For my entire life, Republicans have done horrifying, terrible, despicably anti-human things. They’re racists, homophobes, transphobes and misogynists. Their entire political philosophy is not only based on keeping rights away from anyone who isn’t a white, cisgender male, but also keeping the entitlement to declare who deserves any rights at all.
One of the few things that keeps them from being voted into oblivion is the objectively undeserved benefit of the doubt. Personally, I don’t give them that. I don’t take Republicans at their word, because if your political party has all the hate speech, the hate groups and the hate crimes, then honesty clearly isn’t valuable to you.
Some may argue that Republicans actually do believe what they say and they’re just stupid. To that, my only response is you can never know what someone truly thinks, only what they claim to think, and besides, there is a point at which stupidity and malice become indistinguishable from one another. The attempted coup on Jan. 6 has shown the entire world what that looks like.
Were some of these homeland-invaders stupid? Well, one of them wore his work ID on a lanyard, so sure. Some of them were undoubtedly stupid, but not all of them. As of this writing, nearly 30 of the coup-attempting rioters have been identified as off-duty police officers. Police officers are not stupid. Far too many of them are entitled white supremacists, but they are not stupid. Nathan Bernard’s reporting on Maine Capitol Police Chief Russ Gauvin proves this point. You cannot climb the ranks all the way to chief if you are stupid, but you sure can as a white supremacist. It may even be necessary.
The point is that a certain level of intelligence is required to be a police officer. Whatever level you think that may be, it is certainly enough to know that breaking into the Capitol Building is illegal, and that the overabundance of camera-phones would provide a gratuitous amount of evidence of that illegal behavior.
Klete Keller, two-time Olympic gold medalist, was also a part of the attempted coup. He was identified by the coat he wore, emblazoned with official Olympic Team patches. Again, this seems impossibly stupid, but it isn’t. It’s actually entitlement. The police, the Olympian, and everyone else who attempted the coup believed what Orwell called “the totalitarian idea that there is no law, there is only power.” They just made the mistake of behaving as though the power were theirs.
But my favorite example of ignorance and malice being indistinguishable comes from Maine’s own Susan Collins. In a letter published by the Bangor Daily News, Collins described her experience of being in the Capitol during the attempted coup. She claimed, “My first thought was that the Iranians had followed through on their threat to strike the Capitol, but a police officer took over the podium and explained that violent demonstrators had breached the entire perimeter of the Capitol and were inside.”
Just for the sake of clarity, on Dec. 19, the former president tweeted that there would be a “big protest on January 6th.” Also, that his supporters should “Be there, will be wild!” Then a few days later, right-wing groups started applying for permits to demonstrate. Of course, what followed was talk of violence on right-wing forums, and the former president consistently fanning the flames right up until he got off the stage in front of thousands of his followers on that particular Wednesday. This is to say nothing of the previous years of his flame-fanning, consistently enabled by Collins.
And so, Susan Collins would have us believe she was wholly ignorant of not only this entire context, but also of the mob of thousands of screaming, historically violent, red-hatted, Confederate/Gadsden/Trump flag–waving extremists surrounding the Capitol, whom she undoubtedly had to navigate around just to enter the building. Somehow oblivious to all of this, upon seeing the Capitol Police rush onto the Senate floor, her first thought was that “the Iranians” were on the attack. The Iranians. Like, all of them?
I mean, this lines up with her racist campaign against Sara Gideon, and as reported by Mainer, Collins did fund anti-democracy extremists in Washington and Maine while condoning Trump’s authoritarian behavior. So, is her letter to the BDN just a cowardly and malicious attempt to shield herself from accountability, or is she just impossibly, unfeasibly stupid?
As a country, we’ve passed the point where the difference is worth debating.
Samuel James is an internationally renowned bluesman and storyteller, as well as a locally known filmmaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.