I’m ashamed to admit that this didn’t register the first time I saw video of Donald Trump’s supporters marching through the Capitol, methodically hunting door-to-door for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, smashing down doors and chanting her name.
Thanks to Monica Hesse, writing for The Washington Post, I get it now.
As rioters made their way through the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, some went looking for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. New footage of this was released at Wednesday’s session of the impeachment trial. The mob roamed hallways, searching for her office, and as they did, they called for her. “Oh Nancy,” one man cried out, three syllables ricocheting off the walls. “Oh Naaaaaaancy.”
Sure, they wanted to hang then-Vice President Mike Pence. And they would have, in a heartbeat. But they had something special planned for the women they encountered, Nancy Pelosi most of all—and they wanted her to know it.
The video below, played during the House managers’ case, is just one example.
It wasn’t some high-minded notion about the election that motivated a lot of these folks. Yes, they all were avid Trump supporters, but, for many of them, Trump was just an authority figure who finally validated their anger and hostility. He was someone who had confirmed and stoked their deep-seated hatred and made them feel good about themselves. He was a soothing presence telling them that it was okay to be a racist and okay to be a misogynist. When he told them it was okay to march on the Capitol, they felt a sense of freedom. They could be exactly the people they always wanted to be, unbound by any constraints.
And that’s exactly how they behaved, Hesse explains.
Oh Naaaaaaancy is said in a singsongy voice. It is the same voice that a child would use to say, Come out, come out, wherever you arrrrre in a backyard game of hide-and-seek tag. It is playful. It is sinister. It says, I am planning to take my time, and it will not be pleasant, and it will not end well for you. The men looking for Pelosi in the Capitol were strolling, not running.
Hesse cites a revealing investigation by Alanna Vagianos, conducted for Huffington Post in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection. Vagianos looked into the history of several of the prominent faces arrested in connection with the riots, and found that a startling number had something singular in common: “a history of violence against women―ranging from domestic abuse accusations to prison time for sexual battery and criminal confinement.”
By acting out their innermost misogynistic fantasies, these men, caught on camera roaming the halls in search of Speaker Pelosi, revealed their intentions as clear as day: They intended murder, but they also intended sexual assault. “Nancy” was the name that popped into their head, but it could have been any woman that they met in those hallways. The goal was to terrorize, and if the opportunity arose, well, who could say?
For those who may still not quite understand, Hesse patiently explains what these people were really about:
Oh Naaaaaaancy is also self-aware. It knows it sounds like a horror movie. It is the sort of affectation a bad man might pick up after too many viewings of The Shining. It is what a man stalking a woman thinks a man stalking a woman should say.
Retired Air Force veteran Larry Brock, famously photographed in tactical gear and carrying zip-ties (also known as flexible restraints) was one of these men with an ugly history of violence towards women. While in the process of finalizing a divorce, Brock was apparently fond of sending abusive text messages to his then-wife, such as. “Do the right thing and kill yourself already.”
“I have better things to do than speak to a whore”; “Nobody loves you”; “Narcissistic whore.” Her ex-husband, Larry Rendall Brock Jr., had been sending them like clockwork for three years. A court had ordered the couple to communicate through a specialized portal while their contentious divorce was finalized. Larry often used it for threats.
Another man arrested for the riots, 48-year old Guy Reffitt, was also an abuser.
In 2018, police responded to a domestic disturbance at Reffitt’s home during which he and his wife were physically fighting. Reffitt and his wife, Nicole Reffitt, were both drunk, their children were present and he had a gun, according to the police report. At one point, Reffitt pushed his wife onto a bed and started choking her until she almost lost consciousness, the report states.
There’s Jacob Lewis, a 37-year old gym owner, who gained national notoriety by refusing to close his California club in light of COVID-19 restrictions. Lewis had a restraining order against him for potential domestic violence.
There was 26-year-old Samuel Camargo, who had previously attacked his sister. There was Matthew Capsel, another abuser who had violated his own restraining order, threatening a woman with violence even after his arrest for the Jan. 6 rioting. There was Proud Boy Andrew Ryan Bennett, who had previously assaulted his sister and attacked a woman in a tattoo parlor.
And then there was this guy:
Another Capitol rioter, Edward Hemenway of Winchester, Virginia, was released from prison in 2013 after serving five years on rape, sexual battery and criminal confinement charges. According to court records, Hemenway lured his estranged wife to a hotel in 2004, where he handcuffed her and duct-taped her mouth shut.
Of course, these are only the ones who’ve been arrested, and whose newfound notoriety permits their histories to be explored. But there were doubtlessly hundreds more of these types in the crowd that day. As Vagianos’ article points out, the white supremacist ideology driving many of these people meshes perfectly with misogyny, because both attitudes thrive on white male insecurities—about race and about women, respectively. Trump deliberately played to these men’s insecurities, so it took little effort to convince them that a threat to him was equally a threat to themselves.
And that’s exactly what played out inside the Capitol halls as they chased down their prey.