Less than a month ago, barbarians stormed the seat of our republic. The new administration and new Congress are already working, but it’s going to take some time yet for us all, as a people, to work through that day. It was on Jan. 6, 2021, that then President Donald Trump and his allies excited and incited a crowd of authoritarian nativists to attack the legislative branch of our democratic republic. Many of the assembled barbarians (people shoutily disinterested in law and process and violently acting to do away with them, if you like) went on to destroy public property, attack our police officers (killing a “thin blue line” public servant with a fire extinguisher), and attempt to hunt down our elected officials, hoping to string them up on a flimsy-looking gallows on the west side of the Capitol, near the Reflecting Pool.
We send our representatives to that hill to do our business. We send them, imperfectly but legitimately, for what we perceive as our own interests and also for what we understand to be the common interest (the general welfare) of our fellow countrymen. But the barking barbarians beat, broke, screamed, crushed, and Nazi-ed their way into that place of Article I. They left blood and bodies behind them and many shards of glass (it wasn’t Kristallnacht, but the white nationalist symbols and the shattered windows should at least remind us of it—and remind us that some of them did want us to remember it); they did not, however, stop our democracy. By 4:00 in the morning, Jan. 7, a man that they had tried to hunt so that they might hang him, then Vice President Mike Pence, had presided over the certification of the very Electoral College vote that the barbarians had come to overturn. Brownshirts were shown off of the people’s place, and democracy said, once again, “Nazis, eff off.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, then Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Pence—each of whom are often seen as symbols of screeching and clawing partisanship—came together to get the people’s work done. They did their jobs.
Now the dust settles, and the Gadsden flag’s snakes slither back into holes to regroup, re-arm, and, possibly, plan future attacks on our way of life. Rattlesnakes can’t build high-speed railways, can’t coordinate with virologists across countries and continents, can’t negotiate for cheaper healthcare and universal health insurance, can’t send women to the moon. People do those things, in collaboration with other people—all kinds of people, working together, empowered by a diverse range of ideas, specializations, languages, and worldviews. We do it in a pluralistic democratic republic. But you can find the authoritarian barbarians’ snake holes online, including their flat-earth-fascinated subset of “Q”-cult followers, the merely outraged and misled supporters of the previous president who feel (but can’t seem to provide sufficient evidence) that the election was stolen from him, and the outright bigots—white supremacists who want to press a boot heel into a brown skull for their own psychopathic form of fun.
As information professionals, we are called to find the truth, to tell the truth, and to advocate for the truth. While Q-cult members flee, squealing, from any test of falsifiability, it is the librarians, indexers, researchers, and educators who must stand exactly for that which the Q authoritarians most fear: Let us test ideas, beliefs, and opinions against evidence. We must keep teaching what these basic things mean: facts, discernment, experiment, cognitive bias, belief, truth. We may each do it for different reasons, and that’s just fine, but many of us do it because it is our calling as patriots. I’m a librarian because I care about our democratic republic and because I believe that education begets our general welfare.
Here are a few tools (and allies) that are doing the hard work to stand up for truth and stay vigilant on behalf of the rule of law. Remember those who keep level eyes on the barbarians, while we blithely (and rightfully) attend to patrons who are trying to book study rooms, analyze local market competition for business clients, work further back on a family tree with an ailing auntie, or check out the best new bestseller. If Nazis start strolling around in your local grocery store, you might want to see what these sources have to say about their presence in your town. Eyes up. Watch your corners and your six.
SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) says, “All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” Keep an eye on SPLC’s Hate Map to find out where new bigots are popping up: splcenter.org/hate-map.
RIGHT WING WATCH
Right Wing Watch is “dedicated to monitoring and exposing the activities and rhetoric of right-wing activists and organizations in order to expose their extreme agenda. [Its] researchers monitor dozens of broadcasts, emails and websites, and use their expertise on right-wing movements to analyze and distill that information for media, allies and the general public. By shedding light on the activities of the right-wing movement, we help expose the risks its extreme and intolerant agenda presents to our country.” Right Wing Watch is paying careful attention to the QAnon movement: rightwingwatch.org/topics/qanon.
AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION
The American Civil Liberties Union advocates for civil liberties for all—including the First Amendment rights of bigots. We all have a right to peacefully assemble and air our grievances to our elected officials. No one has a right to use violence to coerce those elected officials. Whether you believe in this country’s highest aspirations for universal equality and suffrage, or whether you’d prefer to see a Mad Max world of mayhem, segregation, and diesel-chieftain chaos, the ACLU works to protect your right to peaceful free speech: aclu.org/issues/free-speech.
The FBI is watching too. It defines a hate crime as “a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, the FBI has defined a hate crime as a ‘criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.’” The FBI makes it clear that “hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.” Which, if any, of the crimes committed during the Capitol insurrection were hate crimes? See fbi.gov/investigate/civil-rights/hate-crimes.
SPOT THE TROLL QUIZ
Can you spot trolls? How about liberal trolls? The Spot the Troll quiz may help train you and your patrons to be better able to see those subtle indicators of liars, manipulators, and dividers—whether right or left: spotthetroll.org.
MEDIA MANIPULATION CASEBOOK
The Media Manipulation Casebook “is a research platform that advances knowledge of misinformation and disinformation and their threats to democracy, public health, and security. The Casebook is a new resource for building the field of Critical Internet Studies by equipping researchers with case studies, theory, methods, and frameworks to analyze the interplay of media ecosystems, technology, politics, and society.” As authoritarians, hate groups, and other anti-democratic bad actors attempt more sophisticated means of recruitment, they may be using some of these media manipulation methods. Get familiar with their means at mediamanipulation.org/case-studies.