From the June 2020 issue: The prophecies of Q
“What’s your plan?” I asked her. People in the street, dozens at first, then hundreds, were moving past us, toward Pennsylvania Avenue, and then presumably on to the Capitol. “We’re going to stop the steal,” she answered. “If Pence isn’t going to stop it, we have to.” The treasonous behavior of Liz Cheney and many of her Republican colleagues was, to them, a fixed insurrectionary fact, but Pence was still in a plastic moment. Across the day, however, I could feel the Trump cult turning against him, as it turns against most everything.
I told the woman in the cat costume that I would walk with her group. “Only if you take off your mask,” she said. The media is the only real virus, she explained, knowing that I was a part of the media. I told her I would keep my mask on. Trumpists had asked me periodically to remove it. Some were polite about it, a few others not. It seemed to me that only 5 percent or so of the thousands of people gathered for the insurrection wore masks. At one point, when I was caught in the thickest part of the crowd, near the Ellipse, a man told me, “Your glasses are fogging up.”
“Yep, masks,” I said.
“You don’t have to wear it. It’s not a mandate.”
“No, I do.”
“There’s a pandemic.”
We will find out shortly if today’s insurrection was also a super-spreader event. What I do know, after spending hours sponging up Trumpist paranoia, conspiracism, and cultishness, is that this gathering was not merely an attempted coup but also a mass-delusion event, not something that can be explained adequately through the prism of politics. Its chaos was rooted in psychological and theological phenomena, intensified by eschatological anxiety. One man I interviewed this morning, a resident of Texas who said his name was Don Johnson (I did not trust this to be his name), told me that the country was coming apart, and that this dissolution presaged the End Times. “It’s all in the Bible,” he said. “Everything is predicted. Donald Trump is in the Bible. Get yourself ready.”
The conflation of Trump and Jesus was a common theme at the rally. “Give it up if you believe in Jesus!” a man yelled near me. People cheered. “Give it up if you believe in Donald Trump!” Louder cheers.
I would not compromise on the matter of my mask, but the woman in the cat costume and her friends allowed me to come along anyway. We turned from 14th Street into the sea of people moving down Pennsylvania Avenue. It did not strike me, even then, that this mob would actually storm the Capitol. I assumed, in a non-insurrectionary failure of imagination, that they would gather on the Capitol’s sloping lawn, sing Lee Greenwood anthems, and curse Mitt Romney. There were Proud Boys—or at least Proud Boy–adjacent boys—in this group; they would not speak to me but were also not overtly hostile. (I noticed on two occasions groups of Proud Boy–looking men smoking marijuana, which, all things being equal, was a good thing.)