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  • Writer's pictureJustin McBrayer

The Capitol Riot wasn't a Violence Problem. It was a Fake News Problem.

For the last two weeks, Americans have been wrestling with the implications of the mob attack on the Capitol that left several dead. There's much to say. And there's much to mourn. And there are lots of lessons to learn for the future.

But here's one part that almost all social commentators are getting wrong: the problem at the Capitol wasn't that the protestors were willing to use violence. The real problem is that the protestors had fallen for fake news. In other words, the more basic problem is one of belief. The symptom of that deeper problem was the action.

Here's a way to see what I mean. Pull up a browser and open two windows. In one, open up a picture of protestors swarming the Capitol. In the other, open up a picture of protestors in one of the following scenarios:

  • Protestors in Hong Kong challenging recent crackdowns by the Chinese regime

  • Protestors in Venezuela gathering against curfews to support the upstart Juan Guaido

  • Protestors in Egypt or Tunisia from the Arab Spring

  • Protestors in one of the many corrupt elections that kept Robert Mugabe in power for decades

Now compare the two. In each case, you have disgruntled citizens rising up against the government in power to protest a violation of rights, a corrupt election, etc. On the face, they look the same. In fact, many of you probably think that the use of violence in these latter cases was justified.

The Americans who rushed the Capitol two weeks ago were ACTING in ways that are parallel with the ways these other protestors acted. For that matter, their actions were on par with much of what American patriots did in the run-up to the American Revolution (tea party, anyone?). And many of us aplaud the violence of the American Revolution. All but the most resolute pacifist should be willing to use violence for the right sorts of reasons.

The difference between the case of the recent mob at the Capitol and the protestors in Zimbabwe is that the latter were justified in using violence and the former were not. But the REASON that they differ in justification is because there was good reason to think the Zimbabwe election of 2013 was stolen. There is no good reason to think that the election of American election of 2020 was stolen.

So the problem really lies with what the Capitol protestors believed. They have fallen into a cult-like state of Trump worship that left them unable or unwilling to come to grips with the facts. And their false beliefs prompted violent actions that were unjustified because they were based on a misguided view of the world. It's not wrong to use violence to protest government usurpation of rights, sham elections, or authoritarian governments. The Capitol mob thought they were doing that. But they were wrong.

Wanna fix that sort of violence? Fix the fake news problem.

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