I understand the idea that watching upsetting political content can be harmful and unwise, that people need to practice self-care. But I also understand the view that we shouldn’t look away: that not watching can insulate and cut us off from reality. I thought about these two poles of argument while deciding whether to click on the video that I’m linking to here. But click I did. Yes, my heartrate increased and my mouth went dry as I watched people being accosted and subject to “citizen’s arrest” by a group of far-right thugs in Arlington, Texas. But I found it informative and clarifying, much like the videos presented during the January 6th committee hearings. Look closely and you’ll see that there are little January 6th’s happening practically every day. And you’ll know exactly how far we’ve departed from “legitimate political discourse,” as the Republican Party has described the insurrection itself.
What precipitated the episode in Arlington? An event involving the presence of drag queens. People were walking toward the event and were stopped in their path by extremists who had taken it upon themselves to “protect” children from the supposed threat of groomers, pedophiles and so forth. (That no children were present at this particular event hardly matters.) Look at the ringleader of this group (in black shirt and cap); listen to the sickness, the vitriol, the unbridled thirst for violence. Imagine him and his buddies anywhere near children, much less as their protectors.
This is a common thread in so many rightwing actions against the LGBTQ community, against “critical race theory,” the 1619 Project and other boogeymen of the day: a willingness to traumatize the children they claim to be saving. Putting kids through the emotional strain of active shooter drills, while ensuring that the next mass shooter has easy access to high-powered weapons, also falls into this category.
A man aboard an Amtrak train in California terrorizes two small kids out with their two fathers. He calls the parents “pedophiles” and “rapists” and tries to talk to the children about traditional marriage. The man is finally removed from the train, but the children continue to cry for an hour. According to one of the fathers: “It’s still very present for them. They’ve been not sleeping well at night, waking up crying; my son won’t go to the restroom by himself anymore right now.” It is this awful man — not their loving fathers — who has violated these children.
White “concerned parents” mob a school board meeting in Cherokee County, Georgia to (successfully) derail the hiring of Cecelia Lewis, a highly qualified Black educator, over concocted suspicion about “critical race theory.” When a Lewis supporter, a Black woman, rises to speak, a group of parents outside the event begin shouting and banging on the windows. “‘No, no, no!’ they screamed in unison, the sound reverberating through the lobby as their fists pounded the glass.’” Students attending the meeting begin to cry and have to be “rushed out of the room.” Imagine the values and behaviors these full-grown adults are modeling for the kids in their community, in the name of what they consider education.
In Idaho, 31 members of the neo-Nazi cult Patriot Front are arrested en route to a Pride event, which they intend to violently disrupt. Imagine the sight of these uniformed creeps with hoods, shields and crude weapons from the standpoint of a child. The attack was averted but the threat was real, and the total disregard for children’s actual welfare on the part of these “protectors” is chilling. Attendees of a San Lorenzo, CA Pride event attacked by the Proud Boys were not so lucky. There have been many other such disruptions and threats. America is inching closer to the kind of organized anti-gay hate seen in recent years in places like Chechnya, Russia and Poland.
Across the country, children are subjected to the farce of active shooter drills — or as the school district we are about to leave in Georgia now calls them, “active attacker trainings.” The word “shooter” is apparently too stark a reminder of the destruction that guns continue to wreak in this society. I will never forget my younger daughter getting off the school bus and talking about the lockdown drill that happened that day as she began to tear up. This, we’re told, is “protection.” And so kids must crouch together on the floor under “bulletproof blankets,” a non-solution hawked by charlatans who spent the COVID-19 crisis insisting that masks are harmful to children. Many of the same people hail Kyle Rittenhouse as a hero. Imagine professing to care about children, then applauding a 17-year-old for strutting around like a fool heavily armed and untrained, seeking out trouble. Imagine continuing to venerate the AR-15 as an object of near-worship, in the face of what that weapon represents. With “protectors” like these — grown men and women who prefer to play make-believe at a time of crisis and refuse to take responsibility for anything — America’s children have an uphill climb ahead. As if childhood isn’t hard enough.