Show caption ‘Calling them “rioters” doesn’t quite capture the political motivations of the pro-authoritarian mob of Maga fanatics. Photograph: Jim Urquhart/Reuters Opinion ‘Patriots’ are undermining American democracy Michael Harriot The people who stormed the US Capitol on 6 January don’t understand that nationalism is not the same as patriotism Thu 30 Dec 2021 11.00 GMT Share on Facebook
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There is a more accurate term than insurrectionists to describe the people who stormed the US Capitol building on 6 January, forever smearing the seat of the American republic with fear and fascism.
Although their activities inspired terror and were planned in part by members of white supremacist groups, they object to being labeled as “terrorists” or “white supremacists”. Calling them “rioters” doesn’t quite capture the political motivations of the pro-authoritarian mob of Maga fanatics. Perhaps we should view them as historical re-enactors. After all, they were only recreating the effort to undermine democracy, freedom and the US constitution that has repeated itself for centuries. Yet, if you asked them, they would undoubtedly say they were “patriots”.
Throughout the course of American history, whenever this country has found itself standing on the unthinkable precipice of ruin, there has always been a horde pledging their allegiance to the flag while clamoring to push the country into the abyss. To be clear, there is a difference between loving one’s country and the vainglorious virtue-signaling that defines America’s most self-righteously toxic misnomer. But fanaticism does not prove one’s devotion. Nationalism is not the same as patriotism.
In his 1861 Cornerstone Speech describing the “revolution” that still stands as the bloodiest war in the history of this continent, Confederate States of America vice-president Alexander H Stephens crowed that he had never met “an abler, wiser, a more conservative, deliberate, determined, resolute and patriotic body of men” than those who would rather rip their nation in half than discontinue their for-profit human trafficking enterprise. Five years later, the conquered confederacy of traitors would unite to form the Ku Klux Klan, an “institution of chivalry, humanity, mercy and patriotism … noble in sentiment, generous in manhood and patriotic in purpose.”
Alabama governor George Wallace defended segregation as a matter of patriotism. When South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1957, he wondered why the people of the north would pick on the “patriotic” people who simply wanted to preserve white supremacy. After he switched parties in protest of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he was embraced by the new “lilywhite” Republicans as a “patriot”. The Tea Party patriots tossed racial slurs at John Lewis, while at least two people have been killed at rallies organized by the far-right group Patriot Prayer.
There is nothing more unpatriotic than someone who calls themself a “patriot”. The flag-waving hypocrites who proudly proclaim their loyalty to their country are determined to kill America. Since the 2020 election, at least 19 states have passed 33 laws that make it harder to vote. These legislative acts of voter suppression are largely introduced and passed by adherents to Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” movement that now includes a considerable share of the GOP’s constituency. Although these “America first” acolytes claim to want to make their country great again, their real end game is to destroy any semblance of a government where white people’s voting power is equal to their share of the electorate. In other words, the principal goal of the so-called Patriot Party is the opposite of democracy.
These America-mongers perform patriotism while disregarding the actual values of their country. They will proudly recite the pledge of allegiance while demonizing Black Lives Matter protesters, reform-seekers or any movement that promotes liberty and justice for all. In Colorado, armed members of the Montezuma County Patriots were charged with harassing participants in a Walk for Justice and Peace. The trial begins days after the white supremacist group Patriot Front organized a rally in Washington. At least three deaths are associated with Patriot Prayer, another pro-Trump gang that staged violent demonstrations across the country.
There is a difference between loving one’s country and the virtue-signaling that defines America’s most toxic misnomer
They have constructed a parody of a pro-life movement that does everything it can to strip rights and life away from their fellow Americans. Archbishop Timothy P Broglio, head of the US Archdiocese for the Military Services, claimed that forcing women to carry out unwanted pregnancies is an “authentic act of patriotism”. A true lover of democracy would accept stricter gun laws favored by most Americans. Instead, these performance artists made the National Rifle Association the official partner of school shootings by casting their uncompromising support for firearm manufacturers as an act of patriotism. They claim critical race theory makes kids feel bad and hate America. Yet, they are somehow willing to trade the lives of social studies students for gun industry profits. Whether it’s back-alley abortions or the spilled blood of second-graders, patriots have never cared about life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness.
Besides being unapologetically pro-death, they are unrepentant liars. They spread conspiracy theories and reject the scientific research of climatologists, immunologists and criminologists, ignoring the death and destruction caused by climate change, Covid-19 and the criminal justice system. They push the false notions of illegal immigration, crime and widespread voter fraud, fully knowing the consequences of their fearmongering. Their obstruction of the 6 January House committee proves it. Their text messages prove it. Their own recounts prove it. Math, history, science and the entire English language prove that they have no use for truth, facts or evidence. This historically inaccurate, mathematically incorrect caricature of patriotism is white nationalism wrapped in a star-spangled banner.
If the American empire ever falls – and it will – we can thank the patriots for the demise of democracy. Ultimately, these fanatical jingoists are the least patriotic people in America. They detest democracy and loathe any prospect of a more perfect union. They have pledged their allegiance to the flag, but not the republic for which it stands. Patriotism as performance is their only protection because a country that provides liberty and justice for all is too unbearable a thought.
They’d rather kill it first.
Michael Harriot is a writer and author of the upcoming book Black AF History: The Unwhitewashed Story of America
This article was amended on 31 December 2021 to site Montezuma County in Colorado rather than Arizona.