Back in 2010, the darkly satirical film Four Lions followed a bumbling group of radicalised British jihadis who, while incompetent, cause a lot of mayhem and destruction.
The Chris Morris movie springs to mind after the images of some of the people involved in the mob takeover of the United States Capitol in Washington last Thursday.
There were rioters caught on camera who looked like characters from a US remake of the film, (working title Four Eagles).
The guy with the fur pelt and horns; the one who lounged in the Speaker’s office; another man who was helpfully wearing his work ID tag; and someone else on a sick day who joined in, was photographed, and got caught out.
People were even photographed with the words “civil war” on their clothes.
It is easy to dismiss such people as radicalised but bumbling clowns, and the bubble of fiery online rhetoric that surrounds them as just big talk.
But five people died, police were injured and journalists roughed up.
In one video, a policeman yelled for help as he was crushed by protesters inside the Capitol – pinned between a riot shield and a door.
One man was later arrested after asking police for assistance to get to his ute, parked in the area. They allegedly found 11 Molotov cocktails and a rifle in it.
And the FBI is hunting a suspect after two pipe bombs were found near the Capitol.
People prepared to take part in violence don’t have to be smart or competent to do damage.
Often people can gain advantage by doing what others don’t expect or can’t imagine.
And mixed among the selfie-taking brigade at the Capitol were more problematic people including some with reported links to white supremacist and far-right groups. A member of the Proud Boys from Hawaii was arrested.
The mob was fired up by United States President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election.
A West Virginia Republican state politician who actually recorded himself storming the Capitol is facing a criminal charge. Even after the attack some Republicans in Congress persisted with futile efforts to challenge the election win of President-elect Joe Biden.
The Washington Post reported that investigators are looking at whether some may be current or former police or soldiers.
A Washington policeman said on Facebook that off-duty officers and members of the military were rioters and flashed ID as they tried to overrun the building. The Seattle Police Department said at least two of its officers were reportedly there.
Overall, emerging evidence points to the fact that the storming of the Congress building could have been much worse. Twitter is warning of a possible second attack attempt at the Capitol on January 18 NZT – three days before Biden’s inauguration.
If police hadn’t shifted senators and representatives to safety, the US Vice President Mike Pence, his soon-to-be successor Kamala Harris, and leaders such as Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi could have been harmed.
Online postings before the rally in Washington referred to storming the Capitol and bringing guns and zip ties – which could have been used in a hostage situation – to the event.
A man photographed holding zip ties at the scene was identified by the New Yorker as a veteran air force officer.
Rioters were overheard by journalists talking about executing Pence, who was overseeing the certification of Biden’s victory, despite pressure from Trump not to do so.
It’s very reminiscent of both the invasion of Michigan’s state capitol by armed militia types and the plot to kidnap and put on “trial” Governor Gretchen Whitmer last year.
Unfortunately, it is likely the beginning of a new era of domestic far-right violence as the old, predominantly white and rural America increasingly loses power to the more diverse and urban America.
The US has an excess of military rifles, equipment and people experienced in the ways of conflict after decades of war. The threat of white nationalist far-right groups has been growing.
The September 11, 2001 attacks were heavily planned. More recent international attacks, including the Christchurch shootings, have been on a simple but still very deadly scale with guns and vehicles that don’t require a lot of expertise.
Much has been made of how different the police response was in comparison to the racially diverse Black Lives Matter protests last year when far more people were arrested, tear-gassed, beaten and hit with rubber bullets.
This time some police were filmed using spray and shields against the mob. One person breaking in was shot by police.
Video showed officers doing nothing as rioters walked by in the Capitol. At least one was snapped having a selfie taken with rioters, another helped someone down the steps outside. People who had just committed crimes were allowed to walk away.
It looked at least like some combination of a racial and cultural double standard, insufficient police numbers, a miscalculation of the threat, and an attempt at de-escalation.
Houston police chief Art Acevedo said he thought officers might have seen a largely white group as less hostile.
“They see Black Lives Matter and go ‘Oh my God, we’ve got to be ready’. But, hey, these people have their blue lives matter flags all over the place. And that bias and that false sense of security bit them.”
Video footage of rioters certainly seemed to show a lack of fear of any consequences.
But security and the investigation into the perpetrators has been stepped up with dozens of arrests.
The investigation into the security and intelligence failures will be lengthy.
The political and security ties to the Capitol rioters when fully exposed will make Watergate look like a drop in the bucket.
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