I, as many others, was horrified by what I saw happen on January 6th, 2021. To see hundreds of people storm the Capitol steps, to see security and police barely contain the crowds, making their way into the building and threatening not only the lives of the nation’s representatives, senators, and legislative officials, but aides, reporters, building maintenance staff and security personnel as well, shook me to my core as an American citizen. And yet, as an American, I also expected this.
I expected that the protections that these people believed Trump would give them would incite an insurgence. I expected that the rhetoric that they subscribed to that Trump spoke to within them would lead to a war against their own communities. I expected that Donald Trump would go down swinging, and his adoring fans and supporters would follow accordingly, and I was not the only one that expected these things. Grassroots organizations and marginalized groups across the nation prepared carefully in the days before the election last November, hoping that the results would not incite riots and threaten their safety, but preparing nonetheless. This fear was already in the hearts of American people, especially those who are seen as Other, often immigrants, people of color, and most importantly and prominently, Black people. Many of us knew that these tensions would rise in Trump’s base, that he would continue this behavior well past inauguration and inspire his followers to do the same. We knew, and we were afraid, are afraid.
I expected this, but I fear there is more to come. Donald Trump is to his followers what a cult leader is to his members — he inspires them by targeting a deep-seated fear or hatred, and repeats his statements until they become unshakeable truth in the minds of his followers. He indoctrinates them with this appeal to their darkest fear, and then weaponizes it to justify his power. At a certain point, he may even believe it himself. But, like cult leaders often do, he would rather die with his con before he ever concedes. As cult leaders do, he would more quickly condemn his followers to harm, or worse, death, before he ever releases his grab for power. And like Jim Jones and Jonestown, his pursuit of power and control will result in so much collateral damage at the cost of human life.
Donald Trump will go down swinging, without a care for who he hurts in the process. And like good cult members, his followers will do the same because he indoctrinated them by appealing to their basest fears. He weaponized their discomfort — no, hatred for others to bolster his own power. This control, this indoctrination will not stop with inauguration. I doubt it will stop with a concession, if Trump ever does concede. Even if he concedes, his followers will still continue on, as they believe they are carrying out an important mission. Even if he concedes and admits defeat, his followers may turn on him but the fear and hatred stoked within them will persist, and they will learn to weaponize it. Even if he concedes, they will continue their work as they believe it is Patriotism.
Despite my hope otherwise, I believe this will most likely turn into an all-out conflict between the Trump supporters and the rest of the United States — they will never, ever back down, like good cult members. They will die with the con as their leader did, without a care for who gets hurt in the process.
Trump has succeeded through the support of his followers, yet fights against their wishes at every turn, threatening Medicare and Social Security, subjecting an entire population to a pandemic through his firing of the Pandemic Response Team and lack of action, through bailing out large corporations but not the members of his fanbase who are suffering far worse, and especially through his sheltered and lavish lifestyle while his followers fight his battles for him. He has lied to them at every turn, manipulated them at every turn, incited them at every turn, and like good cult members, they have followed his instructions. Because these people are so far gone despite his disrespect and blatant lies, they will go down swinging with him, concession or no concession. Like good cult members, they will follow him to Jonestown and drink his Kool-Aid, and they and he will die with his con.
The question is, how many more will he take with him? How many innocents within and outside his movement will he harm? How many communities will be subjected to violence because of the hatred and fear that he galvanized? How many people’s lives will be destroyed if this Trump-inspired movement does not let up? How many lives will be threatened to accommodate their comfort? How many cities will they burn down to keep them warm?
This does not end on January 20th, and it never would have. I sincerely believe Donald Trump will die with this con, resulting in so much collateral damage. The most important question now is: how do we stop it?