Today, as the decent among us commemorate one of the saddest days in our nation’s history, parents be warned. The dangerous right-wing social media trolls that increasingly prey on our kids will be out in full force, polluting the web with their sick, fantasy-riddled conspiracies, fake photos, lies, distortions, and anti-democratic rhetoric about what happened that fateful day two years ago when we watched a bunch of dangerous and deadly hooligans storm our capitol.
Maniacally opportunistic, this band of well-funded, Trump-loving social media influencers will commemorate the day with a potpourri of online garbage designed to confuse our kids about what our democracy stands for, how voting works, and how integral free and fair elections are to our constitutional republic. As for efforts to hang the vice president – that will be treated as a mere blip. (What’s a murder among friends?) The goal, of course, is to make sure our kids grow up thinking all this bad behavior is normal.
It would be comforting to think that since our children will be spending the day in their classrooms, we don’t have to worry about lies and conspiracies filtering in. After all, what better place than school to learn the truth about the bad people who tried to overthrow our government? But so few schools teach civics anymore, and so many of America’s beleaguered teachers are feeling both intimidated and exhausted by the enemies of truth who populate their local school boards. It is likely going to be on us parents to keep the record straight and dispel any myths being pushed onto young, hyper, plugged-in America.
So, here’s what you need to know:
Who’s at risk?
The right-wing, youth media machine tends to target politically-engaged – or culture war-obsessed - high school and college kids on YouTube, Instagram, Tik Tok, and Twitter. But if you have a conservative curious middle schooler or just a tween who has questions – and wants them answered - they too are at risk for falling upon some wacko explainers who might insist that Jesus sent the insurrectionists, or the insurrection never happened, or better yet it did happen and what fun a day it was.
Who’s going to target them?
The worst actors will likely be the well-funded and well-trained social media stars your kids, hopefully, have grown to hate. Folks like the Uber-enraged Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, a right-wing youth group that glorifies Christian Nationalism and military-grade guns (and whose sister organization Turning Point Action sent buses to DC on January 6.) Two years ago, as he broadcast the storming of the capitol for his eponymous radio show, Charlie took the tone of a mildly curious sportscaster as if narrating a series of impressive touchdown drives.
Another likely online loudmouth will be Candace Owens, the acid-tongued Black conservative influencer, who, in addition to serving as occasional Hitler apologist, insists regularly that white men are victims of great prejudice and Black people are needless complainers. She is still convinced that Biden “rigged” the election. To her teeny-bopper fans – aka our kids - she puts it like this: #BidenCheated.
Also, likely online today will be Benny Johnson, a noted plagiarist with a devilish smile, a cackling laugh, and a serious anger management issue. He has insisted that the left routinely gaslights him and encourages young people to get worked up about elections he calls “suspicious as hell.” If your kids are looking for right-wing charmers, Will Witt, a handsome college drop-out (who delights in making fun of Mexican-Americans with videos of him parading around in a sombrero and a fake mustache asking people if they are offended), will likely offer some majorly wildly misleading tidbits about what happened during the insurrection. And Joe Rogan, the wildly ridiculously popular podcaster, is likely to have a thing or to say, as well, which may or may not be true. Rogan is notorious for having Sandy Hook denier Alex Jones on his show.
What are their favorite lies?
Young right-wing radicals are fond of chaos – and not so much coherent arguments. Two conflicting ones will likely flood the internet Friday, along with one definitive one.
1. That the insurrection was a mild snafu that got out of hand – and is now being exaggerated by whiny, paranoid libs. (If violence was involved, what’s the big deal?)
2. That the insurrection was a monumental affair, but not the work of the crazed MAGA crew, the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and other white supremacists or neo-nationalists, but rather the dirty work of the libs. The story goes that these infidels arrived at the Capitol in pretend MAGA-gear, posing as right-wing insurrectionists, but certain details clued the radicals into what was really going on. They were members of ANTIFA, smelly libs in skinny jeans – or just plain Democrats, depending on who’s telling the tall tale.
3. The important thing is anything bad that did happen wasn’t Trump’s fault.
What should you do?
You don’t want to needlessly worry your kids about plots to overthrow the government. But, at the same time, they ought to hear from you about what happened that day and why you think they should care.
1. So, be proactive. Watch some credible footage (depending on their age and sensitivity) and explain to them why historically, the day was so monumental.
2. Make sure they know the basics of American elections. School House Rock is a thing of the past, and a lot of young people don’t even know what an electoral college is or what it means to certify an election. If they don’t, get them an easy-to-read civics book. Maybe, read it yourself, too. It’s hard to get worked up about false stolen election claims when you don’t actually know how safe and secure ours are.
3. Don’t freak out if they come at you with something you know to be untrue that they read or saw online. Lucky for us, the brainiac right-wingers who populate the web rarely veer too far off the general storylines. So, a: “Yeah, that’s one of their conspiracies.” Or “Yeah, that’s one of their talking points” is a great place to start. Your kids are likely to ask you what you mean and want to learn more.
4. Get your kids to download some credible news sources or follow them on their social media feeds. Good, reliable incoming information will get them both accustomed to and comfortable with serious news sources. They will be better at detecting crap when they see or hear it. And don’t be afraid to challenge them on how they know something. Good journalists sight their sources. So do discerning citizens.
5. Take a moment to let them know we’re going to be all right. You hope…The January 6th hearings did happen. And while we can all debate how effective they were, they did suggest that at least some Americans still care a great deal about process, procedure, and finding out the truth.