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Reporter's Video From Inside Senate On Jan. 6 Shows A Crowd Prepared For Violence

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Some of the most viewed, most remarkable and revealing video of the January 6 Capitol riot was shot inside the Senate chamber by my guest, Luke Mogelson. Some of his video was used as evidence by House managers prosecuting Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial.

Mogelson was reporting for The New Yorker on the Trump rally that preceded the storming of the Capitol, walked with the mob to the Capitol and after rioters breached the building, he entered with them. In the Senate chamber, he recorded video of Trump supporters opening the desks of senators, going through their papers, taking photos of the documents and stealing some of them. He recorded Jacob Chansley, the so-called QAnon Shaman, saying a prayer at the dais in the chamber, bare-chested, face painted, wearing his signature horned fur headdress.

Mogelson's article, "Among The Insurrectionists," was published in the January 25 issue of The New Yorker and is on The New Yorker website along with his video. While we were recording the interview yesterday morning, it was announced that Mogelson won a George Polk Award for his reporting in 2020 in three New Yorker articles that put his extensive experiences as a foreign war correspondent to use with firsthand accounts of domestic upheaval in the U.S.

Luke Mogelson, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, the Senate hearing this week investigating the lack of security at the Capitol - the sergeant at arms for both the Senate and the House, as well as the head of the Capitol Police - the witnesses said that they didn't have enough warning about what to expect. And there was an intelligence report that was sent the day or the night before the storming of the Capitol, but it wasn't headlined as urgent, and they didn't see it.

So the sub headline of your article reads, the Capitol was breached by Trump supporters who had been declaring at rally after rally that they would go to violent lengths to keep the president in power - a chronicle of an attack foretold. You think it was an attack foretold. Why do you think you knew that?

LUKE MOGELSON: Well, as early as November 7, I was at a rally in Harrisburg, Pa., where people were vowing to revolt if the results weren't overturned. That was the day that media outlets projected Biden to be the winner. And literally within the hour, there was a pretty furious mob of Trump supporters - heavily armed as well - at the Pennsylvania state Capitol, promising to prevent Biden from being inaugurated.

And then even just in D.C. itself, there were two rallies that preceded the January 6 event, on November 14 and on December 12. And both of those became extremely violent at night. And at both of them, I saw the Metropolitan Police - not the Capitol Police, but the Washington, D.C., Municipal Police Department - overwhelmed by violent Trump supporters. So it wasn't as if this hadn't happened before and hadn't happened in D.C. quite recently.

GROSS: So when, for instance, one of the Proud Boys leaders, Joe Biggs, said every lawmaker who breaks their own stupid effing (ph) laws should be dragged out of office and hung, did you see that as colorful hyperbole or did you take that seriously?

MOGELSON: Well, I would have if not for the November 14 and December 12 rallies in D.C., which took place, by the way, just a couple blocks away from the Capitol building. So again, there had been serious violence. People had been badly injured. And police had been assaulted and overrun by Trump supporters armed with clubs and bear mace and other kind of improvised blunt instruments similar to the ones that were used to assault the Capitol Police on January 6.

GROSS: So when you showed up at the rally on January 6 - and this is the rally at which President Trump spoke - so you show up at the rally. You're trying to be incognito. You don't want anyone to know you're a journalist. So what was your approach to being at the rally and not being noticed in any way, just blending in?

MOGELSON: Yeah. I showed up around 7:45 in the morning. And there was already quite a big crowd gathering at the base of the Washington Monument and on Constitution Avenue. There was a line to get into the Ellipse, where Trump had set up a stage to deliver his speech from in front of the White House. But there were so many people that it was pretty easy to just mill around the crowd and record with my phone.

GROSS: Were there moments when you were in the crowd at the rally on January 6 when you could feel the crowd intensifying, when you could feel them getting riled up and ready for action and for violence?

MOGELSON: Yeah. For me, the kind of key moment was when Trump characterized all of the alleged fraud and all of the baseless claims of voter rigging and foul play as explosions of bull****. There was something about his use of that profanity that really kind of, I felt, signaled to his supporters that the gloves were off. There was no longer going to be even a pretense of respecting kind of political norms or whatever guardrails had kept the Trump train semi on the tracks up until that moment.

GROSS: What kind of arms and gear did you see in the crowd on January 6 before the march to the Capitol?

MOGELSON: A lot of people had walking sticks. And I had seen that at previous events. And a member of the Pennsylvania Three Percent militia had even told me that the reason so many guys were walking around with, you know, hickory and rosewood canes basically was that it was a legal way to carry a large truncheon.

And that was also the case with the flagpoles that people had. So you see in the pictures of the crowd a lot of flags. And most of them were attached to solid wooden dowels or two-by-fours. In one case, I actually saw a guy walking around with an American flag just tied onto a baseball bat, a wooden baseball bat. So the idea was that you could get around D.C. with these clubs basically without them being confiscated by law enforcement.

I also saw people carrying bear spray, pepper spray. And at least one person had a revolver tucked into his waistband. You're not allowed to carry guns at what are called free speech events or protests in Washington, D.C., but at least - I saw at least one person with a gun. Many people were equipped with flak jackets, ammo vests, Kevlar helmets, different kinds of tactical apparel that you would normally see in a conflict.

GROSS: So something I'm - one of the many things I'm unsure about is the initial idea to march to the Capitol. Was that an idea that Trump introduced at the rally?

MOGELSON: Certainly some people had the idea to go to the Capitol prior to January 6. I mean, Joe Biggs, we now know, brought a bunch of Proud Boys to the Capitol before Trump even gave his speech. So they were staging there in preparation for the march that would join them. I left the Washington Monument while Trump was still talking. And by the time I got to the east end of the Mall where the Capitol was, there was already a crowd at the base of the steps in front of the Capitol.

So I think there were definitely some groups, including the Proud Boys, who knew that something was going to happen at the Capitol. But I also think that the majority - this is just my impression - I think that the majority of people who were there were just generally geared up and prepared for some kind of violence.

So once all these folks were gathered on the Mall and listening to Trump, I think that they could have been sent in any number of directions. What did happen was Trump specifically directed them towards a target, a specific target, and that was the Capitol.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Luke Mogelson, who reports for The New Yorker. His article about January 6 is titled Among the Insurrectionists. It's on The New Yorker website along with his video. We'll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. If you're just joining us, my guest is Luke Mogelson. and his New Yorker article about the January 6th storming of the Capitol is titled "Among The Insurrectionists." It's on The New Yorker website along with his video of the breach of the Capitol and what happened inside the Senate chamber.

So you positioned yourself at the Capitol before the mob marched there, but some of the people had already been there, some of the people who were armed. When did you notice - when did you first see that the building, the Capitol building was being breached?

MOGELSON: So the only way to get up to the main level of the Capitol, which had doors and windows that could be breached, was to go through the understructure, the kind of scaffolding of these bleachers and up the steps. And I got to the Capitol around 1:30 p.m. And by the way, that's, we now know, about the time that Mayor Muriel Bowser requested help from the Army. And then 10 minutes later is when Chief Sund, the chief of the Capitol Police, called for help from the National Guard as he testified Tuesday of this week.

So I was only there for maybe around five or 10 minutes when they managed to overwhelm the police guarding that opening in the tarp that blocked the bleachers. And then everybody just flooded. And at that point, they came up against a door in that wall that they then had to get past. And so there were police behind the door, and there were police up on the planks of the scaffolding. And they were all firing rubber bullets down into the crowd and spraying pepper spray. And because the bleachers were wrapped and tarped, the whole space filled up with these kind of ambient chemical agents from the pepper spray and tear gas.

And so it was a very chaotic situation. And people were climbing up the braces of the scaffolding, and everybody was screaming. And at one point, they wanted to get out, but they couldn't because there was essentially just a solid wall of Trump supporters pushing up from below and from behind.

GROSS: So you couldn't get out the other way?

MOGELSON: They couldn't back - you couldn't really back out, no. And at that point, I was actually hit in the eyes by pepper spray at pretty close range and wasn't able to see. So I kind of had to feel my way out and kind of crawl out. And it took me about 20 minutes to regain my vision and to just kind of blink out the irritant enough to be able to see again. And by that point, which was around 2:15, I want to say, the door in the security wall under the bleachers had been breached, and people were going up the steps and crawling through the understructure of the bleachers up onto this large kind of mezzanine, outdoor terrace on the main floor of the Capitol. And I was able to just follow the flow of people going up.

GROSS: So you were taking a lot of risks by going in. If the MAGA people found out that you were a journalist - if the rioters found out you were a journalist, who knows what would have happened 'cause they're so anti-journalism and anti-journalist. If the police arrested you, you'd have to say you were a journalist. But on the other hand, you didn't want to reveal that you were a journalist, so you were in a kind of losing situation in that respect if anybody noticed you and tried to address you or stop you. What did you do to try to protect yourself from being discovered?

MOGELSON: Nothing too elaborate or sneaky - I mean, I was just wearing my normal clothes, and I was just filming with an iPhone. It was easier for me than for the photographers, obviously, because there were other people filming with their iPhones who were just Trump supporters and participants in the riot, but who were documenting everything either for themselves or as kind of independent, right-wing livestreamers. So there are enough of those kind of folks around at most protests these days that an iPhone in and of itself doesn't really attract too much attention.

GROSS: I would guess that some people participate so that they'll have video to show friends and say, I was there.

MOGELSON: Absolutely, absolutely. And I think that's been a real boon for the FBI...

GROSS: Right.

MOGELSON: ...During its investigation, yeah.

GROSS: In describing the police at the Capitol, once you got inside, you say, interactions between Trump supporters and law enforcement vacillated from homicidal belligerence to borderline camaraderie. Give us an example of both.

MOGELSON: Once we were inside, the dynamic between the officers and the rioters switched completely, whereas outside they had been in - under the bleachers, I'd seen them, you know, really going at the Trump supporters with nightsticks and pepper spray and rubber bullets, doing everything they could, honestly, to prevent them from breaching. Once they had breached, it was clear that a decision had been made not to engage them physically. So I went in through a broken window that, by the way, had been shattered by a Proud Boy, we now know, with a riot shield that he had taken off of a Capitol Police officer.

Probably for me, the most striking example of the somewhat surreal camaraderie between the Capitol Police and the rioters was in the Senate chamber. After I had been in there for 20 or 30 minutes, it was flooded by a phalanx of police - I think it was a mix of Metropolitan Police and Capitol Police - that far outnumbered the rioters who were still in the Senate chamber at that point. And I had been watching several of the rioters systematically go through senators' desks and collect documents. And when the police came into the chamber, everyone was rather politely asked to leave, to exit it. They could have easily arrested and searched everyone in there, but they didn't.

There were two police officers standing on either side of the main entrance that opens on the center aisle of the chamber, and as we were walking past them, one of them was thanking each rioter for having been peaceful. Thank you for being peaceful. Thank you for being peaceful. We appreciate it. And what made his posture even more bizarre was that his shirt was ripped. His tie was crooked. His eyes were red from pepper spray. He had clearly just been in a violent altercation with another group of rioters.

And as I exited the Senate chamber, I was walking behind a Trump supporter who had a blue folder in his hand full of documents that he had taken from the desks of the senators. We came out into a hallway, which was also full of police. And there are only, again, at this point, maybe a dozen Trump supporters being escorted out of the chamber. They're vastly outnumbered by the police at that time. But no one was arrested. No one was searched. They were led by a Capitol Police officer down a set of stairs to a side exit. The officer opened the door, and everybody just walked out into the world, including the gentleman in front of me with the folder full of documents from senators' desks.

GROSS: One of the - I mean, you've pointed to one of the real mysteries of January 6, which is why weren't the protesters, as they left the building that they had stormed, why weren't they arrested? Why weren't their weapons confiscated? Why were they allowed to leave with documents from the senators' desks? I'm wondering if you have any clarity about that. I mean, it's possible that the police just wanted these people out as soon as possible, and the way to do that and the way to do that most efficiently would be to have them peacefully file out and not feel more threatened and start using their weapons because, you know, you had people hiding in that building. You had our elected officials and their staff and family hiding in that building. So it could be the goal was just, like, get them out; get the protesters out.

MOGELSON: Exactly. And I think that's what it was. It was clearly a deliberate attempt to de-escalate, and that was the priority. They weren't trying to collect evidence or investigate or set up future prosecutions. They were attempting to avoid what could have been a totally catastrophic situation and much more deadly situation. And I think that they succeeded in doing that.

GROSS: We need to take another break here, so let me reintroduce you. If you're just joining us, my guest is Luke Mogelson, who reports for The New Yorker. His article about the storming of the Capitol on January 6 is titled "Among The Insurrectionists." It's on The New Yorker website, along with his video. We'll be right back after a break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. If you're just joining us, my guest is Luke Mogelson. He writes for The New Yorker, and his article about the January 6 storming of the Capitol is titled "Among The Insurrectionists." It's on The New Yorker website, along with his video of the breach of the Capitol and what happened inside the Senate chamber. It's a now-famous video that was shown time and time again on cable news. And it was also excerpted as evidence in the second Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump, used as evidence by the House managers prosecuting Trump.

Let's talk about what happened in the Senate chamber. One of the most dramatic parts of your video is, you know, in the background, like, off-camera, you hear somebody, like, chanting and kind of growling in an almost animalistic way. And it's a very disturbing sound. And it turns out it's the voice of Jacob Chansley, aka the QAnon Shaman. And this is the guy who comes in bare-chested, face painted with his fur horned headdress. Had you encountered him before? Did you know about him?

MOGELSON: The first time I encountered Jacob Chansley was that morning at the Washington Monument when I was walking around, kind of just filming the crowd, taking notes, trying to get a sense of the energy and who was there. I saw this guy with a headdress and horns and a megaphone yelling about, actually, an executive order that Trump had signed in 2019 to prevent Russian meddling in elections. And Chansley was saying through his megaphone that, you know, Trump saw this coming, and that's why he had signed this executive order. And he's going to declare martial law, and, you know, the storm is here - and trying to kind of rev up the crowd. So I followed him for - I followed him, filming him for around 10 minutes. And so I recognized him when he came into the Senate chamber later that day.

GROSS: Describe what he did after he came in that you captured on video.

MOGELSON: So first, he was up in the gallery and was just kind of chanting and pounding his spear, which had an American flag tied on to it, on the ground. And people down on the Senate floor were getting kind of annoyed with him, like, asking him to knock it off.

GROSS: They really said that. They really asked him to do that.

MOGELSON: Yeah. Yeah. There was a young guy - he's since been arrested, so we know a little bit about him. He was from Leeds, Ala. His name was Joshua Black, and he was in there kind of keeping order. There was a tension throughout the insurrection inside the Capitol between people who just wanted to ransack, steal stuff and people who felt like they needed to be respectful of the space and kept saying stuff like, this is our house. Respect our house. This is why we're here. This is what we're fighting for. So they had this kind of logic in their heads. A lot of them, I think, were military veterans that - once they were inside, they should be mindful and respectful of this kind of sacred space.

So inside the Senate chamber, there were people from both camps, and they were arguing. And Joshua Black kind of was a more authoritative and intimidating individual, I think, than the other folks who wanted to riot because he had been shot in the face with a rubber bullet that was still embedded inside of his cheek. And it was kind of pulsing blood into his beard. And he had this, like, blood-stained gauze hanging around his neck. So he yelled at Jacob Chansley, you know, stop acting a fool. Cut it out. He was also preventing people from, you know, sitting in Vice President Pence's chair and vandalizing, basically, the Senate chamber. And that's why after about 10 minutes, most of the people inside the chamber left because it wasn't really fun in there with Joshua Black telling them what they could and couldn't do.

GROSS: It's interesting what you're saying about the reaction to, you know, the so-called Q Anon Shaman. I've always wondered, you know, ever since the insurrection, were there other people considering him a shaman or that he just has decided that he is a shaman but he has nobody who believes it? - because, you know, let's face it. He looks ludicrous, and it sounds like he doesn't really have followers.

MOGELSON: Yeah. Well, I guess that's kind of been my experience in general with most people who call themselves shamans (laughter). But he definitely commanded respect among people at the Washington Monument when I was following him around. People recognized him. People yelled out to him. He was kind of leading folks in this QAnon chant of, where we go one, we go all. So he was a kind of iconic, known personality from right-wing and pro-Trump events in Arizona and online.

But I think also this - the way that different people responded to him in the Senate chamber kind of illustrates how - I won't say diverse but not monolithic the insurrectionists were. They weren't all, you know, fanatical QAnon extremists or, you know, fringe conspiracists. There was a wide, wide range of Americans who took part in this. And, yeah, for plenty of them, I think a guy, you know, with no shirt and horns and a spear was not representative of their cause and purpose.

GROSS: Do you know anything about Chansley, the QAnon shaman - do you know anything about his mental health situation?

MOGELSON: I would never, you know, second-guess anybody's mental health or claim to mental illness. My experience of him inside the chamber did not seem to suggest that he was mentally ill. After he left the gallery, he came downstairs and entered the Senate floor through the main door and immediately installed himself on the dais behind the vice president's desk and his chair and started posing for pictures and kind of hamming it up and seemed to be, you know, not (laughter) only in control of his faculties, but also determined to exploit the situation to his benefit as much as possible, including getting people to, you know, take pictures of him and film him.

And there were a lot of other people throughout the day, and especially inside the Senate chamber, who didn't mind being filmed because they clearly thought that they were in the right and that there was nothing wrong with what they were doing. They believed that they were acting at the behest of the president. And they also believed that they were stopping an illegal transfer of power and, essentially, what, in their view, was a coup - not only a coup, but a coup by an evil, Satan-worshipping pedophile. So if that's your worldview, there's no reason to conceal or be ashamed of your role being documented.

GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Luke Mogelson, who reports for The New Yorker. His article about the January 6 storming of the Capitol is titled "Among The Insurrectionists." It's on The New Yorker website along with his video. We'll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOAN JEANRENAUD'S "AXIS")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. If you're just joining us, my guest is Luke Mogelson. His New Yorker article about the January 6 storming of the Capitol is titled "Among The Insurrectionists." It's on The New Yorker website, along with his video of the breach of the Capitol and what happened inside the chamber.

So before you left the Senate chamber, you were able to go to the dais where, you know, the shaman had been. And you were able to video the note that he left on the page with the Senate roll call. Tell us what he had written.

MOGELSON: He had written, it's only a matter of time. Justice is coming, exclamation mark.

GROSS: How were you able to get to the dais? At what point did you get there to video that note?

MOGELSON: Just as soon as he - I saw him writing on a piece of paper on the desk, I just walked up to the desk to capture what he had written. And, you know, he actually - (laughter) when he saw me coming to film, he actually flipped the paper around so that I could get a clear shot of it.

And again, that wasn't only him. He - there were other folks in the Senate chamber who were rifling through senators' desks. And I would go up to film, to try to capture what exactly they were looking for and what they were removing from the desk. And they would - they'd hold the documents up for me to show me and sometimes even smile, like, for the camera.

So I don't think it was - that's just illustrative of kind of Chansley's potential insanity. I think it's also all these people who, again, had no inkling that what they were doing was wrong or suspicion that it could result in consequences for them.

GROSS: Yeah. Well, I mean, your video is being used as evidence against them. They probably had no idea that that was going to happen and that it would be used as evidence against Trump at his second Senate impeachment trial.

MOGELSON: Yeah. Well, they thought that Trump was going to be president for four more years and would protect them from any kind of prosecution.

GROSS: And they thought that they were participating in making sure that he was going to be president. And they believed him when he said he was going to be.

MOGELSON: Exactly. Yeah. And it's not only that he led them to believe that that's what was happening and that's what they were doing, he said, during his speech that morning at the monument, that he was going to be there with them. He said, I'm going to go with - we're walking. We're going to walk from here up to the Capitol. And I'll be there with you. And that was another moment when the people around me in the crowd kind of looked at each other with astonishment and joy.

GROSS: Well, they were misled. He did not go with them.

MOGELSON: He did not, no. Neither did, really, any of the kind of iconoclast and conspiracy theorists and militia leaders who had been creating this - aggressively creating this insurrectionary fervor since the election.

GROSS: So your video has been used as evidence against some of the people who stormed the Capitol and who were in the Senate chamber. Did you ever think when you were filming it that it would be evidence for, you know, conspiracy charges? Or, you know, you said you had no idea it would be used at a second impeachment trial. You didn't know he'd be impeached again. But were you aware of the possibility of your video being used as evidence, particularly if you posted it?

MOGELSON: Afterwards, yeah. But again, when I was recording, I did not think that I - that we would publish the video. I thought that I would use it to write my article because this is a technique that I use for all my articles and that I've used overseas and in conflict zones. And it's how I've always worked, and it's to me the most effective way to write scenes vividly and accurately. So that's - I was essentially using my phone as a notebook. And when the idea was raised to publish an edited version of the footage, that was one of my concerns, was that it would be used as evidence in prosecutions of the participants. And I just don't see that as my role, and it's not something that I want to be involved in.

GROSS: Yeah, it's an interesting distinction between your video and your article. I can't necessarily identify some of the people from how you describe them in the article, but if you see their face in a video, you know who they are. And, you know, the police, the FBI can track them down so much more easily.

MOGELSON: Exactly, exactly. And again, like, that's just not my job. And I don't work for the FBI and have never wanted to. And I think it's a very slippery slope once you go down that road because even if, in this situation, most people could - would probably argue that it's for the general good of society to arrest and prosecute these people, there are many, many, many other situations that I'm in as a journalist where it's not nearly as clear. And to say, you know, I'm OK with publishing video from this event and not that event is - it gets into a kind of ethical morass.

GROSS: Was there a big conversation at The New Yorker before you published the video about whether you should put it online or not?

MOGELSON: There was a conversation, yeah (laughter). Yeah. Yeah, there was. And ultimately, you know, we came down on the side of this being a unique situation, a historically unique event that merited an exception. And the argument that, I think, kind of pushed me into getting on board with publishing the video was it would ultimately be a disservice to the country to withhold it from, you know, my fellow citizens. So that's what we did. And I still see arguments for both sides.

GROSS: But it's a remarkable document. And speaking as a member of the public, I'm really grateful that I was able to see something of what went on in the chamber. Do you expect to be called as a witness at any of the conspiracy trials or trespassing - I don't know what all the charges are or what all of them will be. But what do you think you will do if you're called, you know, if you're subpoenaed to be a witness?

MOGELSON: I would fight it. Again, like, that's not my job. And I think that once journalists start cooperating with law enforcement, especially federal law enforcement, in prosecutions against their subjects, that will ultimately have a negative impact on the ability of journalists to do their work objectively and with integrity that eclipses whatever kind of immediate benefit there might be to any individual trial or prosecution.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Luke Mogelson, who reports for The New Yorker. His article about January 6 is titled "Among The Insurrectionists." It's on The New Yorker website, along with his video. We'll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. If you're just joining us, my guest is Luke Mogelson. His New Yorker article about the January 6 storming of the Capitol is titled "Among The Insurrectionists." It's on The New Yorker website, along with his video of the breach of the Capitol and what happened inside the Senate chamber.

You know, there's the big question now about whether there was any kind of organized coordination to march on the Capitol and breach the building, whether there was a conspiracy, and if so, which groups were involved. From what you've heard and from what you've seen in the months that you've been covering the far-right militant extremists, do you feel like you see any clues or any evidence that there was premeditation or coordination?

MOGELSON: I think that there were very likely groups, small groups, that discussed the possibility of breaching the Capitol and were prepared to do so if Trump gave them the tacit or explicit green light during his speech. There's no question that these groups were geared up and prepared for organized violence, but it's not yet totally clear that they had the storming of the Capitol specifically in mind. They could have been anticipating more kind of street-level brawls with leftist activists. And then when Trump directed them explicitly to the Capitol, that became their focus.

GROSS: This is kind of mysterious to me. It's a small detail but kind of interesting one. So the Proud Boys, like, one of the groups that was active in the insurrection, one of the far-right groups, strong Trump supporters - one of the things that they holler at rallies is uhuru, which is a Swahili word for freedom. So why is a far-right group like the Proud Boys using a Swahili word? Is that supposed to be ironic? Are there supposed to be, like, scare quotes around it?

MOGELSON: Yeah. But this is the weird thing about the proud boys is, I mean, they used to always - Enrique Tarrio, who is the national chairman of the Proud Boys, although now since it was revealed that he's a longtime, prolific federal informant, he's kind of lost some of his authority. But he used to say that the Proud Boys started out as a joke, and I think that there's definitely some truth to that. Their name comes from a song in the Broadway version of the movie "Aladdin." And there's always this element of, you know, triggering the Libs, playing with cultural appropriation, PC culture, as a kind of tongue-in-cheek jab at liberal sensitivities. That was originally, I think, at the core of the Proud Boys.

But then Trump, basically by villainizing antifa and Black Lives Matter, imbued their cause with national security consequences and implications. And that kind of turned all of this dark-but-jokey aesthetic and culture into something much more serious in a short period of time. So that's why you can have this kind of jarring dichotomy or just jarring contrast of these goofy cultural references in the middle of an armed insurrection on the Capitol.

GROSS: I'm so grateful to you for coming on our show today. Thank you so much.

MOGELSON: Thank you, Terry. I really appreciate it.

GROSS: Luke Mogelson reports for The New Yorker. His article, "Among The Insurrectionists," and his video of the storming of the Capitol are on The New Yorker website. While we were recording our interview yesterday morning, it was announced that he won a George Polk Award for his reporting in The New Yorker in 2020.

If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed - like this week's interview with Sacha Baron Cohen about the new movies that have earned him Golden Globe nominations, "The Trial Of The Chicago 7" in which he plays Abbie Hoffman and "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" for which he shot a now infamous scene with Rudy Giuliani - check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews.

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GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Challoner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Latimore. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.