When Your Protest Attracts Christian Nationalists and Other Domestic Terrorists

Washington DC

Suppose you went to a large party where you only knew 1-2 people. To make this hypothetical seem more realistic, further suppose that this took place long before the COVID-19 pandemic so you had no concerns about social distancing, masks, etc. and no reason to feel guilty or fearful about being there. If you were to discover that roughly 30% of the people at this party were proudly something you consider to be toxic or otherwise seriously objectionable (e.g., White supremacists, evangelical fundamentalist Christians desperate to convert you, QAnon cultists), wouldn't you be at least somewhat tempted to leave? You probably wouldn't tell yourself, "I'll stay for the 70% who seem to be decent people." In fact, I suspect you might begin to wonder whether they were really so decent after all.

If you did leave the party, it is hard to imagine anybody faulting you for doing so. What would be the point of sticking around? You probably aren't going to change anybody's mind. At least, not that night. You might manage to get assaulted, but we will assume you don't see that as a positive. I suppose you could stay out of some need to not "back down" or "let them win," but would this be important enough to override the dirty feeling you'd have in knowing that you were hanging out with a bunch of harmful degenerates? No, I think most of us would leave and have plenty to say to whoever was responsible for us being there.

I'm sure it won't surprise you to learn that I wrote the paragraphs above in reference to social media. This was not the only reason I decided to leave Facebook, but it was one of them. I have no plans to leave Twitter, but I do acknowledge that if it is any better that's only because I have put far more effort into shaping my experience and unfollowing as soon as I see name-calling. If I didn't do that, I think 30% might be overly generous. Without these efforts, Twitter might be an awful lot like that party. Of course, there is at least one difference between the party I described and Twitter. On Twitter, it is easy enough to mute and/or block the "bad apples." This would be like me being at that party and being able to selectively remove them so I could stay and try to enjoy myself.

While I wrote the first few paragraphs of this post some time ago while thinking about social media, I didn't post them at the time. In fact, I forgot all about them. I recently found myself watching a Frontline documentary about the Trump insurrection, and one thought kept going through my mind: When the "very fine people" among the ordinary Trump supporters who were there to protest losing an election and had no interest in assaulting the Capitol discovered that they were marching with White supremacists, anti-government militia members, and assorted other domestic terrorists who did little to conceal what sort of people they were, why didn't they leave? After pondering that question, I recalled that I might have written something similar not too long ago.

If I went to a party and found myself surrounded with proselytizing Mormons, I'd get the hell out of there. If I went to a political rally and realized I was hanging out with a bunch of anti-LGBT bigots, I'd do the same thing. I'm having some trouble buying the claim that most of the people at the Capitol on January 6 were just ordinary pro-Trump folks. The video footage of that event, as well as that filmed at Charlottesville in 2017, makes it hard to believe that people could have been present and not have noticed who else was there. And if they did notice and didn't leave immediately, how "very fine" could they have been?