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The events of Jan 6th can be seen from both a micro and a macro perspective. At the micro level various elements combined to create mob rule with murderous intent. These include an obvious lack of adequate security, individual police who played dubious if not also conspiratorial roles, senators and congressmen who were echoing Trump’s lie about a stolen election and coordinating with the mob, and mob leaders with intent and planning to capture, try, and perhaps execute members of Congress, including Pelosi and Pence. These elements are frightening enough, but there is more.

The macro perspective requires that we step back and understand the larger picture, consisting of at least five elements. To begin with, the near absolute inequality of wealth in our country continues to increase. The rich and powerful have created a population almost evenly divided between haves and have-nots. 42% of Americans do not have $400 on hand for emergencies, even as Bezos and Musk vie to see who will reach 200 billion first. Greed has created a class of disinherited people who have nothing left to lose. Neither Hitler nor Mussolini nor Trump arose in a vacuum, and Trump’s vacuum is the decades-long impoverishment of American workers, long deprived of adequate education, health care and a living wage, now reduced to opioid escape, crudeness, and early death.

As long as there is order, the wealthy are able to further line their pockets, but when order descends into violence, even the oppressor loses. It is only when power and wealth begin to slip away that the establishment joins in the chorus that denounces the chaos. Unfortunately, history shows that once order is restored the oppression will likely continue as before, a fact known only too well by our Black and Indigenous communities.

The second element is the power seekers, those deviates working to profit by the creation of chaos. Just as Hitler capitalized on the poverty in post war Germany, so too Trump has built his following on the poverty and anxiety of tens of millions of Americans, whom he showers with insidious lie after lie. “The wall will keep Mexican rapists at bay. A ban on Muslim immigration will guard our Christian heritage. The elite will be run out of the halls of power. Ignore the fake news by enemies of the people. We are all victims, and only I can be the savior.” What we have before us is the self-creation of a would-be god who believes he will be reincarnated as his children continue the work of redemption.

Power-seekers are not alone. They compete for the prize. Today, there are the hungry, like Hawley and Cruz, who see an opening now that the leader is weakened and perhaps banished. Unless the oppressors have a sudden change of heart, the poverty will continue, a new autocrat will fill the leadership vacuum, and the cycle will continue.

But it takes more than a messianic leader to ignite the violence. Without a platform through which to communicate, the leader is reduced to silence. There must also be the means to initiate and to spread the message, and this is where compliant media provides a necessary component. Cascading lies, one built upon the previous, are echoed by media and available on every screen at the flip of a switch. Such is the third element.

Success of the insurrection also relies upon the gullible masses, the fourth element. Poverty alone does not of necessity lead to desperation and violence. There must also be…what? This is the hard part to describe. Are the tens of millions who follow Trump, no matter how poor, lacking in morality? without reason? It is true that they have become fanatical adherents to a messianic mythology, but why? There will, no doubt, be a great deal written about this conundrum in years to come.

It is well known that persons who are individually non-violent, can and do become a mob when they find encouragement among one another. This clearly has happened among Trump followers. Of course it is not genuine community, but rather a group ideology founded upon fear and hatred of the “other”, embodied in the US by Blacks and People of Color. Shattering the false myth of white Christian America, the announcement a decade ago that People of Color would soon be the majority, exposed the hatred concealed in our sub/consciousness. The election of Obama completed the uncovering and prepared the way for the autocrat to rally the masses. The mob is white supremacy unleashed.

This racism in part enables the fifth group, the anarchists, to commandeer the movement. Preying upon the fear and gullibility of the supremacists, anarchists introduce more violence and spin their webs of conspiracy theory. Their goal is simply to bring the system down, and the susceptible mob all too easily follows along. They become caught up in the destruction, led by those who have no goal other than to bring down that which painstakingly has been built up.

Although we have heard this before, the events of Jan 6th make clear the fragility of democracy. The elements combine, and autocracy appears on the horizon. There is, of course, a sixth group: The innocent by-standers, who watch in dismay as the building crumbles. The lesson for them-for us- is that in a democracy there is no free ride. Silent inaction is complicity. The details of what we must do call for honesty, civility, and expertise, never forgetting, to paraphrase an old quote, that eternal vigilance is the price of democracy.

Preservation of democracy, however, tells but half the story. The other half is our response. What do we do as Christians, or as anyone who claims a higher loyalty, or as one who believes simply in the good of the universe? No matter who we are, the question must be: how does love manifest itself concretely in this complexity of elements? And the answer, though simple, reminds us that, in the words of Paul, we must be “innocent as doves and wise as serpents”. Wisdom dictates different responses to different elements.

We know now that billionaires financed the mob, and so to the greedy rich and powerful, our way of love is the way of denunciation. Speaking the language of Ezekiel, Amos, Jeremiah, and the host of Biblical prophets, we must pronounce the divine judgement against oppression. To those selfishly seeking power at the cost of fellow humans’ limb and life, to those media enablers, and to the anarchists for whom destruction is an end in itself, love here also requires denunciation. To the many who have been dehumanized and incited to hate and destroy, love has a different path. Here we must seek to understand and to help, to educate, feed, and house. The One Who is the Good Shepherd, the One Who loves, is both the remover of the bad shepherds and the guardian of the flock.

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