The Truth of “Trial by Combat”

Posted on January 7, 2021


It’s impossible for me, as it is for many others, to grasp events that are far larger than myself. War, famine, pandemic all reach proportions that are beyond my comprehension. My capacity to grasp all of this emotionally has a limit, and these events often exceed that. Then, I will see a photo of one person in one specific horrific situation, and I will react. I that moment, whatever horrors have come into my awareness becomes real. In that moment, I am responding to the very real circumstances of one specific person. 

A friend of mine is a Realtor in the South. During the events that transpired yesterday, he was showing properties to his client, a respected police officer in the community. My friend noticed a chain of texts between a group of friends (I was on the chain) blowing up his phone and realized that something was going on. He turned to his client and asked if he knew anything that was happening. His client said “After Trump’s speech in DC, a bunch of ANTIFA/BLM people stormed the capitol.”

My friend didn’t think that sounded right. He quickly threw out a text on the thread that questioned what his client said. We all responded immediately, to set him straight. My friend looked at the texts and decided to say something to his client. He went to Fox News, believing that his client would be more open to Fox being a source that he would believe. Fox, my friend quickly saw, was as horrified and outraged as CNN.

He told his client what Fox was saying, that the mob consisted of Trump supporters and that one person was killed. His client’s response was at first to be a bit perplexed and that he was listening to Sean Hannity and Hannity couldn’t confirm that anybody was shot. That was the sum total of his response. I will repeat: That was the sum total of his response.

At the moment my friend texted this to our group, the reality hit me. It was not that Trump had incited the tragic events that ensued. It was not that his followers took him at his word to go to the capitol and take action. It was not that people were killed or injured It was not the endless words and video footage I had been watching on CNN.

My response was the same as the moments that I have seen a photo of one human in one terrible moment. In that moment, that one house-hunting man became real to me and defined the horror that I have been experiencing for the last four years. He personified the true evil that has been encouraged over and over and over against us, an evil created and nurtured by the people we have elected to serve us and protect us or appointed by such people. It is an evil that has fundamentally impacted countless decent, hardworking people, police and doctors and service providers and business owners, who live in a reality created by those who have discovered that there is power and money in manipulating a reality for their own benefit.

They have discovered that people will do anything, will give up anything, in order to save a system that rewards them simply for being white. The mob that took over the capital was overwhelmingly white. They showed in a graphic way the rewards one gets for being white in this society. They committed acts of violence as police stood by. They were protected by a president who refused to call out the National Guard. Imagine, if you will, if a mob of people of color, holding aloft Black Lives Matter flags, did the same thing. Today, we would be excoriating people even as we buried them.  

Conspiracy theories have become the most powerful tool of those who would control others. The internet has become the most powerful way to wield that tool. The people who create and disseminate the myths know that humans are expendable and humans are malleable. The people who create and disseminate the myths have done it very well is to throw out so many conspiracy theories, that humans are overwhelmed. Conspiracy theories are not silly delusions. They are tools to have people mistrust everything. Those who mistrust everything can believe in nothing. They are open to manipulation. The result has been the creation of a large part of the population who discard everything, who see threats in everywhere, who are unaware of what they have given up.

The mob was really not a mob.  It was a culmination of the anger and the helplessness of individual people, people fed daily on the belief that their personal well-being was being stolen from them, that the rights they deserved by virtue of their skin color and their fortune in being citizens of the US were being stolen by those who were rungs below them in the caste hierarchy. The man who was house-hunting was not physically in their midst. Yet, for me, that one man who spent his afternoon innocently looking at houses  symbolized everything that transpired yesterday. That man will see the same videos I have seen. He will see them with different eyes. He will hear some of the same news items I hear. He will hear them with different ears. He will experience whatever he does from whatever happened. He will believe that he has freedom of thought. He will believe that he exercises freedom of will. Sadly for all of us, he does not, on either count.