We often forget that we don’t only arrest and prosecute people to exact individual punishment or to protect public safety. Arrest and prosecution is also how society communicates to itself the parameters of acceptable behavior. Yesterday was many things. But a critical part of it was the result of years and decades of treating violent right-wing extremism as a sort of wingnut performance art, crazy but essentially harmless and to be indulged. Think of the original Bundy clan standoff and the later Malheur standoff. An insurrectionist told a Capitol Police officer yesterday “You didn’t take it back, we gave it back,” as he walked out of the Capitol.
You saw them. They were strutting and proud. They gave their names to reporters. They posed for pictures.