by Valerie Morales
It was a terse scene on a tinny Georgia night. A loud roar of cheers set the raucous but absurd mood on a piece of land known as the old Troutman field. Sam Hose, the son of a slave, was being executed. His ears first. Then, fingers and genitals were cut off while knife blades stuck in a twist hoping to dice up his heart and guts.
The black skin of Sam Hose’s face was ripped off and then he was nailed to a tree, covered in kerosene, and well, you can imagine the idiosyncratic rest. His veins ruptured in the heat. 30 minutes after he screamed, “Oh Jesus”, he finally, mercifully died.
No one wore masks during the torture killing so the identities of the murderers were not a mystery. The terrorists were proud enough to tell journalists their names. A woman spectator who watched from afar thanked God for what the mob grotesquely did, the bloodletting, the abuse, the gouging, the stabbing, the slicing. Later, when the body was dry, Sam Hose’s bones were sold for 25 cents.
The Georgia governor blamed the entire black community, from Macon to Savannah, for Hose’s death, similar to how the terrorists in the Capitol blame Mike Pence for not reversing an election. The terrorists who killed Sam Hose killed him because he defended himself with an ax when a white man pulled a gun. The terrorists who hunted Nancy Pelosi were defending an erratic and humiliated man, a white man loser, a liar, and a cheat.
19th-century terrorists or Wednesday afternoon terrorists, both rage and prosecute and frighten and take us to a dark, sad place. We recognize that a mob intent on killing a man is searingly absurd. Before Wednesday, it was hard to imagine, apart from a cinematic film, the political class donning gas masks, barricading themselves in closets as they were hunted down by a spume faced horde of whiteness.
Scarring follows any violation and yet hours after the Capitol nearly shattered, Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz carried on the way toxic men who can’t read the room often do and to their own peril, I must say. Complicit in the language the terrorists conflated as freedom, Hawley and Cruz decided to die on a lonely hill as if the world was the same world it had once been.
Six months ago, a Chandler, Arizona woman named Jill Marie Jones was arrested at the Phoenix airport. She had just checked in on her way to the Middle East. She had been in contact with what she thought were al-Qaida members but they were the FBI. She had given them a gift card of $500.00 for supplies to purchase rifle scopes. To be used for murder. She embraced radical ideology and wanted the United States military to be harmed. The reason she was flying to the Middle East was to join al-Qaida. Syria was her destination. She told an informant “supporting AQ against the oppressors would be an honor.” More worrisome, she thought of acting out al-Qaida ideals here in the United States but here she had limited power.
Stories like Jill Marie Jones always trickle out as a cautionary tale. Elected politicians begin their saliva foment of righteous disgust and temporal anger as they fear the numbers: how many exactly have been radicalized by foreign terrorists? And yet the same radicalization that made it possible for Jill Marie Jones to buy a gift card, talk to FBI informants, purchase a ticket to Afghanistan, and then change her ticket to Turkey because of airport closures, has been consecrated as systemic in the GOP, on any given Sunday. Except the Republicans don’t want to say so, say they are the seed and the root. Say their caustic speech weaponizes grievances and reduces debate. Say they adore demagogues as much as they pray to Christ. Say they are the cause of Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi and 400 others almost being murdered.
Naturally, the GOP won’t admit they radicalize the same way that al-Qaida radicalizes and that they profit from the political violence they incite. They feign shock and confusion, asking themselves how this could happen when they are the reason it was always going to happen. You can’t give a grenade to a two-year-old who just might pull the pin.
Information about domestic terrorists has some looking over the shoulder at their neighbors, sizing them up. White? Check. Alienated? Check. Isolated? Check. MAGA? Check. Waiting for a fight? Check. While it’s helpful to understand who you live next to, the FBI profile is not the why of January 6th.
What happened inside the Capitol building happened because the abusers were white and paranoid. They believed a GOP talking point about whiteness being under siege. Whiteness being pure. They believe whiteness has to take “their” country back because whiteness is disappearing. Look at all of those black votes in Detroit, Milwaukee, Atlanta, and Philadelphia; it’s evidence. Summoning all of their racial rages into a recipe of feral violence and thirst and malfeasance. I can make a bomb. I can storm a building. I can make people afraid.
When I was a teenager I knew a boy named Skillet- we called him that in the neighborhood, his government name was Dalton. Skillet killed his mother. While he was doing the crime inside the house, his friend was outside the house waiting in the running car. When Skillet was caught he served less time than his friend in the car because we, as a country, look down on those who could have stopped a crime but did nothing, or who egged it on but didn’t get their hands dirty.
The Republicans did both. They egged it on and got their hands dirty. They allowed a delusional cult leader to dance over their corpse as their new way of being, and stupidly, in their Faustian bargain agreed to their own demise. Socrates drank poisonous hemlock. Brutus ran into his own sword. Mark Antony stabbed himself. Corbulo fell on his sword after yelling “Axios.” I am worthy. In 2016, a suicidal GOP weaponized Donald Trump. But they are not worthy.
In the aftermath of the Capitol atrocity, a tone-deaf GOP lawyer said, “it’s a country I don’t recognize”. He had never heard of Sam Hose.
Black people have seen this episode of cruelty and terror before, those seminal white faces twisted in hatred and venality searching for anyone, anything to destroy. Racial terrorism is the sap that oxygenates white supremacy and caused a black man named Jasper to be dragged behind a truck. And cotton gin fans to be fastened on the ankles of Emmitt Till so he would sink in the Tallahatchie. And Sam Hose’s knuckles to be displayed at a local store; his heart and liver were given to the governor of Georgia. The romance of dead black men was the impetus for a Missouri housewife who held up her daughter so she could have a better view of the dead Negro on fire in the town square.
We accept racial terrorism as doing business in America and then we lie about how much it is not us. Yes, it is everything about us. It is God, apple pie, and football. It’s what we do here.
But more obsequious is the political terrorism we pretend not to condone. Because it oxygenates the diseased Republican Party, the secret is kept sealed under glass. But arrogantly smug, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley ripped the bandaid off the Republican wound that had been fine living in the dark.
Hawley is generations removed from that little Missouri girl wanting to see the black man on fire, and that Georgia woman thanking the mob for Sam Hose’s murder. But his behavior on a weary Wednesday normalized a searing historical sickness. Hawley affirmed the grievances of terrorists by embracing terrorism at its core atrocity, a reputational risk for sure but he felt comfortable powering up his fist in honor of invalidating black voters. It was a favor to us. Finally, the political terrorists of the GOP were out in the open. At last.
Autopsying the day. The repetitive television coverage hour after hour was tiresome a ballast as there was. Many educated white people looked in the camera directly and said the word insurrection as a way to sum up the biblical calamity of the moment. It feels better to put distance between the act and the behavior, the criminal, and the crime, the art, and the mania. But they were sanitizing a feral production. Because. To say insurrection and not terrorist, to say raid and not a lynching, to say riot and not karma, to say horror and not reaping what you sow is to maintain the fantastical lie that nearly got Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi murdered.
Say what it is, for once. Sam Hose was lynched by racists. Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi were almost hung. Terrorists have a soft place to fall in the Republican Party.