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Editorial: The strange, tragic legacy of an inept insurrection

Man carrying Confederate flag inside US Capito

Kevin Seefried carries a Confederate battle flag on the second floor of the U.S. Capitol after breaching security defenses on Jan. 6, 2921.

A year ago today, a Confederate flag flew inside the U.S. Capitol, something that never occurred during all four years of the American Civil War.

The man holding the flag in widely circulated photos, Kevin Seefried — who hails from Delaware, a Union state — remains free on bond, awaiting trial on numerous federal charges, including obstruction of an official proceeding, entering a restricted building and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. He told authorities that the flag he brought to Washington, D.C., was one he usually displayed in his front yard.

He faces a set of charges largely similar to those faced by Southwest Virginia’s own best known participants in the Jan. 6 riot, former Rocky Mount police officers Thomas “T.J.” Robertson and Jacob Fracker, who have maintained in interviews that they did nothing more than walk into the Capitol peacefully and walk back out.

Yet the image of this symbol of rebellion flapping through the corridors of federal power, coupled with the clumsy, disorganized, yet at times unquestionably violent efforts by many of the rioters to prevent the lawful certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory, resonates with disturbing context.

The term “insurrection” refers to “an act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government,” according to Merriam-Webster, and reducing that definition to “an instance of revolting against civil authority” produces an apt description of the events of Jan. 6.

However fitting that word may be in terms of language use, it’s worth noting that to date no one being prosecuted for participating in the riots has been charged with the federal crimes of “rebellion or insurrection” or “seditious conspiracy.”

It is possible to overstate the significance of the riots. Biden’s assertion before a joint session of Congress that the insurrection was “the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War” amounts to political hyperbole, conveniently skipping over the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and numerous other catastrophic events from American history.

Nonetheless, the frightening actions of the insurrectionists were an embarrassment to the nation, providing the world with views of the seat of our government under siege, members of Congress huddled in hiding on the floor as rioters massed outside the House and Senate, congressional offices vandalized and looted, a police officer screaming as the push from the invading mob crushed him against a door.

News outlets commonly report that five people died in the riots, though the true details of those deaths have only gradually become public. Though excitement and exertion perhaps contributed, according to, two of the “Stop the Steal” protesters died of heart attacks and one more died of an accidental amphetamine overdose, not from any kind of violence.

Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was reportedly a supporter of Donald Trump, died of a stroke hours after being sprayed with a chemical irritant while he honored his duty and defended the building.

Only one of the five deaths resulted directly from violence during the event, when a police lieutenant shot San Diego Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt as she tried to climb through a shattered door toward the House chambers.

In a heartbreaking coda, four officers who helped secure the Capitol on Jan. 6 have committed suicide.

Regardless of the causes, all the injuries suffered by police that day, and all of these tragic deaths, were absolutely needless, the result of delusional claims of a stolen election, a falsehood cynically repeated and amplified for political and financial gain.

Those angry about the killing of Babbitt, who was unarmed, might consider directing some of that wrath toward QAnon, the bizarre online conspiracy theory that engulfed her and numerous others who participated in the Capitol riot, or toward outgoing President Donald Trump, who told his supporters just before the attack, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Absent those factors, Babbitt would not have been where she was that day.

In December, the Associated Press released results of an extensive review into every potential case of voter fraud in the six battleground states where Trump challenged the results — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The AP found only 475 verifiable fraud cases across all six states, a number that would have no effect on the presidential election outcome. In addition, some of those 475 were trying to help Trump.

The persistence of belief in election fraud, despite overwhelming evidence that no such fraud occurred, raises a troubling and perhaps unanswerable question: how to de-escalate a destructive notion that’s a matter of faith and heartfelt belief rather than a conclusion reached through reason.

This conundrum is hardly new. In fact, it’s unfair to speak as if this problem lies only within the hearts and minds of QAnon followers and Jan. 6 insurrectionists. Claims that Russian operatives and Donald Trump actively conspired together to defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election have collapsed under federal investigation, and the infamous “Steele dossier” that supposedly corroborated those connections has been discredited, yet those who raise this point on social media swiftly get pilloried by Trump haters.

Even Trump has run into this irrational barrier, as his recent efforts to promote booster shots against COVID-19 have been met with boos and derision by some of his own followers.

A new Washington Post story found leaders in disinformation campaigns such as QAnon and the Stop the Steal movement battling over dwindling shares of audience and funding, resorting to lobbing the same extreme insults and accusations at each other that they aimed at Democrats in the lead-up to the insurrection.

“The Storm Is Upon Us” author Mike Rothschild, a journalist specializing in conspiracy theories, told Post technology reporter Drew Harwell that QAnon is “the easiest money that you could possibly make if you don’t have a conscience, but there’s only a certain number of people you can fleece.”

Perhaps we would live in a more unified country if we all made it a practice to aim the spotlight of intense, meticulous examination not only at those with opposing views but also, even especially, at those who are telling us exactly what we want to hear.

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