Of brainwashing and insurrection
They knew what they were doing!
Or ... did they?
On January 6th, a mob of pro-Trump citizens stormed the Capitol and, unarguably, partook of insurrection against the United States of America. The actions were horrendous. Replacing the US flag with that of their leader - an individual, not a country. Breaking doors and windows, ransacking offices, stealing objects and documents, defecating in the hallowed halls. Clearly they all deserve punishment delivered with the heaviest hand possible.
Or ... do they?
When someone is rescued from the depths of a cult, or from the grasp of an enemy power, and their personalities and outlooks have profoundly shifted due to indoctrination and brain washing, do we blame them? Or do we blame their tormentors? Do we punish them for what they now are or do we try to help them back to normality and levy punishment on those that warped their mental outlook?
In this country it's been not infrequently said that the rioters were brainwashed. I suspect it's said hyperbolically rather than literally but I'm of the mind that the literal interpretation is the correct one.
NEVER before in history have people been faced with what they are confronted with today. An internet that actively feeds information to the viewer based on its internal algorithms. Just as rats, which, given a choice of a lever that offers food and one that offers drugs, will continue pulling the drug lever to its own ultimate detriment, so will people continue to read that which strokes and feeds their biases and expectations. Just as two tiny pebbles can start their fall down a steep slope side by side but ultimately end up in vastly different final resting places, so might two people, differing only slightly in outlook, find themselves traveling down wildly differing paths due to how those small differences are amplified by the relentless offering of "people who have liked that also like THIS".
It's a form of brainwashing that's remarkable in that it's self induced. Nobody withholds food or inflicts shock therapy in this type. Just that glowing screen that whispers "read this - you'll like it".
Once they've found their "true" source of news, it becomes difficult to credit anything offered from a "false" outlet. And when all one's information flows from a single source, with nothing to counter the steady and mutually reinforcing streams of information, how surprising is it that the recipient internalizes and believes the words?
Do I suggest forgive and forget? No. But just as an investigator is more interested in the crime boss than in his low level operatives, so do I suggest we should be most interested in those who maintained the brainwashing flow. The individuals and organizations which coldly created and nurtured the disinformation that led to the seditious rioting - they are the ones who most need capture and punishment. The ants in the cupboard are a symptom - the leaking sugar container is the cause.
We must as a nation address the cause.