"Storming Democracy: Two Journeys on Jan. 6" SwatTalk
featuring Alex Friedfeld '12 with Jamie Stiehm '82
Recorded on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022
Jamie Stiehm '82 Good evening. I'm Jamie Stiehm, class of '82. We're delighted that you're here with us today to discuss democracy under fire, here at the capital where I am right now. I'm a journalist who covers congress. With me is Alex Friedfeld class of 2012. Alex is a researcher with the Anti-Defamation League in New York. He's an expert on extremist groups like Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and he has a fascinating story to tell about the mob storming the capital on January six, because he was tracking their online communications before, during, and after the attack. Meanwhile, I was here in the house chamber where I witnessed the siege. I remember it all too well. We're going to share and compare our journeys through that day. And in the second part of the hour, we happy to take your questions. So I wanna also thank the alumni council for hosting this event, and I am a member of the alumni council, and it's a wonderful way to connect with Swarthmore community at large. And I will ask Alex if I may take the first a vignette of the day. When I was walking to the capital grounds, is that all right?
Alex Friedfeld '12 Yeah absolutely.
Jamie Stiehm '82 At noon on January 6th, I was on the Capitol grounds, and I had the sense of dread because I passed a crowd, very boisterous crowd that was pledging allegiance to the Trump flag, and to the Republic for which he stands. So that was my first sign of trouble at noon on January 6, on my way to the People's House of Representatives. Alex.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Sure, thank you. Before I get started I just wanna say thank you to Jamie and alumni council for having me. Really looking forward to this conversation. And also just a note that if you need... If you have any questions, please paste them into the chat, you know with your name and your class year. But yeah, you know Jamie that may have been kind of the first time you saw trouble coming, but the fact of the matter is the trouble. That was a long time coming. The insurrection in my mind was shocking, but it wasn't surprising, and frankly, it was actually pretty predictable. The reason why I say that, right is, it wasn't surprising because the instruction was really kind of a remix of all these things that we had seen throughout 2020, you know turn to 11, right? So things like this breakdown in the norm against carrying weapons in public spaces during protests, right? This idea that it's okay to actually send a message of intimidation through violence, to policymakers who aren't doing things that you like, right? This kind of mix of extremist and ordinary Americans in these crowds, which not only create opportunities for extremists to radicalize other people, they created kind of this powder keg situation, right? Where you didn't exactly know what was going to happen, right? And that's not to say that the interaction was only carried out by extremists. It's clear that they played a major role in instigating the violence that was to come that day. We saw this kind of proliferation of conspiracies, right? Which is something that we had been monitoring all year for all sorts of different issues, whether it was COVID with a BLM protest, the George Flyod protest over the summer, right? But almost immediately on November 3rd we saw this kind of rise of conspiracy saying that the election was stolen by democrats who are looking to launch a coup or on post socialism, or in post here in New York. Any number of terrible things, right? If you are a cure non-supporter right, you believe that there are pedophiles that are trying to run the country, right? And all of this is dangerous because it raises the stakes of the moment from simple disagreements into apocalyptic existential crises that need to similarly extensive means of rectifying those problems, right? And even the idea of storming the Capitol was something that we saw happen four times at state capitals across the country. Twice in Laxin, Michigan, once in Oregon, and once in Idaho, right? So all of this stuff was kind of stuff that we had seen play out at earlier parts in the year. But the event itself was eminently predictable. And the reason why I say that is because the people involved told us exactly what they were going to do on that day, right? All over the internet, people were spousing violent rhetoric. They were sharing violent fantasies about killing politicians, about killing the left, about killing media people, write about storming the Capitol. I mean that phrase was all over the internet. And you know, normally that type of rhetoric actually, isn't all that surprising. I mean, I'm an extreme space is all day, day in and day out, and we usually see that type of rhetoric. But what was surprising about the rhetoric that we were seeing, was how it wasn't just limited to extreme spaces. It was everywhere. It was on Facebook. It was on Instagram. It was on Reddit. It was on Twitter, right? All of these sorts of places where anyone can consume it, right? And even more concerning, it was combined with logistical planning, right? It wasn't just these guys talking in the abstract. All of a sudden they were talking about like what weapons are okay to bring to DC. Guns were not allowed, but can you bring a knife, can you bring up a batard. Can you bring a baseball bat, which I saw some people talking about, right? They were sharing ride switch share information, right? We're renting a bus from here to get to DC, come hop on. Some people were even sharing hotel information. Like I'm gonna be here, there's still some rooms available, grab them so we can get as many people as we can, right? It just takes it out of this kind of abstract content and starts to kind of ground it more in the reality of that moment, right? And when you're looking at kind of its totality, right? There was this sense that up until January 6th politics were okay, right? And you use the means at your disposal, which is why you saw that rally in... Those two rallies in DC, one in November, one in December, right? But after January 6th, if the government did... If the Congress refuse to de-certify the election, and if Pence did not step up to do what was necessary, then all bets were off. Violence is fair game, war is fair game. Whatever it takes to save the country from apocalypse, right? And so you saw speeches to that end, the night before with Alex Jones riling people up and Stewart roads of the Oath Keepers has made two speeches all over the place, right? And then you get to the morning where you've got folks giving very violent talks of the Capitol, egging the crowd on, including the president at the time, right? And so everything was a powder keg, just waiting to spark.
Jamie Stiehm '82 So I have a question. It was clear to me that the mob was much better organized than the capital place, and that you had a much clearer picture of what was coming than the FBI, other authorities, even congress and the press. Why do you think that the... Say the FBI did so little to prevent this?
Alex Friedfeld '12 You know that's an excellent question, and one we're still trying to get to the bottom of. We still are missing critical details about kind of the planning for January 6th. But the fact of the matter is, this was an intelligence valve failure. This stuff was all over the internet for anyone to see. Various watchdogs were ringing alarm bells saying you have a problem here. Sending memos, sending alerts, and there's been reports that even the intelligence community knew about this. And yet for whatever reason, we don't know exactly why, right? There was a disconnect between the intelligence, and the planning for that day.
Jamie Stiehm '82 Yeah.
Alex Friedfeld '12 I mean you saw the results of that firsthand.
Jamie Stiehm '82 I surely did. The Capitol police did not even have every officer on duty that day. I can tell you that it's because of the Metropolitan Police, the DC city force. That's the reason that we were saved, because they sent 800 officers to the scene to engage in hand-to-hand combat with the mob. And the Capitol police leadership was woefully unprepared, and you may have a comment on why that... Do you have any insight into why they were so poorly prepared and they locked up their weapons. They just had... They had no idea or professed to have no idea of the tidal wave of anger and violence that was heading in the tens of thousands of people toward the Capitol.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Yeah, no, I mean again, it's mind boggling to this day why they were so unprepared. Like I said, all of these warning signs were there that this is going to be a big deal. Certainly the morning of when you see the crowds coming in, you would think that they reinforce it, right? And yet there was this critical gap where the national guard wasn't called in for several hours to deal with this. And when you look at the footage from that day, those poor police officers. You've got only got a few hundred, they're standing off of a ride as crowd of thousands. There was no chance that they were gonna be able to keep those crowds out. So they did heroic work doing what they could to, to control it. But at a certain point, that levy was gonna break.
Jamie Stiehm '82 And we also know that about 20% of the Oath Keepers are ex-military. They came in formation. They scale the walls. They were incredibly coordinated. So this was not an overnight impulse to come to Washington. I mean, it was very... We couldn't... Could not have been spontaneous.
Alex Friedfeld '12 No, certainly not. I mean, we certainly have seen from the recent documents released regarding the Oath Keepers, you know in Stewart Rhodes and sedition charges that these guys had a very clear plan for what they wanted to do, right? I mean this is the first time where there were... First time that the government has acknowledged that there was a coordinated plot to oppose the transfer of power, right? Essentially overthrow the government. And that again was led by the Oath Keepers, many of which had military backgrounds, right? So they knew how to operate in chaotic environments, right? And it's very teller.
Jamie Stiehm '82 Wearing helmets.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Right, when you watch that footage, you can spot the Oath Keepers from mile away, because they're the ones moving methodically in a stack formation, piercing through that crowd to get into the Capitol. They knew what they were doing. The only reason why they weren't at the forefront is likely because they had to go change. They didn't come dressed like that. They got new gear and put it on and then returned to do the deed, but the Proud Boys with there.
Jamie Stiehm '82 Can you speak of the sedition charge against Stewart Rhodes?
Alex Friedfeld '12 Absolutely. So this is very relevant. Stewart Rhodes was charged a week and a half ago at this point, but he was in court this afternoon for his detention hearing. So essentially the government is accusing Stewart Rhodes and 10 other Oath Keepers of conspiracy to commit sedition, right? Which is this idea that they were essentially going to revolt. And so they essentially argued that there was a coordinated plot by the Oath Keepers launched on November 3rd to oppose the transfer of... The peaceful transfer of power from president Trump to president Biden. And everything that in those documents is in line with what we know about the Oath Keepers and their activities, right? Steward Rhodes was publicly calling for revolution, calling for the insurrection act to be imposed, to be invoked against leftists, right? Use whatever force necessary. He was practically begging president Trump to let you know, to call the malicious to act. There was all of this kind of apocalyptic language of blood in the streets that you have to fight now, otherwise you'll have a far bloodier fight in the future, right? And again, this is incredibly important development in the legal prosecutions against the... Against these, you know, the insurrectionists, because it's the first time that the government has acknowledged it's a plot, right? Up until this point, the folks charged in connection with insurrection had been charged with relatively minor crimes of trespassing or impeding government processes, things of that nature. This again is a major escalation, as opposed to those people who are facing only you know up to a few years in prison. Rhodes will be looking at 20 years in prison because of this. And it also kind of expands the range of these prosecutions, right? Everyone up to this point had either again, breached the capital or were charged for violent actions that they did outside of the Capitol. To our knowledge at this point, Steward Rhodes did neither of those things. He never stepped foot in the Capitol, and we don't believe that he was involved with any over violent acts on it by himself, right? But instead, what the government is going after him for is coordinating and organizing logistics to get the Oath Keepers from around the country into the Capitol. And that's a big deal, because not only does it mean that he could be held liable for his underlings actions, it also means that those charges can now be applied to other extremist groups like the Proud Boys who did similar things.
Jamie Stiehm '82 Right, that's... For my own sense of... I don't know, dealing with the whole trauma, I went to one of the sentencings of the man in horns and a helmet who took over the Senate on the vice-president.
Alex Friedfeld '12 The grand shamen
Jamie Stiehm '82 Yes, he was sentenced to 41 months, and there was a sense of vindication or satisfaction to see him come to justice. The Senate chamber was breached, but the house chamber was not. I was in the house chamber that day, and each one was full of lawmakers because January six was not chosen by accident. That was the day in the constitution that Congress was gonna certify the electoral college count. So the president and conspirators knew the... Essentially Congress would be captive in the Capitol if they could take it over. And vice president Pence was presiding over the Senate, the same time as speaker Pelosi was presiding over the house. This is usually a snap, but we knew it was gonna be a long day's journey and tonight because a lot of Republican lawmakers challenged results yet we did not know that Pence and Pelosi were in grave danger. And they're second in line... Second and third in line to the presidency. So everything was just so perfectly set up for an attack of this kind, which had never happened before in American history. Not even during the civil war. There never been a war within where Americans attacked the Capitol. The British burned it in 1814, but that's a legitimate act of war, and the Capitol was deserted. The city was deserted. The president fled foot and horseback. So it was absolutely unheard of and hard to grasp while it was happening. Did you have a hard time really believing your eyes?
Alex Friedfeld '12 Yeah, I mean... You know, I remember thinking, right? I remember like coming back afterwards and just kind of reflecting on the day. And again, I was not surprised, like I said, I wasn't surprised that this happened and yet there's the American in me that was like, wait, how can this happen here, right? I mean we... That's we're always told growing up that this is the thing that separates us from everybody else is our electoral system, right? We are a democracy. We transfer power peacefully. We work together. Yes we obviously we have flaws, but we... Over time we generally work to correct them, right? And instead what you have on that day is a not insignificant you know amount of people basically taking a sledge hammer to the foundations of our nation.
Jamie Stiehm '82 Literally.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Right, I mean it's like, how can that be, right? And I remember watching the footage as it's happening and just being totally kind of struck by just how... You know, again, you always think that this can happen, but you never... It's one thing to imagine it, it's another thing to see it play out in front of you. Very dark.
Jamie Stiehm '82 I saw one of the police officers today who's testified before Congress. His name is officer Harry Dunne, African-American and he was the... He heard so many racial slurs that day. At the end of the night he wept in the rotunda, and he said, is this America? And we've gotten to be friends since that day, and I happened to see him today, and I told him I was doing this talk tonight, and he said, you know, that's good for you, but it's hard to relive that day.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Yeah, I can’t imagine the trauma that these individuals went through as they're again undertaking this herculean task of trying to keep this mob out, to protect the senators and congressmen that were in the building that day, right? They put their lives on their line for other people, you know.
Jamie Stiehm '82 Absolutely, and there was a very close call. Could it been even more of a blood bath.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Yeah, I mean I shutter to think of what would have happened if they'd gotten their hands on Romney or you know on Pence, right? I mean he was out 50 seconds before hand, right? Or AOC, I know she wasn't in the building at the time, but they were looking for her Pelosi, right? They had a list of who they wanted.
Jamie Stiehm '82 They did.
Alex Friedfeld '12 And had they gotten their hands on any of them, you know, again.
Jamie Stiehm '82 That leads into my remembering two o'clock. We were an hour into the count. They're about 30 or 40 journalists, photographers, reporters, and probably 200 or 300 members on the floor, and that's when we heard that the rotunda has been breached, which is the most sacred space in the whole Citadel. But they told us only one individual had reached the rotunda, and so they carried on their business. And all of a sudden we heard many voices, footsteps pounding, broken glass on the marble floors, and these howls that didn't even sound quite human. And one law maker, his name is Steve Cohen from Memphis, Tennessee. He shot it over from the balcony to the Republican side. He said, this is because of you. Meanwhile, some of the larger men were taking off their jackets, getting ready for a fight. And others were kind of kneeling and hiding and putting on gas masks and up in the balcony where we were, we were told that we had to evacuate, but all the doors were locked. So that was a rather like Edgar Allan Poe dilemma. And then we heard gunshots, and I covered the city of Baltimore for 10 years, at the Baltimore sun. And I never heard live gunshots until I was in the Capitol on this ritual, this constitutional ritual going on. And then we called our families. We remembered 2001 September 11th, that the Capitol was the target of the plane that went... That crashed to the ground. So we didn't know if you're gonna get out of there alive or not, but we somehow got to a secret staircase down and then to a house office building where we sheltered and we were in lockdown for many hours. I don't know how many, but it just felt like a lifetime.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Yeah, well I mean, even the point about the secret state case, I think this speaks to kind of the planning and the coordination, right? There's audio tape of the Oath Keepers, for example, who are fully aware of where those secret passages are. You know at 1.1 of the opiates says they're down in the passages, gas them out you know. And again, like they had maps, they knew what they wanted to do, right? So it's kind of this duality, right? Yes, there was a large part of that crowd that was unorganized and kind of got caught up in the moment, for variety of reasons, right? I'm not saying they're innocent, but that they showed up and then got carried away. But there was absolutely a significant contingent that knew exactly what they wanted to do, and use the crowd to their advantage.
Jamie Stiehm '82 Well, that was my worst fear is that while we're going through this tunnel that the mob will be coming this way toward us. I was walking along with the Ohio congresswoman, Marcy Kaptur who's in her '70s, a very senior democrat. And she seemed calm with her pearls and her everything perfectly in place, and I was hyperventilating and I said, Congresswoman, why are you so calm? And she said, I've had a lot of hardship in my life. So somehow she calmed me down a little by saying that, that everybody reacts differently to crisis. I must say that almost everybody kept their cool, and we followed in line. We didn't... There wasn't like a rush to the exit. Everyone took up their shoes and went. A former NFL linebacker who is in a member of the house said that he had never met his father, and now he was afraid that his son wouldn't... His wife is pregnant, that his son would never meet his father. Another poignant testimonials.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Well you know, I can kind of give the counterpoint, right? Which is like, what's happening outside at that point, you know. And I think it's striking right to kind of contrast what's happening inside the Capitol, like you're describing and this fear and anxiety, right and rifle horror of everything, right? But at the same time online, they were loving it, right? The extremist, and not just the extremist, but patriot groups across the country were totally in awe of what was happening, right? Especially in those early minutes really at the first hour or so, there was almost, I would call it glee. This excitement, this joy that finally patriots are rising up after so long of being stepped on by the left and being pushed around. That finally they're gonna rise up, and restore the rightful place in the country. That this is the moment that they take back their country for themselves, you know. That this is the beginning of a brand new dawn for America. And I think that's reflected right in how much social media stuff was going up. People were live streaming, they were sharing photos, you know. They were again, like posting Facebook status and saying, we're here, can't believe this is happening. I mean, I had people sharing photos on dating apps to brag. There was really like no shame around this, you know. And so it made it... In some ways it was... It's horrifying in a lot of ways. It was great because we were... You know my colleagues and I were able to immediately start tracking these people, start grabbing these photos, saving them, saving the videos so that we knew eventually they would get taken down, but we wanted to have them. And so we kind of were working really around the clock a few of us to idea these folks and passed that information onto law enforcement, really just kind of going post by post and verifying and making sure, trying to figure out if they're in the capital or not, based off of this imaging. But again, there was this wealth of content out there. Hour long videos, two hour long videos because people didn't think they were doing anything wrong, right? They were standing up to save their country. what's bad about that, and really this is a point of pride.
Jamie Stiehm '82 And there were thousands of them on the terrace, on the steps, I mean they... They had cased the joint or somebody had cased the joint and maybe with a little help from their friends in congress, like this freshmen, Lauren Bobart from Colorado got up on this floor of the house before the mob arrived and she said, Madam speaker, I'm gonna be carrying my gun around here, and I have some constituents outside this building right now is a very brazen.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Right, I mean she... It's a threat, essentially a threat. Like I've got people outside you know. She tweeted that morning, 1776, you know, this is 1776, you know a whole host of them are rabble-rousing and really adding the stuff on in dangerous ways.
Jamie Stiehm '82 And as you probably, as I'm sure you know, several policemen lost their lives as a result, about five. And you said Alex earlier that there was a change in the tenor around three o'clock.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Yeah, yeah. There was this fascinating moment. So at that time I was actually watching the Oath Keepers private chat room, so like the hardcore guys, and there was this fascinating moment where again, up until that point there had been uniform praise for what was happening, right? But then the tenor of the riot got worse, right? And we started to see much more violent imagery, much more kind of egregious actions on the part of the insurrectionists. And you know there was this... All of a sudden I started to see these comments like, oh, that's not us, right? That's black lives matter. That's Antifa, there's no way patriots would do something like this, right? And I thought that was just absolutely fascinating, pardon. I've been thinking about that moment. Like why does that happen, right? And I think the impulse comes from this idea that these guys, they see themselves in the insurrectionists, right? And they believe that they're the good guys, you know, cause again, they're saving their country from evil, right? But it's very hard to square that concept with the footage they were seeing of again protestors beating police officers with American flags and defacing the Capitol, and really tearing down one of the major symbols.
Jamie Stiehm '82 Breaking the windows.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Yeah of course, right. You know defacing the... One of the great symbols of America and our freedom, right? And so that disconnect, that dissonance creates this urge to say, oh no, that's not us. That's black lives matter. That's Antifa. And that impulse I think is incredibly important in terms of understanding what's happened since, because what that has done is it has prevented the people both there and the supporters of this from kind of grappling with the role that their violent rhetoric and conspiracies played in the lead up to the insurrection, right? So rather than looking at it in the face and change it, they've just basically wipe their hands of it by saying, that's black lives matter. That's Antifa, that's not us, right? Which essentially means that the conditions that enabled the violence to happen in the first place are still in place, and even more dangerously, right. This impulse... That initial impulse to say, that's not us has been kind of cynically exploited by powerful figures around this country to kind of writ large and let people off the hook, and deflect the blame elsewhere
Jamie Stiehm '82 That's exactly what then president Trump said himself to Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the house. He said, that's Antifa. That's just what you said, and to his credit, McCarthy said, no, it's not, it's Maga, I know who they are. So that was his brief moment of standing up to Trump. But even... Trump was leading just an hour or two earlier, he had incited and invited them to rush to the Capitol, and now he's trying to pass off the blame when this turns out to be way more violent, and way more drastic, outrageous, than anyone. She's like anyone imagined it could be that vicious and brutal.
Alex Friedfeld '12 I mean, like you said, there's no--
Jamie Stiehm '82 Other than Stewart Rhodes.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Right, that's his fantasy. Look there's no precedent for this. I think even the people who were there that day didn't think it was gonna go off like this. A lot of the language leading up to it was focused on Antifa. There was absolutely a very strong intention that was like attack, the government, right? We need to do something to stop this, but there was also a significant portion that was like look, we have to be prepared to fight Antifa, right? Because think about where it comes. Start with a kind of Charlottesville and their squirt showdown there. It's been kind of a consistent theme that there'll be clashes between, you know, the right and left at any major rally, right? So I don't think they in the wildest dream stuff that would be possible. That they could actually... And really again it was this you know in there for them, right? A lucky break that the capital was on... Not as well defended as it should have been. That they were able to overwhelm, and turn that fantasy into reality. But I mean, I don't know, right? I mean whether or not they thought it was possible, I don't know, but it was... I know they dreamed about it, but that's... There's a difference between dreaming about something and making it happen. As we saw, they did it.
Jamie Stiehm '82 Yes, and that day was such an insult. And only one leader in the Capitol was prepared to have a select committee or a commission to investigate the entire day and tonight, that was speaker Pelosi, and the Senate voted down having a commission. So she went ahead with the committee and that January six committee, I think you'll agree is really going to town.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Yeah, no absolutely. They're doing important work, right? But I think if the insurrection was an insult to our democracy, the behavior by elected officials since has been even worse, right? I mean, one could imagine a world where kind of right after an act like this, we all kind of take a step back and look again at what led to this and make sure you work together across the aisle to make sure that this never happens again. You know, so whatever that means, right? Impeaching Trump for the second time, and actually--
Jamie Stiehm '82 That did happen.
Alex Friedfeld '12 No but like actually... Sorry, convicting Trump.
Jamie Stiehm '82 Convicting him, yeah.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Convicting, apologies, convicting Trump right? And holding him responsible, right? Censoring the congressmen and the senators who egged the crowd on, or enabled that right or...
Jamie Stiehm '82 Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley
Alex Friedfeld '12 Censoring them if not outright removing them from office, right? Or at least making it so they can't win the next election. But the fact of the matter is, most of these people are gonna win again. So any number of things, right? Holding the people like Steve Bannon and these pundits that kind of egged this stuff on accountable. And yet we've seen none of that, right? Instead of Republicans and the broader right have gone to their usual playbook in order to undermine any effort to figure out how to stop it. And again, as a result, we're left in the same position. And actually I would argue it's even worse than like kind of aptive obstruction. They're glorifying these people, right? They turned Ashley Babbitt into a martyr right? The victim of a government that murdered her-
Jamie Stiehm '82 These are the gunshots that we heard. We didn't know who was shooting who, so the gun stand up after that. She was it... In the way she was in military, she was cuing on, she embodied a lot of the trends that we're talking about. We're gonna take questions in a moment. However, let me narrate the very end of the night, which was about 3:30. Much to their credit Pence and Pelosi, McConnell and Schumer all were very decided about coming back to finish the count. And Mike Pence, whenever you think about him, at least he did the right thing at the right time that day. And so we returned to the Capitol, which was cleared and somewhat cleaned, but you could see the destruction everywhere. The disrespect to the heart of democracy. And so the house and the Senate carried on the count and still there were Republicans who made challenges even after all they went through which caused an outburst. Stephen by Mitt Romney on the Senate floor. And they finally finished it. And that was a tremendous victory. I happened to be speaking with the 14 year old boy who said, yeah, other countries have a coup, but we come back. That's the difference? And it turns out he was speaker Pelosi's grandson standing by a statue of Will Rogers. And I would say that in the very end of the night, democracy won, but not by much.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Yeah, I would unfortunately agree with that assessment.
Dina Zingaro Sorry, I'm just going to chime in. Hello everyone. My name is Dina Zingaro. I helped to organize SwatTalks, and to help our two panelists tonight, I am going to be fielding some of your wonderful questions that have been coming in with rapid fire. So the first one comes from Charles Goldberg from the class of 1972. Charles's question is, some political scientists, such as Barbara Walter see a likelihood of continuing violence, even perhaps civil war. Do you still see a potential for this?
Jamie Stiehm '82 We thought that question would come up.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Do you want to take the first swing?
Jamie Stiehm '82 Let me give my take, and then you can chime in. A lot of scholars and journalists are saying that we're living the 1850s all over again. The level of anger, and vitriol, and threats, and sedition, but the civil war was so awful, even much worse than what we're going through now. And there were three catalysts in the civil war that I don't see equivalence to right now. But I think psychologically that we're going through huge, huge chasm if not militarily. What do you say, Alex?
Alex Friedfeld '12 Well, I am a... As my family knows, I'm a big pessimist when it comes to this, right. I think the place to start right is nothing written in stone, right? So everything I'm about to say can always be changed, right? And I think it's important to remember that because you have to keep fighting. But I am deeply concerned about the fate of this country just because of the way that the right has undermine our electoral system, right? They have essentially created a machine that tells people that if a Democrat wins, it's illegitimate, and not just illegitimate, it's dangerous to you. And I think it's important to remember that second part, right? Because these people aren't acting like general power politics, right? They don't think in those terms, they think of like, how do I protect my family? How do I keep my community safe? And they are constantly receiving messaging from social media, from news outlets, from elected officials that they trust. That's telling them that democrats are evil right there, and some exact, you know horrible cases like saying this tyrant pedophiles that are coming to kill you and your family, and destroy your way of life.
Jamie Stiehm '82 And that's their source of ‘news’.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Right, exactly. I look at the stuff that these guys share. And again, it's not just extreme as at this point, I see it on Facebook with normal people that are sharing these outlandish conspiracy, riddled pages, you know, that again raise the stakes away from policy disagreements into this kind of eternal struggle against between good and evil. And you look at that, and then you look at kind of the steps that have been taken to undermine our electoral system, right? Whether it's these bogus audits that even though they consistently come back as the votes were the same, there's always people saying, well we need to do it again, cause clearly something's wrong, and you are just corrupted you know. So the bogus audits, the changes in election rules to ensure that the steel of the election can't happen again, right? Or the putting in of Trump cronies into these key electoral positions that govern the way our elections are run, right? The groundwork is being laid, you know for--
Jamie Stiehm '82 And the voting rights just failed in Congress.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Right, exactly, you know, and I think one of the things that scared me the most was the reaction to the Republican in Virginia Youngkin. I'm blank on his name right now, who just want enough of that, right? He won the election, he was a Republican, and yet you saw a spade of people saying actually that was you know, rigged as well. The democrats just wanna throw us off their sets. So even in a scenario where the Republican won the election outright, there's still conspiracy saying this stuff has... You know that this has been stolen or rigged in some way, right? And we're seeing that of the effects of that, you know, polling numbers change depending on who you ask, but the majority consistently of Republicans say that the election was stolen, or they believe that something shady happened, right? And that hasn't gone down. We measured kind of traction on social media and that has continued up to this point.
Dina Zingaro On that note, Alex, could you give us a little... We actually had one of our audience members just wanted a reminder of what organization you work for and why you were spending you know, that piece of your job, where you're spending so much time on social media. If you could sort of explain that bit of your job. And also this question comes from me, but I'm just sort of curious, what have you seen with the online chats, or online discussions happening with members of the Oath Keepers or the Proud Boys. Have they gone underground? Did they go underground and then resurface? What have you seen?
Alex Friedfeld '12 Sure, so I work for the Anti-Defamation League, I'm in their center on extremism and essentially we track extremism wherever it goes. Far left to the far right. And basically the way we do that is we go where the extremists go on social media, and we are just flies on the wall. We watch them day in and day out to kind of get a sense of what they're planning, what's motivating them, and things that they might consider the real world, right? With the idea of being that we shine a light on these guys so that we can help inform media, communities, law enforcement, whoever the stakeholder may be, right? We arm them with the information about what these guys are talking about, what they're planning next to kind of keep tabs on them. And so in terms of like the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys and kind of where we're at with digital extremists now. They've actually kind of gone in some different paths, right? So by and large after the insurrection, all of the major social media platforms, deep platform, discuss, right? Where they kick them off right off of Facebook, of Twitter, of Reddit, all of things of those natures. Some have been a little bit longer than others. Some of those bands have been longer and a little bit more thorough, but by and large, these guys were kind of removed from those spaces. And so as a result, we saw them navigate to other extremist platform or sorry, secondary and tertiary platforms, spaces that either popped up to kind of cater to this new audience, right? Or places that had been around for a while but for a variety of reasons, usually they're actually just pretty awful and like functionally, they just never took off. And so we saw people start to move towards those spaces, and that really impeded the ability of these extremist groups to get their message out and to recruit new people because there wasn't a coordinated plan of what did you do after you leave Facebook you know. Like they had to kind of figure out and they really kind of struggled to get a foothold anywhere. In terms though their actions, right? And I think that Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers are really fascinating in terms of the different paths that they've taken. So the Proud Boys over the last year have shifted their focus. They've tried to decentralize, right? So it used to have a much stronger national group but now they're actively encouraging local chapters to take matters into their own hands. And as part of that, they've encouraged kind of this move away from national politics, and instead focus on local politics, right? So go to your school board meetings, go to your town council meetings, harass the no medical professional in your neighborhood, right? And if you follow the news, you'll notice that a lot of stories about probably showing up in random towns and standing in the back of a council meeting with their mask on and just kind of four or five of them just glaring you know, and just sending that threatening message. In those instances where they don't actively grab the microphone themselves, right? So they have kind of continued despite 40 of them being charged in connection with interaction, they have continued to engage in street fights against the left, right in Portland in particular. We saw an escalation from sticks and clubs to paintball guns, to actual pistols being drawn, and people shots fired in anger, right? So they have continued to kind of seize this moment and use like the notoriety that's come along with the insurrection to further their cause. In contrast, the Oath Keepers you know have struggled this year for a variety of reasons, and I think part of it, you know, this is just speculation on my part. I think part of it is the kind of sway that Stewart Rhodes has over the organization. He founded the group. He's the president of the group for life. He has dictated basically every major strategic choice that they have made over the last 13 or so years. And he has always been in the cross hairs of law enforcement in regards to the insurrection, right? He from the very first indictments that came out I guess those three members of the Oath Keepers, Thomas Caldwell, Donovan Kroll, and Jessica Walkins, right? He was always person one in those papers, right? And he was acutely aware of the fact that he was likely gonna go at the prison at some point. He at one point gave a speech where he said, I'm gonna end up in prison. They're gonna throw me in jail. And so I think because of that he... You know because of that wariness, he kind of was a little bit quieter, right? So the Oath Keepers have not been particularly active in any organized way over the last year. Yes you see Oath Keepers shop on their own, but there hasn't been these kind of unified calls for action, which is kind of their trademark thing. Where they'll arrange a whole group of people to go to a protest or a rally, or even you know in the wake of natural disaster to go help out. They have been largely quiet and stymied because of the legal scrutiny.
Dina Zingaro We have a question from Gina Butino. What percent of this is as best as you can tell. What percent of participants were true insurrectionists versus quote, normal people caught up in the moment.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Yeah, that's impossible to tell at this point, right? I mean the best kind of numbers I can give are 20% of the individuals were extremists, right? Whether that was Oath Keepers or Proud Boys or pure non-supporters or a variety of white supremacist gangs. But that's terrifying in my mind, 'cause that means 80% of those people were against seemingly ordinary Americans that showed up, and again went along with it, right? Plenty of folks peeled off before they got to the Capitol. They didn't have to go to the Capitol and yet they went and did what they did, right? But again, I think that's the power of the messaging, right? The fact that this messaging is happening across all sectors at all hours of day. From sunrise to sunset that you know again, seemingly ordinary people are consuming it and are now believing that you know, great things must be done in order to save the country, extra ordinary things.
Dina Zingaro So let's shift a little bit to sort of the... Where we are now, over a year later. And we have a question here from Bill Lee from the class of 1960. Do you think that the January six committee is doing a good job? Are they moving fast enough? And perhaps we can sort of tack onto that question so that the sentences that we have seen coming down, if you could sort of discuss that a bit.
Jamie Stiehm '82 My sense is if they're in a big hurry, because if Republicans take over the house in the next election, then they will disband that committee. And so I sense this urgency on their part. The fact that they've interviewed 300 witnesses, including Bill Bar, and they seem to be putting together a big mosaic of who was involved that day. And they don't seem to have any fear or any limits at this point who and they've invited Ivanka Trump. So this is sending signals that they're for real, they're serious, and do you... Would you agree with that assessment?
Alex Friedfeld '12 Yeah, I would. I think they're doing the best that they can given the political limitations that they have. I think you're absolutely right Jamie and that they know there's a clock on their ability to put a report out, which is whatever the results of this next election are, right? I mean every, or the expectation is, it isn't gonna go great. And so they're trying to get it done before that, you know. So I think there's an enormous amount of information to go through and lots you know enormous amount of evidence that they have to call through. And so, you know again, they're doing what they can. And so there has been some important findings that's come out to work already. So I'm hopeful that again with a few more months, there'll be able to keep kind of picking away at some of these questions that still remain, that will need to be answered if we're gonna fully understand you know what happens on that day. In terms of just the... Sorry.
Jamie Stiehm '82 Two of the members led the impeachment, the two Trump impeachments. Jamie Raskin and Adam Schiff. So in a way they've been down the Trump road before and well, I think that will leave no stone unturned. The two Republicans on the committee, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger are of the same mind. And in a way it was a blessing that speaker Pelosi rejected Jim Jordan and others to be on that committee because otherwise it would have run into a lot of turbulence.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Absolutely.
Dina Zingaro So we have two questions that are sort of similar in nature. So I'm just gonna pair the two of them up. So the first one comes from Peter Rocky from the class of '79. And Peter was sort of asking, you know this otherwise Wallace mob apparently abided by the DC firearms prohibition. They could have ignored the law in Brock concealed firearms into the Capitol. Fortunately, they didn't. Any thoughts on why not. And so go along with that, there are there are so many questions I just want to... Mike Stafford asked a similar question that if even a small percentage of the group was organized for a premeditated overthrow, why weren't guns and explosives more widespread on that day?
Alex Friedfeld '12 Yeah, fantastic questions. Well one of the things is that we're learning as these kind of cases go on, as they're more gut... There were more guns than we thought were brought into like brought to the Capitol. They're consistently updating like how the guns that were recovered on that day. But it's a great question on why they weren't fired in anger. I'm not sure why. It could be that there just weren't necessarily targets for them to shoot at. I mean, these guys still generally, again, even though there was this blatant disregard of law enforcement that day, they still again, tend to side with law enforcement, and they didn't get their hands on the people that they were hoping to get their hands on. I don't know why there weren't more people that opened fire. It's actually one of the questions I continue to have to this day. But I can't say that again, the chatter leading up to it. A lot of people were passing around information saying, do not bring guns like that will just immediately get you arrested. They will throw... They didn't know what law enforcement, what level of law enforcement they were going to face that day, right? So people like the quickest way to get removed from that and to crack the whole thing down is for people to be walking around openly with guns like they have been doing at the lockdown protests across the country that they have been doing it all sorts of different rallies. And so there was this real effort to not do that. But again, it wasn't don't bring weapons. It was bring things that they can't take away from you. So bring the bring the tans, bring bats, bring concealed knives, bring all of these types of things.
Jamie Stiehm '82 Bring the bear spray.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Bring the bear spray, right. So even though they didn't have classic firearms, like when you think of a weapon in the classic sense, on the american sense of it, right? They still had plenty of weapons they were armed to the teeth and they were ready to rock.
Dina Zingaro Again, I'm gonna pair up two questions here from Alum. Chris Tenanon, I'm sorry if I'm pronouncing your name incorrectly. From the class of '72 asks. You have mentioned the importance of the messaging on the right. How can or should it be countered, which I'd like to pair up with another question that came in from Sandra Smith. what have you found out about the extreme left? Is there actually a group called Antifa or is that just a fantasy of the right? I'd like to pair these two up, 'cause I'm sort of curious Alex if this sort of online extremist chatter is something that is evident on the left. If members of ADL have also seen that too. Is it similar? Is it different?
Alex Friedfeld '12 Yeah, for sure. So let's start with the question at the left, and then we can talk generally about kind of extremist messaging, right? And the fact of the matter is like, yes, there is some extreme, like far left extremist messaging where they talk about violence, but it's not nearly at the levels that we see with the rights. And again, we are constantly looking because we always get asked about this type of issue. In terms of Antifa, they exist and they don't exist, right? So they exist in that yes, there is this kind of a collective of people called Antifa, that will show up. Again, they kind of know the order of business, right? And then some places there is a little bit more like there's more cohesion, right? This people that tend to sign up, show up for these things. But in general there aren't a formalized group. There is no formal structure to them. There is no hierarchy. There is nothing really that kind of links them, right? Instead what you tend to see are small cells of people who show up again at various places and engage in their activities, right? By and large Antifa has been turned into a boogeyman by the right. It's not to say that they don't use violence. There are absolutely instances where members of Antifa, or sorry, followers of Antifa. Antifa adherence have used violence, but it's very limited and tends to reflect a small, kind of the anarchist wing of Antifa. Antifa gets a lot of attention when they show up to counter protests, but they do a lots of other things as well. Whether it's community organizing, helping provide goods and services, you know, give stuff to the local communities online, kind of monitoring, right seller stuff do I do, like kind of keeping an eye on these spaces and identifying folks when they can, as white nationalists as not to use us what have you. And again, their big thing is they don't show up unless the light shows up, right? And that's an important differentiator between the two. Now again like the violence Antifa does should absolutely be condemned. It's not good, right? No one should be using violence. In fact, frankly it ends up just creating cycles of violence which are deeply problematic and only make things worse. But I always think back to a statistic that we put out over the last year, right? Over the last 10 years, we've seen 433 murders committed by extremists across the country. Only one of those was carried out by Antifa, and it was the first murder that we saw connected with an Antifa here and since 1994. And that was the Michael Reinhold shooting in Portland, in the wake of the... Sorry, Marco White Reinhardt shooting the portrait prayer member in Portland, right? But in that same time, we've seen 75% of those murders committed by the far right. And far more plots that were foiled and stopped committed by the far right. So when you kind of look at the two, it's very obvious that there is an undue amount of violence coming out of the right as compared to the left. In terms of messaging, right? And it's an incredibly important question that we're still trying to sort through, right? Is how do we counter this messaging? So on the one hand right, you can do counter messaging, right? I tend to think that's sort of limited in what it can do because people don't trust where the sources where it's coming from, right? But there's things you can do, like hold social media accountable. I don't think it's unreasonable for people who are using Facebook, who are using Twitter, who are using Reddit to expect that these platforms will take the presence of extremist seriously and the platform, and to make sure that they and their kids, and their grandkids, aren't seeing the stuff while they're just scrolling around checking up on their feeds. So there's sorts of things like that where you can kind of deal. I think another thing right is from politicians and elected officials, holding them accountable at the ballot box, making sure. There used to be a time that if you said something outrageous or outlandish that you advocate for violence, you would lose your next election, right? And someone from your same party would take that opportunity to kind of jump ahead. And that just isn't the case. If anything, we're seeing these people rewarded for their dangerous comments, right? For the violent rhetoric, right? Becomes now about owning the left as opposed to running on policy or running on decorum in the country. And then I think part of it is just kind of understanding at an individual level, right? What these people are doing with the propaganda. How to recognize propaganda. ow to talk to people about it, right? Because everyone has loved once, or many people have loved once that have fallen down this trap, right? And it's very difficult to bring them back, but you know that's one way you can kind of counter the messaging is by kind of working with them to figure out, to identify this stuff, right? And it's really hard work. You know it takes a lot of empathy, a lot of patience, and a lot of time, frankly to do it. There's no good way to drag them back, towards reason, towards kind of these norms, right? You have to guide them there and that takes a lot of time, but it is incredibly important.
Jamie Stiehm '82 Is it the kind of contagion would you say?
Alex Friedfeld '12 Yeah, I mean you can absolutely think about me. The term going viral, right? I mean, how many of these conspiracies start off in the middle of nowhere and then all of a sudden it ends up on some of the major broadcasts in America, and it's absolutely kind of this contagion element of it.
Dina Zingaro So we only have three... Well, two minutes now. So I just wanted to give you both an opportunity to close with a few of your thoughts, or if there's an anecdote that you didn't get a chance to share about that day. I wanna leave this time for the two of you.
Alex Friedfeld '12 Jamie, I guess I'll start just because you probably have a better anecdote about the day. Although better might be the wrong word to use here. I don't know. You know I think one of the things I struggle with in my job is that I'm using the brain... Like the bearer of bad news. I'm not a lot of fun at cocktail parties. People wanna ask me about what I do or my outlook on things, and I don't usually have good news, and I just kind of wanna go back to the point I made before I started talking about kind of like whether or not we're hanging towards the civil war, right? The future is unwritten, you know, yes, this is a dark period. I'm very concerned about the way our political system is operating or not operating for that matter right now. I'm very concerned watching large segments of Americans fall prey to these extremist ideologies, or get caught up in things like queue and non and all that sort of stuff. But it's important to kind of keep working and figure out there are solutions to this. We can't just kind of resign ourselves and walk away, and say whatever happens, happens, right? And the only way we're gonna stop this as if we kind of work together and organize and keep pushing forward for a better, regardless of your politics, right? Just keep pushing forward for a better America.
Jamie Stiehm '82 Well as the evening was ending, I happened to see Chris Vanhollen, Senator from Maryland whom I knew at Swarthmore. And we were by the Ohio clock, and he's just talking, like trying to make some sense of the whole event. And he said, Mike Pence was really furious after all I've done for that guy. So then home and the streets were deserted, were under curfew, everything was dark. And by the time I finally got home at four in the morning, it was the darkness before the dawn, or seemed to be a very good metaphor for where we were as a country at that moment.
Dina Zingaro Well thank you both so much. Alex and Jamie, and thank you to everyone for tuning in for tonight SwatTalk.
Jamie Stiehm '82 Thank you, friends.
Dina Zingaro Bye everyone.