Why wasn’t the Capitol mob carrying guns?

A week after the assault on democracy in Washington, a simple question leads to several possible answers.

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Congress Holds Joint Session To Ratify 2020 Presidential Election

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

So here’s my question.

And by “question,” I don’t mean rhetorical device designed to draw you into this column so I can take you by the hand and lead you toward some pat conclusion I’ve already formulated.

No, by “question,” I mean a puzzlement that I’m genuinely curious about and don’t know the answer to. Something we can work out together and perhaps gain insight into this baffling world.

Opinion bug


Here goes:

Why weren’t the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol last week armed? 

Isn’t that what all these guns are for? Shedding the blood of tyrants? Wresting freedom from a repressive state? And isn’t that, supposedly, exactly why the invaders were there? Because a free and fair election, the reelection of President Donald Trump, was being subverted?

They could have carried guns. They certainly were prepared, with body armor and helmets and backpacks that no doubt contained water bottles and snacks. Zip ties. Rope to hang Nancy Pelosi.

But nobody seems to have brought assault rifles. Something to give thanks for. As harsh as the images were, we didn’t see anybody brandishing weapons or firing shots.


Supporters of President Donald Trump clash with the police before breaching the Capitol building on Jan. 6.

Supporters of President Donald Trump clash with the police before breaching the Capitol building on Jan. 6.

Associated Press

A few theories, in the order they occur to me:

1) The whole defend-our-freedom pose is just another lie, an element of the frantic macho theater that is gun culture. Part of the black gloves, Batman utility belt, screw-you T-shirt and camo pants ensemble that certain men use to create the impression they’re not weenies living with their parents. Guns are a fantasy of control, the way that kids dress up their G.I. Joes and Barbies.

You never really use them.

So talk about guns, parade around with guns. But never use them to preserve their supposedly endangered freedom, because that would be insane and somewhere, in their self-protective cerebellar lizard brain, they know it. It’s all make-believe.

2) Maybe the guns are coming. The FBI is warning about that. The Capitol siege was a drill. Not a conscious drill. But practice nonetheless. Bullies, being cowards at heart, don’t jump in and start beating up somebody, usually. They test the waters. They push and see what happens. That’s why it’s so important to round up these idiots who invaded the Capitol, prosecute and punish them. The guy who egged them on, too. Otherwise expect far worse.

3) They don’t really believe the election was stolen. That’s just the excuse they use when trying to keep Trump in power. Just as the guy who sends you an email asking for money doesn’t really believe he’s a Nigerian prince, or an Iraqi war vet with a suitcase full of money. He is just saying that to get you to fork over. Just as Trump — maybe, hard to tell — doesn’t really think he was cheated, perhaps tipped off by the complete lack of evidence. He just makes that claim to see who will fall for it and give him money. And his followers, who otherwise would be back home watching Fox News, pretend to believe it too, so they can justify flying off to D.C. for their weekend of presidentially sanctioned wilding. They didn’t fight for their freedom because in their hearts they know it was never taken.

4) They didn’t want to prevail. We all took civics in junior high, about how a bill becomes law, and at some level, while mob mentality allowed them to burst in and club security guards, they then were satisfied stealing a souvenir and leaving. Because they’re not really oppressed, or desperate, but lumpen jerks on a spree. They weren’t thinking. The thinking happened after they got home and realized: “Oh damn, I posted a selfie of myself looting the Capitol. It seemed a good idea at the time....”

Supporters of President Donald Trump breeched security and entered the U.S. Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification on Wednesday.

They may not have brandished guns after storming into the Capitol, but some of the rioters did brandish Confederate flags.

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

That sounds right. We always underestimate the role of stupidity in the American saga. It’s systemic.

Not to suggest the GOP has cornered the market. The Democrats suffer, too. A week after the assault, our resolution wavers. We forget we are dealing with shameless shape-shifters who can explain away anything, who are already calling for “unity,” the GOP code word for being let off the hook for inviting a mob to invade our seat of government.

We had a New Year’s Eve, right? We did. I remember it. It is 2021? I don’t know about you, but this still feels very 2020 to me.

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