January 6th, Six Months Later

How the US military can do more to keep veterans from falling into far-right extremism. Plus, where some tech VCs got their out-of-touch views of government.

If you haven’t yet taken the time to watch The New York Times Visual Investigations team’s reconstruction of the January 6th storming of the Capitol, it’s a must. But be forewarned, it will upset you. In particular, the Times zeroes in on how key individuals and organized groups tied to the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Three Percenters, moved in concert starting with events the night before the insurrection.

Rachel Bernstein is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Los Angeles who started a podcast, IndoctriNation, back in 2018 to focus on cults, manipulators and helping people escape from systems of control. I first heard her speak on these topics at Organizing 2.0 this past April. A week ago, her podcast featured a conversation with Christopher and Melissa Buckley of Lafayette, Georgia. Christopher is an Afghanistan and Iraq War veteran who joined the Klu Klux Klan after he returned home. The conversation focused on how he was drawn deeply into that racist organization and then pulled out, in part thanks to an intervention by his wife and with the help of Arno Michaelis, an ex-white-power skinhead who works with Parents for Peace, an anti-hate group.

The whole conversation is well worth a listen, but at one point midway through Buckley said something that stopped me in my tracks. He’s discussing his military experience overseas and how he was taught to hate Muslims in order to more easily kill people in Afghanistan and Iraq, and then turns to how little the Pentagon does to help veterans unlearn what they are taught. Listen to where that leads, in Buckley’s experience:

What the military doesn't do is they don't resensitize you. They don't reintegrate you. They give you a quick one over [checking your] life, limb or eyesight. And you're back at the house in two weeks drinking beer, and then the PTSD kicks in. And then the spiral out of control, the substance abuse starts, possibly leading to … suicide. Twenty-two soldiers a day commit suicide. … That's not okay. That tells you that there's a fucking flaw in the system. January 6th was a direct byproduct of the US military not incorporating deprogramming programs and deradicalization programs into their demobilization bring home project. It's not. It costs too much money, we have to pay the soldiers even longer…. [So] then they converge on the Capitol because they found themselves outside of the military. They mobilize, they arm themselves and then they attack the US government because the US government failed them. Do we see the process here? This wasn't a terroristic attack by white supremacists. This was a terroristic attack by soldiers that the US government failed. Look at the groups that converged on the Capitol. Yeah, they were MAGA supporters, [but that was the] lesser of the situation. They were soldiers, veterans, and prior service members, they were Proud Boys, Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, these are all prior service paramilitary militia style groups. Where did they get that training? Better yet, where did they get their trauma?

According to the George Washington University Program on Extremism, of the 521 people charged so far for their involvement in the Capitol Hill insurrection, at least 52 were veterans (the vast majority) or currently serving in the armed forces. Those people were far more likely to have a reported tie to a domestic extremist group like the Proud Boys than non-military participants who were charged for their role in the insurrection. In a detailed April report, the Program on Extremism calls for the creation of a combined Pentagon-VA task force to combat extremism in the military as well as the creation of a centralized system for tracking extremism-related incidents connected to the military. They also call for more attention to how veterans are reintegrated into society; I’d say that Buckley’s comments suggest that we need to do a lot more to embrace and demilitarize vets if we want to undo the harm so many experience being trained and sent to war.

P.S.: The FBI still has no idea who placed pipe bombs outside the offices of the Republican and Democratic National Committees on the night of January 5th.

Related: Government watchdog group Free Speech for People has launched an effort to get secretaries of states to enforce Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and bar insurrectionists from appearing on state ballots. The goal, obviously, is to keep people like The Former Guy as well as Senators Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and others from seeking the presidency in 2024. In some constitutionally-regulated corner of the universe, this would have been done already, but in case you haven’t noticed, the Constitution seems to have lots of loopholes when it comes to the presidency.

Also related: Of the nearly 700 Republicans who have filed initial paperwork with the FEC to run for Congress in 2022, at least one third embrace the Big Lie that the election was stolen, Amy Gardner reports for The Washington Post.

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This is Civic Tech

-The Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project, stewarded by Nathan Persily and Charles Stewart III, has released an 800-page compendium of its work in 2020, covering how states navigated the challenges raised by the pandemic for in-person voting and vote-by-mail, along with its research on the counting of the vote. The compendium also includes a handy summary of various civic information tools deployed by the major tech platforms in 2020.

-Belated congrats to civic tech startup Aunt Bertha, which announced a month ago that it has raised $27 million in new funding. The company, which started in Texas providing information on social services, now runs findhelp.org with over 470,000 program locations and at least 1,295 vetted listings easily accessible to people in need in every ZIP code in America.

-Wietse Van Ransbeeck, CEO and Co-founder of CitizenLab, writes for Apolitical that as the pandemic recedes, local governments shouldn’t abandon digital forms of public engagement, arguing that over the past year, “The new ways of doing things, digitally or through hybrid engagement, began to lend themselves to more accessible engagement options and increased community participation.”

-Antonia Timmerman reports for Rest of World about Peta Bencana, or “DisasterBot,” an Indonesian mapping platform that turns social media chatter into real-time crowdsourced maps of emerging disasters like earthquakes, forest fires, smog, strong winds, and volcanic activity. She traces its origins back to 2013 and work that co-founder Tomas Holderness did using OpenStreetMap in Kibera. A open source tool Holderness built for Peta Bencana called CogniCity, which listens to the conversations on various social platforms, is now being used in the Philippines, Vietnam and Hong Kong to help manage urban disasters.

-Say hello to the new Open Gov Hub, which has expanded into a new 20,000-square-foot location in Washington, DC. If you are committed to transparency, accountability and civic engagement, check them out!

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Organizing News

-Dana Fisher has released a new data visualization of networked relationships inside the “Resistance” showing how members of Indivisible overlapped with nine other activist groups including Vote Forward, MoveOn, SwingLeft, Fair Fight Action, League of Women Voters, ACLU and the Sierra Club, Flip the West and Postcards to Voters.

Tech and Government

Marc Andreesen’s screed against the public sector has prompted two excellent ripostes, one from Jen Pahlka, the founder of Code for America, and the other from Cyd Harrell, civic design consultant. Pahlka writes for OneZero that Andreesen “seems entirely blind” to all the successful government efforts to address the pandemic, adding that his “solution is to throw the baby out with the bathwater and hand everything over to the private sector, or more specifically, to the companies he and his friends invest in.” And, writing for Wired, Harrell ties Andreesen to their shared identity as Gen Xers, pointing out that he is “selling Reaganite nostrums from our shared childhood.” She adds:

“One way to respond to the Reaganite degradation of government and other public-sector institutions is to (1) get yours as fast and with as many zeroes as you can, and (2) tell yourself you’re doing right and find motivated reasons to believe it. The idea of privately exploring space and privately colonizing Mars or other worlds as backups to Earth fits right in with this worldview. So does disrupting public goods (like money or transit) that you believe are doomed anyway. Collective action to preserve and improve these common goods requires coordination across centuries-old institutions—that’s not easy to address through software, or without deeply human organizational work that Silicon Valley culture dismisses as ‘soft skills.’”

Money and Politics

An Exxon-Mobil lobbyist was caught on camera by Greenpeace UK bragging about the company’s relationships with elected officials, describing them as “fish” that he reels in with “bait” so “they look good and then they help me out,” adding “They’re a captive audience. They know they need you.” He names 11 senators who he says are “crucial” to ExxonMobil: Shelley Moore Capito, Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, Jon Tester, Maggie Hassan, John Barrasso, John Cornyn, Steve Daines, Chris Coons, Mark Kelly and Marco Rubio.

Summer Reading

-Our old friend Beth Simone Noveck, founder and director of NYU’s GovLab, is out with a new book, Solving Public Problems: A Practical Guide to Fix Government and Change Our World. The book is accompanied by a 12-part online course.

And just a reminder that for July and August, The Connector is on a summer schedule of just one edition a week. See you next Tuesday.