A whole taxonomy of Trumpist right-wing manhood could be developed from the Internet investigations, wanted posters and arrest affidavits now trickling out in the wake of last week’s riot at the Capitol. En masse, the photos show a conglomeration of weird beards, ammo and camo, and a very specific brand of looks-like-somebody-got-a-Bass-Pro-gift-card-for-Christmas raging White masculinity.
But you also have the breakout alleged criminals representing their own splintering subcategories: QAnon Shaman. Hogan’s Heroes. Ski Dad, i.e. an overly tan man who looked like he should be teaching the bunny hill class but instead appeared to be stealing a lectern. Another man wearing a sweatshirt reading — God help us, find out what company makes this and shut it down — “Camp Auschwitz.”
And, Zip Tie Guy.
Which brings us to Eric Munchel.
In one of the more terrifying images of last week, a man believed to be Munchel, wearing dark fatigues and a face-obscuring black gaiter, climbed over a railing in the Senate Gallery. He wore a Taser holstered to his hip and gripped a bunch of zip-tie handcuffs in one hand. While his fellow raiders were busy “scratching their balls” in Nancy Pelosi’s office or literally pooping on the Capitol’s floors, Zip Tie Guy had the mien of someone who had breached the complex with an actual nefarious plan involving hostages or worse.
The man suspected of being Zip Tie Guy was unmasked over the weekend by the Internet, then arrested by the FBI: Munchel, 30, has been charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. On Sunday, the FBI released more images, allegedly of Munchel, that had been captured throughout the day of Jan. 6.
In several, he was accompanied by a graying 57-year-old woman. And this is the point at which the portrait of Munchel became fuller, because this is the point at which it became a working theory that Zip Tie Guy had brought his mom to the revolution.
In a security camera image from earlier that afternoon, a pair of tourists, believed to be Munchel and mom, left their Hyatt hotel with matching cups of coffee in hand as if setting off for a long day at the Smithsonian. In a cellphone clip a few hours later, he ushers her up the stairs inside the Capitol, one hand steering her shoulder as they went about their illegal siege.
Truly, this is a testament to either a mother-son bond or a shared appetite for militant insurrection (They appear to share views: The alleged woman in question, Lisa Eisenhart, told the Times of London, “The left has everything: the media, organizations, the government. We have to organize if we’re going to fight back and be heard.”)
You have to wonder: If Zip Tie Guy and Munchel are indeed the same person, as the FBI alleges, where did he stash her while he was off climbing railings as part of whatever mission he’d assigned himself? Perhaps even the most devoted sons must eventually leave their mothers to commit the traditional coming-of-age ritual of trashing the seat of American Democracy in the name of being a patriot.
From Tennessee news sources — Munchel is from Nashville — we learned other biographical details about the suspect: He previously worked at Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk & Rock ’n’ Roll Steakhouse until he was fired a few months ago; he worked at another bar before that. He has deleted his Facebook page, but if you’d gone there early last week you could have seen a photo of him, brandishing an American flag and a shotgun, mouth wide open as if caught mid-yawp, standing in front of a TV tray and a flat-screen filled with President Trump’s face.
Arrests and charges of the Capitol rioters will continue this week. And the more we learn about the would-be usurpers, the more they become both horrifying and ridiculous. The QAnon Shaman, a.k.a. Jake Angeli, announced in his first court appearance that he could not eat jail food because it wasn’t all organic. (A judge intervened on his behalf.) Richard Barnett, a.k.a. the man who made a Barcalounger out of the desk chair of an assistant to Nancy Pelosi, told a reporter that he was forced to steal a piece of her mail because he accidentally bled on it. A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel named Larry Brock insisted that he was carrying around zip-tie handcuffs only because he’d found them on the floor and thought he might run into a police officer to helpfully hand them over to.
Brandon Fellows, who had shown up wearing a knit hat resembling a knight’s helmet and fake beard, and who was allegedly photographed smoking a joint in the office of Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), told Bloomberg News: “I didn’t hurt anyone. I didn’t break anything. I did trespass though, I guess.” He added that his Bumble dating profile, now updated with pictures of himself at the Capitol, was “blowing up.”
They had come vowing to overturn the election, but at the first hint they might experience consequences for their actions, they assumed the posture of tourists who had accidentally gotten in line for Insurrection Mountain at the Magic Kingdom.
The image of Zip Tie Guy with his black fatigues, tactical vest, Taser and cuffs was terrifying because of his anonymity and appearance of mercenary professionalism. Here was a man who looked as if he had both a plan and the knowledge and equipment to execute it. As if he’d done this a thousand times. The naming of Eric Munchel as a suspect made Zip Tie Guy terrifying for a different reason: If the authorities are right, he lived a regular life. The guy who used to work at the steakhouse. A man who could move easily from doting mama’s boy to terrorizing America’s seat of government — not before his morning coffee, of course.
The Capitol riot was the apotheosis of Trumpism: There was just enough boobish amateurism and eye-rolling absurdity on the surface to give cover to those tempted to dismiss a deadly serious attack on the American system as some version of “boys will be boys.”
Was this a mob of domestic terrorists or a confederacy of clowns? Or worse, was it both: a mob doing unconscionable things that included men who somehow viewed the whole day as a field trip? Militant bloodlust, commando cosplay, bright-eyed tourism and family bonding, all wrapped up together in what they decided was a fine way to spend a Wednesday afternoon.
These images will be the lasting brand of Trumpist masculinity, inspired and applauded by the president whose campaign press secretary went on television Monday to describe Trump as “the most masculine person, I think, to ever hold the White House.” For better or worse, this is the brand: a combination of inchoate fury and utter buffoonery, feeding on one another as they become more angry, and more preposterous, and finally, more dangerous.
It was that aspiring insurrectionist, scaling a railing with all the artifacts of a domestic terrorism coup. It was that dude from the steakhouse, hanging out with his mom.
Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated that Eric Munchel stood trial in 2015 for misdemeanor battery. He was arrested and charged, but did not stand trial.
Monica Hesse is a columnist writing about gender and its impact on society. For more visit wapo.st/hesse.