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The front cover of “1/6: The Graphic Novel,” by Alan Jenkins, Gan Golan, and William Rosado.
The first wave of the mob breaks into the Capitol and ascends the stairs from the first floor to the second. Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman backs up to the top of the steps to try and divert the marauders. Goodman tries to get the crowd to go left. Instead they go right, overrunning him, and happen upon Vice President Mike Pence, who’s just off the Senate Floor. It’s a disaster.
This a nearly-real scene from new, four-part comic series “1/6“ from Harvard law professor Alan Jenkins and author and activist Gan Golan. It’s a speculative telling of the January 6 insurrection and coup attempt in an oppressive and authoritarian world where the mob, and Donald Trump, succeeded. (You’ll be able to find it on Amazon, in comic shops and in book stores starting on Jan. 8.)
This seemed like a great way to observe the second anniversary of the attack. So, in between failed House Speaker votes, I called up the authors. Our chat has been edited for length.
What was the inspiration for this project? Why did you decide that “1/6” had to be in comic book form?
ALAN: I found myself waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat worrying about the threats that still remain to our democracy and watching cynical pundits and politicians trying to spin and negate it and try to disappear the events of Jan. 6. So I felt the need to tell that story in a way that would be accessible for everyday folks, that doesn’t require advanced education or sophisticated English literacy skills, that would actually be interesting and engaging to consume. And I’m also a comic book geek from way back. And so graphic novels seemed like the right way to go.
GAN: Yeah, we’re not just trying to condense the 850 page final report of the January 6 committee down and then illustrate it. We’re using this speculative fiction approach which allows us to get into some very profound issues at the heart of what happened on Jan. 6. It isn’t just about what happened. But what could have happened had they succeeded. What were the intentions of this movement? And what are the ongoing risks to our democracy? The reality is that the insurrection itself didn’t end on Jan. 6, and given a chance they might try again, or try to do something even worse.
There’s a “Man in the High Castle” vibe to this whole thing, right? “What if the bad guys had won?”
ALAN: Well, that’s a long tradition of the dystopian alternate reality in comic books. This is a metaverse of madness for our democracy in some ways. We took our inspiration from the best of speculative fiction. Whether you look at George Orwell's “1984” or Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” or Octavia Butler’s large body of work. Those are cautionary tales. They are historical markers, they’re cultural calls to action. And “Man in the High Castle” certainly fits well within that tradition. And we really are hoping we’re at least aspiring to reach that kind of storytelling.
You notice right away in your version, Mike Pence was actually hanged.
GAN: And you see the attempt to blame others for the crime. But the disinformation and revisionism coming from the seat of government hopefully will sound eerily familiar to people. That’s because we used some of the very same disinformation tactics that Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump and others have used. In our story, government drones and political apparatchiks push a narrative that’s pretty close to our real American life. And we’re kind of showing what would have happened, had they succeeded. In the story it looks surreal and bizarre to us, but actually…is it?
I guess all good dystopian fiction comes with a warning.
GAN: When you see a version of the intentions of the MAGA organizers, you suddenly understand the severity of their vision and how contrary it is to the values that most of us hold. You can’t do that in a documentary. The power of all dystopian fiction is it gives us that warning of the reality we want we have to work to avoid. It’s a call to action. It’s meant for us to deeply consider the crossroads that we’re in and make much clearer choices about the country that we want to live in.
ALAN: And you know, comic books are just an extremely popular and enduring vehicle for storytelling. If you are 80 years old in the United States, you grew up around comic books. If you’re 15, you grew up around comic books. Regardless of ideology, comic books can reach you and transport you. When a story is good, we lower our ideological filters and allow ourselves to be transported. And I think that’s especially important right now. Hopefully, we got that right.
This week’s shambolic Speaker of the House elections proved a lot about the mayhem we should expect from the new
governing majority in the GOP House of Representatives. If legislative chaos is your jam, you’re in luck: You’ll be reading a lot about debt limit crises, government shutdowns, and nihilistic power moves over the next two years.
But McCarthy’s inglorious gavel grab over multiple failed ballots reveals something more grievous on this anniversary of Jan. 6. Two years after the horrifying culmination of the plot to overthrow the presidential election, the GOP lawmakers at the center of the attempted coup now have more power, not less.
Eighteen of the 20 Republicans who tied the House in knots by blocking McCarthy are election-deniers. That’s not especially remarkable, given that 139 GOP House members voted against certifying Joe Biden’s victory on Jan. 6, 2021. But in the ranks of McCarthy’s antagonists you’ll also find some of the key figures of the January 6 committee’s report.
There’s Rep. Matt Gaetz, who was so confident his role in the coup was legit that he “asked for a “very, very broad pardon” (pg. 121). Rep. Andy Biggs did too (pg. 121) and also texted former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows that GOP-controlled states should simply appoint electors (pg. 267). There’s Rep. Ralph Norman, who famously and urgently texted Meadows before Biden’s inauguration insisting that Trump impose “Marshall law.” And of course there’s Rep. Scott Perry, an anti-McCarthy ringleader who was so deep in the coup plot that he stars in entire sections of the report (pg. 382, and keep reading).
It’s not all that shocking that coup plotters are causing disarray on TV (with a four-vote majority, any five GOP lawmakers can do that.) What’s far more important is the chaos they’re now empowered to wield under McCarthy, or any other speaker.
After this week’s carnival, what goes through a GOP leader’s mind when they consider tapping the brakes on discrediting the Jan. 6 investigation, or on firing a future Trump prosecutor, or even on impeaching Merrick Garland? What leader hoping for a future in this GOP would err on the side of the rule of law? And if McCarthy agrees to new rules allowing any one member to move to depose him, how much would you trust the unreformed insurrectionists who promise not to abuse that power?
To be fair, McCarthy counts several pro-coup lawmakers among his supporters, too. This week Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene parlayed her role as conspiracy theorist and internet troll into a position of real congressional power as Donald Trump’s pro-McCarthy viceroy.
It shows that two years after he sent a mob to attack the Capitol, Trump’s anti-democratic chaos-agents in that building are more powerful than ever. If you’re looking for real accountability on this Jan. 6 anniversary, you won’t yet find it in the House.
They’re commemorating the Jan. 6 anniversary over at the White House today, where President Biden is keen to give pro-democracy Republicans some bipartisan love. A bunch of election heroes are set to receive the Presidential Citizens Medal, including a host of U.S. Capitol Police Officers and Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, the Fulton County election workers who sued One America News and Rudy Giuliani for defaming them with election lies, and who Trump continues to harass to this day.
Former Arizona GOP House speaker Rusty Bowers, who lost his seat after resisting a post-election onslaught from Giuliani and Trump to illegally overturn the election is getting a medal too.
“I will not do it,” Bowers later testified he told Trump. After appearing in the January 6 committee, Bowers lost his seat to a Trumpist primary challenger who declared the election “stolen.”
Former Philadelphia election commissioner Al Schmidt is also getting a presidential medal at the White House today. You might remember that Schmidt was featured in Madeleine May’s VICE News Tonight “Breaking the Vote” piece on election workers who were threatened and targeted by Trump and his supporters.
Awards are cool, but Schmidt was also just appointed as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State by newly-minted Governor Josh Shapiro. I texted Schmidt to ask if he felt vindicated being appointed to run PA’s elections and receiving a presidential commendation, all after insurrectionists and trolls targeted his family.
“Exactly why my family will be attending the ceremony,” he replied.
The Proud before the fall
We’re still waiting for the trial of five Proud Boys for seditious conspiracy and other charges to get underway. As of this writing, jury selection is still creeping along in the feds’ case against former leader Enrique Tarrio and other Proud Boys. The sides seem to be having some difficulty findings jurors in the District of Columbia who don’t already have strong opinions about Proud Boys, who’ve been involved in street violence there in the past (Tarrio was ordered out of DC just before Jan. 6, for burning a church’s Black Lives Matter banner in 2019.)
Tarrio’s co-defendants include Dominic Pezzola, aka “Spazzo,” who you might remember as the Jan. 6 rioter smashing the Capitol window with a stolen police riot shield. Read Tess Owen’s latest look at the charges and strategies Tarrio and his co-defendants are likely to face once a jury is seated and the evidence starts flowing.
“I just came here to rub it in.” — Former DC police officer Michael Fanone, standing outside the House Speaker’s office as Rep. Kevin McCarthy failed to secure his speaker bid.
Grist for the Milley — So much Jan. 6 testimony came out over the holidays that it was easy to miss a lot of the details in those thousands of pages. But don’t skip Gen. Mark A. Milley’s testimony about what he saw and did in the days leading up to and including the Capitol riot. The Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman gave over 300 pages of extraordinary testimony, where he described his experience dealing with Trump and his aides in the midst of an attempted coup.
Milley described a security meeting with Trump on Jan. 3 where the then-president’s concern was for the security of MAGA protesters he called “my people”. Milley also described placing dozens of calls to foreign counterparts to assure them that the U.S. government was still stable and that “we’re not going to do something crazy and all that. That took a degree of effort,” he said.
There’s a ton more in the testimony, including the now well-known anecdote about receiving urgent calls from Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi and others during the chaos of the riot, but no call from Trump himself.
Plus, this shocker: “Milley had to dissuade officials in the Trump administration who discussed recalling and court-martialing retired military officers who wrote editorials that were critical of the president, he said. His concern was that such a move would further politicize the military.”
What the Watkins? — The founder of the internet message board that incubated QAnon before it metastasized to mainstream social media sites would like you to know it was not him, but George Soros who sicced the conspiracy theory on the world. Read David Gilbert on what 8kun founder Jim Watkins told the January 6 committee about QAnon, and how the Jan. 6 insurrection was actually “beautiful, wonderful, peaceful and patriotic.”
Cratered Lake — Arizona midterms loser Kari Lake declared herself the “duly elected governor” this week during a right-wing media appearance. That’s in spite of the fact that, naturally, actual winner Katie Hobbs has already been sworn in. A judge recently ordered Lake to pay $33,000 in costs to reimburse Hobbs’ legal team for expert witnesses and other expenses stemming from Lake’s lawsuit challenging the election results. Lake still has an appeal due for a hearing by the end of the month.
Behind the humiliation of Kevin McCarthy.
FROM THE NEW YORKER
The public opinion roots of election denialism.
Jan. 6 papers detail infighting and “chaos” among extremist organizers.