What happened yesterday at the nation’s Capitol interests me less than the mediated responses to the event itself. Across my Facebook feed, upon which I lurk and rarely post, there seemed to be a unified, uniform response. “These were not protesters; these were domestic terrorists,” in more or fewer words, is the phrase I saw repeated the most. I don’t watch CNN and I don’t read the The New York Times, but I can assume that this message was also the message that pervaded these media.
There is a fascinating piece of journalism that I’ve been showing my university students these past years. In the video, a reporter meanders through a few NYC MTA hubs and asks fare-evaders — turnstile jumpers — why they didn’t pay their fares. The goal of this piece, I tell the students (but which the students can usually figure out) is to make it seem as if fare evasion is the reason why the subway system is crumbling, why New York state is having budget problems, or — and more generally — why things are a mess. (In the video, the people profiled are mostly young and mostly ethnic minorities.) At one point, the reporter counts 84 turnstile-hoppers in two hours, and twice in the two-minute clip, she describes this situation as “an epidemic.” One of the ways that propaganda works is as follows: you see a phrase a bunch of times, you internalize it, you repeat it. In some cases, you might even think you thought of it yourself. Therefore, the goal of the company who created this video is not to report something newsworthy, but to convince the average person that the reason New York City “can’t have nice things” is because all those pesky kids won’t pay their fares. This serves two functions: One, it convinces the populace that the youth, at large, are an enemy to a wealthy society, and two, it allows the media to maintain a monopoly over the cultural definition of crime. Crime, in this video, is fare evasion. By definition, this is a crime. However, is this type of crime significantly newsworthy? Considering the number of corporations that don’t pay their fair share of taxes — or any taxes at all — in New York City and the country at large, this is quite literally pennies on the dollar. But these unseen crimes, the ones that keep our nation’s people down, must never be unearthed by the mass of people.
Such is the way words like “terrorism” and “democracy” are thrown around by media pundits, journalists, and blue-check Twitter types. Terrorism is an interesting word; it is a word, I would argue, that has almost no diachronic reference point, in the same way that “fascism” and “democracy” don’t mean what they have traditionally meant. Terrorism operates only on the level of synchronic meaning. Terrorism is when a bunch of Trumpers breach the hallowed halls of Congress. Terrorism is when they take photos next to a MAGA-hat-clad Gerald Ford statue, or while sitting, feet up, at Nancy Pelosi’s desk. What, then, is terrorism not? Is it not the denial of healthcare coverage to millions of people amid a global health crisis? Is it not the corporate hijacking of the CARES Act? Is it not a paltry $600 check doled out to the poor and suffering, many of whom have been unemployed since March of this year?
Whatever the motives of the people who descended on the capital yesterday, there seemed to be quite a few outliers, those who weren’t necessarily there to attempt to reinstate Trump into office for another four years. A young man from New Jersey, in an interview, articulated pretty well the sentiment that I am guessing many have embraced, or could have embraced, as a call to protest:
“This cannot stand anymore. They don’t represent any of us, Democrat, Republican, Independent…Police, congressmen and women, they don’t care. They think we’re a joke. $2000 checks were a joke to them…It was a joke to them until we got inside and then guns came out.”
A question must be asked: If the protesters/rioters/LARPers — whatever you want to call them — were indeed terrorists, whom were they terrorizing? A government that lets its people starve, get sick, and die in vast numbers — not just this past year, but every year? Is a government that denies universal healthcare to its citizens while propping up an extractive private healthcare machine not engaging in a form of terrorism? To genuinely believe that these protesters were terrorists, one must first believe that Joe Biden replacing Trump would be a significant victory for the mass of people; as the narrative goes, the protesters were there to attempt to reinstate Trump, which, from what we saw, didn’t seem to happen. In fact, it didn’t seem like the rioters had much of a plan at all, aside from breaking and entering and doing some photo ops. I could go on about this.
Another thing which I found painfully curious was the uniformity and tone of the emails and statements that employers issued in response to the event. (This is empirical; I am going off the seven or eight emails from corporations, businesses, and universities that friends shared with me.) The general attitude was fairly predictable, but the amount of sameness was a bit jarring — we don’t condone this; this was violence; the protesters were disrupting democracy; protest should be peaceful; go out and vote. A further, and much sicker element, which my friend @MrJonButlerTron pointed out, is the way in which the corporation’s message was delivered. In many of the emails, there was an a priori consensus, something along the lines of “I, like many of you, was sickened and horrified at witnessing what happened yesterday” or “We can all agree that the way to change the world is by staying engaged and voting.” The corporation has entered a new political dimension. It no longer makes its own value judgements. Instead, it convinces you that you’ve already made your own: Here’s what you saw yesterday, and here’s how to think about it.
Gone is the distinction between the public and the private; thus, gone is the distinction between what you think and what you are told to think. In Michael Parenti’s Inventing Reality, Parenti discusses ideological manipulation as viewed through censorship. Although he is talking mostly about reporters, the same can apply to anyone who works in media, education, etc. He makes mention of a passage from “Former FCC chairperson Nicholas Johnson [who] describes [this] process:
A reporter…first comes up with an investigative story idea, writes it up and submits it to the editor and is told the story is not going to run. He wonders why, but the next time he is cautious enough to check with the editor first. He is told by the editor that it would be better not to write that story. The third time he thinks of an investigative story idea but doesn’t bother the editor with it because he knows it’s silly. The fourth time, he doesn’t even think of the idea anymore (41).
We are no longer people, but machines that represent an arm of the corporate state, and in order to protect the corporate state, we must denounce ideas that maintain its power, which includes the official media narratives which keep it alive. Among these ideas is the notion of terrorism — what it is, who does it, and why it would be foolish to draw your own conclusions about it.