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Mobs and Jobs

We had been waiting for the barbarians for some time. The President had been, over four years, mapping the threat of the barbarians advancing from across borders. But we imagined that they would arrive from the edges of empire, the edges where the acting President had been mapping threats of their arrival for five years, informed by the images of a border that without adequate defenses, as he evoked a breaching the ramparts of defense as the primary threat to national security.  Maybe that was a feint. For the crowds assembled on the Washington Mall, a mob crowd-sourced, whose fight or flight responses were stimulated across their vagal nerves, were ready to sack the Capitol building, invading the offices of congressional representatives as if to interrupt a peaceful transition of Presidential power. These were not the barbarians of whom we had been repeatedly warned as arriving from without borders. Rather, it was those who had been alerted to the danger from the southern border, and had arrived on busses from across its states, carrying not their belongings but the sense of resentment and anger nurtured on the apparently unjust maps of electoral votes, to stall consensus about the end of Donald Trump’s presidency–then were a crowd that had been energized and nurtured on social media, at Trump rallies, and in chat rooms that bewailed the fear of a loss of liberties.

FOX News

In the very final Presidential debate, Trump had taken pains to evoke the marauding crowds that would fill the streets after the election of his opponent, to illustrate that Biden should be trusted–he promised the public the mantra “jobs not mobs,” ensuring that the jobs would materialize as he kept “illegals” who had undercut wages out, and ensured an America First policy. The barbarians had arrived at the Capital, not at a frontier settlement, but at its center, as they hoped to promote America First; rather than arriving as migrants from across the border, they came on busloads, airplanes, and cars, in busses paid for by Trump evangelist, the Republican donor who believes the President chosen by God–or by itineraries to Washington, DC, that PeacefulRedStateSecession had mapped.

This invasion did not cross national divides, or defend anything other than endangered liberties. It was not on foot, but they were dressed for cold weather. But it was an actual seizure of the U.S. Capitol, by an inside job, utterly unlike the visions of invasions threatened during a series of National Emergencies in recent years–from the Migrant Caravans, enabled by the “humanitarian visas” given out by the Mexican government, that had made it so urgent to “fix” America’s immigration laws–a pedestrian pilgrimage on a sacred calendar that had necessitated the first $1 Billion to be transferred from the Department of Defense to remedy “critical readiness issues facing our military” as the caravans “thumbed their noses at our drug and immigration laws” as they advanced in four massive caravans “in an effort to enter the US” and threatened to breach borders.

Migrant “Caravan” Approaching American Border (March, 2019)

Their routes were longer, and were not conducted on foot–but these barbarians were truly at the gate, if they didn’t come as vectors that wold pierce our borders. They were, rather, crowds that were sourced on social media, in reaction to the threats of regime change that would come by elections, by the creation of consensus.

They could not be traced to transnational cartels or the “historical routes” of migrant caravans; these threats at the perimeter of the U.S. Capitol were crowd sourced, promoted in multiple Facebook groups, where, in hours after the refusal to accept the results of the U.S. Presidential election had been called in several states, verb tenses became unhinged from reality in the waning hours of election night, as what would be the largest-growing Facebook groups ever in the history of the platform grew online, a virtual crowd, not able to be tracked by GPS or viewed as puncturing our borders, but rather aimed at puncturing sovereignty from within: the boundaries of states were less important know, despite threats of migrants overwhelming those fortified border check-points by rushing them en masse, but the crowd that was assembling on January 7 before the sun rose was threatening to pierce the perimeter of the Capitol, to finally stream down the Mall, down Constitution Avenue, down Pennsylvania Avenue, energized by having been urged “we’re going to have to fight much harder” and reverse the betrayal by “traitors” in the U.S. Senate of the electoral maps that they were all convinced were rigged. They advanced not on the edges of empire, for over two thousand miles–

–but by moving several thousand feet to cross scaffolding set up for inauguration day, tearing down fencing that separated them from the Capitol, pushing past barricades into a citadel of governance.

New York Times

The barbarians were not of migrants, this time, approaching the border, that animated their sense of urgency, but of a certification of the deep danger of an end to the Trump Presidency–even though President Trump had, equipped with with U.S. Border patrol statistics, traced national threats and states of emergency throughout four years of his Presidency, in the specter of invasion evoked by transnational threats.

But if all maps depend on consensus–few migrants saw themselves as crossing a border that was a crime to cross–the Despite images of the Caravans we had watched as they arrived from Central America, determined to cross our national boundaries, these barbarians looked as if they were all white–a crowd celebrating, signing, and dancing as they wore red MAGA hats, scarves, and carried TRUMP 2020 signs and other campaign paraphernalia, and had arrived to conclude a campaign that had not gone as they had expected, while the collective mug shots of those guilty of “immigration crime suspects” that had popped up on billboards throughout the nation had effectively under-written the need for racial profiling.

Mug Shots of Immigration Crime Suspects

Rather than crossing the fortified border at the edges of empire, this threat grew before and as if in opposition to the chambers of representative government occurred from a stage erected in previous days, but an event that was promoted since the electors had met in individual states to confirm popular votes for U.S. President. They had been alerted by the dangerous maps of a subversion of votes by electors or at the ballot box, specters of which had haunted viewers of FOX and

How two polls predicted Trump's surprise victory | Fox News

and the several states that were “still in play” and “what if” maps of the battleground states that Trump might need to win to secure a nearly materialized victory in 2020. As if egged on by the charges that corruption had disrupted this map, and interrupted the hopes for Trump 2020 many banners bore, charges of voter fraud, doctored ballots, and the ability to flip what was once a “magic screen” to show red states created a sense of the danger of making any predictions, as if unveiling the strength of Trump long underestimated, as if to dull the minds of a nation by a “very tight race” where “despite predictions” many challenges were being waged on the ground. Why not stage a challenge to the certification of electors, to press the charges of challenges that seemed. The foregrounding on Fox of Trump’s deep opposition to ‘shutdowns’ that would hamper the economy, or cast the process of selection of a President lay in counting votes more than casting ballots. As pro-Trump attorneys launched a “stop the count” movement on November 5, was a “stop the steal far behind? As the Trump campaign continued over six and a half weeks to express confidence and predicting victory, asking how much the live counting of votes that showed a margin of 100,000 votes in Pennsylvania, then 14,000 in Georgia, or entertaining the possibility of one elector in Nebraska made the democratic process almost openly venal and ridiculously debased.

So why not debase democracy and restore a diret vision of process, unclouded by faulty tallies and unobserved vote counts? This crowd was crowd-sourced on social media, by hashtags like #StoptheSteal, Large crowds had begun to arrive before sunrise, occupying the rows of seats on the Mall. They seemed benign, but would set up a conflict between the power manifest in crowds and the allocation of representational government by states’ electors. The confrontation before the primary seat of representational government was arrived at by varied routes–busses organized to Washington DC, often by the same groups who had sponsored Rallies for Trump but the underlying map was a call for a new form of governance, interrupting smooth progress of transition of power that had been mapped out from Election Day in November to the meeting of electors in respective states on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December to the certification of electors by a joint session of the U.S. Congress. This timed progression of an assembly of representative structures dedicated to mediate the popular vote was interrupted by a crowd that claimed the American flag, lest it be desecrated, as certification was interrupted by an alternative manner of government of acclamation by a crowd, eager to oppose the immediacy of its collective unruliness and deep conviction to the stately dome.

2021 storming of the United States Capitol - Wikipedia
East Side of Capitol before Crowd-Sourced insurrectionist Crowd

These were not the barbarians that had overwhelmed empires of the past. They were not the caravnas we were long told to be expecting from across the southwestern border, but they posed a far deeper national security threat, and lay in the electoral system. Those who arrived to rectify the vote arrived dressed the for part, displaying their patriotism. Some were in revolutionary or paramilitary garb; others who had attended of past Trump rallies wore election garb of the concluded 2020 campaign. They channeled a mythological past of the defense of the constitution,–more than crossing from “barbarian” lands, to destroy a vision of empire that had promised civilization to the world, they arrived from the red states to the center of corruption in Washington, DC, hoping to stop the change of government, and change the course of history.

Emmanuel-Auguste-Dieudonne Las Cases, A map, exhibiting the . . . . destruction of the Barbarians, that invaded the Roman world (1800)

The detail of the routes by which those barbarians had arrived from all Europe and Asia were detailed with elegance in post-Napoleonic Paris, where they must have been prepared with reassurance of a sense of some stability after the restoration of the July Monarchy, from a place of security before 1848 revolutions brought a new wave of urban uprisings across much of Europe from a large urban working class.

“Invasion of the Barbarians,” E. Soulier Paris, 183

Rather than arriving from outside our frontiers, as we had been warned, this invasion came from within, by those who ostensibly sought to set the Empire right, rather as an invasion in the sort of ur-maps of invasion and historical decline that were framed in the elegant color-coded historical maps of the post-Napoleonic July Monarchy, that looked back on the invasions that eroded political stability.

This was a crowd of believers, and was not a spontaneous crowd: it was truly crowd-sourced, sourced and summoned by sirens of social media. This consensus assembled from all America would not be an invasion, but would invade Washington, DC, to ensure not its destruction, but an alternative universe of electoral victory: the results would change the course of global history as consequentially as that ur-map of invasions, mapped in detail in a masterpiece of historical geography, that condensed barbarian invasions at the fall of the Roman Empire, collapsing many years in a moment of destruction. If hard to map with any comparable historical or analytic distance, they seemed to seek to awe us with their spontaneous presence, as they were seeking to impose a judgement on the process of the election, to take back the clock not to just the early hours of election night, when Donald J. Trump appeared from initial results to be in the lead, but to the height of his President, if not to the first inauguration; he nourished fantasies of his own of accepting acclamation as President for Life, jokingly entertained the possibility of accepting as an honorific half way through his term, in 2018, proposing in a private speech at Mar-a-Lago to Republican donors he would “maybe . . . have to give that a shot someday” at the position, planting the seed to claim by April 2019 his base may well just “demand that I stay longer” as President or extend his term “at least for ten to fourteen years.”

1. The culmination of Trump rallies and crowd management techniques that had developed since the summer of 2015: this time, the crowd was reliably sourced. The assembly of the crowd improvised a new form of government, a new form of staging a putsch of the sort never seen in America, whose members would themselves rectify Donald Trump’s own disappointment and inability to process an election he argued “we were getting to win,” until the tallies changed as absentee votes were tallied, in ways that didn’t fit his narrative: convinced he in fact had won and did win the 2020 election, in keeping with models of fringe news media sources that had predicted his victory, early tweets that warned “They are trying to steal this election” had set up an alternative reality over two months–“Frankly, we did win this election” and then “We are up BIG but they are trying to STEAL this Election. We will never let them do it!” —that set in motion the logic of an alternate reality by an alternative structure of governing, in the arrival of a huge crowd eager to preserve the vision of an electoral victory that did not occur. As the crowd’s momentous size was described to its members repeatedly, that had its own entity able to overpower representative structures, they gained momentum to overpower the representative structures that had badly served the President’s plans. This was the map to project the vision of Donald J. Trump’s second term by a crowd in the Mall bigger than on Trump’s inauguration, a crowd joined to their President, more than the faithless Vice-President or Secretaries of State who had confirmed what Trump appeared convinced were faulty tallies of votes.

The invasion by these barbarians was animated by a different mythical vision of the historical past. They attacked, possessed by starting an imagined revolutionary uprising to appeal to a revolutionary fervor of asserting belonging and agency. They arrived inspired by claims that the vote had been stolen on a scale of “widespread, nationwide, massive voter fraud” since mid-November, even if his lawyers were hard-pressed to say where the fraud lay, even as allegations shifted to charges of “good-faith errors in operating machines,” or to corrupt tallies in machines themselves that were operated by companies lying outside the United States, or just glitches in electronic voting machines–if not the fraud of mail-in ballots that Trump had warned since the spring of 2020 might have been fabricated en masse in foreign countries. The evanescence of any sense of agency as to who was manipulating fraud on such a scale had driven them to desperation that they could only correct by taking the Capitol building themselves, to stay the election at the very last minute.

The crowd came to impose an alternative reality he demanded, to interrupt the due process of the electors’ certificaiton. Busses paid for by one of the last remaining Republican donors, the MyPillow Guy, Mike Lindell, ferry millions of patriots to Washington, DC, a Trump Base meant to replace institutional distortions that had allegedly obstructed the election’s transparency.

The Patriots who arrived on The Ellipse where they had been invited by Donald Trump, immediately sensing belonging, removed from the social isolation of being sutured to screens since the election, from fears of the disruption of a stolen election in the confidence of the crowd, listening to music as they warmed up from before seven in the morning. If the crowd met a moment of what crowd theorist Elias Canetti termed “release”–the moment of cohesion–as they were harangued for an hour by a President who described the failure of all the structures in place he had expected would lead to a second term. Upon hearing Vice President Pence, acting as President of the Senate, would not disrupt the certification of electoral votes at 10:02, reminded again by Trump how “they rigged it like they’ve never rigged it before,” they took matters into their own hands, with the agency they felt the U.S. Constitution promised. The invitations offered a time to meet with President Trump, and make their voices heard to representatives in unison with his complaint about the certification of the electoral vote.

The FB Group PeacefulRedStateSecession.com, which long nourished the secessionist fantasies, set the stage for an overturning of the very structures of government–assembled at a red star on Constitution Avenue, to Save America. The project of national salvation reveal the deeply corrosive of an increasingly oppositional mapping of the nation into “red” and “blue” states that has increasingly been mis-mapped around the defense of constitutional freedoms, before Trump promoted the constitutional crisis by inciting crowds to storm the Capitol to interrupt a joint session of Congress. The crowd that had been released as Trump finished his speech, stormed the capitol with anger and entitlement, indignantly yelling at Capitol Police, “We were invited here. We were invited by the president of the United States” as if entitled to bring down the state in an “exercise in patriotism,” an undefined “call to action” that promised to change the election’s outcome–an invitation extended widely on social media surviving only as screenshots apprehended from a social media sea. And once they arrived, these messages were reinforced, urged by the Tea Party activist who founded Women for America First to protest the first impeachment of Donald Trump in 2019. This time, Trump urged the assembled crowd-sourced crowd that it was imperative to show strength, in this final effort that awaited them: “It is up to you and I to save this Republic! We are not going to back down, are we? Keep up the fight!”

Rushing the chambers of the U.S. Congress would forestall not only the tally of electoral votes and their certification responded to the need to overturn the illegitimacy of the “hoax,” widespread corruption, and sullying of American democracy and the civic ritual of the in-person ballot. Those storming of the Capitol as not exactly a siege, but would trigger the sudden pressure of an energized mob to shatter the bureaucratic process of Congress, meeting in their chambers without cell phones, by needed pressure, to overturn the election Trump had assured them was indeed a landslide that audits had not yet fully revealed, but the demand for full transparency would immanently reveal, and create consensus only waiting to be mapped.

2. This crowd sourced mob assembled with a sense of urgency, listening in an almost relaxed manner to Village People’s rousing choruses of YMCA as they developed their identity in a sea of flags of discontent long before they were activated and directed energy to the Capitol building before which they’d been asked to assemble. Crowd theorist Cannetti argued the most important moment of the transformation of the crowd from within is “discharge,” the moment of unification behind a sense of purpose that mobilizes and realizes is new identity as a crowd. Before that moment of collective self-knowledge, the crowd does not actually exist in the same way, but it suddenly erases any sense of distance in a shared purpose, and shared identity, a feeling of equality and relief where they are collectively oriented in a moment of release in a blessed moment of orientation. When did the moment of discharge arrive? The process of assembling this crowd had begun of the sixty five days since the election, as snowballing #StoptheSteal groups took Trump’s tweets to nourish faux stoic solidarity. When Trump urged,”You have to show strength,” the words percolated with desires to defend Constitutional liberties in ways that masked the contradiction that they were disobeying the law.

Discharge arrived at the crowd over several stages in the rally, boosted by the simultaneity of being addressed by the President and being tweeted to by him, that “Mike Pence doesn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country,” as he refused that he would ever concede, live, and growing in their minds while hearing him wield truthful hyperbole as magnified it to beyond a million, bending time and space, while investing the crowd that had been assembling since 3 AM with a directionality and purpose that became clearer over time. The goal of changing the election that brewed behind all those optimized electoral maps crystallized around the goal of forestalling of the goal of Pence changing the certified electoral, as if he was empowered to do so, their goal strengthening their common identity, energizing the crowd with a renewed sense of immediate purpose. How much did it help that a Black and a Jew had been elected to enter the Capitol building the previous night, electrifying the Base by alerting them this was not business as usual, and demanded interruption? This crowd arrived filled with the sense of indignity as if entitled to overthrow their government when it took their rights away–the promise was embedded in the Gadsden flags that they waved, as much as the MAGA ones, and the banners that they took pains to bedeck the Capitol in a major media event, as they arrived with cell phones and Trump 2016 hats and Trump 2020 banners in a four-hour Siege of the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021, long after the election was lost.

Their sense of urgency was apparently echoed in their use of survivalist rock-climbing skills, knee-pads and gloves, some in paramilitary outfits and some in fantasy garb, they scaled the neoclassical facade, wrapped in American flags and bearing Gadsden Flags to forestall regime change and equipped with cell phones. They also brought, in those backpacks, unregistered ammunition, unregistered firearms, tasers, ropes, Molotov cocktails, and fireworks, and megaphones, to fulfill a patriotic duty to the nation, filmed on iPhones to make sure it would be covered in global media markets and across the nation. Enraged at the identification of the Vice-President presiding over the certification of electoral votes, who they called a “traitor” the crowd seem to have stormed the Capitol for their own duly elected representatives, as Secret Service members tried to secure the Senators, representatives, and VP who had become targets of wrath by an almost entirely white mob bearing weapons, storming the chambers of Congress like a lynching mob. The image of Pence as a traitor and turncoat, betraying a President who refuses to accept electoral results. Had the evangelical Catholic Pence been replaced by those who believe Trump was “chosen by God”?

Scaling the Perimeter Wall at the NE Corner/Michael Robinson Chavez/Washington Post

They cheered as they planted American flags atop the Capitol building, hanging banners reading “Trump 2020/STOP THE BULLSHIT,” equipped with signage to keep hope alive after the election was lost. They weren’t the barbarians we had expected and were long announced as at the gate. But they came with a sense of vengeance, gripping the walls they had prepared to scale the stone facade on a mission with tenacity and a sense of duty after having received a Presidential benediction. They had just been chanting “Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!” as the black-gloved President told them he would never concede, and “We will not take it any more, . . . and to use a favorite term that you people will came up with, we will stop the steal.” Trump bemoaned the state of corruption in the nation, alerting the crowd of the dangers posed by fake news media and big tech as surrogates for a global war. He placed the certification of votes as the final chance for populist groups to defend freedoms as if it were the eve of a monumental battle of civilizations, not at the border between the United States and Mexico, but to rush the Capitol building, where the senators and congressmen were cloistered, without cell phones, voting to confirm Trump’s removal as President as the end of an era.

3. If Trump did not directly communicate plans for staking siege to the Capitol, on that day, but communicated indirectly to the assembled crowd who seem to have understood the plans for an insurrection or seizure of power. Just after Christmas, images predicted the arrival of a storm as if by an act of divine vengeance to break the delivery of the electors’ vote. The size of the crowd was difficult to estimate, but seems to have been difficult to estimate, but the number was far fewer than seems to have been widely expected by each of the groups who predicted “low number a few hundred thousand, in high numbers 2-3 million, imagine the scene” drawn from all fifty states, in a scene of mass consensus achieved by massive-crowd sourcing from vigorous online promotion to the announcement at rallies of “Stop the Steal” held as electors met on December 12.

We know Trump’s words, whose intention was transparently clear, but can only imagine their effect. Amidst a befuddling tally of votes he insisted were misreported by a Fake Media, he had bemoaned again the scale of the “egregious assault on our democracy” in the theft of a landslide that was itself a a threat “our country be destroyed” and a threat to “America First,” with urgency. The invitation to advance–where was there left to go?–got only crisper as the speech advanced. Truthful hyperbole allowed him to exaggerate the crowd that he imagined stretching to the Washington Memorial, as if it were a new inauguration audience. The date had been grimly pre-announced, and the urgency to “Save America” hardly needed to be spelled out.

The urgency grew, as the crowd had entered an alternate reality, as the hour continued. Trump bemoaned that “our media is not free” asked them all to turn on your cameras, as “we’re going to walk down to the Capitol,” “that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard,” ramping up the energy of the crowd that had been listening to music for hours, thanking his “incredible supporters” as he asked them to refuse all hoaxes, to remember why they had come to the event, how they were all waiting for the Vice President to act as President of the Senate, and join him in demanding “sweeping electoral reforms” and asking them, his soldiers, finally and conclusively to drain the swamp, to restore vital civic traditions of in-person voting, as the representatives and senators who owed their election to him alone would not. Without such a renewal of the Tree of Liberty, the worst would happen, beyond a feared end of liberties: “they want to take down the wall” and “let everyone flow in,” Trump concluded with urgency, imagining the destruction of his long-vaunted project to raise the stakes. Instead, the MAGA minions would “be pouring in to Washington, DC” to restore order and affirm the intensity of their personal relation to the state in a transparent manner that the corrupt tally of the vote obscured.

“We are going to–we are going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we are going to the Capitol,” he wrapped up his remarks to the audience he cherished. “. . . So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue,” he urged his minions, asking them to retake the very halls of government that obstructed his second term, making the transactional nature of the march clear. Even the President did not incite the crowd to violent entrance of the Capitol Building, the publicity that announced the “march” showed its target–and the site to demand election integrity–clear. The rapt audience was ready to assault the building and strike down the police guards they encountered with flagpoles to answer the President’s personal “call to action to us to come back to Washington on January 6 for a big protest” by “taking back the country from corrupt politicians,” and wrest the nation from the political class, intensifying its sense of urgency.

They all knew the endpoint of the Save America March and had iPhones in their hands, but weren’t using their mapping functions, as they recorded the scene that the news media would not report. They were being invited to reveal their patriotism, and stand up for the U.S. Constitution and the country by the Commander-in-Chief in the face of “pure theft” of what was a landslide, and came dressed for re-enacting a drama of insurrection and revolution, in a rally that would consume the halls of government, uniting the size of the momentous rallies of the five-year Presidential campaign that Trump had been boosted to the empyrean, beyond Reality TV, to a new level of transcendence. But few have spent much attention to map from where they came. Few members of the mob needed to use their devices’ mapping functions or GPS, as the mission of retaking the government could be seen behind the bullet-proof glass from which Trump had addressed them.

Trump had magnified the size of the crowd considerably, describing the “tens of thousands” he saw before him, inviting those in attendance to turn their cell phones back to cover the size of a crowd he said the media would underestimate, and magnifying what was estimated as a crowd of 10,000 by trademark “truthful exaggeration” by magnifying it to “hundreds of thousands of people here” and describing the “hundreds of thousands of American patriots [who] are committed to the honesty of our elections” across the nation. The number was guesstimated at “several thousand people . . . even 10,000, maybe.” After Trump’s moment of truthful hyperbole, social media photographs and claims magnified the crowd and multiplied its loyalty on social media. The filming of the breaching of the Capitol’s perimeter spread on social media, as members of Congress without cell phones remained in the dark, and protestors counted on the element of surprise: even as Trump insisted that “the media will not show the magnitude of this crowd,” recalling the disputes he had had with the crowd on Inauguration Day, describing “hundreds of thousands” to rival even an inauguration crowed, famously falsified as the largest ever, estimated at 300,000-600,000, to keep the Trump flame alive. Trump insisted that the marchers themselves film the event for history and the nation, from the start of his hour-long harangue to turn their cameras on, and to “Turn your cameras please and show what’s really happening out here because these people are not going to take it any longer.” “Go ahead,” he urged, making the audience part of the spectacle, “Turn your cameras, please. Would you show?” In his subsequent public address, at the United States southwestern border, the President fondly remembered how “Millions of our citizens watched on Wednesday as a mob stormed the Capitol and trashed the halls of government,” before pivoting to affirm his respect for America’s “history and traditions” and “the rule of law.”

They existed on the media they created and streamed. Live-streaming the assault was a way to trigger a national movement, if not to create a testimony of the great attempt to keep an outgoing administration alive, and with it an alternate reality. Amidst cries of disbelief from “They’re going up—go, go, go, go!” and “Oh! They’re climbing up the wall!” to ecstatic rejoinders of “Let’s go, let’s fucking go!” to “There’s so many people! I can’t believe this is reality! We accomplished this shit! Together! . . . We’re all part of this fucking history!,” to “Holy shit, there’s so many people!” the ragtag group wrapped “TRUMP NATION” banners and “Trump 45” jerseys, the oddly dressed one said “Wait a second, I’m filming this!” a mob advanced past guards they saluted as “bro” as they sought to seize the House chambers, blowing vuvuzelahs chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A.,” saying You guys gotta follow the Constitution!” and, more festively, “Fuck, that was awesome! Let’s burn this shit down!”

As this potential orgy of destruction was unfolding, President Trump had assured his overeager audience that he would be marching with them to the Capitol–“after this, we’re going to be walking tot he Capitol, and I’ll be there with you.”–but retired from the lectern of the Save America March to enter an awaiting limousine in his motorcade, to watch the fate of the joint session of the U.S. Congress on cable news in the White House, as the rest of the world watched in disbelief and shock the last fruits of the Trump Presidency unfold.

If the National Guard had been activated across the nation in response to the George Floyd protests, as social injustices and police profiling were protested in a scenario of reckoning with systemic injustice, in what was described as national disorder, the protesters seems to move “going wild” to Washington DC, concentrating their pent up rage as observers of a changing country into an uprising against a representative system that seemed to have failed to recognize their urgent needs.

The New York Times on Twitter: "Protests have erupted in at least 140  cities across the United States over racism and police brutality. Some of  the demonstrations have turned violent, prompting the
Weiji Cal, Juliette Love, Jugal K Patel and Yuliya Parshina-Kottas/Daily Kos

A false social media post had eerily circulated in the summer of instability that had claimed protestors had caused Trump to flee the White House, including the image of the same Capitol Building that these protestors would assault. Disseminated on Facebook, YouTube, and news sites of uncertain authority as well as Twitter, the breaching of the boundaries of “Fake News” seemed a cause for global panic, prefacing the destabiization of authority for a global market–with some qualifications confined to the comment section.

Did Protesters Storm The White House? A Fact Check
June 1, 2020

The mock up concealed that the footage was not even in Washington DC, but this time the crowd had assembled in a real place, at the Capitol, even if the war they were waging was Fake News.

Their ears were already electrified by their President, as POTUS allowed the crowd to discharge, and even to envision this pathway to the future, and the they vital fight they would wage, affirming that he would never concede, and with the gestures of a television preacher he evoked how “we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give —” before breaking off his thoughts in midstream, and entering a limousine, having planted plans for an insurrection to his best ability.

The routes to the Capitol building itself would be less direct, but would flow about the building that the Capitol police tried to secure, and to overwhelm them in the immense discharge of their collective energy, overwhelming the limited number of Capitol Police they had already judged insufficient to protect the legislators, or obstruct a crowd of their size: Trump had given a benediction to move forward as Christian soldiers, and to surge beyond the Ellipse in an illustration of their own agency and apparent liberty.

Save America March/Pete Marovich, New York Times

Reports are that Trump watched the insurrection as it unfolded with excitement, pleased at what he saw on television. On the ground, cheers drowned out reality, elevating to a vertiginous ecstasy the idea of a seizure of power of which the participants ensured a live stream continued, as they breached the upper chambers. “We did this shit! This is surreal scene! What reality is this? Fucking did this shit!”Hell, yeah!” “About time!” “Oh, my bad–I didn’t know I hit it that hard.” The mob paused in the Rotunda for selfies while chatting up guards, reminding them of the futility of resistance and admiring the cupola, amazed at the scale of their accomplishment, pinching themselves that this “was real life,” urging one another to “treasure this moment,” and bursting, without anything else left to say, into chant–“We want Trump! We want Trump! We want Trump!” to make their voices heard. They were confident there were too many people to for bullets to be used against a crowd whose size they seemed to magnify, until the arrival of the police. Then, they were shocked a gun was actually fired and someone entering the chambers–amazed a moment of violence had in fact occurred, but also glad and still excited to have gotten it on film, not noticing Donald had left them alone.

Roberto Schmidt, AFP/Getty/Quartz

Born on a sea of insurrectionist flags of all stripes–Gadsden flags, American flags, Trump flags, Confederate flags, and sporting a range of Trump gear, they were ready to confront forces of Darkness. It may not have mattered that Trump was no longer with them, as he was presiding over the entire event, and they had internalized his litany of baseless complaints and groundless assertions. Waving triumphal flags overhead as they approached the Capitol, they entered the House of Representatives’ and Senate chambers, chanting “Our house! Our house!” and “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” they told guards not to put their hands on them, telling them they were impotent before events that were unfolding as they clung to their freedoms. Among these America Firsters, the right of “the people to alter or abolish any government that does not secure inalienable rights” seemed, on the morning of January 6, 2021, the only agency that remained in their power to stop the transmission of power that they felt a rigged system of elections about which they had ben warned for years was about to take place in the pro forma certification of electoral votes underway in the Congressional chambers as the Save America March had assembled to hear purported heroes of an outgoing administration. Did America First entail subverting the electoral process, or was it about defending liberties?

4. President Trump did not directly encourage the crowed to enter the joint session of the U.S. Congress, but affirmed its logic. Students of revolution have long studied the crowd as an actor of revolutions, and tried to study the logic of crowd behavior: fear is a major motivator of crowd behavior, and the fear of a loss of rights, an impending restriction of rights, from the panic of the Great Fear of 1789, as rumors spread of an “aristocratic conspiracy” to overthrow the king created a massive rural panic that triggered a convulsion of possibly anarchic character at fears of a restriction of grain supplies in the near future: the logic of the fear of a loss of liberties was fed by the growth of rumors across the countryside of the impending absence of a great protector, which historians have tried to map across rural regions as transmitted by their own rural circuits of considerable historical consequence, most powerfully in the work of Georges Lefebvre:

If Lefebvre worked hard to map the overlooked spatial and temporal progression and identity of the fear that spread through France, the twitterverse registered similar waves of panic transmitted among online groups. For if we are still unsure of labeling the even an insurrection or act of sedition or uprising, looking only at the movement on the ground near the capitol reminds us of the need to examine the charges and accusations that were long coursing on social media, increasing expectations for a day of wrath, imagined to attract up to three million, if permissions only expected 5,000, the rumors of millions of marchers suggested easy overwhelming of the Capitol police.

Their size increasingly magnified to punctuate the lists of grievances Trump listed for just over an hour, the magnification of the crowds who had felt isolated with the mandate for social distancing many so deeply opposed were released as they gained a new density on the Ellipse, no matter where they had come from. They were encouraged to tap into a sense of being wronged, and the hectoring of the audinece must have heightened their already long-nourished fight-or-flight response, as the representative structure of the capitol was in sight. The speech didn’t need to list the other grievances that Trump might not have mentioned theis time, but were implicit–a curtailing of freedom of gun ownership, a silencing of speech, a turning back of religious freedoms–which were fought over in the election. Those fears of a loss of liberties and change in administration had already been amplified through social media across the nation, far more electrically than Lefebvre’s spatial map of primary currents of the Great Fear through rural France that demanded historians recast their research of what was long seen and studied as an urban revolution: this revolution was born on social media, if it arrived in busloads or by plane, to witness an event they could only dream, but seemed to call for their own participation in nothing less than a new model of government.

The intensity of currents of fear that had run through chat rooms, TheDonald, and various citizen militias and Trump supporters came to a head at the condensation of these groups as a false populist force outside the Capitol building as the certification of the 2020 Presidential election was tried to be obstructed. Rather than fear spreading on the ground, however, or through popular movements, the mass-based nature of rally based on Facebook groups assembled a sense of purpose and direction that might be embodied in the busses that stopped in twenty-five American cities to collect Patriots, often in parking lots or airplane hangars from Arizona, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Florida seemed to summon a virtual confederacy to Washington. Riders foud collective experiences on the bus, having had their vagal nerves electrified by barrages of claims that the electoral vote had been distorted on NewsMax, FOX, OANN, that Trump had promoted–seeming to bestow his favorites to escalate temperatures across the nation that seemed evidence that the election raged, as “news bubbles” of 2016 bore fruit in adherence to different sets of electoral maps.

We had all watched how the margins of votes broke in different states, parsing them by voting groups, but as we watched them, the nation that had hived into groups broke into different alternate realities that called into question the election’s validity before it was even held, and drew out debates about its validity. And as they did so, the very institutions of representative government had been eroded. In polls that promised to refresh “the most up-to-date and accurate tallies in the Presidential race” from OANN, the contest had become a horse-race, undercutting the validity of the results that would be announced on Election Night, and creating a fake drama that ran against the predictions of most major news networks, hiving off America into two separate media silos which doubted the validity of the mainstream media. In what was seen as only an attempt to out-Fox News, the electoral maps that were projected on news sites predicted clear signs of victory that undercut the representational value of the electoral map, before and after the election-, that dislodged the ontological status of the electoral map, long before protest of certifying electoral votes–to turn back the clock, perhaps, to the very first tallies of votes, made before Democratic and internationalist tampering, when Trump led in Georgia and Pennsylvania by credible margins of victory–the provisional and unstable nature of all electoral tallies were made apparent, even after states had certified results. If FOX projection models long predicted a certain victory for Trump, the aftermath of the election and the contestation of votes eroded the ontic stability of the electoral map in a strategic way, as if playing a long game for overturning the vote.

Electoral Prediction
OANN November 16, 2020
DigiKai Marketing (@digikai_mj) | Twitter
November 11, 2020

These maps erased contingency, increased conviction, and unmoored a map once the bedrock of democratic representation, validating assertions “Trumpland doesn’t believe the election results” and would contest them, and denying any consensus of a map that had no role but to create consensus.

The squabbles between the size of crowds nominally assembled by joint crowds brought to Washington by Women for America First who organized the March to Save America and the Stop the Steal and MAGA crowds came to bolster the claims that this was a “real Million Man March. Unlike the Women’s March, that once embodied the Trump Resistance, or the Million Man March, these foot soldiers embodied the true electoral map that the size of crowds at this rally confirmed: as Trump had argued that he knew he won the election in Georgia by the greater size of his crowds compared to those reported for the Democratic ticket, the size of crowds provided a true direct illustration of democracy that the electoral maps based on fault tallies only disguised. The logic of the crowd’s behavior was promoted as evidence of fears of the loss of liberties a Biden administration would bring, planted long before their arrival in Washington DC. The fears were magnified in the increased urgency that Donald Trump gave to the erosions of liberties as a direct result of an illegitimate transition of power to convulse his audience. The fears rendered evident the need to stop the joint session of Congress. lest they validate the false electoral map Fake News had promoted. Until Trump agreed to concede, they would provide the defense of rights and liberties a Biden presidency would erode, and the declaration of a victory for two Democratic senators in Georgia the night previous only augmented the intensity of pressure on embodying a physical presence that would overturn the tally of electoral votes by a sea of supporters in bright red MAGA gear that embodied a real, authentic electoral map before the Capitol itself.

Trumpland did not believe in counting, so habituated had they been to rallies, rather than just tallies. With such systematic ontological destabilization of the electoral map, evident in the sea of distinctive bright red hats, could the end of the protracted drama of the election be announced? The sense of being on the side of righteousness was affirmed in the Invocation that proceeded the Capitol Siege, as Donald Trump was prayed for as the divinely sanctioned leader of the nation, chosen by God to lead America, in ways that invalidated the need for electoral approval of the President God had selected for the nation.

The fear and the logic of a loss of liberties promoted online was very old regime and premodern, if they were cast in an imaginary of defending early modern nationalism. For while the Capitol Siege has been argued by Jill Lepore to be considered a race riot, the conflict cannot be captured save as a deeply anti-parliamentary tactic, a coup, as Fiona Hill insisted, a “self-coup” of the sort strongmen like Recep Erdoğan staged in 2016, before Trump came to power, to seize power outside established parliamentary process by an autgolpe that renders impotent the parliamentary system. The confusion of a sense of lawlessness and the demands of restoring a legal order that was in danger of being eroded was considerable, as the crowd was augmented by the possible and alleged presence of off duty police officers from Seattle, Rocky Mount, Virginia, and Fire Departments in New York City, Florida, ready and willing to help strategize as they entered the building, unlike a disorderly mob. It might be that the two-color division of map might reveal, but the range of those light blue states, that weren’t such strong blue, belied the far, far greater intensity of a MAGA crowd.

5. The right to declare a separate region of like-minded liberties was promoted in the maps in online Facebook forums that promoted “peaceful secession.” Maps provided for online Facebook forums redrew the nation with the promise that red states might secede from the nation that had been gaining steam on Twitter and elsewhere, while we all socially distanced, the need for DIY nation-making emerged, as local Republican Party Chairs sanctioned, endorsing Rush Limbaugh in suggesting the not so secret conspiracy that Republican-governed states exercise their “rights” and freedoms in what was a compact of states. The need to “keep the American parts of America American,” as the Facebook group had it, would become clear as Limbaugh urged they “band together” as Texas, Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah, Montana, Alabama, and Mississippi join others–and break from the nation that the electors were about to saddle with a new President they had not chosen and did not want, and in America liberty was, in the end, that everyone should get what they want.

The moment of violence from which this birth of a new nation would begin might be commemorated in the future as January 6, 2021, bundling national security, sacred identity, and second amendment rights that defined an ecoystem of identity-based authoritarian systems, but ensured a good sleep at night. Yet as Lindell continued to tweet proof of broad hacking of the election–and eagerly contested Democratic margins of victory in a full six states–he undermined any sense stable resolution might be expected in electoral maps.

5. The potentiality of secession was sketched as a redemption of rights began atop the Manichean antagonism of battle lines, as they were encouraged by chromatic oppositions of red v. blue state maps to nourish secessionist fantasies as overlays atop the two-color dichotomy of electoral maps: by pooling the resources of all those smaller red dots, and overpowering or just excluding those blue dots–and sacrificing some, as in the Central Valley of California or upstate New York, in hopes they might migrate to North Dakota or Montana, and getting creative in Arizona and Colorado, but focussing on the parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota that in “a county formed from red states–or individual counties–“would follow the constitution.” Gerrymandering the nation, rather than only a few states, might more fully proceed to actual secession, confounding the map with the territory, and obscuring that the excision of backed-out counties would offload actual sites of wealth-production, major centers of population, and impose consensus in falsified ways in an eroded union.

The next time they are in control,... - Red-State Secession | Facebook
PeacefulRedStateSecession

This vision of secession would be nominally “peaceful,” but any sense of tranquility would be for observers of an online map. The cartographic fantasy adapted newsmaps everyone had seen on election night, and used to draw a new sense of sovereignty, which might be imagined as meriting an even more insurmountable wall:

Red-State Secession: “Potential Borders if Trump States and Hillary States Split into Two or More Countries, and States Allow Certain Counties to Join another Country”

Secession need not be a bad thing, those who held high Gadsden Flags realized. This was about defending the imaginary of a new nation, forever resilient, and might create either the basis to restore the rightful ruler or if not trigger the secessionist movement that might follow in the country, as a number of simultaneous protests were planned across state capitols–demonstrations that might be pushed to create a unifying protest that awoke a sleeping red giant, and many of the overlapping groups of Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, secessionist movements in varied states and alt right groups.

Demonstrations at State Capitols on January 6, 2021

Severed from national laws that were no longer representing their interests, the members of Red State Secession (when exactly was the modifier added?) had been cut off from the laws that DC sought to impose on them, and had, they convinced themselves, the longer that they looked at the Gadsden Flag, perhaps, and the map that it created as a call to arms and indeed military recruitment to defend the denial of liberties: the image that Benjamin Franklin had devised as a rallying cry to join an army against Great Britain and throw off the yoke of British Sovereignty: only by being divided into segments would the power of the nation be denied, but the “duty, to throw off such government” after a long series of abuses and usurpations described in the Declaration of Independence would merit the altering or abolition of “any government that does not secure our inalienable rights,” from second amendment rights to gun ownership to religious freedoms. The disparate segments of vigilant MAGA groups, from the Proud Boys and militant Oath Keepers and 3%ers, offspring of Patriot movements formed lest the Obama Presidency diminishing freedoms, would storm the Capitol united for “We the People,” with aims far beyond rights of assembly or freedom of expression.

III%ers Tweet Promoting January 6, 2020

The rally that had long been planned was, after all. Those who attended anticipated an orgy of open carry, and an affirmation of religious identitarianism, where rioters, as the original American revolutionaries who fought for their inalienable freedoms, might assemble beneath the Washington Monument with thousands of AR-15s in an unstoppable show of force, equipped with high-capacity feeding devices, even if carrying handguns without a permit is an offense in Washington, DC.

The event was, after all, planned in mid-December as a major event of Free Speech, shortly after the electoral college had met, and Pennsylvania electors had cast their ballots for Biden, as a conclusion already envisaged if the attempts to audit the vote and suits to dismiss votes as invalid would fail; it would celebration of Second Amendment rights by fiat; and if one wonders at reports that the rioters had come to Washington, DC, having widely shared maps of tunnels under the Capitol Building to concretize their plans for surrounding and taking the Capitol building. While described as insider knowledge, and perhaps facilitated by taking tours of the site in advance, they probably had only cobbled together tourist maps of the tunnels under the Capitol building that seemed routes to prevent Congress members they sought to make their views known to from not hearing the demands that they, the crowd We The People, felt it was their right to make: the protection of rights to assemble, freedom of speech, and rights to bear guns had all been obscured by how fake news had stolen the election. The recent escalation of #StoptheSteal tweets confirming the stolen nature of the election in 1.3 million tweets since election day suggested something like a seismic register for the Base that had jumped on the eve of the rally.

Popularity of hashtags

While the President did not directly invite the marchers who had assembled in the Ellipse to breach the Capitol, the incessant reminders of the stolen nature of the election had baited them since state electors had delivered the Presidency to Joe Biden. Trump tweeted out falsehoods with vigor, questioning the legitimacy of the transfer of power, as many flagged as false grew from Election Day throw the day of protest.

Washington Post

6. The indignation that tweets channeled was mapped onto real space on January 6, in ways that drove momentum to real moment of release. While announced as a First Amendment Activity, this was a second amendment rally, a rally asserting religious freedoms and religions nationalism, with fervent conviction, with many other fellow travelers convinced of the infringement of their rights and the need to Save America and their duty to do so. As their Commander in Chief animated the crowd assembled by affirming “we will never concede” and that at this moment, “we will stop the steal,” the heady disorientation clarified a map of affirming what was just ‘right.’

The claims of purifying the Capitol and the center of power was not a cry of a Presidency in its death throes, but a concerted effort that might prompt the restoration of a form of government transparency in asserting and protecting rights by reclaiming the chambers of government in misguided hopes to start a revolution. Many might have procured the maps of these tunnels in anticipation of storming the Capitol to defend the “true” results of the election by downloading them off an ESRI story map; a map of entrances to tunnels would also be confirmation of the plans of action that readied their disparate forces to enter the grounds to force the election. Online chat groups had already reasoned and spread the news in anticipation: “He wouldn’t be calling us to Washington unless there was a purpose that would ultimately end in him winning the election.” The maps could be easily gotten; the marchers would retake the Capitol building from entrances off of the ellipse that must have illustrated not only the vulnerability of the Capitol to attack but direct access to government.

Washington Tunnels on Capitol Hill/ESRI

Maps of tunnels available from visitors map circulated as “the most important maps of the day,” the basis to look for anyone fleeing the Capitol, rather than as a point of entry; it was disseminated in color-coded urgency with instructions to form “a TRUE LINE around the Capitol and the tunnels” in conspiratorial tones:

TheDonald.win/Distributed Map of Underground Exits from Congressional Chambers to be Blocked as Congress Certified Electors

The hopes for surrounding the Capitol, in hopes not to allow any legislators to leave the premises, and indeed to paralyze the government’s regular function, as it prepared to, in the words of the planners of the event, “certify the steal,” led rioters to enter the building from numbers of sights, to overwhelm security by multiple breaches of the building, first from the east, approaching the west front by breaking open doors (5), having scaled rim of the portico (3) as others scaled the walls on the northeast portico (6)–all areas marked “very important” to man–to enter the Senate wing (7). Security was at the same time clustered at the west front (2), as reinforcements were unable to be called. Only after crowds broke into the House chamber and the Speaker’s Gallery did law enforcement officers draw guns, hoping to disperse the rushing rioters at the buildings entrance (4).

But is the on-the-ground assessment of the movement of rioters only able to scratch the surface of the ways fears were incited and communicated across the masses of marchers who moved on, like Christian soldiers, animated by a sense of duty that had cascaded into different causes and chatgroups, constituencies of the movement Trump had triggered that were swirling under all those different flags–flags of Confederates, Gadsden flags of insurrectionists of 3%’ers and Oath Keepers or Second Amendment groups, and Trump 2020 banners that created a sense of a sea of red, American flags and the Thin Blue Line flags, popular among pro-police groups that won broader currency among White Supremacists after Black Lives Matter, emblems that placed those who flew them in the space Trump extolled the police as occupying “between civilization and total chaos. The uniting of these groups, in an echo of the “Unite the Right” rally at Charlottesville, assembled to fight forces of darkness.

“Visualizing a Riot,” Curbed

While these graphics of mapping the on-the-ground situation suggest the coordination of forcing entrance and taking the building, the hope was perhaps that the logic would unfold as a mob scene, able to be deflected from responsibility, but generalized an image of crowd violence that would “build momentum and pressure and the on the day change the hearts and minds of Congress, peoples who weren’t yet decided, or who saw everyone outside and said ‘I can’t be on the other side of that mob,’” as a right-wing activist who helped organize Stop the Steal claimed he planned with U.S. Representatives since late December, or since the electoral college met, when plans to interrupt congressional certification of the electoral votes began. As those who saw the seeds of dangerous crowd behavior, in mid-nineteenth century Paris, in prisons, brothels, and asylums as grounds for breeding criminal behavior, the proliferation of falsified revolutionary fantasies of seizing the state and interrupting processes of government to prevent loss of liberties proliferated online.

As much as map the routes of the entrance of what has been called a mob, we might pay more attentio to mapping how it was crowd-sourced. How did social media channel the Stop the Steal votes in multiple states by magnifying calls in chamber of accusations of illegitimacy to prepare for a populist putsch on January 6? To be sure, the manufacture of crowds asserting false populist claims began not only online, but in Stop the Steal rallies in individual states, as individual rallies for “stopping the steal” in Arizona, Philadelphia, and Virginia grew in November and December, as “President Trump’s path to victory appears to shrink,” according to national media group Nexstar.tv, leading Trump allies in Congress, as Arizona Representative Dr. Paul Gosar, to tweet a demand tha President-Elect Biden “should concede” on the eve of the certification of electoral votes in Congress, tagging the Stop the Steal movement. With Alabama Representative Mo Brooks, Arizona’s Andy Biggs he had planned since mid-December the massive rally on January 6 in DC.

As much as focus on the routes of an angry mob, filled with whites dressed in gang-like colors of passionate intensity, was there a possibility that tours of the Senate Chambers were given to members of such populist groups agitating for Second Amendment rights or Christian Nationalism the day before crowds assembled?

The anticipation was fanned on chatrooms and TheDonald amplified as they intersected with the script of historical re-enactment that Second Amendment defenders defended, far more than a mere First Amendment activity: the images of a threatened end of times asked viewers to envision the capitol in apocalyptic terms. Gun ammunition websites had explained that “a failed state is to post-modernity what the nation-state was to modernity,” and the incapability of our current states from “exercising authority over all of its nominal territory” was in fact a “hallmark of our age,” but the rights to overthrown government that denied rights, as was not doubted for gun owners, sanctioned the state of emergency to Save America. The “map” attributed to founding father Benjamin Franklin survives in the Gadsden Flags many held at the insurrection that they imagined would be the start of a new revolutionary war to defend local liberties, to defend the “sacred landslide election victory” Donald Trump had affirmed that morning by the “trial by combat” Rudy Giuliani had ominously foretold. The compact was able to be secured by “We the People,” and invited contingents to identify themselves by Gadsden flags that illustrated their commitment to the cause, diffused by the “3%ers,” a militia group of Patriots who since 2008 have vowed anti-government extremism, often based in Canada.

Engraved Map of Thirteen Colonies, Philadelphia Gazette, ed. Benjamin Franklin (1754)

There was something more than deep theater here: Trump, who had lost the election, was desperate, with a group of lawgivers who had decided to stall the confirmation of electoral votes that day for as long as necessary, saw the “Stop the Steal” rally as a final attempt to give those who remained in his base a sense of their agency as true patriots, attracting disparate groups from Oath Keepers to Q Anon to deep loyalists, to claim their new identity as domestic terrorists, convincing them that they might stage a new revolution, and be part of a truly historical “experience” that transcended them all, using the Capitol building as a prop in a final Reality TV show that exposed the falsity of the official popular vote by the sheer force of passionate intensity, in a last-minute attempt by which true patriots could move collectively to Stop the Steal definitively.

There was a sense of collective brainwashing at that Rally as they readied for combat, ready to have their adrenaline and fight or flight impulses energized as they had at other rallies in the past. But this time was different, and they had packed nooses, axe handles, hockey sticks, heavy duty zip ties and flexi cuffs, repurposed cattle prods disguised as flagpoles, molotov cocktails and other handmade armaments, and backpacks concealing ammunition: as improvised police, they arrived to take control of the congressional chambers. Despite the DIY nature of many improvised weapons at the riot at the Capitol, many counter-terrorism experts believe encouraged or animated as an inside job, if one that betrays the Commander in Chief’s fragile state of mind–an inside job that was allowed by the absence of any security cordon, the long-term denial of an electoral loss, and the false urgency of preventing a ratification of an electoral tally Trump willfully wrongly argued might be stopped. When the crowd entered, Nancy Pelosi had to place a personal phone call to Virginia’s Governor, Ralph Northam, to secure the arrival of the National Guard, as other representatives turned to their offices to ask why more security forces were not on the way.

As for the fear of invasions, it was not that we had long mapped it wrong–it is just that the Deep State was within, and a lynching mob that went straight into the Capitol, without pausing for nicety, might fulfill the needs of the moment that allowed the disbanding of laws, and defense of liberty, fueled by escalating claims of voter fraud, and summoned to defend the system of elections that were sacred to the nation, in the “Second American Revolution” that the secessionist group announced was scheduled to start “on Jan 6,” to be noted on one’s calendar. The night before the rally assembled, Trump again promoted it on social media, reminding his base on Tuesday evening that “thousands would be pouring into Washington DC” to shake things up, if not shut down government for the specific aim of preventing the certification of electoral votes, the final “line in the sand” that the Trump administration seemed to see fit to draw.

7. We had told the barbarians were coming from the start of the Trump Administration, and it was reliably mapped from the southern border. This invasion of Washington, DC was not an overthrowing of empire, but rather the final chance to punish the Deep State, and change world history by securing and defending the liberties of the Gadsden Flag. It aimed at a major historical change, reversing the election by a false populist putsch for broadcast on global media. After all the attempts at audits, lawsuits, and recounts, the confrontational Schmittian Moment of a “state of exception” with the enemy began–to quote the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, who adopted a vision of politics structured by the dichotomy between “enemy” and “friend” that gained new traction for Trumpers as those who were ready to allow the certification of electors to proceed became clear, and the image of Mike Pence certifying the election grew–even if Joe Biden’s victory had been almost uniformly projected by news outlets in mid-November and had been officially confirmed by Electoral College votes in mid-December. At the heady moment when electors were certified at the Capitol building, the formal decorum of the roll call could be punctured in a final revelation of agency and anger, as the Vice President made it clear he would not reject the electoral college in the manner the President wanted, overturning the law in the way that Schmitt argued followed a “higher law” than parliamentary procedures.

Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images

This depended on the continued loyalty of the crowd who attended the march to their leader. From his arrival, Trump readied himself behind the bullet-proof glass, steeling himself for the appropriate moment for stepping out of the law, into a State of Exception, adopting parliamentary decorum and shattering the reverence for the norm that was manifest in the largely ceremonial joint session of Congress, whose procedural function was going to be shattered, after the final objections for discarding Biden electors had been launched, but failed to delay the procedural vote whose outcome was now clear, and the time to create a crisis at the Capitol had arrived.  “I hope Vice President Pence has courage today,” prayed a marcher on the Ellipse, echoing the words Trump had just spoken and proceeding to Pennsylvania Avenue with the President, “and I hope any politician who thinks he has a future shows courage to stand up and do what’s right.” “I hope,” President Trump had just told the rally, “Mike Pence does the right thing, because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election . . . ”

Was he readying himself for the advance of rioters on the parliamentary chambers? They had betrayed him. Unlike the representatives, these groups would advance in an incarnation of will of “We the People” groups would affirm the direct tie of people to sovereign, a principle of fascism, embodying Carl Schmitt’s notion of “present government” and the invoking of a higher law, in a negation of democracy, and a determining moment of rejecting norms akin to other revolutionary moments in world history: the impending certification of the vote constituted a need to reject norms, in the “decisionist” school of thought Schmitt nourished, and promised the rioters a sense of agency. For the moment of rushing the Capitol would incarnate a will able to substitute for elected representatives needing to be stopped, physically in the process of betraying the people’s will; at the very moment of the ceremony that would start the formal transition of executive power, the walls could be breached, one of the lucky groups of rioters could seize Pence and his family, Pelosi, Schumer, and Clyburn, and place their heads on pikes outside the Chambers, as Steve Bannon had boasted the heads of FBI Director Christopher Wray and public health officer Anthony Fauci be placed on picket as a public warning on both sides of the White House in Trump’s second term, following the precedent of Tudor England or medieval Italy, but that Bannon argued gained precedent as “how you won the Revolution” in November, 2020. The rumor that Trump had peevishly demanded to place the heads of any Republicans who supported his first impeachment on pikes suddenly seemed more credible than ever. If we had been sloppy in using the political term of fascism as a label for disparaging the anti-democratic, the political enthusiasm of broad-based mass organizations that were manifest at the Ellipse for what was announced as a rally and a protest march as senators and congressmen were meeting.

The rally assembled a convergence of mass movements to contest the certification of the democratic election. In contesting electoral certification fascism in America seemed to have arrived, as pro forma certification of electoral votes they refused to accept compelled the overthrow of the government that had now been complicit in falsifying the election. The need for accountability had led the crowd to assemble in defiance of the very dangers of a new international order that Schmitt had feared, promoting globalist agendas threatening the national legal order, calling for defiance.

The President enjoined the audinece to fight “big tech and the fake news” who stood for the internationalists who demoralize and control Americans by rigging the election. Mike Lindell was all too ready to blame China and Iran for the Democratic victory, although Trump seemed to have refrained from going there. Trump insisted on allegedly falsified election results on a variety of fronts, leaving it vaguely situated between miscounted the ballots counted by machines in other nations, resolving to “finally hold big tech accountable” for concealing his victory now that no other means than direct action remained. If the rioters have effectively suspended the speed of such transition to occur, or forestalled the formation of a new administration, they did so not only through the rehabilitation of an image of a confederate past or “Lost Cause,” but the precipitation of the very “State of Emergency” Trump clearly felt, and that some believed would precipitate a break from the political order and a leap into the state of exception that Lawfare’s Quinta Jurecic feared in 2016, before the election and even start of his Presidency, suspending a constitutional transition of power, inaugurated, as it were, from the sovereign’s own articulation of the state of exception by virtue of the “extreme peril” that the transition of power poses to the state. As the rioters were encouraged to fight for Donald Trump’s second term and his survival, as if trapped in his narcissistic fantasies that blinded them to actual events.

They were not really invading the Capitol, but provoking the transition to a new stage of history that, despite earlier marches, needed to finally clear the bureaucratic obstructionism of the liberal state that might be poised, in future weeks, to dismantle the very Border Wall that had given America its sovereign integrity. The moment of breaching the citadel instead occasioned a release of vertiginous empowerment for those who we were waiting to preserve democracy and ensure the safety and security of the accuracy of the Presidential vote. Their arrival had been something we were long envisioning, and many indeed also knew was coming. They had, indeed, been planning to dash hopes for a peaceful transition and to save America, more than overthrow it, but the crisis of destabilization of national security was far greater and far more immediate: in order to fulfill plans for Making America Great, they had downloaded travel routes to DC and memes to promote the march from the Washington Monument, across the Ellipse, envisioning scenarios by which “we’ll storm offices and physically remove and even kill all the D.C. traitors and reclaim the country.” The forum called “The Donald,” which had addressed “patriots” from 2015, if it migrated from Reddit until the excited agitation of the subreddit expressing solidarity with the President who had lost the election was removed, in June, 2020, after it began bubbling over with Donald Trump memes for the election, now migrated to alternative media, moved to TheDonald.win, had promised a virtual apocalypse of a shitstorm. Proud Boy Joey Biggs, well schooled to “stand down and stand by” by his leader, boasted on a video uploaded to Parler, “Watch out, January 6 — you ain’t gonna know who the fuck it is standing beside you!” with glee.

Envisioning the storming of the U.S. Congress and routes of breaking into all federal buildings on the day electoral votes were due to be tabulated, readers of the online forum known as “The Donald” ruminated about the prospect of bringing their own guns to D.C., even if doing so would be a crime in Washington DC, due to the capitol’s stricter and perhaps more reasonable gun laws. Rather than carrying guns on routes across borders, they would illustrate Second Amendment freedoms on the President’s Park, while it still “belonged” to President Trump. After all, many of the communities where they had found most meaning were disrupted, and this was their historical legacy: they had been invited to take back a seat of power for the final chapter of a long-promised draining of the swamp to prevent the stealing the vote–surrounding the Capitol in a burst of glory. Marchers who rebuffed police as they had been “invited by the President” reflected the crisis of authority that would be a culmination of the Trump Era, offering the last time to Make America Great Again, even by subverting gun control laws and destruction of federal property, as part of a new revolutionary tide.

They were, after all, invited in, even if they did a bit of breaking and entering, and invited to partake in a redemptive act–and could not be able to believe their good fortune as what seemed to be starting as they entered the Peoples’ Chambers, and the chant turned to another Trump Rally cry, “Stop the Steal!, Stop the Steal!” as they wondered what the officers were doing to contain their movement, and tried to film as much as possible of what was an almost orgiastic experience of iPhones, elevated banners, and a huge effort to enter the locked doors of the chambers, incredulous that they had gained access to the building and could break down the chambers’ doors, or jimmy them with a knife, pausing reflectively amidst everything to wish that they had only thought to bring boom boxes to play music that might match the drama of the occasion.

They had all, in the end, been invited to an event to which Donald was himself the master of ceremonies and host of a final melding of his career in public politics and DIY Reality TV.

Donald had, after all, started the machinery of the MAGA crowd on December 19, several days after the electoral college voted, as he begun to plan the massive rally that he might bring to Washington as a direct manifestation of democracy and patriotism that was a last attempt to “Save America” from Joe Biden. Trump let let his base know, as Rudy Giuliani was running a smokescreen by distracting the nation with claims of widespread fraud, to plan a “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th.” The President hectored the crowd about what really matters on social media, and Jack Dorsey must rue that tweet which had seemed so harmless when it was sent on Dec. 19, cryptically addressing his base, “Be there, will be wild!” as he sanctioned abandon at the biggest Stop the Steal rally ever at the Capitol, the one they’d all been waiting for. And he continued to hector the crowd angrily, mentioning the upstanding nature of Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who had recently lost their elections, reminding them of the danger of granting a Democratic majority to the US Senate, reminding them of the need for only 11,779 votes–just 11,000 votes and 779–and the scale of the fraud that must have occurred, in a tormented world salad of obsessions that had so filled his mind in previous weeks.

Members of the Facebook group whose members were already visualizing secession read remarks urging them to put aside other business for this truly Manichaean battle, not waged at the polls: “If you are not prepared to use force to defend civilization, then be prepared to accept barbarism!” Is it enough that Facebook has barred Trump, now that the base has had time to migrate to Parler and Gab? Was it surprising that cellphones were the weapon of choice, as if they might unleash the revolution online that would cascade across the country in the same way that they were alerted and summoned to Washington, DC? In case any one had missed it, and was not planning to arrive, Republican Attorneys General both helped fund the “Stop the Steal” rally, and promoted it by robocalls that rallied the troops with the heady news “At 1 p.m., we will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal,” in a rally at the Ellipse in President’s Park, with doors opening at 7 AM, . . . we will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal!” After disclosing the plans of action, the robocall concluded with the reassurance “We are hoping Patriots like you will join us to continue the fight to protect the integrity of our elections,” nothing its sponsorship by the “Rule of Law Defense Fund,” a group to which anyone reasonable Republican would want to belong. 

 Rule of Law Defence Fund and other Groups sponsoring March to Save America

The battle seemed truly world changing, and a moment of history where the opportunities for martyrdom might abound, as well as true heroism, a new historical age beginning, or a sun kept from setting, seen with the sudden clarity of newfound depth of field as a contest of civilizations in which they could partake.

Albrecht Altdorfer, Battle of Alexander at Issus [Alexanderschlacht] (1529)

The gap in understanding in the nation was captured by the Newspaper of Record. To capture the Capitol Siege underground journalist Elijah Schaffer captured by following the crowd into the chamber offices, the riots were described for all who were not there to witness as anti-climactic in the absence of violence, even after the huge rush of adrenaline breaching the walls of the Capitol building met. The riots were not an invasion or desecration of a house of government, but oddly unplanned as those who waited to incapacitate the officers of the Deep State in their tracks may have realized they had no plans–or been so overcome with the ease of entering the Capitol building where they found such limited resistance until the arrival of Police from Washington, D.C., that they abandoned all plans for using subterranean corridors to plant explosives and aimed to rush the chambers of Congress directly.

8. The New York Times did the nation a deep disservice in describing a tragedy as low-level comedy. The Times characterized the arrival of rioters at the Capitol who had rushed suspiciously few number of capitol building police to enter the inner sanctum of power as a moment as awe-struck protestors per the newspaper of record. After breaching the walls, they paused, as if utterly at a loss that seemed more giddy than violent, filled with awe rather than breaking all sense of order and respect for lawfulness: “inside, there was a strange mix of confusion and excitement, and the almost lack of police presence in the beginning amplified the feeling of lawlessness” as an extreme game which they had only tried to visualize in the past unfolded. Struck by the grandeur that comes from not having visited museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it was time for selfies. “They gawked at the place of wealth and beauty, adorned with art and marble, a domain of the powerful,” as if it was all wrongfully procured by their tax dollars, feeling for a moment, in those four hours of insurrection that left five dead, “for a short while on Wednesday afternoon, [they] were in control . . . [and] could not be ignored.” The odd assortment of DIY equipment, zip ties to take prisoners, and even the occasional noose suggests something much more terrifying was at hand as the chambers were vandalized.

But if this was a tragedy of national proportions, it was also a farce, a battle that was enacted in costume, and with imaginary weapons. The Washington police who arrived rightly treated them as folks who were possibly dangerous, but could be most sensibly escorted out of the building after ensuring that they were not laying the sort of pipe bombs that had arrived, that very day, at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee alike, by domestic terrorists who the administration may well have facilitated, in a marriage of convenience that demands broad investigation.

Was this only for four hours, or was this a declension of how the government was to be understood in post-Trump America, where the promise of democracy was only about breaking walls? After all, this would be the last time in a while that they would be invited in. There was a sense of the declension of history in the member of the mob that entered the Capitol posing with loot from the Speaker of the House, before a picture of the surrender of General Burgoyne who attempts to present his sword to General Horatio Lloyd Gates, Adjutant General to the Continental Army,–

Protesters enter the US capitol Building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee/AFP/Getty

–and the landscape scene of the honor of U.S. Military was a sharp contrast to the looter who mugged for the photographer Win McNamee: a story of the declension of patriotism, perhaps. The young Floridian father who was leaving the Rotunda with the Speakeer’s podium had devoted hours to social media alternately mocking Black Lives Matter and defending pro-Life groups. He church-going Baptist who was also animated about attacking abortion rights shared his mounting anticipation at being part of the March, filling his Facebook feed with images chronicling his itinerary to Washington, DC, to stall confirmation of electoral votes, and taking the speaker’s podium was sort of doing his part.

Back at the real American Revolution, after General Gates had defeated the British forces at Saratoga, he graciously showed his honor to posterity by offering Burgoyne hospitality and refreshment in his battle tent, as a motley band of American soldiers of disparate rank looked on to witness the former British soldier’s decorum, in which he seemed to show himself forever the gentleman, burnishing his reputation despite rumors of his participation in a conspiracy to take General Washington’s place at the charge of the revolutionary army. The historical painting of the former British soldiers was planned by John Trumbull for a series of historical canvasses that would serve to “meditate seriously the subjects of national history, of events of the Revolution,” including Bunker’s Hill, Trenton, Saratoga, and Yorktown, based on local landscape studies.

John Trumbull, Surrender of General Burgoyne (1826)

The 1777 Battle of Saratoga that was fought by the white men who joined the Revolutionary Army were being led by a man accused of having sought to replace Washington, and it was fitting that this picture was the background of a misguided attempt to disrupt the completion of electoral process if not stage a coup as an inside job. The scene was a model of America First.

Blurred in the background of the widely shared news photo of the man participating in the mob that rushed the Capitol building to obstruct the lawful transmission of power, an iconic image of the Siege of the Capitol, is perhaps a reminder of the plaintive nature of the frayed bonds of government to people that led some to enter the chambers of members of the U.S. Congress. This time, they arrived to pry open locked doors that had failed to represent the common will, and would break into congressional offices to liberate information, seeking to steal unlocked “open” laptops, private property they eagerly removed from the capitol building to scour for evidence of corruption which they had hoped to cleanse the nation.

One rioter boasted on social media he had found a mine of needed information on Pelosi’s laptop as if its seizure provided a moment of clarity: it revealed in transparent ways “all facets of this complex Election Theft using Vatican Bank to give Obama CIA 14 pallets of $400 million cash to Leonardo!!” at military bases in Texas. Luckily, Trump was on his way to arrive in Texas, that bastion of liberty, to decode the conspiracy that the man who stole the laptop would present to him, on his final lap of victory of a long campaign. Another stormer of the Capitol, citizen journalist Elijah Schaffer of BlazeTV, channeled the coursing adrenaline flowing through everyone’s veins who illegally entered the government building, shocked at the vertigo of having penetrated the Capitol building, and detailed the pleasure of collective cosplay before he was banned from Facebook and Instagram: “I am inside Nancy Pelosi’s office with thousands of revolutionaries who have stormed the building. To put into perspective how quickly staff evacuated, emails are still on the screen along side a federal alert warning members of the current revolution.”

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Filed under Capitol Riots, Donald Trump, Red States vs. Blue States, Secession, social media

Coronavirus Advances

While we are increasingly deadened by data visualizations that track the infectious spread of COVID-19 across the world and country, their logic has often been implicit. As much as tracking real-time data of deaths and “hot-spots” in the world and the nation, we trust the data viz to orient us to the infectious landscape to better gain understanding of viral spread. We seek to grasp nature of the virus’ transmission, and perhaps hope that we can better grasp its spread. We depend on these daily updates to retain a sense of agency in the chaos, but realize that they are provisional, contingent, and selective snapshots, based on testing, and exist at a time delay from the virus’ actual distribution–without much predictive value. We maddeningly realize they are dependent on testing rates and reporting, and only as good as the datasets which they re-present.

On the heels of a 5% statewide positivity rate on December 5, 2020, California was declared in a state of shut down in all its counties. It almost seems that such graphics have started to fail us, as the spread of the virus overflows the boundaries of the map and permeates its space. The choropoleth renders individual counties all but indistinct, the state drowned in widespread infections, with only a few of its less populated regions as refuges. With a flood of purple overflowing the coastal counties, the delta, the Central Valley, and the entire south of the state, was there even any point in mapping the danger of viral spread beyond a state of red alert?

Dec. 5, 2020

While mapping offers little comfort in the era of saturation of heightened risk, the color-codes alert inhabitants to the danger of increased stresses on the public health system–as much as visualization challenges to translate tools of data aggregation to visualize the pandemic., as December 6 rates grew by December 19. As we shift to map a decreasingly multi-colored state by the moderate, substantial and widespread virus, and widespread cases seem to flood the state, the map offers a security of some sort of monitoring of the pandemic’s spatial spread.

The sea of purple is like Spinal Tap going raising the volume “up to eleven,” and are a sign that we are in unexplored territory that won’t be accommodated by a simple color ramp–or, indeed, a familiar cartographic iconography among our current tools of styling space. While we are used to maps embodying meaning, what the colors of the map embody–beyond risk–is unknown. To be sure, at a time when fatalities from the coronavirus in the south of the state have skyrocketed from the middle of the month, hitting records in ways terrible to even contemplate, the field of purple is a deeply human story of loss, as a surge of hospitalizations have flooded the entire healthcare community, and stretched facilities of critical care beyond anything we have known, filling half of intensive care beds in LA County at Christmas. 2020 enough to make it hard to feel any relief in the close of a calendar year, as if that unit still held any meaning, and very grim about 2021: and while the CDC allowed that there may already be a new, more contagious strain, in the nation two days before Christmas, the arrival of the more contagious strain in California and Colorado increased alarm before New Year’s.

San Francisco Chronicle, December 6 2020
SF Chronicle, December 19, 2020

How to get a handle on the novel coronavirus that we have been pressing against COVID-19 dashboards since March to grasp better, and will we able to do so in 2021?

Whatever sense agency the maps impart, it is an agency that is only as good as the compromised sense of agency that we expect in an era of geolocation, on which most maps track reports of infection. Even as we face the rather grim warning that we are waiting for the arrival of a vaccine that, in the Bay Area, rates of immunization face steep obstacles of vaccine distribution due to pragmatics of freezer space required, training of extra health care workers, and monitoring and tracking the two-stage process of vaccination, we will depend for public sanity on maintaining clear communication in maps. The actual tracking of the novel coronavirus doesn’t translate that well to a state-wide model, or a choropleth, although it is the method for public health advisories that makes most sense: we do not have small-scale public health supervision in most of the nation, although they exist at some counties. The stressed Departments of Public Health in areas are without resources to manage COVID-19 outbreaks, public health compliance, or retaliations for public health violations: and the effort to create public health councils to manage compliance and violations of public health orders may be seen by some as an unneeded bureaucracy, but will give local governments resilience in dealing with an expanding epidemic, at the same time as governmental budgets are stressed, and no body of law about COVID violations exists.

Rather than map on a national or state-wide level, we can best gain a sense of how much virus is out there and how it moves through attempts of contact tracing–even if the increasing rates of infection may have gone beyond the effectiveness of contact tracing as a methodology that was not quickly adapted by a federal government the prioritized the rush to a vaccine. The basis for such a map in LA county can reveal the broad networks of contagion, often starting in small indoor gatherings across the region, and moving along networks of spatial mobility across the city and San Fernando Valley, and help embody the disease’s vectors of transmission as we watch mortality tallies on dashboards that give us little sense of agency before rising real-time tolls.

ESRI

If such ESRI maps suggest a masterful data tracing and compilation project, the data is large, but the format a glorification of the hand-drawn maps of transmission that led to a better understanding of the progress of Ebola on the ground in 2014, used by rural clinics in western African countries like Liberia and Rwanda to stop the infectious disease’s transmission and monitor the progress of contagion to limit it–as well as to involve community members in the response to the virus’ deadly spread.

We may have lost an opportunity for the sort of learning experience that would be most critical to mitigate viral spread in the United States, as no similar public educational outreach was adopted–and schools, which might have provided an important network for diffusing health advisories to families, shifted predominantly to distance learning and providing meals, but we became painfully aware of the lack of a health infrastructure across America, as many openly resisted orders to mask or to remain indoors that they saw as unsubstantiated restrictions of liberty, not necessary measures.

Hand-Drawn Public Health Map of Ebola Transmission in Liberia (2014)

We are beyond contact tracing, however, and struggling with a level of contagion that has increased dramatically with far more indoor common spaces and geographic mobility. Yet the broad public health alerts that these “news maps” of viral spread offer readers omits, or perhaps ignores, the terrifying mechanics of its spread, and the indoor spaces in which we know the virus is predominantly acquired. The rise of newly infectious mutated strains of the novel coronavirus was in a sense inevitable, but the rising tension of what this means for the geographical distribution and danger of the coronavirus for our public health system is hard to map to assess its wide distribution, and we take refuge in mitigation strategies we can follow.

Why have we not been more vigilant earlier to adapt the many indoor spaces in which the virus circulates? It bears noting that the spread of virus in the state was undoubtedly intensified by over a hundred deaths and 10,000 cases of infection to spread in the density of a carceral network, which seems an archipelago incubating the spread of viral infections in the state. We only recently mapped the extent of viral spread across nineteen state prisons by late December 2020, tracked by the Los Angeles Times, but often omitted from public health alerts–

Coronavirus Cases Reported in Nineteen California Prisons, Dec. 21, 2020

–and the density of Long-Term Care centers of assisted living across the state, which were so tragically long centers of dangers of viral spread, as the New York Times and Mapbox alerted us as the extreme vulnerabilty of elder residents of nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, retirement homes, assisted-living facilities, residential care homes who cannot live alone was noted across the world. The data that was not provided in the grey-out states interrupted the spread of infections among those often with chronic medical conditions was not surprising, epidemiologically, but terrifying in its escalation of the medical vulnerability of already compromised and vulnerable populations–and steep challenges that the virus posed.

unlike those greyed out states that fail to release data on deaths linked to COVID-19 infections, congregate on the California coast: while the New York Times depicted point-based data of the over 100,000 COVID-related deaths in nursing homes are a small but significant share of COVID deaths, exposure for populations with extraordinarily high probability of possessing multiple possibilities for co-morbidities is probably only a fraction of infections.

Coronavirus Deaths linked to Nursing Homes in United States, December 4, 2020

We strain to find metrics to map the risk-multipliers that might be integrated into our models for infectious spread. It seems telling to try to pin the new wave of infections in a state like California to increased contact after Thanksgiving–a collective failure of letting up on social distancing in place since March–as the basis for a post-Thanksgiving boom in many regions of the state, using purely the spatial metrics of geolocation that are most easily aggregated from cell phone data in the pointillist tracking of individual infections in aggregate.

New York Times/CueBiq Mobility Data

Based on cell-phone data of geolocation, a proxy for mobility or social clustering that offered a metric to track Americans’ social proximity and geogarphical mobility–including at shopping centers, oceanside walks in open spaces, and even take-out food curbside pickups, as well as outdoor meals and highway travel, few counties curbed aggregation as one might hope–although the fifty foot metric accepts the many outdoor congregations that occurred, well within the Cuebiq metric, wearing or without masks. A magenta California registered pronounced proximity, grosso modo, discounting any mindful innovative strategies in the state.

Increased Spatial Closeness within Fifty Feet/CueBiq/Graphic NBC News, Nigel Chiwaya and Jiachan Wu

It is stunning to have a national metric for voluntary mobility, rough as it is, to measure internalization of social distancing protocols and potential danger of a post-holiday COVID-19 bump. To be sure, we are stunned by geolocation tools to aggregate but risk neglecting the deeper infrastructures that undergird transmission, from forced immobility. While geolocation tools offer opportunities for collective aggregating whose appeal has deep historical antecedents in measuring contagion and anticipating viral transmission by vectors of spatial proximity, geospatial tools create a geolocation loop in visualizations which, however “informative” perpetuate a spatiality that may not clearly overlap with the actual spatiality of viral transmission.

Even if we demanded to map what were the novel coronavirus had “hot-spots” in mid- to late March, as if processing the enormity of the scale we didn’t know how to map, aggregating data without a sense of scale.

March 26, 2020

Across the summer, it seems best to continue to map daily numbers of cases, relying on whatever CDC or hospital data from Hopkins we had, trying to aggregate the effects of the virus that was spreading across the country whose government seemed to provide little economic or medical plan, in maps that tallied the emergence of new cases, as new hotspots appeared across the land, meriting attention difficult to direct.

We are plowing infections and mortality with abandon in a steady diet of data visualizations that purport to grasp disease spread, that were once weighted predominantly to the New York area, even as they spread throughout the nation by the end of March, but remaining in the thousands, at that point, as even that low threshold was one by which we were impressed. The tracking of the local incidence of reported cases seemed to have meaning to grasp the meaning of transmission, with a pinpoint accuracy that was assuring, even if we had no way to understand the contagion or no effective strategy to contain it. But we boasted data visualizations to do so, focussing on the nation as if to contain its spread in antiquatedly national terms, for a global pandemic, not mapping networks of infection but almost struggling to process the data itself.

After all, the John Snow’s cholera maps of John Snow are the modern exemplars foregrounded in data visualization courses as game-changing images as convincingly precise pictures of infection progressing from a water pumps in London neighborhoods is often seen as a gold standard in the social efficacy of the data visualization and information display. The elevation of the pinpoint mapping of cholera mortality in relation to a water pump from which the deadly virus was transmitted in a nineteenth-century London neighborhood:

John Snow, “Cholera Deaths in Soho”

The Snow Map so successfully embodies a convincing image of contagion that it has taken on a life of its own in data vis courses, almost fetishized as a triumphant use of the plotting of data that precisely geolocated mortality statistics allow, and can indeed be transposed onto a map of the land to reveal the clustering of death rates around the infamous Broad St. pump, that created a legible vector of the transmission of diseases in the Soho neighborhood, so convincing to be touted as a monument of the data sciences.

Open-Air Water Pumps Tainted by Cholera measured in John Snow’s Map

Snow is lauded for having effectively showed that, in ways that changed scientific practices of collective observation and public health: rather than being communicated by miasmatic infections that spread to low-lying London from the Thames, mortality rates could gain a legibility in proximity to a pump that transmitted an infectious virus, often presented as a conceptual leap of Copernican proportions (which it was, when contrasted to miasma that emanated from the Thames to low-lying areas–if it anticipated a bacteriological understanding of viral transmission). The association of danger with the water procured on errands from neighborhood pumps however replaced the noxious vapors of a polluted river, as in earlier visualizations of the miasma that lifted the noxious fumes of the polluted Thames river to unfortunate low-lying urban neighborhoods, who were condemned by urban topography to be concentrations of a density of deaths of more striking proportions and scale than had been seen in the collective memory.

Snow made his argument by data visualizations to convince audiences, but he mapped with a theory of contagion. But if Snow’s maps works on how the virus is communicated in outdoor spaces–and how a single site of transmission can provide a single focus for the aggregation of mortality cases, COVID-19 is an infection that is most commonly contracted in indoor spaces, shared airspace, and the recycled unfiltered air of close quarters. And the indoor spaces where COVID-19 appears to be most often transmitted stands at odds with the contraction in outdoor common spaces of the street and service areas of water pumps, that create the clear spacial foci of Snow’s map, and the recent remapping by Leah Meisterlin that seeks to illuminate the urban spaces of the contraction of cholera in a digital visualization as a question of intersecting spatialities.

Current visualization tools compellingly cluster a clear majority of cholera deaths in proximity to a publicly accessible pump where residents drew water where viral pathogens that had colonized its handle. But we lack, at this point, a similarly convincing theory of the transmission of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

But the logics of COVID-19’s communication is nowhere so crisp, and difficult to translate to a register that primarily privileges spatial contiguity and proximity–it is not a locally born disease, but a virus that mutates locally across a global space: a pandemic. And although contact-tracing provides a crucial means of trying to track in aggregate who was exposed to infection, we lack any similarly clear theory to metaphorically grasp the contagion–and are increasingly becoming aware of the central role of its mutation to a virus both more infection and that spreads with greater rapidity in confronting the expansive waves of infection in the United States–as if an escalated virulence grew globally in the first months of this rapidly globalized pandemic.

Our dashboards adopted the new versions of web Mercator, perhaps unhelpfully, to offer some security in relation to the nature of viral spread, which, if they served as a way of affirming its truly global scope–

NextStrain

–also suggested that global traffic of the virus demands its own genomic map, as the virus migrates globally, outside strictly spatial indices of global coverage, and that perhaps spatial indices were not the best, in the end, for accounting for a virus that had began to develop clear variants, if not to mutate as scarily as many feared, into a more virulent form.

And it may be that a genomic map that allow the classification of viral strains of genomic variability demand their own map: for as we learn that genomic mutation and variation closely determines and affects etiology, communication of the viral strains offers yet a clearer illustration that globalization articulates any point in terrestrial space to a global network, placing it in increased proximity to arbitrary point not visible in a simple map, but trigger its own world-wide network of markedly different infectiousness or virulence.

NextStrain

From December 4 2019, indeed, we could track emergent variants of the virus best outside of a spatial scale, as much as it reminded us that the very mobility of individuals across space increased the speed and stakes of viral contagion, and the difficulty to contain viral spread, in the interconnected world where viral variation recalled a flight map, set of trade routes, or a map of the flow of financial traffic or even of arms. Mutations were understood to travel worldwide, with a globalism that a spatial map might be the background, but was indeed far removed, as we moved beyond questions of contact tracing to define different sizes of genomic mutation and modifications that we could trace by the scale of mutations, not only the actual places where the virus had arrived.

Was place and space in fact less important in communicating the nature of COVID-19’s increasing virulence?

The maps of genomic variation traced not only the globalization of the virus, but its shifting character, and perhaps etiology across some thirty variants by late April, that show both the global spread of the virus, and the distinct domination of select strains at certain locations, in way that researchers later theorized the ability to “track” mutations with increasing precision. If researchers in Bologna defined six different variants of coronavirus from almost 50,000 genomes that had been mapped globally in laboratory settings to map variants of the virus whose signatures showed little more variability than strains of the flu in June, variations of signatures seemed a manner to map the speed of coronavirus that had traveled globally from by February 202 to the lungs of the late Franco Orlandi, an eighty-three year old retired truck driver from Nembro, Italy, whose family could not place China on a map when, following diagnostic protocol, attendant physicians in Bergamo asked if Orlandi had, by chance, happen to have traveled to China recently.

NextStrain

Despite lack of serious mutation, thankfully, the data science of genomic sequencing of the COVID-19 cases triggered by genomic mutations of SARS-CoV-2 genome of just under 30,000 nucleotides, has experienced over time over 353,000 mutation events, creating a difficult standard for transmission into equivalent hot spots: some hot spots of some mutations are far more “hot” than others, if we have tried to plot infections and mortality onto race, sex, and age, it most strikingly correlates to co-morbidities, if all co-morbidities are themselves also indictors of mortality risk. While the mutations have suggested transmission networks, have the presence of different levels of mutations also constantly altered the landscape of viral transmission?

Global Distribution of Sars-CoV-2 Variants, March 15, 2020/Los Alamos National Laboratory

It makes sense that the viral variant was tracked in Great Britain, the vanguard of genomic sequencing of the novel coronavirus as a result not only of laboratory practices but the embedded nature of research in the National Health Services and the monitoring of public health and health care. Enabled by a robust program of testing, of the some 150,000 coronavirus genomes sequenced globally, England boasts half of all genomic data. Rather than being the site of mutations, Britain was as a result the site where the first viral variant was recognized and documented, allowing Eric Volz and Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London to examined nearly 2,000 genomes of the variant they judged to be roughly 50% more transmissible than other coronavirus variants, magnifying the danger of contagious spread in ways feared to unroll on our dashboards in the coming months. As teams at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine studied the variant in late 2020 in southeast England, they found it to be 56% more transmissible than other variants, and raised fears of further mutations in ways that rendered any map we had even more unstable.

The virus SARS-CoV-2 can be expected to mutate regularly and often. While England boasts about half of all global genomic data on the virus, of the 17 million cases of SARS-CoV-2 infections in the United States, only 51,000 cases of the virus were sequenced–and the failure to prioritize viral sequencing in America has exposed the nation to vulnerabilities. And although California has sequenced 5-10,000 genomes a day of the novel coronavirus samples by December, and Houston’s Methodist Hospital have mapped 15,000 sequences as it watches for new viral variants; an American Task Force on viral variants will be rolled out early in 2021, as the discovery of viral mutations haves spread across five states in the western, eastern, and northwestern United States. While it is not clear that the viral variant or mutations would be less susceptible to polyclonal vaccines, most believe variants would emerge that would evade vaccine-induced immunity.

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Filed under Coronavirus, data aggregation, data maps, data visualization, global pandemic

A Socially Distanced Franchise?

While I was phone banking in Texas, Nevada, and other states in months before the 2020 election, I fielded a surprising number of questions of access to absentee ballots and mail-in voting, as well as being assured by many voters that they had refrained from mailing in ballots, and were planning to drop their ballots off directly in polling stations, or brave the lines, to ensure their votes counted. I’d like to think they did. (The woman I reached in Texas who had moved from Nevada and was awaiting an absentee ballot to arrive two days before the election, past the deadline of registering in Texas, may have not.) Even as we advance through “Trump’s final days of rage and denial,” and charges of fraudulence and the robbery of red states from the Grand Old Party’s self-appointed King haunt public White House pronouncements and social media posts, the electoral map that provide the formal reduction of how votes were tallied is cast as a contested ground, questioned on the basis of voting machines, absentee ballots, and socially distanced voting practices, as if these inherently distance the franchise and undermine democratic practice. Donald Trump invites the nation to squint at the map, examine its mediated nature and instability, querying the resolution of any election as, shockingly, only a handful of congressional Republicans admit he lost a month after voters cast seven million votes for his opponent, whose victory 88% of Republicans in Congress refuse to acknowledge.

Unlike other elections, for a month after Election Day–November 3, 2020–the nation waited in eery limbo, uncertain about the legitimacy of the election so that even by December 2, CNN was projecting victors in several “swing” states. Although the New York Times and AP projected the conclusion of the election on paper, announcing late-arriving news of electoral victory almost a full week after Election Day, seeking to invest a sense of conclusion in a protracted debates–if oddly channeling “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

New York Times, November 8, 2020

The inset map still indicated three states still “not called.” But the new President Elect appeared boosted by the classic alliance of Democratic voters that Donald Trump saw as unlikely, and had failed to align in 2016.

Months after Election Day, CNN was still “projecting” Biden’s surpassing the electoral vote threshold of 270, shifting two midwestern and one southern state to the Democratic column, with Arizona: the delay of verification in a range of legal gambits still being followed by the Trump campaign, which raised over $170 million to press its case for recounts, investigations into allegations voter fraud through the Save America PAC, disorientingly stubbornly refusing to admit the validity of the electoral map, and even repeating, into December, hopes that  an opening for a Trump victory materialize if one state select electors, to reassemble the swath of red that flooded the national map back in 2015 as if playing a puzzle: “If we win Georgia, everything falls in place!” The electoral map was something of an idol of the Republican Party, as Donald Trump’s hopes for electoral victory faded, but refused to recede into mid-December.

CNN, December 2 2020

Weeks after Election Day, we entered into a weirdly protracted attempt to game the electoral map, long after the initial tallying of votes had ceased. A range of recounts, hand-counts, investigations of absentee ballots and even querying of the legitimacy of voting machines have been launched to challenge the representational validity of the electoral map in ways that should give us pause for how it aimed to undermine the representational value of the voting practices. In querying the functions of the map as representation–by querying the tabulation of votes that comprise the electoral map–Trump has stoked tensions in representational democracy. With unsettling abandon, Trump stoked national tensions by refusing to acknowledge he did not win the election, as if determined to break with Presidential decorum for a final time, as if seeking to leave a legacy of disruption in his wake.

To be sure, gaming the electoral college has emerged as a recognized campaign strategy in 2020, increasingly distancing the franchise of the nation, as campaigns focussed with assiduity on the prospect not of “swing state” voters as in the past, but in flipping or holding a slate of states, that left the electoral map rendered as a sort of jigsaw puzzle that would add up to 270 votes from the electoral college, as the Wall Street Journal reminded us by mapping the Republican “game plan” that Donald Trump long knew he faced for holding onto tot the states where often slim majorities put him in office, as Democrats aimed to flip states to their column: the rhetoric of “gaming” the map to create the victorious outcome was echoed in the news cycle,–and not only in the Journal–in ways that seemed to have dedicated the distribution of public rallies that Donald Trump held long before announcing his candidacy officially, almost as soon as he entered office, in an attempt to solidify the bonds of the red expanse he celebrated as America’s heartland with his political charisma.

If Trump may have wished he didn’t take the southern states so much for granted, he had targeted Pennsylvania, Florida, and Montana–as well as Arizona and Nevada–by staging rallies, in those pre-COVID years, as if to shore up his support as if investing in the electoral votes of 2020.

https://www.npr.org/2019/06/18/733505037/trump-set-to-officially-launch-reelection-but-hasnt-he-been-running-all-along

If that map from National Public Radio, based Cook’s Political Report and the White House, only takes us through 2019, the campaign stops of Biden and Trump show a density to Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, and North Carolina that suggest the depths of commitment to the gaming of the electoral map, and a deep battle in Arizona between the population centers in Phoenix and its suburbs and more rural regions.

The metaphor of “gaming” the map was hard to stop, and its logic seems to have inevitably led to the endless endgame that may result in clogging the nation’s courts with suits about the circumstances of mail-in voting in multiple states. Trump’s insistence in claiming the election not “over,” as if unfamiliar with someone else setting the parameters for television attention, speechless at the unfolding of a narrative shattering conviction of his inability to lose–that “in the end, I always win“–is not only a deepest reluctance to admit losing.

The logic of the gaming of the electoral map clearly has him and his campaign in its sway. The deeply personal sense of the election as a referendum on him and his family may have been rooted in a sense o the legal difficulties that his loss might pose: among the many emails that were sent to his base, pleading for campaign donations to the “Save America” PAC, which seemed the last line of defense to Make America Great Again,” supporters were begged to do their part in “DEFENDING THE ELECTION” and hope they hadn’t “ignored Team Trump, Eric, Lara, Don, the Vice President AND you’ve even ignored the President of the United States” given how much was on the line. The sense of impending alarm reminds us of the confidence that Trump lodged in preserving the red electoral map of 2016, a confidence that seemed almost born from his ability tot game the electoral map yet again, and overcome the polls even after they pollsters had tried to recalibrate their predictive strategies and demographic parsing of the body politic.

1. The very close margins voting margins suggest we narrowly escaped an alternative history of a second Trump term, and can explain the tenacious grip that Trump seems to have had on an alternative outcome, an outcome that he has tried to game in multiple ways and strategies that eerily echoes with the strategies of gaming the electoral map that seems to have occurred through the orchestration of telling postal delays, delayed returns of absentee ballots, and the strategic gaming of the distribution of a distanced franchise. It forces us to contemplate the counterfactual history of the far darker reality of a scenario where his expectations came true. Indeed, it should make us consider the closeness of overturning democracy. In was as if the reporting of the timestamped electoral map of Saturday, November 7 that was an inset of the Times only encouraged resistance to admitting the failure of Trump to preserve the “red swath” of 2016 across what coastal elites long bracketed as “flyover country,” where the effects of economic recession had never stopped.

New York Times, November 8 2020, “Results as of Saturday at 10:30 Eastern/ Map Shows Maine and Nebraska statewide vote

It had almost happened. In Trump’s White House, a boisterous watch party was underway, crowded with FOX anchors, watching the big screen that FOX results showed to the audience, anticipating the reality of a second Trump term. But all of a sudden, Trump was so incredulous he refused to admit seeing Arizona called at 11:20 as a Biden victory, shouting to no one in particular, “Get that result changed!” Hoping to calm her triggered boss, who must have been catapulted into alternate scenarios of having to leave the White House where he had expected to encamp, former FOX employee Hope Hicks fretted about the newsfeed.

Could the map be changed? Trump was frustrated at his in ability to manipulate the news, and already apprehensive at what endgame was in store. At this point, it seems, Trump’s every-ready servile son-in-law, Jared Kushner, hurriedly placed a direct call to Rupert Murdoch to rectify the call, assuring better data would arrive from Arizona’s COVID-denying governor, Doug Ducey (R), to restore the state’s redness on the electoral map, in desperate hopes of jerry-rigging his electoral fortunes. Back in 2016, Trump had indeed only won Arizona by the narrowest of margins–by about half of the margin by which Romney won in 2012–and only third-party candidates’ popularity concealed that Democrats boosted margins of victory in precincts beyond Republicans, flipping seventy precincts to their column–perhaps as Maricopa County featured a PAC that attracted millions of dollars to defeating Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s bid to consolidate an anti-immigrant agenda.

Trump quickly recognized the danger a flipped state posed to hopes for another red swath, as the contestation over the state that he had hoped to pry from the Democratic map was a poor omen of the election, and needed to be stayed.

In 2017, Trump was so enamored of the expanse of his electoral victory to given paper copies to White House visitors–until he framed a version for the West Wing, five months after the election. And if the state is visibly fragmented in an identical mosaic in the map that Trump framed in the White House, the brilliant red of nearby Nevada and bright red diagonal suggest the state was more firmly in Republican hands than we might remember. After hoping that The Washington Post might celebrate his hundredth day in office by featuring the “impressive” the electoral map on its front page, his pride in the map led it framed the map in the West Wing, a reporter from One America News Network obligingly showed.

This alternate world of electoral victory created what must have been a prominent counter-factual map that had dominated the Trump team’s plans for victory in 2020. The White House watch party must have been haunted by the very same map of which Trump was so proud.

Trey Yingst (ONN), May 11, 2017/Twitter
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Sneak Attacks?

The anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima gives one pause as it marks the emergence of a world of remote military strikes conducted by GPS, or on a UTM grid that cast agency at a distance from ethics or ethical choice. One thinks not only of the global cartoons of global expanse that seemed to unroll geopolitical spaces for their American readers, but of the new ethics of point-based precision. For the point-based maps created vertiginously elevated the subjectivity of their readers across the 40,000 maps produced between 1941-45 by the U.S. Army Map Service so as to remove them from a shared ethical framework of humanity. The framing of military invasion as a game of geospatial dominance discounted the massive incalculable loss of human life in campaigns of prolonged fire-bombing and atomic holocaust.

Indeed, the narrative this cartoon bears traces of how this new spherical global space suggested suggested a territorial dominance across the new spaces of air travel: the cartoon that appeared after the atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6, 1945 are particularly striking as it appears to remove any sense of the agency of atomic holocaust; it cast the explosive logic of the atom bomb as a delayed quid pro quo response to the “Jap Sneak Attack” of 1941; it asked readers to consider not the effects or impact of the atom bomb, but, rather evasively, who really was “the Fellow who Lighted the Fuse,” as if he were to blame: before any images of the destruction of both cities was described, the Chicago Tribune included testimony of Enola Gay crew members, hailing from Chicago, as an exclusive, with a discussion of the physics of atomic bombs and a reminder that a number of B-29 bombers were posed for further destructive missions. The front-page color cartoon hid the explosion of the Atom Bomb over Hiroshima, offering an occluded view on a spherical globe: in colorful Hearst style, the cartoon map was the sole visual documentation of the bomb’s effects, masking the devastation of its impact by the geopolitical logic that led to dropping an atom bomb.

Carey Orr, “the Fellow Who Lighted the Fuse,” American Newpaper Repository

Who, indeed, was making the sneak attack? If the yellow and orange hued pyrocumulous clouds caused by atomic blasts suggested the fireball of a nuclear or atomic explosion, the cartoon clearly referenced not only the explosion that left 200,000 estimated dead in its immediate aftermath, but the fireball of the atomic explosion as a sunset of the Japanese Empire. The first dropping of an atomic bomb on civilian population by the United States–

–was sunset of the Japanese empire, seen from the empyrean perspective of the navigation of aeronautical space that allowed its delivery at precise global coordinates.

To be sure Hearst Newspapers had long promoted the Pacific as a theater of national jingoism in which the Hawai’ian islands were exaggerated as a potential site of struggle, frequently distorted as of defensible American interests; Hearst Newspapers Sunday Section of comics portrayed the contest in cartoons of racist tenor, as an antiquated samurai in full ceremonial armor confronted a spry Uncle Sam.

Windsor McKay, 1913

But the explicit use of a spherical projection to accentuate the aerial targeting of sites of bombing in Japan–and indeed of Japanese civilian populations–was both an assertion of the mastery of the maps that aviators followed in releasing Little Boy and Fat Boy, and a sense of the logic of the spherical projection as the conclusion of World War II. Early in the Pacific theater’s military expansion, to be sure, the Japanese Empire had carefully mapped the island in the paper maps that the imperial army drafted for all its soldiers to hold in fold-out versions in elegant form to foreground specific aerial and marine routes to the islands historically inhabited Japanese famers–

–the mountainous outcropping of islands righted by oceanic waters were remapped as the target of aerial bombers attack in 1941 in ways that the atomic bomb was imagined to respond as an analogous incursion into territorial rights. The results were far more terribly destructive, but seen as cementing the territorial retreat of Japanese empire across the Pacific. To be sure, the attack on the United States Naval Base had killed 2,300 Americans in 1941, when Japanese planes attacked the Mighty Seventh Fleet, sinking twelve ships and destroying the U.S.S. Arizona completely destroyed and capsizing the U.S.S. Oklahoma. But the logic of the global map creates a terrifyingly false equality of quid pro quo, or an eye for an eye, in spatial terms, linking the continuity of the spherical projection that enabled the American bombers to target Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a commensurate response to the 1941 Air Raid on Pearl Harbor External in the U.S. Territory of Hawaii: the logic of the globe seems to smooth over the unprecedented destruction of the atomic bomb’s payload for American newspaper readers.

Yet in ways that are perhaps impossible to map, or to take stock of in its full consequences, the atomic fireball left massive human fatalities and injuries in its immediate radius, far beyond the devastation at the site of impact where buildings were flattened, leaving third degree radiation burns far beyond its alleged target, striking civilians both more violently and more deeper within the logic of war than was ever imagined. As if treating the sinking of the U.S.S. Arizona and capsizing of the U.S.S. Oklahoma as attacks on the actual landlocked states in the territorial United States, the treacherous logic of the continuity of the map’s surface created a false equivalence for cartoon readers that recast the dropping of an atomic bomb as a glorious imperial gesture.

The popular newpaper cartoon for the Hearst Sunday daily provided a rationalization of the explosion in maps that provide a continued basis for reflection on the scope of aerial bombardment, departing from the maps of worldly retreat of Japanese Empire on which American newspapers had focussed and were created by late August 1945 by the U.S. Army Information Branch, as if to justify the impact of one devastating attack.

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Cartographies of COVID-19: Our Unclear Path Forward

A pandemic is by its nature both local and global by definition–and begins from a local outbreak. But if the only way to gain orientation to a pandemic is by accurate local counts, the problem of balancing–or toggling between–the local and global has become staggeringly pronounced in the case of COVID-19, as if the point-based cartography that we use to track the disease has the better of us, and upper hand, with the absence of accurate local counts. The lack of clear data that came from Wuhan in the days that followed the outbreak of the virus revealed worrisome problems of transparency. The difficulty that the Chinese government had in getting a clear bearing on the zoonotic virus raised problems of even trying to map its rise, to which all data visualizations since seem to respond: as local officials were loathe to shoulder responsibility, the tally of infected in Hubei Province jumped, astoundingly, forcing the government to recognize the ease of its transmission among humans, was far more virulent than believed. But at this point, looking back in the mirror provides little sense of orientation to the multiplication of dispersed local outbreaks of coronavirus that we are increasingly challenged to map in relation to ourselves.

The sudden uptick of cases reveals a reticence in tallying the infected out of fears of reprisals for apparent incompetence, an institutional blame-shifting triggering mechanisms of concealment that has led American meat-packing plants to hide numbers of infected workers, and numbers of tests for infection to be far lower than official records suggest: the absence of ability to control the spread of SARS-CoV-2 led us to proliferate maps in hopes to grasp its rapid doubling, uncomfortable at the world they began to show, apprehensive at how to come to terms with the rapidity of local outbreaks of confirmed cases with sufficient granularity, and enough continuities, hoping to track contagion as hopes of containment were beginning to fade in the new aggregates that were increasingly evident.

New York Times

The warning of the virus’ spread was raised by Li Wenliang on December 30 from Wuhan, inter-agency shifting of blame and responsibility in Wuhan– a reflexive institutional blame-shifting by “throwing woks”–abruptly ceased with summons of Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong, he who lured Elon Musk to Shanghai, to restore order: as a new hospital was built, tallies of new cases of coronavirus in Hubei astronomically grew by nine from 1,638 to 14,840, shocking the world–a figure was in keeping with the nearly 1,400 people dead in the country, but suggesting a viral load of unprecedented proportions. Americans apprehensively watched the disease afflicting passengers of cruise liners as if it would arrive ashore, its virulence was in fact already of pandemic proportions: yet American disinformation here took over, as we were told to stick our heads in the sand, ostrich-like, as fears were overblown, and tried to keep calm. And then, the tables were turned, as the United States President described, or suggested, a national policy of intentional undercounts, and limited testing, lest the counts discovered tank his popularity–the stock market value of Trump, International, or, rather, Trump-in-Office, Trump-as-Chief-Executive, whose new season might be canceled due to low ratings. And although the virus began in China, how the United States increasingly came to be the outlier in the numbers of infection confirmed weekly suggested a national story of mismanagement, as the narrative we told ourselves of American exceptionalism before illness seemed to have boomeranged, with the three-day averages of confirmed infections skyrocketing, and setting us apart from the very nations we compare ourselves to, but whose health-care policy we increasingly realize we are distinct from.

Americans were soothed by deceptive common-sense talk. But the results of a lack of investment in public health are all too evident, if our maps are . Robert Redfield, a virologist who served as the public spokesperson of reassurance who had long sustained false theories about retroviruses causing HIV and AIDS, argued that even if the fourteen confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus were monitored and traced, “the virus more exploded . . beyond public health capacity,” he seemed to forget he had not developed that capacity. Virology is of course Dr. Redfield’s area of expertise, but he won his political post in no small part by being practiced in massaging truth statements for political ends. During AIDS outbreak, the last major plague in the United States, he had advocated unproven drugs billed as HIV vaccines and encouraged quarantine, abstinence, and stripping the medical licenses of HIV-infected medical workers, more than accelerating cures; Redfield took time to blame the Obama administration for implementing clinical tests, to please his patron. Bt he obscured the level of infections that in truth were not known, blinding the nation to a cartography of COVID by not advancing adequate levels of testing, that returned us to the simple equation of the dog days of AIDS, only able to make us yell, yet again, this time with Larry Kramer, stalwart resistor of the silencing of AIDS by the failure to use on-trial medicine–

–at the utter deception with which we met the pandemic. Dr. Redfield must have met his commission to radiate calm by assuring Americans in late February. As he assured us only fourteen cases had been diagnosed in the United States, the number meant little, as any virologist should kmow; while hindsight is a benefit that obscures us from the need to life life forwards, we suspect urban hotspots were already laden with infected individuals by March 1, a silent ticking bomb of urban outbreaks already infecting 28,000 as it spread broadly its “hotspots”–New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston and Chicago–all of massively different density, without tests being able to affirm the scale of its spread.

There was no map. And then, all of a sudden, the globalization of coronavirus hit home; any place in the world could be related to any other place, as rates of infection bloomed globally in geographically disjointed hotspots, spatially removed from one another, even as a standard for uniform testing lacked. And there was no sense of an art of dying, as the amazingly rapid contraction and worsening of illnesses left many without a script, and many more silent before a dizzying multiplication of statistics of mortality in the face of COVID-19, several weeks later.

Every other map of COVID-19’s spread seems an attempt to persuade the viewer of its accuracy and totality, in retrospect, even as we have no clear sense of the total figures of infection-or even of the paths infection takes. We are mystified by the geography and spatial dynamics of the virus’ travel, but realize the severe communicability of a virus whose load is stored in the naso-laryngeal passages, and can be communicated by airborne drops. Is distancing the best way we can constrain the geographic spread of infection? Can statistics demonstrate the success of curtailing its spread?

It was a hidden agenda in the maps of news agencies and to register the accurate levels of infection, promising the sorts of transparency that had been clouded in much of January. And while we watch the progress of the pandemic on screens, there is a sense of truth-telling, as a result, of revealing the scope of the virus’ actual spread that compensates for the lack of clarity we once had. But it is also increasingly difficult to orient ourselves to the GPS-enabled scales of its spread, for we still are looking at pretty limited and almost superficial data, in the sense we have trouble plotting it in a narrative context, or find a reaction more than shock. The virus is easy in ways to personify as a threat–it wants us outside; it comes from afar; it pervades public spaces and hospital grounds; it demands vigilant hand-washing and sanitizing–but the very numbest are elusive. While we try to track reported cases, hoping that these limited datasets will provide orientation, we have been lumping numbers of tests that might be apples and oranges, and have not found a consistent manner of testing. Deaths are difficult to attribute, for some, since there are different sites where the virus might settle in our bodies.

Even while not really following the pathways of its transmission, and the microscopic scale of the progress of the pathogen in bodies. And if we rely on or expect data visualizations will present information in readily graspable terms, we rarely come to question the logics that underly them, and the logics are limited given the poor levels of global testing for COVID-19. It is frustrating that our GPS maps, which we seem able to map the world, can map numbers of surrogates for viral spread, but we have yet to find a way to read the numbers in a clear narrative, but are floored by the apparently miasmatic spread of such a highly contagious disease that makes us feel, as historian of science Lorraine Daston put it, that we are in “ground zero of empiricism,” as if we are now all in the seventeenth century, not only in being vulnerable to a disease far less dangerous or deadly than Yersina pestis, but without explanatory and diagnostic tools.

This was, to be sure, a past plague come to life, requiring new garb of masks, face-shields, and protective gear for health workers–

–as the cloaks, leather gloves, staffs and masks that made up early modern protective gear returned to fashion, as if in a time warp, in new form.

We find a leveling between folk remedies and modern medicine, as we live collectively in what she calls a “ground-zero moment of empiricism”–if one in which we are deluged by data, but short in knowing what is data, as we are lacking in explanatory models. This is a bit unfair, as we still can profit from autopsies, and have been able to contain spread by hand-washing–but the images of a single magic bullet, or antiviral cure, are far, far away in time. But there is no longer any familiarity with an art of dying, although we found we encountered death with an unforeseen and unpleasant rapidity: we moved from hopes for awaiting immunity or antivirals to a basic need for some consolation of our mortality. There was no possibility of transcendence in a crisis of mortality of dimensions and scope that seem outside the modern era.

And it is ironic that distancing is the best mode to prevent infection–and many deaths may have been enabled by quicker decisions to adopt practices of distancing that could manage viral spread, Trump seemed not to notice that the very globalization he had resisted, and swung against with all his force to win votes, had facilitated the spread of a viral agent whose arrival was denied even as SARS-CoV-2 had already begun to flood the United States, in ways we only mapped in retrospect, as a global village that by March 1 had already grown satellites of viral loads in South Korea, the Middle East, Iran (Teheran), Europe (Milan; Gotheborg), South East Asia, and Hong Kong, as we anticipated its arrival with no health policy in place and no strategy for containing what was already on our shores. The global crossroads defied any choropleth, but we had only mapped the virus for some time in choropleths, as if believing by doing so we could not only map it by national boundaries to keep the virus at bay.

New York Times

But if we lacked a model of infection and communication of COVID-19, we lacked a sense of the geography by which to understand its spread–and to map it–and also, deeply problematically, an inter-agency coordination to assess and respond to the virus’ spread as we sought to contain it: and in the United States, the absence of any coordinating public health agency has left the country in something like free-fall, a cluelessness emblematic by a map cautioning American travelers to take enhanced protections while traveling in Italy or Japan, two major destinations of travel, and avoid all nonessential travel to China, but refrained from ceasing travel plans.

1. The most compelling language of the novel coronavirus is “false positives” and “false negatives,” that seem to betray the unsure nature of standards; the most haunting is the multiple sites COVID-19 can appear in the sites of the body we use to map most disease. While we associate the virus with our respiratory tracts, the virus can do damage to multiple organ systems, as well as create blotchiness of “covid toes” due to burst peripheral blood vessels; it can damage multiple organ systems simultaneously, including the kidneys, heart, lungs, brain, and linger in our intestinal tract where it can flourish and proliferate; the virus can reduce the ability of our blood to form clots, or disable our ability to form clots.  The ACE-2 receptor protein, a launching pad for viral infections, lies in our lungs and respiratory tract but in stomach, intestines, liver, kidneys, and brain. Increased sensitivities among those suffering from high blood pressure, cardiac disease, and diabetes reflect the nosological difficulties of classifying the virus as a cause of death or to grasp it as an illness, let alone to read data about the disease. If the virus lodges in the most delicate structures of the alveoli, which it causes to collapse as it infects their lining, it can take multiple pathways in the body, and as its pathway of infection may be multiple, medical response must be improvised with no playbook for clinical care.

All we know is that our medical staff desperately need protective gear. On top of that, it hardly helps that we are without a clear national policy, and find that the United States government has engaged in far less transparency that one could have ever expected.

We can only say its spread is accelerated dramatically by structures of globalization, and it stands to disrupt them. utterly Even as we map what seem total global knowledge of the disease, analogous to what we have come to expect from Global Positioning System, the multiple holes in our picture of the spread of the disease provide little sense of mastery over the pathways of communication, contraction, and infection we have come to expect from maps. These maps may even be especially disorienting in a world where expertise is often dismissed in the United States–not only by the U.S. President, but out of frustration at the inability to distance, diagnose, track or supervise the disease that is increasingly threatens to get the better hand. Have our visualizations been something of a losing battle, or a war of atrophy we will not win? Or do we even know what sorts of data to look at–indeed, what is information that can help us process a sense of what might be the geography of the contraction or the transmutability of the virus? Is the virus eluding our maps, as we try to make them? These sort of questions of making sense may be the process of science, but they trace, suddenly, a far steepder learning curve than we are used.

A dismissed biomedical researcher who ran efforts to develop a vaccine cautioned that we still lack that the failure a trusted, standard, and centralized plan for testing strategies must play a part in the coordinated plan “to take this nation through this response.” Dr. Bright, who was abruptly removed last month from his position as head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, bemoaned the limited statistics, alas, in large part as fear of providing too many tests–or fanning the flames of insecurity that testing might promote in the general public and in our financial markets, seem to have created the most dangerously deceptive scenario in which the United States seems to be committed to projecting confidence, even if it is the global epicenter of the pandemic.

Have we developed a language to orient ourselves to the scale of emergency in the spread of COVID-19? While we turn to images of natural disasters in describing the “epicenter” of the outbreak in Wuhan, this hardly conjures the species jump and under-the-radar communication of the virus that was not tracked for months before it emerged as a global threat. In tracking COVID-19 globally, or over a broad expanse of nations or states, we often ignored the pathways by which the novel coronavirus is spread in crowded spaces, where the single strand of RNA may hang in droplets that linger in the air, and are looking at the small scale maps to track a microscopic pathogen. But we are increasingly aware the spread of these strands, of the virus SARS-CoV-2, that infect populations along increasingly unequal fault lines that divide our cities, nations, health care systems, and crowding, or access to open space, are all poorly mapped in the choropleths into which we continue to smooth the datasets of infections and hospitalizations. While the problems are posed for national health services in each region, the devastation and danger of overloading public health systems and hospitals outweighs are local manifestations of a global crisis of the likes we have not confronted.

2. And the crowding of such numbers beyond the buffers that began with lead to a visual crowding by which we continue to be overwhelmed–and will have been overwhelmed for some time.

April, COIVID-19Iinfections Globally by Country/Clustrmaps May 12, 20202020

For although the global pandemic will clearly be with us for a long time, spatial narratives might be more likely to emerge in networks and in forms of vulnerability, in ways that might reveal a more pronounced set of narratives for how we can respond to a virus than the deep blues of even the limited and constrained datasets that we have, as we struggle against the blindness we have in containment and mitigation, and the frustration of the lack of anything like a vaccine. (This pandemic is almost a metastasis of the anti-vaxxers: confirmation that a vaccine cannot check a disease, it gives rise to concerns that vaccinations might have left us immunologically more vulnerable to its spread . . .and a sense that the hope of eradicating COVID-19 by the availability of a vaccination in four to five years will be widely resisted by anti-vaxxers and their acolytes, to whom the pandemic has given so much new steam. Yet as the virus interacts with the viral posting of anti-vaxxers resisting social distancing or collective policies of response, the stresses that exist in our society will only be amplified.) And if as late as February 24, only three laboratories in the United States did test for COVID-19–artificially lowering public numbers–even confirmed numbers through March and April were as a result tragically low. Could maps even help to track the disease without a testing apparatus in place?

Global Covid Infections/Datascraped by Avi Schiffman, May 11, 2020

The prestige of the data visualization has been a basis for reopening the nation. Yet if less than a tenth of the world’s population has yet to be exposed to the disease–and perhaps only 5% of the American population, in one estimate, if not lower–the virus is bound to be endemic to the global landscape for quite a considerable length of time. At the same time, one must wonder if the many fault lines that have created such peaks and valleys in the virus’ spread, if confirming its highly infectious nature, to be sure, are not removed from us in some degree by the smooth surfaces of the screens on which we watch and monitor, breath bated, with some terror, its spread, unsure of the accuracy or completeness of the data on which they are based but attentive to whatever they reveal. In many ways, these maps have created an even more precarious relation to the screen, and to the hopes that we find some sign of hope within their spread, or hope to grasp the ungraspable nature of COVID-19.

These datamaps suggest a purchase on a disease we don’t understand, and we don’t even have good numbers on contraction. Yet we are discussing “reopening” the United States, while we do not have anything approaching a vaccine, let alone the multiple vaccines that medical authorities desire before resuming social contact at pre-pandemic levels. How to process the data that we have, and how to view the maps not only by hovering, zooming in, or distancing the growing rates of infection, but tracking the virus in spaces, mapping levels of infection against adequacy of testing, mortalities against comorbidities, against with the chronic nature of the virus must be understood, as well as levels of hospitalization levels; and distinctions or mutations of the virus and against age ranges of afflicted–by, in other words, drilling beneath the datasets to make our maps’ smooth surfaces more legible, as horrifying as they are?

Can we use what we have to pose problems about the new nature of this contagion we don’t fully understand, but has been mapped in ways that seek to staunch fears of a decline in the stock market, as much as an emergency of public health, with up to one third of the population at risk of infection? The instinctive reaction of the Trump Health and Human Services to create public-private “community testing sites” for drive-thru or drive-up testing at Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, Kroger and other pharmacies seems reflexive for a government wanting to minimize federal overhead, but a far less exact means, and a far less intuitively sensible basis to attract potentially infected individuals to sites of public congregation. The hope of Verily–a subsidiary of Alphabet, whose Project Baseline boasts the slogan, “We’ve Mapped the World, Now Let’s Map Human Health,” in a bizarrely boosterish rhetoric, aggregates medical for medical screening in California–

Select States for Project Baseline Testing/Verily

–and select states–was the primary response that Trump had promised of a network of drive-up testing sites that has never materialized, even as it expanded to a hundred sites in thirty states. After Walmart opened two sites, and Walmart 40, the difficult accuracy of creating multiple testing sites was prohibitive, the testing sites that were rolled out with the assistance of private entrepreneurs that Jared Kushner enlisted, that filled the absence of any coherent public health response–perhaps, terrifyingly, in concert with his brother’s health care company, Oscar, which also partnered with CVS and some of the same pharmaceutical services, focussing on drive-thru sites more than sustained medical care, focussing largely on calming retailers who feared the arrival of infected patients on their parking lots, more than on the efficacy of testing, which they didn’t understand. If only 40% of promised test kits were made available, the absence of providing staffers or selling, as in Massachusetts, self-testing kits–and failing to provide many in large cities like New Orleans, as if to keep the final tally of infected artificially low. Even if the Center for Disease Controls had never done clinical tests on hydrochloroquine, whose dangers on humans were not studied, and despite some benefits of the antiviral on cell cultures, none appeared in mice, the drug was promoted widely on social media as late as April, although its mention on Twitter grew, even as the government delayed any roll-out of testing sites.

The demand to calm the nation, a position dangerously close to concealment, delayed action on a wave of infection that President Trump had long sought to deny, claim to be overblown, or call Fake News. The lack of a public testing initiative, and rejection of the tests of other nations, forced the United States to adopt a disorganized go-it-aloneist approach, akin to isolationism, not benefiting from the potential ties to Chinese doctors’ response, or the testing kits that would have been available that the World Health Organization (WHO) had suspected since January, and made test kits for poorer countries that might be replicated in the United States–which chose to make its own tests to ensure the highest quality. When WHO had urged countries “test, test, test” for the coronavirus to contain its spread, the global health organization provided 1.5 million tests to 120 countries who lacked the ability to test by March 16; the United States went without the diagnostic tests developed in Berlin by la Charité, implemented in Germany. If the United States had submitted a test to WHO as well, the German test the health organization adopted was never used or ordered–and by mid-March processed a sixth the specimens as in Italy, with found over six times as many cases, and an eleventh as in South Korea, which found double the cases.

By April, the picture had improved, but not much.

COVID Tracking Project (Data)

And based on later data of the virus that spread to other American cities, the virus that had infected so many in New York seems to have spread to other American metropoles by May, as we were still awaiting broad testing.

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The New Cold Warrior in the Triangle of Terror

When addressing the new Latin American policy in Miami’s Freedom Tower in late 2018, the new National Security Advisor John Bolton targeted Nicaragua and Venezuela in a striking geographic metaphor. He offered a new metaphor for described the dangers of a “triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua,” in November 1, 2018, demonizing Latin America and the island of Cuba in terms that suggested possible plans for “taking direct action against all three regimes to defend the rule of law, liberty and basic human decency in our region.” As if to displace attention from the Northern Triangle from which so many asylum seekers have fled to the United States in recent years, including unaccompanied minors, and where civil society is overwhelmed by drug trafficking, gang violence, and police corruption, the new triangle Bolton seeks to shift attention is a target.

So it may have been no surprise that when attacking the legitimacy of Socialist Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela by imposing expansive sanctions ton Venezuelan oil and gas, Bolton seemed to tip the cards of power. Upping the ante from defining the Socialist regime of Venezuela as an apex in a triangle, in previous saber-rattling that committed the United States to striking a blow at a “triangle of terror” tied to the Socialist heritage of Hugo Chavez and to Raúl Castro, Bolton “appeared to disclose confidential notes written on a yellow pad” to reposition military troops to Venezuela’s border, standing before a global map the divided the globe in no uncertain terms, as if announcing a new configuration of power in his role as National Security Advisor for Donald J. Trump. The “triangle of terror” Bolton warned of in November 2018 seemed to essentialize the fundamentally dangerous notion a Latin American region ripe for instability. But it may have also been sheer coincidence that alliterative force of a rather pointless if powerful polygon was a powerful cartographic conjuring of a strategy of national defense, not located in the Northern Triangle, or the former Triangle of Terror where ISIS cultivated troops, but a new borderless triangle of even allegedly even greater danger–a triangle with a rich political genealogy from the Cold War.

Bolton’s adoption of the rare tired stock term of a triangle seemed to shift attention from the other Triangle of Terror, located when it was most recently in the news on the Afghan-Pakistan border, the very site from which negotiations have been announced to start to withdraw American troops. It may have been sheer coincidence, but Bolton seemed to shift attention from a triangle in the Middle East where American troops had been long stationed and that had been a hide-out of Osama bin Laden and Taliban fighters, as if by the powerful abilities of the friction-free nature of GPS–

–to a triangle that was closer to America’s own sphere of influence from the triangle of Peshawar, Quetta, and Kabul, from which the US was busy extricating itself. Bolton’s November speech was quickly taken, one might remember, as defining the intent of team Trump in relation to focus on a new Axis of Evil, adopting a hard line in Central America as sphere ripe for intervention–“This is not a time to look away. It’s a time to increase pressure, not reduce it,” Bolton announced–and the recent exercise of economic muscle to bolster American refusal to recognize the self-declared electoral victory of Nicolás Maduro, and to declare the legitimacy of Juan Guaidó as President of the nation, demanded a map to concretize the global geopolitical stakes that Bolton and Trump were ready to commit to Venezuela, although the map before with Bolton spoke revealed few of the roots for the focus on this new Triangle, but rooted confrontation with Maduro’s claims to legitimacy in the defense of democratic liberties.

Bolton cast the region as a geopolitical battleground for American interests in stark and rhetorically powerful alliterative terms. He openly opposed the United States to a “Troika of Tyranny”–a term that lexically hinted at a vehicle driven by Russia, but wasn’t the 2016 Presidential election–and almost openly evoked the chills or breezes of a new Cold War, with its division of the world to spheres of recognizing two possible Presidents in Venezuela in ways that expanded an electoral map of one nation to spheres of geopolitical influence–if not alliances–expanding in bizarre terms an electoral map to the world to show that it had global consequences–as if global power dynamics were as simple as an electoral map.

The infographic seems to advertise how much “other countries” had at stake in who was Venezuelan President, keeping mum as to why they did. It helped that Bolton looked the part of an inveterate Cold Warrior. And one could not but recall the openly proprietorial terms of last November, when he announced “Cuban military and intelligence agencies must not disproportionately profit from the United States, its people, its travelers, or its businesses” but pointedly attacked Venezuela by imposing sanctions on its gold, and attacking the “triangle of terror” or “troika of tyranny” perhaps metaphorically tied to a Bermuda Triangle, redolent with weirdly alchemical associations of unknown dangers near islands on the high seas–

–as if one could pretend that the declaration was about the rocky shoals of securing needed democratic reform and less to do with oil revenues and resources, as with the defense of democracy.

The transposition of the polygon of a triangle from Afghanistan to the hemisphere was close to a notion of hemispheric dominance, if it also turned attention from a long war in Afghanistan to a closer, seemingly more surgical, winnable military confrontation. The map affirmed the need for using economic muscle by seizing income from oil as a way to undermined as a Socialist dictator, however, whose socialist government was corrupt and based on cronyism, linked in the global map to authoritarian governments in Turkey, China, Russia, and Iran, and their allies, linking an argument of hemispheric dominance to broad geopolitical warning of the consequences of failing to recognize Guaidó as being Venezuela’s legitimate President in American eyes.

Bolton Declares Sanctions on Venezuela’s national oil and gas company at White House Press Briefing/january 28, 2019
Evan Vucci/AP

Maps often lie, as do infographics: but the international magnification of the lack of legitimacy Bolton had been preparing to declare for some time came not only with trappings of objectivity, but with a not so coded message, that might be the true legend of the global divisions in the infographic, and was the major social media take away: a proposed movement of US troops whose removal from the Syrian and Afghan military theaters was in the process of being negotiated by the Secretary of State: the image, unintentional or not, immediately raised fears and concerns about American military plans and sent a shudder in global media.

While it may have been sheer coincidence that the metaphorical migration of the triangle of terror from one theater of global confrontation to the next was occurring in Bolton’s rhetoric and was mirrored in the imagined frictionless switch in deployment of soldiers in the legal pad Bolton displayed to television cameras–

NSA Advisor Bolton’s Yellow Pad

The mobility of the metaphor and the military seemed to echo the new logic of the Universal Transverse Mercator map, where territorial boundaries and sovereignty have far less prominence than specific sites of dispersed geographic location, and imagined transfers of military power could be a frictionless motion in space.

The infographic provided a sort of parallel world carved up and divided by entrenched political interests but whose alliances helped sovereign boundaries to recede similarly. The global two-color map almost made it difficult to understand that he addressed Venezuela–the topic of his Press Briefing in January, 2019–save by the legend identifying red as “Maduro” and blue as “Guaidó”, elevating each man who had claimed the presidency as holding a global constituency, and dividing the globe to magnifying the geopolitical centrality of the Venezuelan election. In the early February State of the Union, Donald Trump elevated–behind the rubric “Abortion”–the pressing concern of Venezuela immediately after “National Security” and “North Korea,” in ways that similarly monumentalized the question of recognition of the future president of the nation, under the rubric of “never apologize for advancing America’s interest, moved from the Border to “National Security” and withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a historic arms control accord of forty years in standing–with the commitment to “outspend and out-innovate” all other nations in weaponry–to North Korea and Venezuela, regions that were almost designated as areas of future combat.

Trump’s pledged to the union in a mid-February address to “stand with the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom” against unspecified enemies, but targeted dictators tinged with Socialism. The gripping evocation of a struggle against “the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation . . . into a state of abject poverty” may have foregrounded the prominence of Trump’s interest in targeting Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Occasion-Cortez as Socialists, in order to taint the Democratic party. But it was also a crisis that recalled how John Bolton, his new National Security Advisor, had conjured a new danger for the United States’ geopolitical position, independently of nuclear disarmament treaties, but which evoked our historical need for intermediate-range missiles to protect domestic interests.

The role of Maduro in Venezuela has been disastrous for its citizens, to be sure, and mismanagement of natural resources by the state demands attention: But much as Trump distorted actual policies by targeting the “Socialist regime” of Venezuela in a speech marked by excessive flag-waving, patriotism, and rally-like chants of “USA, USA,” the prominent place of map before which Bolton spoke distorted the situation, by literally taking our eyes off of the ground. The map obscured the flows of refugees from Venezuela and the humanitarian crisis in South America, as well as access to the vast oil reserves lying beneath the Orinoco River basin’s Belt. The extensive reserves to which America has limited access is mapped by USGS, but was left tacit in the American declaration of sanctions, but motivating an abrupt change in returning attention to the Western hemisphere for the National Security Advisor. And the assumption of Venezuela as OPEC Presidency, as much as the defense of democratic principles, made the clear ties of National Security to the preservation of access to and production from the Orinoco Reserves–shown below by PDVSA–and the truly globalized investment in the fields shown below, estimated to include three hundred billion barrels of bitumen–the black, viscous, organic “sludge” that contains petroleum–in what are estimated to be the largest reserve on earth, involving multiple international players–from Statoil of Norway to ExxonMobil to Chevron to BP, but also CNPC of China and TOTAL of France, as well as even if the private ownership in the Orinoco Belt was ended in 2007 by Hugo Chávez, whose Presidency haunts the current crisis. But although nationalized in name, the project of oil extraction are only majority owned by he vast majority of bitumen remains too deeply buried for surface mining–some 88-92%–by Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA)–creating a site that was used by Chávez to finance social reforms and projects, and created revenues of $30 billion annually in 2011, making Venezuela a sort of bit of an economic bubble in a globalized world, tied to international markets for carbon and oil, and making Venezuela a “hidden” global petroleum power, estimated to have hundreds of billions of barrels of oil.

Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA)

The international ties to projects of extracting bitumen and refining oil in Venezuela–which produced about 2 millions of barrels a day in 2015–estimated to have far more technologically accessible reserves. The decision to amplify the level of rhetoric used to isolate Maduro and acknowledge Guaidó as President surely has close ties to the assumption of increasing attempts of national oil and gas company to reroute its oil supplies to Europe and Asia, as members of the Maduro regime told the Russian news agency Sputnik, not only responded to the sanctions, but undercut the Venezuelan crude that usually flowed to CITGO refineries in Texas, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Illinois which made access to crude that lay in Venezuelan territory a national security question–as Oil Minister Eulogio del Pino tweeted hopes to “continue consolidating strategic alliances between PDVSA and Rosneft” in November, disturbing images of hemispheric dominance, as well as undermining American energy security.

.

USGS has estimated 513 billion barrels lying in the Orinoco Oil Belt, without determining or publishing the proportion technologically or economically able to be extracted
Venezuela Oil Holdings – Deep Resource
CITGO’s Petroleum Terminals in USA/CITGO

Bolton’s–and Trump’s–description of Venezuela as an ideological struggle is all one sees in the two-color division of the globe that almost heralded hopes for a return to a Cold War where maps were understood primarily as a global battleground, recalling the days at which a vertiginous sense of power in postwar Europe led us to map exchanges of nuclear missiles, and imagine apocalyptic scenarios where the world was divided by global war–but a global war that seemed to really be about American interests on access to energy reserves, hiding behind the scrim of a ratcheted up rhetoric of democratic legitimacy.

The economic crisis in Venezuela is both tragic, and an acute crisis of humanitarian scope. But the global map seemed to reduce it into a global confrontation of two blocks, if not a crisis of global consensus about representation and political legitimacy, that seemed to hollow out the term of democracy of its content: despite national sovereign division in South American, the sharp divisions of the blue of North America and most South and Central American nations described inexistent international blocks of consensus. What seemed a legitimate record of global divisions about the crisis the legitimacy of the Venezuelan government to lay claims to Venezuela’s rich reserves of oil. Without acknowledging the political or economic actualities in the South American nation, the map hinted at a global crisis, its stark red v. blue color-scheme reflecting the offers of Russia to restructure the debt of Venezuela’s oil and gas companies, and China to lay claim to a stake in Venezuela’s oil, by asserting the reserves to lie within America’s hemispheric interests, and equating those interests as lying with America’s National Security.

As if to bolster Guaidó’s claim that he is backed by the democracies of the world–in ways that nothing better than an infogram can attest–

Just 25% of the world’s governments have publically recognised Guaido as President; the remainder recognise Maduro’s election
(Paul Dobson / Infogram.com/February 6, 2019

The map before which Bolton spoke has become a topic of recurrent interest, as the nature of the global divide has been parsed and examined. The divide, this post argues, was less an informative one–deisgned to generate debate–than to paper over the situation in Venezuela’s political crisis as a question of alternative candidates for President, treating the contest as an election, and using the colors of an electoral map to suggest that the election was conclusive, and the legitimacy of Guaidó reseted on clearly ideological foundations.

Bolton spoke at the White House briefing before a map revealing a broad global divide ostensibly about recognizing Maduro’s legitimacy as Venezuela’s President but that hauntingly recalled the geopolitical divide that was firmer than many since the Cold War. It provided an image of the Cold War as it was seen from Washington, in some way, as if ideological divides that are clearcut still maintain legitimacy in a globalized world. The infographic on two screens seemed to affirm the broad global consensus of questions of the legitimacy of Maduro’s government, as if this justified the decision to block access to all property located in the United States of the national oil and natural gas company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), place its assets in escrow, and prohibit American citizens from paying the company directly for access to unrefined or refined oil assets. But the “press briefing” was also a transformation of the White House into a new newsroom of sorts, that exposed the illegitimacy of the Maduro government through a map that tied the United States to the defense of democratic principles–coded in blue, with other democratic allies, in opposition to “reds” linked to Socialism or Communism–China, and Russia, even if it was not Soviet, but also some questionable allies–that reinstated the for-us or against-us global space to make a point. The disclosure before this map of a threat of sensitive statement that echoed a bespectacled Bolton’s assertion that “all options are on the table” provided a powerful infographic that tied Washington to an image of legitimacy, even if the awfully crude map lacked legitimacy to orient American viewers to global affairs.

The new global imaginary that Bolton promoted as he stood beside U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin painted a global schism as the consequence of Maduro’s declaration of his victory in a second term as President, as a violation of that nation’s constitution–and as standing in violation of the Venezuela’s constitutional elections–but was as much a response to the defense of a restatement of American economic sovereignty in the Western hemisphere, a phrase going back to the turn of the last century, if not the Monroe Doctrine, but which gained new currency in the Cold War as issuing from the Dept. of State, and as a question of national security rather foreign affairs, by tactically magnifying the geostrategic role of the Venezuelan election, rather than offering evidence of a constitutional argument about sovereign legitimacy. The question of sovereignty seemed intentionally blurred, as the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury took questions about sanctions against a foreign state-owned oil company, currently OPEC chair, whose assets were being frozen to promote democratic legitimacy, but in fact to strengthen America’s hemispheric dominance.

This time, the map–whose stark divisions into blue and red blocks suggested a map of American alliances, echoing an imaginary of detente, rather than legal rights–seemed to place the defense of denying the flow of economic goods from American territory as a globalist argument, by reframng the issue of constitutional rights or legality in globalist terms that preserved an image of American dominance within the color scheme that it divided the world.

And National Security Advisor John Bolton, who in less than a year in the Trump administration has become an advocate for military interventions in both Iraq and Iran, used the briefing before a map to raise rather openly the possibility of a military resolution of the crisis over the Venezuelan Presidency, as the Commander of US Southern Command, General Mark Stammer, is set to meet the Ministry of Defense of Venezuela’s neighbor Colombia, and Maduro has conjured fears of a “coup” driven from the United States. But the fear that the invitation of American oil companies to organize the refining and extraction of Venezuela’s abundant crude reserves after the January 23, 1958 Democratic uprising, just before the Cuban revolution, sent shock waves into the United States, pushing the Trump administration rather precipitously into a search for infographics that could substantiate dangers of infringement of its hemispheric interests and geopolitical dominance, and to convince the world of the danger of Maduro’s disenfranchisement of elected members of the Congress, and the lack of legitimacy of a regional vote that supported Maduro’s government against a fractured opposition–and led to the invitation from Russia to restructure the state-owned oil and gas company’s massive debt, recasting the struggle about the government’s legitimacy into new global terms.

The colors on the global map reflect, to be sure, the contested results of elections in Venezuela, where compromised elections had produced the heavily disputed endorsement of Maduro’s Presidency just last May. After an offer from Russia to restructure the massive national debt in November, 2017, Maduro declared new elections in May 2018, which the opposition decided not to recognize, and which polls suggested he wouldn’t win, but in which he was victorious–coincidentally at the same time thatJohn Bolton gains the portfolio as director of the Trump NSA.

October, 2017 AP/A. Cubillos
2017 Regional Elections of State Governors in Argentina
Distribution of votes for Maduro in the election whose low turnout led its legitimacy to be quickly questioned by the EU, US, and OAS

Familiar blue v. red electoral maps were used to describe the votes of the Great Patriotic Pole and opposition  Coalition for Democratic Unity that were recast suddenly in global terms in late January in Washington. Socialist Maduro affirmed independence in his inauguration, and in rebuke Parliamentary President Guaidó won immediate support from Donald Trump after he declared himself Interim President and leader of the nation and of oil company, precipitating a powerful infographic to be devised in Washington that oriented audiences to an electoral map in global terms. But for Trump–and for Bolton, who cast the election as a question of National Security–the global divisions in globally strategic terms.

Trump’s segue in his February 7 State of the Union from the INF to Venezuela, included a transition about North Korea, but suggested global imbalances that any obscure the question of access to petroleum reserves in Venezuela, and the deep, implicit question of whether the American military should or would be used to guarantee access to Venezuelan oil. In ways that must have crossed Bolton’s radar, but have faded from most public comments, Maduro when he pledged to decouple the pricing of Venezuelan crude from the dollar, use of non-dollar currencies as the Chinese Yen for Venezuelan oil, and seeking to cut oil production to “stabilize” oil prices–and entertaining the cryptocurrency Petro, based on the five billion barrels of oil found in Field No. 1 of the Orinoco Oil Belt–possibly less than a quarter of Veneuela’s considerable total oil and gas reserves, whose accessibility to the American economy has suddenly become increasingly tenuous.

PDVSA

The events tied to the assumption of the Presidency of OPEC led to ‘slow coup’ of January 23–the anniversary of the overthrow of the Jiminez dictatorship by Venezuelans in 1958–as opposition politico Juan Guaido auto-invested himself with the presidency with broad American support, followed by a chorus of right-wing governments in Latin America, including Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.

The result was to pretend that the elections which the opposition party had boycotted last May could be cast again as an electoral map, this time not involving Venezuelan votes–or the self-determination of the nation–but symbolically recasting the election in terms of a global map. Even as Maduro offered to negotiate, he bristled “The presidential elections in Venezuela took place, and if the imperialists want new elections, let them wait until 2025,” perhaps reacting to the provocative recasting of the national elections, whose legitimacy has been questioned by observers, in ways that led Bolton to take to Twitter to threaten “serious consequences for those who attempt to subvert democracy and harm Guaidó”–as if he were the victor of an election. Bolton had escalated attacks on the “legitimacy” of Maduro from mid-January and the “illegitimate claims to power” of the Venezuelan “dictator” as abrogating the “a government duly elected by the Venezuelan people” and democratic practice. But the stark divide of the global map seemed to resist any discussion of negotiations and affirm the United States’ ability to shift troops from Afghanistan to Venezuela’s border immanently–while preserving something of the illusion that the “blue” votes for Guaidó would be affirmed by American muscle.

Win McNamee/Getty Images, off CBC

The gruff determination and stoniness that registers in Bolton’s face as he sought to communicate the divisions of the world that potentially lay in the failure to affirm America’s recognition of Guaidó bled far beyond the defense of democratic principles, and seems to have threatened to cast more than a shadow over Europe. Bolton’s slightly veiled message of national security seemed, in classic America First style, to cast a shadow over European allies, here symbolized by the actual shadow that his pensive head cast on the United States’ traditional NATO allies.

Was Bolton in the act of forging global divisions of a new Cold War, military detente and hemispheric dominance, sneakingly if all too familiarly tied to defense and affirmation of democratic principles?

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