When most of us saw what was happening in the storming of the Capitol in Washington back on January 6, we were stunned.
A bunch of cranks, who were usually noisy but relatively harmless, launched an attack on the very democracy they pretend to love.
Well, we saw something similar happen in our capital city at the weekend with the riot on Grafton Street.
Obviously, the Irish unrest was on a much smaller scale than the American altercations – but they’re seeds from the same pod.
The violence in the US was ostensibly meant to be about Trump and the illusion that he had lost the election. But it was about more than that because the disgraceful scenes were perpetrated by people who think Covid is a hoax, who think face masks are mere ‘muzzles’ to keep us all in our place and it was, with grim inevitability, seen by those responsible as a way of protesting against the apparently imminent installation of a New World Order.
I can’t help but feel that many of the violent protesters in Dublin on Saturday must have watched the events unfold in Washington with a giddy thrill of admiration and, perhaps, envy.
Most of the Washington groups had very different causes for their grievances, but all of them were on the wacky fringes of the conspiracy community, a community which has been able to grow and strengthen in the last few years.
There was a time when the anti-vaxxers, the conspiracy theorists and the cranks could be laughed at by the rest of us. They operated in a tiny, restricted little bubble of their own making and seemed happy to scurry around the margins of public life. In their own feeble echo chamber, anyone who disagrees with them is either brainwashed or part of the hated ‘lame stream’ media. They were a joke then and they’re a joke now – but that joke ain’t so funny anymore.
There’s always a rather delicate tightrope to be walked when commenting on fringe groups who use violence to gain attention for their cause.
On the one hand, nobody wants to give these people the unearned oxygen of free publicity. On the other, however, is the growing realisation that you ignore them at your peril.
Let’s put it this way, if more of those Capitol rioters had been properly challenged on their views then there’s a good chance that the carnage of January 6 wouldn’t have happened to quite the extent it did.
Like anyone who believes in civil liberties and is constantly on the lookout for government overreach – and when you give governments, any government, too much power they will always abuse it – I’m reluctant to condemn any peaceful protest.
Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are the cornerstones of any healthy democracy – that’s why both of those rights are usually the first to be targeted by any autocratic regime.
But what we saw the other day wasn’t a peaceful protest. It was a planned and concerted attack on the institutions of the State, launched by people who seem to think that democracy simply doesn’t apply to them. And as history has taught us all too well, the people who believe that democracy doesn’t apply to them are the people we all need to be scared of.
Of course, we all have issues with the Government’s frequently hapless handling of the pandemic. The mixed messages, the sight of ministers openly contradicting each other. The endless blather. Also, the frustration of this, the third lockdown, has been particularly keenly felt.
The ongoing confusion about the vaccine roll-out has created a sort of vaccine-vacuum, which means that far too many people still don’t know when they’re going to get that precious jab. And it has to be said, there will be growing unrest in the coming weeks if the people aren’t offered more clarity.
But the mob that gathered at the top of Grafton Street don’t care about any of that – they see this as their moment to finally emerge into the mainstream and exploit the justifiable fears of ordinary people. And as we know, frightened people make bad choices.
But what we’re really witnessing now is the globalisation of paranoia.
The similarities between our domestic rioters, who were happy to launch fireworks into a garda’s face and their anti-lockdown peers in the US, the UK and even France, are striking – they all remain convinced that the pandemic is part of some nefarious plot.
And, I think we can all admit, some of these apparent plots are so far off the charts they’d be funny if they weren’t so depressing.
The fact that some of the Irish protesters are now apparently convinced that senior members of RTÉ are kidnapping children and using their adrenochrome to keep them looking young and healthy is a true classic of its kind.
But it can also be traced back to some of the wild allegations about Hillary Clinton and her apparent band of marauding, high-ranking Beltway paedophiles who were also in the habit of kidnapping children for their own evil ends.
So, if you wanted to take a wry look at some of the wilder Irish claims, you could also point out that they’re not even original – they’re just mad, unverifiable theories that are cut and pasted from one country to the next, with the details slightly amended to suit each individual region.
Leo Varadkar simply dismissed these ideas as “bonkers”, and few would disagree with him. But those who do disagree will never be convinced of the error of their ways.
That’s because this proto-political movement has now taken on almost Messianic zeal; this is as close to a religion as many of them are going to get.
No true democrat wants to live in a society where marches and protests, whatever the cause, are banned. Also, these people desperately want to be made martyrs for their cause. And you should never make a martyr out of a moron. But I also don’t want to live in a society where a thug can shoot a cop in the face with a large firework and say that he’s a patriot (like their US counterparts, the Irish rioters like to play the patriot card whenever possible).
It would be better to point out to the anti-lockdown protesters that everyone is anti-lockdown. We’re all sick of it, but we don’t want to have a fourth, or even a fifth lockdown, and the actions of these self-styled campaigners for freedom make such an awful possibility much more likely.
There are rumours that Saturday was just a dress rehearsal for an even bigger gathering on St Patrick’s Day.
Just when we thought we were finally getting a handle on this virus, it looks like this tiny band of unelected weirdoes and thugs want to drag us right back into more restrictions.
Well done. You fools.