What we witnessed in Washington last Wednesday is an epiphany, a wake-up call..
We saw a mob ransacking the Capitol, after a pep talk from Donald Trump, who had addressed them, urging them to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to prevent the certification of the Biden presidency.
Such an assault hasn't occurred since the war of 1812, but that incident involved British troops, not American citizens.
What has created a situation where American citizens feel that it's OK to attack their seat of government and prevent the democratic business of the day from being conducted?
To understand the origins of this behaviour, which is cultural, rather than political, you need to examine the digital environment surrounding individuals who behave in this way. Whilst many of them are complete lunatics (obvious from the images), many of them aren't. Many of them are otherwise solid citizens who believe they are doing the right thing.
Voltaire is quoted as observing -
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
He's on the money.
Here are just a few absurdities believed by many who ransacked the Capitol last Wednesday -
Members of the alt-right and many conservative journalists, spread a conspiracy theory on social media outlets such as 4chan, 8chan and Twitter contained coded messages that connected several high-ranking Democratic Party to child trafficking. A number of pizzerias were named including the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington.
Then there is the meme claiming that the pandemic is a hoax, or if you don't like that one, that it is a CCP plot.
Then, if we read Qanon or 4Chan, we hear that 5G carries the Covid-19 virus, that lizard people have infiltrated all levels of the US administration (except for Trump of course) and that Pearl harbour and the Oklahoma bombing were false flags operations.
The frightening element of all this is that polling indicates that many of these conspiracies are believed by a significant proportion of Americans.
Absolutely no evidence is presented for these narratives, but that doesn't seem to matter. In any case, even if there is no evidence, an avalanche of blurry videos which are interpreted with no context are substituted.
The most heinous of these memes, and the most dangerous, is the election fraud fantasy. It's heinous because it has been comprehensively debunked by electoral officials (many of them in Republican administrations), dismissed in the courts (often by Trump appointed judges) and the recounts and audits that have been conducted have shown all results are valid.
It is dangerous because as David Kilcullen noted, it has white-anted the trust that many citizens have in their government. This trust is essential for democracy to survive. A few thousand of those citizens marched on the Capitol last Wednesday, and a few hundred broke in, attempted to harm their elected officials, and trashed the building. Some carried zip ties (apparently to kidnap congress members or senators).
Last Wednesday's event, instigated by a pathological liar, are deeply troubling.
But the most significant factor which brought the US to this point is the proliferation of dangerous online garbage. It needs to be cleaned up.That is the challenge for not only the US, but free countries worldwide.