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Politics

What It Means To Get “Caught Up In The Moment”

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Guys like Josiah Colt don’t get caught. Or, at least, guys like him don’t expect to get caught. How do I know this? Let’s review some tape, courtesy of the FBI

Some time in the afternoon on the day Congress was supposed to certify the electoral vote to confirm Joe Biden as the next president, Colt posted a video of himself on Facebook claiming that he had broken into the U.S. Capitol building and sat in Nancy Pelosi’s chair, all before making sure to call the House Speaker a “bitch” and a “traitor,” just for good measure. 

There’s also the matter of the photo at the top of this blog. It’s from a Getty photographer catching Colt cosplaying as MAGA Siege Action Spider-Man, with what I can only assume are some fresh Allbirds, as he drops from the viewing gallery to the floor of the Senate. More photos show he was actually at the Senate President’s desk, which technically makes it Mike Pence’s chair, not Pelosi’s. But being ignorant of lessons from civics class isn’t a felony.

Given the very public and well documented way this man participated in an attempted insurrection, it didn’t take long for authorities to identify him. Still, he returned to his life back in Idaho and then told a local news station, “I got caught up in the moment” as a defense for his actions. Here’s what he told CBS 2 in Boise:

I love America, I love the people, I didn’t hurt anyone and I didn’t cause any damage in the Chamber. I got caught up in the moment and when I saw the door to the Chamber open, I walked in, hopped down, and sat on the chair. I said my peace then I helped a gentleman get to safety that was injured then left.

While in the Chamber I told the other protesters that this is a sacred place and not to not do any damage. Some of them wanted to trash the place and steal stuff but I told them not to and to leave everything in its place. We’re still on sacred ground.”

Josiah Colt to CBS 2

Getting “caught up in the moment” can mean many things. It can mean having a few drinks and not remembering you legally changed your name to Celine Dion. It can mean throwing a gender reveal party that ends up burning more than 10,000 acres of California, or Rob Gronkowski pounding beers and getting shirtless on a duck boat to celebrate a Super Bowl win.

But getting caught up in the moment doesn’t feel like an excuse that should cover meticulously planned insurgencies. Given the level of evidence against him, “I got caught up in the moment” is a bold statement from Josiah Colt, but not a shocking one. It can’t be when the reality is that the “things got out of hand” argument has become such a reliable and prevalent defense for certain Americans.

It’s two weeks later and there’s no shortage of tape to study from the day a mob, lathered up with grievances given to them by Donald Trump, went on a rage spree that crashed Congress. We can watch, almost minute by minute, as the mob marched to Capitol Hill, broke down barriers, smashed windows and doors, and took selfies with the otherwise overwhelmed ranks of Capitol Police.

Now all the would-be insurrectionists seem to be surprised by the federal cases being built against them and their fellow patriots. They are Midwestern marketing CEOs who say, “My decision to enter the Capitol was wrong, and I am deeply regretful to have done so.” They are retired Air Force officers who get interviewed in The New Yorker and tell Ronan Farrow they didn’t mean to pick up those zip-ties they were photographed with, offering clarifications such as: “I know it looks menacing. That was not my intent.”

The nonstop videos of them being carted off planes and stories of kids informing on parents, or exes calling the feds are so delicious that they threaten to be fattening. But this is more than just schadenfreude; it feels like someone has finally pulled back the invisible cloak on a cultural norm.

Of all the things the rioters packed and planned for in trying to overtake the government—zip ties, Trump flags, Confederate flags, guns, pipe bombs, a coyote skin—the one thing they did not conceive of was consequences. And why would they? Accountability belongs to other people, and their own president armed them with a shield of righteous whiteness that promised to protect them. For a very long time these people have been allowed to believe that nothing can ever really be their fault, and when things do get out of hand they never hesitate to seek forgiveness and absolution.

When they get arrested after coughing, sneezing, and spitting at people in a Best Buy during a pandemic, they tell cops they’re “going through a lot this year and got carried away.” They will break into a family’s home and shout the n-word and threaten to kill people while on a bachelor-party bender, only to say they were just having a few drinks and everything’s been blown out of proportion (and, also, we’re cops so everyone should just chill). They get nominated for jobs on the U.S. Supreme Court and brush off questions about sexual assault allegations as youthful indiscretion.

If you pull back from all that shamelessness what emerges—aside from the audacity of whiteness—is the overarching need to let the past die, especially if no one (who matters) was hurt. Because when you diminish harm you minimize responsibility, and if no one or nothing was really hurt, then everything is fine, right? This, as well as unhealthy doses of conspiracy theories, is the abiding logic that connects the insurgents of Real America to their leaders.

But the damage was real. And you don’t get to unrob the bank after the fact, no matter how much you apologize. Five people died as a result of the riot on the Capitol, including a police officer. And if there’s one thing America hates to let slide it’s the death of a cop. In that way, maybe it’s not surprising to see the feds handing out charges like candy to people like Josiah Colt. But that still leaves the people at the top, the party that loves to talk shit about personal responsibility or respecting law and order, living without consequence. Trump is gone and may well still be impeached, but that will account for little more than an asterisk on his record. Meanwhile, those who did just as much to whip up the mob—Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Lauren Boebert, Madison Cawthorn—occupy positions of power in the very government they just finished encouraging others to overthrow.

We’ve got a new president, and this one says he wants to make America whole again. But the path to unity doesn’t come through passionate speeches or reaching across the aisle and looking past your neighbor’s sins. Reckonings come through ugly conversations about accountability and relinquishing power. If you want to heal, you can’t just paper over the past, otherwise you might end up one day seeing Jill Biden hugging Ivanka Trump at Madison Cawthorn’s presidential inauguration.

People like Joe Biden can say, “This is not who we are,” as much as they want, but it’s hard to imagine much of anything changing so long as the cultural and political power structures that led to the Capitol riot remain in place. Every day that Donald Trump spends on a golf course rather than a prison cell, every day that Josh Hawley spends in a Senate seat, will be a day that validates people like Josiah Colt, who will go on believing that the worst thing they could ever be guilty of is getting a little carried away.