Long, long ago, I worked on Capitol Hill. As a young reporter stuck in Pascagoula, Mississippi, taking a job in D.C. as a deputy press secretary for Senator Trent Lott seemed like a smart way to get some big city experience, learn about politics and eventually weasel my way into my dream position as a columnist at a big-time newspaper. From there, I’d have my column syndicated and spend days writing Pulitzer-winning opinions and fishing in the Keys with former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson. That was the plan.
Lott had just become U.S. Senate majority leader, so I’d be right in the thick of things. But, as you can probably guess, working for a politician wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. And the inside of the belly of the beast was far uglier than I’d imagined.
But I can’t say the stint in D.C. was boring, and I certainly learned a lot.
Walking through the Capitol building each day was exciting — seeing the architecture and the majesty of the building full of doddering old politicians. Having spent a couple of years there made watching the mob bursting into the historic building this past Wednesday that much harder. One thing that struck me in particular, though, was the obvious conviction written across their furious faces that what they were doing was right.
When I worked on The Hill, security was much more lax than it is today. This was pre-9/11, pre-cell phone, pre-social media and the attitude overall was that “the people’s house” should be accessible, so random folks often wandered in. There was a very old man, for example, who each day brought three or four cloth, flower-patterned suitcases full of God knows what through security, put them on a dolly and wheeled them from office to office in search of very lengthy conversations about various conspiracies.
Lott met with people all day, and sometimes I was there to help facilitate a photo. Generally, these were people with actual business to discuss or tourists from Mississippi. But one day a guy came in carrying a box full of papers and soon after he started talking I could tell he wasn’t someone we’d usually let in. He babbled on about Bill Clinton, and Lott cut it short and ducked out while I ushered the guy into the hall.
But I couldn’t resist asking him about the pile of papers he was lugging around. Turns out they were hundreds of photocopies of a picture. He handed me one — two obese Hells Angels-looking guys in their 50s sitting on Harleys. The photo had obviously been taken in the ’60s.
“Do you know who that is?” he asked. I said I didn’t.
“That’s Bill Clinton!” he said, jabbing his finger at one of the men.
“That guy is Bill Clinton?” I asked, laughing.
“That’s him! He was a member of a biker gang in the ’60s!” he said, proudly sharing this important information.
“I’m pretty sure Bill Clinton was in Oxford around that time, and these guys are about 30 years older than he would have been,” I pointed out.
“No! That’s him! I’m telling you, THAT is Bill Clinton!” he said.
The point of this story is that our visitor was totally convinced of the absurd notion Bill Clinton had been a big, fat, 55-year-old biker in 1968. He wasn’t lying. He just believed it. He truly thought he had secret information about this politician he despised. Who knows, maybe he was the mysterious “Q” and this was just the beginning of QAnon.
As I watched the mob scream, hurt people, kill an officer and destroy property the other night, I couldn’t help thinking, “these maniacs actually believe what they’re saying and doing.” And even if someone explained all of the things that contradict their beliefs — the impossible math of millions of fake votes not easily being seen in election totals, all of the dyed-in-the-wool Trump-following politicians going along with “the steal,” Trump’s own attorney general saying there’s no widespread fraud, more than 60 lawsuits lost by the president, etc. — they would just as stubbornly reject them as did my new friend with his photocopies.
I’ve done the math myself, and it doesn’t support massive fraud. And the amazing sequence of events that would have had to take place for such a massive bamboozlement of the legal community are way harder to believe than the storyline of a president with an outsized ego and a well-documented history of fantastical statements simply making it up.
If anything could have made Wednesday’s lawlessness even more disappointing, it was seeing both Sen. Tommy Tuberville and Rep. Jerry Carl support this ridiculousness with their first official votes, especially after watching Trump incite his followers to riot. Rep. Mo Brooks not only led the charge to challenge electors, his speech to the gathered protestors Wednesday was out of control and totally irresponsible.
Later in the week, Brooks went on Newsmax to push the now-disproven notion the rioters were really mostly Antifa who dressed up in MAGA gear to make Trump supporters look bad. As he’s caught heat for his behavior, Brooks has tried to crawfish and distance himself from his horrible lack of judgment and leadership.
Combine that with the Falkville guy who hauled homemade explosives to D.C., and Alabama came off looking especially unhinged this week. Hopefully, it doesn’t get worse before Inauguration Day, but I have a hard time thinking it won’t if our leaders don’t back off the unfounded claims about fraud and Antifa.
We’re more than two months past the election. There’ve been no arrests, no lawsuits won, no actual proof of anything. Honest Republican election officials have told us over and over there was no widespread fraud, but to many, they are far less believable than “some people” who signed affidavits that they saw something fishy. But I get it, belief is a powerful thing.
You don’t work in journalism for 30 years without realizing people love conspiracy theories — especially about politics. The corollary to that is that when all is said and done, there are damn few conspiracy theories that turn out to be even remotely true. Millions of votes being created and dumped in a handful of states without it being mathematically obvious and not one single person being arrested for it more than 60 days later is about as likely as Bigfoot playing shortstop for the New York Yankees.
In the past few days, several people I know and respect have sent bizarre warnings about Trump instituting the Insurrection Act, using the FCC Emergency Network and then having mass arrests of the Democratic leadership and “traitors.” All so he can stay president.
I know whether it’s that Bill Clinton was once a big fat biker, Antifa coordinated the invasion of the Capitol or sneaky professional vote scammers created millions of votes overnight to beat The Donald, some people are going to believe what they want to believe, regardless of facts. I can only hope those radicalized to the point of violence will realize they’re fighting for a lie before such blind devotion to one man gets more people killed and further damages our election process.
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