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Saturday, January 9, 2021

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

 



     I’m not sure how many people standing outside American mythos can truly appreciate how devastating and soul crushing the events in Washington on January 6th were.
 
For those of us who have bought in, however, no matter where we were born or even where we live, the desecration of both the American citadel and the illusion of order was killer.
 
We’re still numb. Shocked. Trying to sort it out. The key question seems to be, “How could this happen?”
 
I believe I am in a unique position to answer that question.
 
Why me?
 
Because for the last three years, I have been planning just such an attack on the U.S. Capitol building. That includes how to get around the Capitol police, the National Guard, how to enter the building, how to hold it, and even how to hold its occupants as hostages.
 
That’s because I am the author of a novel called “The Feast of Wolves and Wild Dogs,” which has been serialized online since October and is still rolling out as we speak (www.thefeastofwolvesandwilddogs.com). Let’s be clear: this is a work of fiction. And as a work of fiction, and narrative fiction at that, the book is built around a fairly simple premise: what if a French Revolution came to modern day America, complete with Twitter, 24-hour cable news, and whatever the ambitious psychopath can pick up at Dick’s Sporting Goods?
 
I put a lot of what I thought was outlandish stuff in this book. Not just the capture of the U.S. Capitol, but the takeover of statehouses across the country; racial protests; riots against income inequality; media manipulation; guillotines; gallows; invoking the 25th Amendment; Vice Presidents under threat; and even people dressed as animals wandering around the sacred halls of Washington (hence the wolves in the title). Needless to say, I have been spooked in recent months by certain similarities to real events.
 
(The kidnapping of government officials I largely left out, because I already made a movie about this. It’s called “American Hangman,” and it’s on Netflix right now. This is another piece of fiction I thought kind of over-the-top until the events in Michigan sadly proved me wrong.)
 
But here’s the catch: while the book is still unveiling itself, the truth is that I actually started it in 2017 and finished it early in 2020.
 
So, that leads me to some real concerns when I hear officials and elected representatives in the last 48 hours, all aquiver, say things like, “Who could have known? Who could have guessed this would happen?”
 
Well, I say... ME! Apparently, I knew!
 
And that, of course, raises some pretty big questions.
 
Primarily, how did some guy sitting in Southern California with his feet up on the coffee table figure out how to breach the Capitol where none of the people truly responsible for the building even considered the idea? How did I figure out just how important the Virginia National Guard would be – and just who would need to trigger the request to federalize same – where no real official on January 6 had the foggiest idea who to even call to get physical protection for Members of Congress? And how did I alone recognize the importance of the 25th Amendment in such a crisis?
 
Clearly, there are only so many viable answers to these questions.
 
1.    I’m a genius. I alone saw with clarity what no one else could imagine.
2.    The maniacs who invaded the Capitol on January 6 are avid readers.
3.    Our political leaders and law enforcement officials DID in fact know what fire they were playing with; they just didn’t see the repercussions in practical terms.
4.    Law enforcement was not clear about their role in defending the Capitol.
 
Sadly, in examining these options, I have to eschew the first one.
 
It really strikes me as unlikely that a middle-aged man with four kids and a small orange cat – a guy who spends more of his time going to the hardware store or trying to find Jack Finney novels on Abebooks - has unique insight into the forces of disorder beyond those available to the FBI and Homeland Security.
 
Option number two – that the forces of disorder were tremendously inspired by my fiction – is also, sadly, unlikely. Firstly, while the book is gaining a solid readership, it hasn’t even been traditionally published yet, and more importantly, it’s unlikely that the green guy wearing antlers is spending a lot of his time reading.
 
Option three – that our political leaders never saw the practical repercussions of their own actions – seems more likely, but even when you combine it with option four, the bases still aren’t totally covered.
 
Because we’re still left with the lingering question of how you breach a Capitol. I don’t just mean the mechanics of how people smashed through windows and squirmed into the Senate chamber, but how?  Truly, how?
 
Which leads us back to fiction, and the definition of speculative fiction itself.
 
The great Margaret Atwood defines speculative fiction (and I’m paraphrasing here) as a shout of “Watch out!” and “Be careful!” This definition is as solid as it gets. Certainly, that was my intention in writing my book, as I imagine it’s the intention of any author who sets out to lecture a waiting world on what seeds it should or shouldn’t sow. But in order for the warning to work, the novelist has to show not just the gruesomeness of what might happen, but the why.
 
I believe this is a pretty important function in society. It’s the value of an Orwell, a Huxley, a Philip K. Dick, or an Atwood. But that job shouldn’t rest solely with writers.
 
Far from it. The folks who should really be in charge of “Watch Out” and “Be Careful” are the ones who are actually given the jobs of managing our society on a daily basis. Our elected representatives, our law enforcement, and our judiciary. It is their duty to not just react but anticipate, to be prepared, and to avert disaster borne of the natural, even animal, propensities of most human beings. In short, manage the why as well as the mechanics.
 
In the case of January 6, this view was turned upside down. The manner in which the beast was able to run rampant through our citadel made it very clear that it was the elected representatives, law enforcement, and judiciary who birthed the animal in the first place; fed it, protected it, pet it, and finally let it loose.
 
Take it from someone who has been thinking about this for three years. You can’t just storm the Capitol and take it over with ease unless the folks guarding the place have some weird notion that you have the right to do so, or at the very least that they shouldn’t interfere with your intentions; you can’t just stumble upon the private offices of elected Members of Congress unless you’ve been told where to go; and you can’t just take the dais of the U.S. Senate unless someone has decided not to shoot you.
 
If you don’t believe me, let’s look at the argument about race. I certainly agree that if all the invaders had all been Black, they most certainly would have been shot. And perhaps if they’d all been waving Soviet flags they’d also have been shot. But there was something about the color of the invaders (white) and the flags (Confederate), which made the people who were supposed to guard our Capitol step back and say, “These guys are okay.”
 
(This is something I didn’t get into my book, because I could never have imagined it. Nor am I a fine enough poet to have dreamt up the image of Black janitors and custodians having to clean up the mess of white people, including, yes, Confederate flags. Their job is to return the nation’s Capitol to its pristine state, an institution which has worked assiduously to deny them rights for more than 240 years. What poet could dream that up?)
 
No, what played out on January 6 required more than the ability to just breach a building. This was about the breach of something far greater, and the fault lies with beings far more powerful than a bunch of dickheads wearing MAGA hats.
 
The fault lies with the elected representatives of this country, on both sides of the aisle but primarily the Republican side, and those who refuse to hold them to task. That’s you and me. It also lies with a culture that allows something as ludicrous as Fox News to sell its swill 24 hours a day for decades without any blowback from the people. It also lies with an education system which refuses to instill any basic knowledge of civics, social responsibility, or moral understanding. It most certainly lies at the foot of every pulpit where the sheer madness of Trump (and he is, most of us now agree, literally mad) is preached as part of Christian truth, to the point where an army of uninformed cultists equate Trump not with other Presidents, but with Christ. But most of all, the fault lies with a culture of greed and self interest that allows people who are educated, informed, and enlightened, to support and vote for such moral vomit because it’s good for the Dow, their investments, their 401k’s, their business, the value of their property, and their jobs in Congress.
 
These are the elements necessary to breach the U.S. Capitol and desecrate the concept of America.
 
When you combine all them, it’s not a question of, “Who could this happen?” It’s a question of, “How could this NOT happen?”
 
Yet it should not be the sole province of writers or filmmakers or poets to dream up these scenarios, imagine the very worst, and show their genesis.
 
It is the place of the political, economic, and judicial leaders of this hopelessly naïve nation to look in the mirror and reckon with these truths. To realize that they are the most naïve and absurd among us, and to understand that their childish antics and actions have real life consequences. They need to accept that they are responsible for what happened on January 6, and that they should be the ones cleaning up the mess, not the janitors. They should stop pointing fingers and say - every single one of them - “Me. Me. I did this.”
 
Because they did, whether directly or indirectly, by speaking out loud or through silence or obeisance. Some more than others.

 

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