred.

The uncertainty of the claim to possession of the house manifests itself in the mob's ambivalence about whether to trash it. Again and again, various people in the crowd decry those who are actually trying to do the violent work of breaching the building that the mob is pushing to enter. When a pudgy-cheeked young man jumps up onto the sill of a large window on the east face and smashes in four panes with his fists and feet and several cops rush over to tackle him, an onlooker shouts out: “The police are just doing their job. He's breaking the law!" When a middle-aged man climbs up to one of the arched windows over the West Terrace doors that would become the site of the most violent clashes and starts trying to smash it in with a heavy tool, many in the crowd lash out at him as others pull him down. “Oh God no, stop! Stop!" “What the fuck is wrong with him?" “He's Antifa!"

And when two men who have, to great applause, climbed up onto a painter's rig dangling in front of the building start trying to break the windows, the crowd turns on them. “Don't break my house!" someone shouts. “No, no, no." It's not hard to imagine the perplexity on the part of those attempting the violent break-in: Are you all trying to invade this building, or aren't you?

The shakiness of the claim of ownership is also apparent in the now-famous moment of Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman shrewdly leading the invaders up the stairs and away from the Senate chamber, which one of the Parler videos shows from the perspective of the mob. They might as well be Visigoths sacking Rome, so out of place are the trespassers here. (Driving home the barbarian comparison is the cry of another attacker: “Where are the fucking traitors? Drag them out by their fucking hair.") The invaders' disorientation is plain as they follow Goodman up the stairs, haplessly dependent on his guidance even as they threaten him. “Where's the meeting at?" one calls out. “Where do they count the fucking votes?"

Soon afterward, some marauders do reach the Senate, but it is by this time emptied of senators. They stand aimlessly in the balcony. “Where did you go?" one of them calls out. Another shouts, to no one in particular, “This is our house." But there is less conviction than ever behind the declaration. If it was indeed their house, would they have been stood up like this?

The flash-bang grenades sail into the crowd on the west side of the Capitol. “Fuck you, fucking traitors," shouts someone as they explode. “Fuck you!"

The traitors are, in this instance, the police. If the mob's bewilderment over the great building before them is one dominant feature of the day — whether to trash it or venerate it — its bewilderment over the police is even greater. Watching hundreds of Parler videos shows that the disturbing ones that first surfaced publicly, of officers taking selfies with protesters and otherwise laying down for the attackers, offered a picture that was far from complete.

The police visible in the videos fought tenaciously, and the resulting sense of betrayal in the crowd is palpable. All summer, as the police had battled with Black Lives Matter protesters and rioters, the American right had defended them as guardians of law and order. And this, the Capitol protesters seemed to be saying, is how we're rewarded — with billowing tear gas and blows from batons? “You motherfuckers," shouts a middle-aged woman in a wool pullover and a “Spread Love" cap as another tear-gas canister whistles down.

Also on the west side of the building, another woman shouts: “We're done with the police. You're going to have Antifa, Black Lives Matter and the Republicans all hating you guys!" Nearby, a man joins in: “You're on the wrong side of history, guys."

The cries echo for hours:

Oath over your paychecks! Fuck you, guys. You can't even call yourselves Americans. You broke your fucking oath today. 1776, bitch."

You should be ashamed, fucking pansies."

“They'll play like your friend, then stab you in the back."

You serve us."

They don't treat Antifa like this."

They're gonna fire on Americans, these bastards. You treat us like China. This isn't China."

Here and there, there are glimpses of invaders still assuming the police must be on their side, such as the man who, describing the fatal police shooting of Ashli Babbitt inside the Capitol minutes earlier to people on the outside, says that two other cops at the scene were opposed to the shooting. “I feel sorry for these two guys, because they were just like, 'Why did you do that?'" As reinforcements file into the Capitol, one of the invaders shouts out: “Back the blue. We love you!" as if the cops were there for some reason other than her and her mates.

And here and there, there are glimpses of people trying to restrain others. “Do not throw shit at the police," a man says through a bullhorn on the west side. “Do not engage with the police." “Do not hurt the cops!" shouts another. But this does nothing to prevent the coming clashes, including the extraordinary melee after the mob breaks across the terrace on the west side and one man lurches forward with a nasty blind-side body-blow against an officer, toppling him over a barrier, and another man rushes forward to hurl a fire extinguisher, hitting an officer in the head. (This was separate from the attack in which a fire extinguisher was used to strike Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, in another of the day's fatalities.)

It is hard not to notice that the tension appears especially intense in the crowd's encounters with Washington's municipal police, which include a visibly higher share of Black officers than the Capitol Police, as in one moment where the cops strain especially hard to hold their line outside the Capitol, or when some new reinforcements march in on the periphery. “Trick or treat, trick or treat! What is this, fucking Halloween?" shouts one man, mocking their riot gear, before pivoting to mocking some of them for being out of shape: “1-800-Jenny Craig! Call Jenny Craig. She can help you assholes."

More representative, though, for its sheer contradiction is the scene as another group of cops arrives near the Senate office buildings along Delaware Avenue.

A woman walking in the opposite direction, with her camera out, tells them: “God Bless. Thank you."

A man walking with her tells the cops: “Don't kill no more of our patriots. You guys won't kill Black Lives Matter, but you'll shoot us."

“God Bless," she tells them.

“Remember your oath," he tells them.

“Stay safe," she tells them.

Inside the Capitol, in a stately, high-ceilinged office suite, marauders mill around, grabbing things off the desks, knocking things over. “Don't break stuff!" a young woman hollers at them. “Stop! That's not why we're here."

But why are they there? The more videos one watches, the more overwhelmed one is by the variety of motivations and profiles. Seen one way, this is one of the most homogenous large crowds one could ever find in America 2021, so heavily white is it. Seen another way, it is a hodgepodge, a cross section of America that includes hardcore white supremacists and people you might run into at a mall or a country club.

It is mostly men, but there are also many women. There are young women who look like they could have come straight from a college campus, in puffy jackets and pompom hats. One, watching the invaders scale the lower Capitol walls on the west side, tells her friends: “They are climbing the walls! I mean, I wish I could, but I didn't bring the shoes for it."

There are many middle-aged and older women, too. Some keep warm by wrapping themselves in the Stars and Stripes, like marathon runners with their tinfoil sheets. Others are draped in wool scarves and nice blankets, presenting a far more conventional and even upper-class vibe than the viral images of young men costumed with animal horns and pelts. Some of these women even enter the building.

There are so many older men. Some of them are walking with canes or in wheelchairs or scooters. And some of them are at the front lines. Here, two sixtyish men bashing in an ornamental wooden window box, one using a flagpole. There, a white-haired man, easily 70, engaged in some of the most violent brawling at one of the east-side entrances.

There are men, older and younger, who slide gleefully into war-reenactor mode, tossing off battle lingo as if they are at Antietam or the Ardennes. “OK, what's happening is at the front, we're pushing forward as hard as we can," one paunchy man with a white beard and white MAGA hat . “While we're pushing forward, they're shooting us with percussion grenades. They're also pepper-spraying us. They're bull-spraying us." He takes his cap off to show off the brown pepper-spray stain on the back. “We're not going to stop. We're going to push forward." One young man, barely out of boyhood, clambers up the inaugural scaffolding wearing a full GI Joe getup of fatigues and vintage-style M1 helmet.

And here and there are glimpses of the men who fancy themselves closer to actual warriors, like the twentysomething ones furtively removing their black tactical gear under the cover of a tree outside the Capitol as the action is subsiding and pulling on red MAGA sweatshirts to pass as mere Trump supporters. But there are actually few such ominous glimpses in all these videos — perhaps because these men are too discreet to be caught on camera, or possibly because there were actually relatively few such organized elements in the mix. If the latter, it would help explain why there was not more violence done within the Capitol itself, or why there was such chaos on display that at one point, a man was left hollering hopelessly at a motley crew of invaders inside a Capitol corridor, like a nursery school teacher before naptime: “Quiet! Quiet! Calmly and quietly sit down in this room."

More typical in the videos than the furtive crew under the tree are characters like the young bearded man who speaks to the phone he is holding just outside the building while brandishing a Capitol Police shield. “All right guys, we are at the Capitol right now. We are going to go back in," he says, and then comes the deadpan boast. “I'm the only one with a shield. I don't know why no one else brought a shield, but I brought one just in case they start shooting. Make sure, if you ever take over the Capitol or take over any other big place, you bring a shield." He pauses for comic effect. “You can't get one any place except out of a cop's hands." He grins. “OK, guys, thanks for watching."

There are so many flags — mostly American, but also Confederate, Gadsden, Canadian, Israeli, Romanian. One young woman accidentally whacks a young man with her flag and apologizes profusely. “Oh, my goodness, you're fine," he responds, smiling. “What better flag to be hit with?"

There are many such snatches of fellowship in the videos: strangers advising each other on how to get the pepper spray out of their eyes, or sharing news updates from the Electoral College proceedings inside the Senate, before the senators fled to safety. Watching these moments of cooperation and social warmth, the same thought crossed my mind as did in watching last year's mass protests over the police killing of George Floyd: that these events were grounded in political anger but intensified by the social dislocation of a pandemic and its associated lockdowns, which had left so many hungering for human contact and stimulation more than they themselves probably even realized.

As the assault is winding down, an older man stands on the west side of the Capitol recording people as they walk away from the building. “Good job, patriots. Whoo! Good job, man. Real Americans, right here. Americans! Women. Look at the women. Went up there. Good-looking guys. Nobody feared."

An older woman walking by stops and interrupts his encomiums. “You know they shot and killed a girl up there, don't you?"

“No!"

She tells him about the fatal shooting of Ashli Babbitt. At that moment, a young man marches up to the older man. He is wearing an expensive-looking winter coat and a MAGA cap clipped to his backpack, and he is full of bravado over his hijinks during the Capitol takeover. He wants to share them with a random stranger.

“I got pepper-sprayed," he tells the man, proudly. “Not me, but the people in front of me in the crowd, and the wind came and hit me. Dude, you got to check out this video I got." He reaches around to his back pocket for his phone, but the older man breaks in.

“They said a girl got killed in the House," he says, somberly.

“How?" asks the young man.

“In the House. She went in the House and they told her to stop three times and they shot her in the neck."

The news of this death doesn't faze the young man at all. Still smiling coolly, he wants to pick right back up with the story of his adventure storming the Capitol. “See, I went all the way up there underneath the scaffolding. … I climbed up it. … Everyone was like push-push-push and the cops started pepper-spraying. … You got to look at this — "

“They killed an American girl," the older man says, trying to get him to focus on that fact. But it's no use. The young man keeps trying to show him his video clip of the pepper spray.

At almost exactly the same time, a man standing outside near the northwest corner of the Capitol — middle-aged, professorial-looking with glasses and a face mask dangling below his chin — speaks into his camera for a sober-minded report on the day. “Well, we were here," he says. “Until they can run free and fair elections in this country and make people believe it, we're going to have problems. They just have to figure out how to get these elections to work properly so there aren't all these irregularities and things that appear to be cheating, even if they're not. They just got to figure it out."

The man goes on. “I'm usually a pretty even-keeled, level-headed kind of guy, but all you've got to do is look at some of the videos to realize there was some shit that was really fucked up about the election." He pauses. “Clearly, there's millions of people in town today. There's people packed like sardines from the White House to the Washington Monument today. For the first time as far I'm aware in history, they broke the perimeters at the Capitol. I mean, they're pissed. I'm not keen on violence and breaking doors. But outside of that, there seemed to be no violence, and after hearing all summer long about city after city getting burned down, this was a mostly peaceful protest. This was what a mostly peaceful protest looks like."

He didn't appear to know about the deaths and extent of the violence. He had only his vantage point. But we now have many more vantages. And they give us the picture of what happens when something that was gathering across the land for years, and recklessly and cynically fomented by those who knew better, reached a culmination. There undoubtedly were some dangerous organized elements within the mob that attacked the Capitol. But what is scariest about these videos is that they show the damage that can be done by a crowd of unorganized Americans goaded and abetted by the leaders of an organized political party. The radical fringe is a cause for concern. The thousands of regular people whipped into a murderous rage is the real nightmare.

Here's How Mitch McConnell Made Donald Trump

There is an unusual space in the basement of the University of Louisville library, in the large anteroom to the official archives for Sen. Mitch McConnell. The space is called the Civic Education Gallery, but it is, essentially, a kind of shrine to the political career of McConnell, not unlike the exhibits on Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron you’d find at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Keep reading... Show less

McConnell Actually Helped Blankenship Dodge Regulatory Consequences for Disastrous 2000 Spill

As the race for the West Virginia Republican Senate nomination hurtles toward Tuesday’s primary, candidate Don Blankenship, the former coal executive sentenced to a year in federal prison in connection with a 2010 mine explosion that killed 29 men, has unleashed blistering invective against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Keep reading... Show less

Liberty University Is an Online Goldmine: Inside Jerry Falwell's Billion-Dollar Blessings

It was the start of the 2017 Fall Family Weekend at Liberty University, the school founded by Jerry Falwell Sr. 47 years ago in Lynchburg, Virginia, and the lines were especially long to get into the basketball arena for the mandatory thrice-weekly student convocation. There was a festive feel in the air — as usual, a live band kicked things off with some Christian rock.

Keep reading... Show less

Higher Ed Lobby Quietly Joins For-Profit Schools to Roll Back Tighter Rules

The Obama administration is set to achieve one of its top domestic policy goals after years of wrangling. For-profit colleges, which absorb tens of billions of dollars in U.S. grants and loans yet often leave their students with little beyond crushing debt, will need to meet new standards or risk losing taxpayer dollars.

Keep reading... Show less
BRAND NEW STORIES

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.