A few days ago, two participants in the January 6, 2021, insurrection sobbed in front of a judge as she prepared to sentence them to jail terms for attacking law enforcement officers at the U.S. Capitol. They apologized for what they had done and appealed for the judge’s mercy–they had lost their jobs and missed their families. When I first saw the report, I wondered: Were they faking the tears and expressions of regret in hopes of eliciting the judge’s sympathy, or were they genuinely regretful about participating in America’s first-ever attempted coup d’ tat?

The judge wasn’t convinced, according the news report, she “read from many of the (text) messages, using the same profanity the men had. She noted that even after (Cody) Mattice and (James) Mault were aware of the impact of the riot, ‘they maintained some form of delusional belief that they were the patriots.’ “ And then she sentenced them to nearly four years in prison.

The key word from the judge is ‘delusional.’ While I have no doubt there were serious white supremacists in the Jan. 6 insurrection crowd, I also think a fair number of the insurrectionists were guys like Mattice and Mault.  If these guys were serious fascists, they wouldn’t have been crying and pleading for mercy in front of the judge, they would have been proclaiming the justness of their cause and berating the judge as an enemy of the people. They would have understood that a 44-month sentence for treasonous activities signified they were being treated with kid gloves compared with other countries like Turkey, Egypt, Russia, and China, which confront much less dissent with much heavier punishment.

No, I think many of these people were totally naïve about the scale of the fire they were playing with Jan. 6. I don’t doubt they would have strung Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi up on the temporary gallows outside the Capitol, but those murders would have been acts of annoyance, irritation, destruction for destruction’s sake, not in the interests of some all-encompassing political ideology, more some kind of mob statement against the hated ‘elites,’ whomever they might be.

The delusion that drives such intense resentment and violence seems nearly impossible to counter in rational ways. Over the last few years, I’ve been a target of accusations  that I somehow abandoned the good guys and became one of the hated elites, because over the last couple years I’ve expressed support for our government’s efforts in several pandemic-related areas—for example, the CDC’s encouragement of masks and  efforts to counter the spread of Covid via vaccination, Over the last several months, I’ve written several op-ed type articles questioning our national failure to punish the coup instigators, and to seriously deter mass shootings. I’ve expressed fears we are moving ever more dangerously toward an authoritarian takeover.  I’ve gotten lots of pushback, on Facebook, especially, from current and former blog subscribers.

“You used to be such a great journalist. You’ve completely sold out and gone completely with the (Democratic) partly line.”

“You were all for open food rights. I don’t recognize you any more.”

“That ‘coup’ you talk about was a set-up by the FBI. Check out Ray Epps.”

“You’re hopelessly liberal.”

There’s more, some of it more explicitly personal, but you get the idea. I’ve clearly disappointed a good number of people. All I can say is that it seems as if the doubters mis-read and misinterpreted much of my writing on this blog.

Just because I found misguided research and conclusions in reports on raw milk and cheese from the CDC and FDA doesn’t mean I thought the government officials who put the reports together were intentionally corrupt. Just because state and federal judges often ruled against raw dairy farmers doesn’t mean the judges are corrupt or we should blow up the court system. Just because a number of state food inspectors are tripping up small farmers because of an incidental presence of pathogens somewhere on the farm doesn’t mean there’s a conspiracy afoot. Certainly these kinds of problems could well indicate that big-food corporations have more influence than they should. And that we have regulators who don’t understand the importance of small regenerative farms.

But even if the food division of the FDA is clueless about many aspects of good nutrition or the CDC is way behind the times on raw milk doesn’t mean the entire system is corrupt beyond saving. Nor does an inconsistent approach by the CDC and FDA on vaccines mean that Anthony Fauci, Bill Gates, and name your additional villains, are all in cahoots. In other words, I tend not to see the world in black-and-white or in conspiratorial terms.  

And I think that’s where I have parted company with many of my bloggers. I’m a big fan of democratic rule, and the rule of law it implies, and I’m fearful, or rather paranoid, about authoritarian rule. My family barely escaped the insanity of a fascist state, and I am haunted by the ever-more-real possibility my country could turn fascist. To me, Winston Churchill summed up the challenges best when he said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.”

I also don’t have much use for conspiracy theories. As a journalist I long ago learned that conspiracy theories can’t explain most things for the simple reason that when big conspiracies are hatched, they nearly always unravel under the glare of investigation. The problem is that like-minded groups of people just can’t keep conspiratorial secrets very easily because they like to talk and brag and confess, it’s their nature….especially if they come to realize that they could go to jail for serious offenses, like sedition or treason.  Look at what’s happening with the House January 6 committee—it has coldly, and successfully, unraveled a real conspiracy overseen by the previous president to overthrow our duly elected government, because its primary witnesses are aides and appointees who were involved in various aspects of planning the conspiracy (or trying to head it off). And that guy Ray Epps? Seems he was just a loyal Trump follower who became a convenient fall guy for the right-wing media types who make lots of money fanning the flames of conspiracy.

But explaining all this to people like many of my bloggers is a difficult task. I’ve mainly dealt with my frustration by just not doing much blogging. I’ve come to realize that it’s very difficult to warn people who’ve never experienced authoritarian rule as to its dangers. It seems as if they have to experience it to understand its terrible evil, but at that point, it’s too late to pull society back to rational life.  I think many feel that so long as their guy is the authoritarian in charge, things will be fine. Except new wannabe dictators are always lurking in the wings, and sometimes displace your guy, and they do so in bloody and gruesome ways….which is why constitutional government and the peaceful transfer of power via an election is much preferable. As a professional journalist, I don’t have much use for delusion over reality. Unfortunately, I have yet to come up with good ways to snap the deluded out of their collective trances.