After the storming of the Capitol, the President of the United States has been banned from Twitter (the main way he communicates with the general public) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put out a video in which she says in the first few minutes that she doesn't know what she's allowed to talk about, that she doesn't know how much of what happened to her she can share because of "security reasons," that she's traumatized, and that she needs to be in the care of mental health professionals. And for the first time ever, the US military announced their opinion about who the next president will be.
These events point in a related direction: the silencing of elected politicians. While they are probably not centrally planned, they seem synchronized, like a lot of people in different places are responding to related cues in similar ways. Trump getting kicked off Twitter, and the harder to pin down forces acting on AOC, come from a shared sense among many people that the thing to do with clear evidence of authorities' failure is to cover it up.
There seems to be a widely distributed sense that it's not the job of people in AOC's position to investigate and communicate to the public what happened, that there are things it would be irresponsible for her to share. But there isn't a correspondingly specific sense of whose job it would be to investigate and communicate to the public, or what recourse the public has if such an investigation is not evident. This is related to a system of coordination within which credibility is assigned not based on track records, but based on having held power. The establishment is the central power network that assigns credit based solely on demonstrated participation in and loyalty to itself.
The establishment saw the Capitol "coup" as an opportunity to step in to manage things, i.e. keep things under wraps. The "responsible authorities" who have been dispatched to respond to the attack on the Capitol are likely to either use this crisis to create a permanently expanded mandate for their own power (see: the War on Terror), or fail to investigate criminal complicity in the attack by members of government. This was an attempted coup. It seems to have been sponsored by parts of the legitimate government; apparently members of Congress gave reconnaissance tours to people who went on to lead of the attack on the Capitol. That is weird for America, and it is too weird for us as citizens to leave entirely to the "proper authorities" without getting some genuinely independent investigative journalism looking into it.
More generally, there's a widespread intuition that the "responsible" thing to do is prevent things from getting messy, to prevent upsetting news from getting out.
Betrayal trauma is a term popularized by psychologist Jennifer Freyd for the effects produced when someone is harmed by someone whose care they rely on, and is compelled to conceal this fact. The military is a well-known institutional betrayer, as is the health care system. Freyd has documented the occurrence of "betrayal blindness," in which the victims of betrayal trauma tend to develop blind spots around the betrayal as a coping mechanism, to compartmentalize their knowledge of it in order to keep up appearances for their abuser.
People with complex PTSD such as betrayal trauma acquire new behavioral patterns such as feeling compelled to side with transgressors - people who are insisting on a coverup - simply because they are transgressors. This is documented among other places in psychiatrist Bessel Van Der Kolk's book The Body Keeps the Score.
The default outcome if AOC receives conventional trauma care is for her therapists to reframe her experience as a personal trauma for her to come to terms with privately and therapeutically, not something where the details of what happened might be important for others to know about. In other words, we should expect that conventional psychiatric care would inflict betrayal trauma on her by pressuring her into participating in a coverup of the violence committed against her.
If this happens, AOC will be recruited into the "responsible behavior" pattern and be more triggerable into silencing others when they're complaining.
AOC's video talked about a power grab by nihilists willing to burn down the country so long as they win. The implication was that the violence done in the Capitol was not in defense of some specific interest, but instead strictly in the service of winning zero-sum games. The coverup we should expect is in fact a nihilistic power grab like AOC says, but the actual adversary AOC is being hounded by is not the Republican party.
This is not a partisan issue. Twitter is piling on Trump simply because he's on the outs, so it's time to disown him and throw whatever's needed down the memory hole. Notably Twitter is NOT banning Trump based on an explicit policy; CEO Jack Dorsey has disavowed even having a policy of banning Holocaust deniers, and Trump violated Twitter's supposed ban on threats of violence against other users years ago when he threatened North Korea with nuclear war. The US Military is not partisan; it's backing Biden, because that seems like the direction of stable, predictable authority right now. The US Air Force's secret plan to commit genocide against the people of China, described in The Doomsday Machine, was not a partisan plan. Psychiatry is not a partisan institution.
Some of these forces seem affiliated more with one party or another, but that's part of the coverup.
National security officials asserting the fully general right to keep state secrets and defining people not backing this up as uncredible, and psychiatrists asserting the right to decide which sorts of speech are mere symptoms of a medical problem, are different but structurally related establishments with a shared fundamental orientation in favor of coverups.
AOC has more in common with people like Peter Thiel (Both interested in life extension research! Both weirdos who don't fit well into party structures!) than with establishment Democrats, and the forces at play here are going to make it more difficult for them to talk with each other, more compelling for them to view each other as members of the enemy team. Making everything about enemy teams is a characteristic behavior of the nihilistic takeover currently targeting AOC.
Early-career people with interests see ways they could advance those interests if they were in positions of more power. But people move into power by accepting conditioning that causes them to see opportunity in bringing more people under control, instead of seeing opportunity in advancing any specific interest. Such people continue to rise in power because bringing others under control is what power is made of, not because there are specific things they intend to do with the power. That is the nihilism of power.
Among politicians, AOC seems uniquely able to speak, but it looks like she had to work through some difficulty to do so in this video, and we should expect this to get worse every day she's in the "care" of the mental health establishment. AOC has firsthand knowledge of stuff that went down at the Capitol, she has alluded to "betrayal" from within the government, and it's possible that some of the things she's seen and isn't talking about are important and incriminating facts that the public has an interest in knowing. She also has a track record of specific detailed well-executed good intentions, starting with placing second in the Intel Science Fair for life extension research, and more recently using her position in Congress to reveal information to the public about how the system works. We need to preserve this voice.
What to do
The problem here is that AOC is most likely surrounded by normal responsible people who have already been recruited into this kind of "responsibility" pattern of silencing. If so, she needs to be unsilenced. Keeping her unsilenced can include:
• Bringing a camera crew to her to make it harder to prevent her from getting her message out.
• Bringing her to a safer location, not in the custody of the national security establishment.
• Connecting her with people who are interested in the *content* of her experience as potentially relevant to their interests as citizens, not just about her feelings.
• Especially before we can reach her directly, public statements by public figures signal-boosting her, indicating that she's talking about something important and relevant to the future of the country, and that it's important to listen.
But most of all we need to have an open conversation among people trying to help, to clarify our picture of what's going on, how the silencing dynamic works, what useful resources might be brought to bear, etc.
This was originally a private letter to Daniel Ellsberg, written on January 15th. Some elements of it are no longer relevant, as the opportunity related to the immediate crisis is over. Others are clearer now than before.
On January 21, author Felix Gilman made a similar observation about the extralegal mechanism by which power was transferred from Trump back to the establishment:
a lot of people have said this but it really does feel as if the real transition took place a couple of weeks ago when they banned him off twitter, not whatever happened yesterday
Ocasio-Cortez recently tweeted;
My story isn’t the only story, nor is it the central story of what happened on Jan 6th. It is just one story of many of those whose lives were endangered at the Capitol by the lies, threats, and violence fanned by the cowardice of people who chose personal gain above democracy.
Thanks for making the space for me, and hope we can all make space for others to tell their stories in the weeks to come. And to those who wish to paper over their misdeeds by rushing us to all “move on” - we can move on when the individuals responsible are held to account.
This explicitly confirms that she has noticed people trying to silence her in exactly the way described in the letter - by framing what happened to her as a personal and private trauma to process and move on from, not as an event that might be of public importance to remember, investigate, understand, and respond to.
ETA: My answers to Shauna's and Eli's questions in the comments might clear up some points, so I've integrated them with the letter above.