President Donald Trump has been impeached for “willful incitement of insurrection,” for sending his supporters to the Capitol to rampage and kill to try to keep himself in office. He leaves office in days.
But what of the thousands of devoted Republican voters who showed up at this final, violent Trump rally? Many on the right speak of them as patriots and good citizens who just have “doubts” or “questions” about the election. Some in the center and left, too, seek understanding, suggesting these are people caught up in online conspiracies, who did something bad but may not have known there were neo-Nazis and racists in the crowd or were not on board for the militia members with pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails. Or maybe they saw them but didn’t approve and shouldn’t be lumped in with them for just going to see the president.
Local news shows have featured Republicans who went to the rally to see the president but didn’t join the mob Trump directed to march to the Capitol. Like this feature on a Chesapeake, Virginia donut shop, described as “a place of happiness and community.”
The owners posted on Facebook about how excited they were to be at the Trump rally. They say they have received death threats, which is unacceptable and criminal.
But is rally or riot the only line? Those who just attended the rally but skipped the violent part of the insurrection are good citizens who deserve our sympathy and business dollars?
Consider: the mob was on a hair-trigger to attack imaginary “Antifa” antifascist activists. There is a video of them brutally attacking an Associated Press photographer after someone shouted “Antifa” and pointed at him. Dozens started shouting “Antifa” and a bunch of apparently unrelated crowd members all joined in the attack. This had nothing to do with their mission of stopping Congress from counting electoral votes. But they stopped what they were doing to throw punches.
Ironically, video of the confused, wrong “Antifa” shouts are being shared all over Republican Facebook pages to try to show … something. Maybe that Antifa did it all.
Okay, so maybe the mob was all riled up and fearful of the “Antifa” boogieman. It was a mob, there were excesses, but in their hearts, they are good people who are misled?
Do you know who wasn’t surrounded and attacked by the agitated Trump Republicans? Robert Keith Packer, 56, of Newport News, Virginia, who was at the rally and the sacking of the Capitol, wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” T-shirt.
People may disagree on some symbols of hate and bigotry that filled the crowd. When young, I knew people who genuinely saw the Confederate flag as simply a regional expression. People still claim they believe that. The Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag is associated with violent militia groups, but not everyone knows that and who doesn’t appreciate the idea of resisting being trod upon?
Everyone who saw Packer in his pro-Holocaust T-shirt knew exactly who he was. He passed in and around thousands upon thousands of Trump supporters and not one yelled “hey – that man’s a neo-Nazi – get him out of here!” No one grabbed him and yanked him down the steps amid a hail of fists and feet. No one except journalists saw anything worth commenting on. No one stopped and looked around and thought, “Hey, wait, is this my side?”
After all, the neo-Nazi with his shirt praising the holocaust wasn’t anti-fascist like the imaginary “Antifa” infiltrators.
Everyone at the rally knew exactly who they were siding with. If you went to the rally but didn’t swing a baseball bat in the insurrection, congratulations, you’re not a criminal. But don’t expect a medal. Or my business.