The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan wasted no time in her piece about the blitzkrieging of the Capitol on Jan. 6 to present her class-based critique of the mob. In her first sentence, Flanagan introduced the insurrectionists as “a coalition of the willing: deadbeat dads, YouPorn enthusiasts, slow students, and MMA fans” and went on to claim that they had “pulled into the swamp with bellies full of beer and Sausage McMuffins, maybe a little high on Adderall, ready to get it done.”
Having steered her essay onto insult highway, she laid rubber in all four gears. “Some rioters left the building in the charged, happy way people exit the Dive Devil ride at Magic Mountain,” she wrote, “single file, grinning, and not really sure what just happened. They cried out for beer, they pumped their fists in triumph, they went looking for Mom and money for curly fries.” Had Flanagan been given additional space by her editors, surely she would have included references to chewing tobacco, tractor pulls, cornhole, mobile homes, Big Gulps and cousin-marriage.
Many rioters at the Capitol obviously match the Flanagan template, enjoying McMuffins, curly fries and amusement park rides (as I do), and dressed in furs and anti-Semitic T-shirts. But her portrayal of the mob as composed of an easily ridiculed underclass isn’t the right take.
Based on the early arrests and news reports from the riot, the Capitol insurrectionists represent a bigger slice of white America than just the low-class knuckle-draggers who rolled in from the sticks on Donald Trump’s command. Many of the protesters and rioters we have met through rap sheets and press accounts are solidly middle class. Some of them are professionals and businesspeople who are as cosmopolitan as Flanagan, a longtime Atlantic writer who ordinarily cuts through sanctimony and sloppy thinking. Her miscalculation of who participated in the riot might make the people who like to look down their noses at the proles feel good, but it obscures the wide-ranging appeal the mob enjoys in America, it underestimates the mob’s true strength, and it slows our understanding of the mob’s motivation and masks the great difficulty we will have in nullifying their violent brand of politics. [Continue reading…]