Like millions of others, I spent a good part of Jan. 6 staring at a screen, transfixed by live video of a takeover of the U.S. Capitol.

The channel I had on showed a view of Statuary Hall as hundreds of rioters streamed by. A lot of them seemed shocked and giddy to be in the building, and not a few stopped to take a picture of the historic room like any other tourist. With their goofy hats and daypacks, they didn’t look like hard-core reactionaries attempting an authoritarian overthrow of our democracy. They looked like the kind of middle-class white men you would run into in a shopping mall or at a sporting event.

They were disturbingly normal: normal the way some faces in the crowd look normal in the old photos of lynchings; normal the way the pictures of concentration camp guards picnicking on their day off look normal. Not monsters, but normal people in extraordinary circumstances capable of doing monstrous things.

As the rioters are identified, we are finding that they are not just average “Joes,” but that they include some members of the elite: A retired Air Force officer has been charged. So has an Olympic gold medal winner and the son of a New York state supreme court judge. The mob included doctors, lawyers and business owners.

Why would financially comfortable Americans with lots to lose do something as desperate and dangerous as trying to take over the government?

According to them, it’s because they believed that the 2020 election had been stolen from Donald Trump and the only way to restore democracy was to storm the Capitol and intimidate Congress into overturning the results.

And why did they believe something that whacky? Because Trump told them that’s what happened. And not just Trump, but also senior members of his administration, right-wing media personalities and members of the House and Senate told them, too, and those words bounced around their echo chambers, reinforced by social media posts and conversations with all their friends and relatives. Every hint of a voting irregularity anywhere was amplified. Every media report that contradicted the story was dismissed as fake news.

That’s not some fringe conspiracy theory – it’s establishment thinking in Republican circles, even here in Maine.

Here are just a few examples: After the presidential race was called for Joe Biden, Maine Republican Chair Demi Kouzounas, of Saco, put out a statement claiming that the election was not over.

“We have come too far to give up now,” she said in the statement. “We will not rest until the truth about the 2020 election is revealed and we return trust to American elections.”

When the Electoral College met Dec. 14, Trump received one electoral vote in Maine. It was cast by Peter LaVerdiere, of Oxford, who told the Associated Press that the vote was bittersweet because he thinks Trump won the election.

LaVerdiere, a Republican state committee member, former selectman and retired financial planner, said he believed the vote had been “crooked, illegal and unconstitutional” in other states. “There are more ballots out there that are bogus ballots than you can shake a stick at,” he said.

On Jan. 4, two days before the riot, state Republican Vice Chair Nick Isgro, of Waterville, told a talk radio audience that the election had been stolen. “This is clearly an attempt by the globalist Chinese communist party to hijack our election and this is something that we simply cannot accept,” Isgro said. “I don’t think there’s any circumstance right now where (Trump) should step out of office.”

These are not marginalized cranks, but leaders of the state party. Other prominent Maine Republicans have not joined in the disinformation campaign, but they aren’t shouting down the party leaders, who are either intentionally lying or are delusional.

Because of this combination of lies and silence, it is now normal for a Maine Republican to think that our political system has been taken over by enemies of democracy and that it can be restored only by revolution.

No wonder they rushed the building. If I believed all that, I might have been out there, too.

But it’s not true, and five people died Jan. 6 because too many believed the lies. Maine Republicans need to have a reckoning. Party leaders either have to come back to the real world or their members should clean house.

There have always been violent extremists in America, but there has never been a time when so many ordinary people shared their views. Paranoid, conspiratorial, anti-government thinking is mainstream, even here, and it has a home in one of America’s great political parties.

If you wonder where that will lead, you can look at the chaos of Jan. 6, when an army of “normal” people almost ended our democracy.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.