I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of a phrase to describe the actions of Jan. 6, 2021, by allies of our president in our nation’s capital.
After surveying the major news outlets, I realized the media hasn’t settled on a suitable sobriquet for this either. We have shorthand terms for the tragedies of Nov. 22, 1963, “The Kennedy Assassination”; the Richard Nixon scandal, “Watergate”; and the felling of the Twin Towers, “9/11.”
Now we need a descriptor for our latest contribution to infamy.
We, as a nation, have just endured a political climate in which empirical facts of actual events have been routinely distorted to serve partisan goals. We’ve been inundated with so much dissembling, evasion and bald-faced lying, we’re dizzy in its wake. President Donald Trump once said, “What you’re seeing and hearing is not what is happening.” Between objective reality and perception come words that can be employed by crafty manipulators to obscure rather than illuminate what is true. If we’re going to restore civility, democratic norms and public trust in our government institutions, we need to watch our language usage very carefully in the future.
The media, especially, have been too lax in letting lies stand. Clarity and veracity must ascend; hokum and hogwash must be called out. This letter is a small stab toward that end.
So, was this event a demonstration or a riot? Actually, it was both. The majority of the entourage stayed on the Capitol apron, broke no laws and just made a noisy fuss, like other peaceful demonstrators. Many of these admonished rowdier fellows for their excesses. But the moment the true zealots stormed the Capitol steps, crimes were committed, and they knew it because the police had warned them.
When the doors were breached things got real nasty fast. The Oxford English Dictionary says a mob is “a large crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence.” From the first surge into the Capitol itself, we all saw the unruly minority had quickly become a vicious, chaotic, criminal mob. Some might see this affair as a fitting coda to a vicious, chaotic, criminal presidency.
Newsmax, Fox, the Daily Beast, ProPublica, AlterNet, Slate and MSNBC have preferred the term “riot.” New York Times and CBS say “assault.” The Washington Post called it the “Capitol siege.” Laura Ingraham called it an “incursion.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, an “insurrection.”
So what phrase really fits?
Myself, I like the word “melee” because it captures the spirit of a fruitless brawl by a confused and enraged rabble who do a lot of damage and prove nothing. To me, this idiotic flirtation with fascism was a “MAGA melee,” instigated by a vengeful fool.
What would you call it?