On Jan. 6, an angry mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, breaking windows, defacing art, rummaging through Congressional offices and, in some cases, stealing items. Recording their every step, some wandered around the building aimlessly, as if in shock they were actually inside, others brandished tactical gear, guns and other weapons. All carried visible vitriol at American government institutions, politicians and the law enforcement sworn to protect them. As shocking as the scenes, images and stories are from that day, they weren’t necessarily surprising or unpredicted. Back in 2016, Boulder Weekly’s editor-at-large Joel Dyer warned what violence the defeat of Donald Trump at the ballot box could unleash.
At the time, Dyer, like many, believed it would come as Hillary Clinton became the first female U.S. president. He had spent decades covering antigovernment movements, including those that led to the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City that left 168 people dead, and wrote extensively about the societal and institutional mechanisms that led to such groups in his book Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma City is Only the Beginning. In his analysis “The new harvest of rage,” published Oct. 27, 2016, Dyer analyzed how “all the forces that built the 1990s antigovernment movement are still in play,” how economic hardship, racism, religious fanaticism and gun rights activism have all led to the rise of now mainstream conspiracy theories. He warned that candidate Trump only fueled the unrest brewing beneath the surface, although he is not solely responsible for it. Set to a backdrop of alarming increases in the rate of suicide for middle-aged whites, Dyer predicts that “a storm of violence” is “rapidly blowing our way.”
In the end, Dyer was wrong about one thing. Trump wasn’t defeated in 2016 — he was awarded the most powerful platform to affirm, justify and attempt to rectify decades of antigovernment grievances. Now, with Trump’s defeat in 2020, Dyer’s worst fears may be realized. Given the events unfolding across our nation, as the FBI warns of planned “armed protests” in all 50 states and Washington D.C. ahead of Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, here is an excerpt from Dyer’s prescient analysis. You can read the entire article here.
All indicators point to America being on the brink of a new harvest of rage; that’s to say, a new and likely larger wave of antigovernment violence than that which we experienced some two decades ago. And as much as people would like to blame this increasing domestic militancy solely on Donald Trump, the narcissist developer from New York City who is currently running for president of the United States, that would be a mistake. It’s not that simple.
I’m not trying to sensationalize our current political season. I’ll leave that to cable news. This analysis is about far more than the Trump/Clinton race for the presidency. When it comes to domestic terrorism and the current rapid growth in the number of people who claim to oppose the federal government in one way or another, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton represent no more than the match that is lighting the fuse. What is more important to understand is how the bomb was built and what it’s made of, because only then can it be successfully disarmed.
The antigovernment movement in this country is like a giant funnel. The more people who are poured into the funnel’s large end, the more people who will eventually be forced out of its small end. And since those dripping from the small end are the ones who are willing to do unspeakable acts of violence in the name of their cause — think Oklahoma City bombing — understanding the workings of this funnel is imperative.
Being forced through the antigovernment funnel is facilitated by some combination of stress, anger, misinformation, religion, fear and blame-shifting that, for a variety of reasons, eventually leads to an ever-deepening belief in any number of conspiracy theories about the government, the New World Order and often minorities.
These conspiracy theories are convoluted myths that — while nearly always containing at least a grain of truth — are so wild that most of us dismiss them without a second thought. But that too is a mistake. We dismiss rather than attempt to understand how people can get to a place in their lives where these myths are transformed into their conception of reality and guiding principles.
Most people would like to think that the belief in such conspiracy theories is reserved for the ignorant, the uneducated, the trailer trash crowd, or the “deplorables,” as Hillary Clinton recently called them. But that also is far too simplistic an explanation. In fact, such a misguided and uninformed interpretation of what is happening in our country serves only to add powder to the antigovernment bomb.
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Many Trump followers aren’t following him because of his political views, they are following him because they need him. They need his conspiracy-theory-laced message because it helps them to ease their pain by scapegoating their problems onto the mythical other.
Unfortunately, this blame-shifting also makes them vulnerable to being pulled ever deeper into the dark recesses of the funnel.
But it gets worse. Trump saved his most destructive conspiracy theory for last. He now is claiming that our election system is rigged and that the results can’t be trusted. He is telling people already well down the funnel that our democracy has been stolen; it is no longer an option for bringing about change. And it appears he intends to use his own electoral defeat as proof that our democracy no longer exists.
It’s laughable to most people I know. But please believe me when I tell you that millions of people believe this is true. In fact, a recent poll found that more than 40 percent of all Republicans believe that the election is rigged.
So ask yourself what a true American patriot should do if some dark force has now actually — in the words of a major party presidential candidate — taken over our government and eliminated our democracy.
Trump may just be trying to crown himself king of the disenfranchised middle-aged white men or launch his next for-profit venture in Trump TV. But what he has managed to accomplish over the past 12 months is to validate all the most destructive, racist, violence-inciting conspiracy theories of the funnel.
He has pushed more people in and empowered the mechanism for pushing more people through. And I believe we will all be paying the price in post-election America for his irresponsible actions.
But before we point the finger of guilt at Trump alone, let’s consider how so many of his followers came to be in their current, difficult circumstances. Both parties have increasingly abandoned the growing underclass. In recent decades politicians have too often traded doing the right thing for the thing that will get them re-elected. Our system does increasingly benefit our largest corporations and wealthiest donors at the expense of working men and women of all races.
But our democracy has not been stolen by the New World Order. We have given it away as the result of our apathy and our inexplicable willingness to vote for the lesser of two evils out of fear, rather than using the power of our democracy and our votes responsibly for the betterment of all.
Each of us deserves at least some of the blame for the storm of violence that is rapidly blowing our way. I’m afraid it’s too late to stop it. I hope I’m wrong. But whatever happens, we can weather it, learn, and hopefully prevent the next one.