The miserable year of 2020 has now officially slipped into history, but it wasn't going to just go quietly without putting up a desperate struggle. On January 6th, tens (and perhaps hundreds) of thousands of supporters of Present Donald Trump assembled on the Ellipse in Washington DC in protest over the results of the November 2020 election. At the other end of the Mall inside the U.S.Capitol, the House of Representatives and the Senate were in the process of debating and formally certifying the Electoral College results of the presidential race.
Before the president's speech to his supporters ended, a large mob of people broke off, made their way to the Capitol, and stormed into the building. The unprecedented rampage that ensued (and covered in real time on television and the Internet) left five people dead, including a Capitol police officer who was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher, and one of the protesters, a 35-year old female Air Force veteran who was shot by an officer. Three others died from apparent medical emergencies. Members of Congress were hustled to an undisclosed 'secure location' as tear gas was used against the mob.
As with most riots and mass rampages, an adolescent glee for breaking things and invading symbolic seats of authority figures for the sake of selfies and high-fives from fellow mob members fanned the flames of frenzy. Knocking down symbols of power for the sheer fun of it is a common hallmark of massive mob protests, and this one was no exception. As more details became available, some of the participants posing for the cameras and egging on the crowd turned out to be known anarchic provocateurs seen at other riots and violent protests from earlier in the year. But the majority of the crowd that slowly moved into the rotunda and then on to the House and Senate chambers seemed more like several hundred dogs who had suddenly caught the UPS truck they had been chasing without a clue of what to do with it now.
It was not America's finest hour, and it's almost impossible to know how history will regard this event and the last year after all the dust clears and time softens the heated passions of the moment.
In the wake of this shocking (but probably inevitable) event, social media erupted as millions took sides over what was unfolding. The toxic political atmosphere of the last four years had finally taken its toll, as 50% of the country declared that the other 50% were their mortal enemy, and vice versa. And since the Internet, Twitter and Facebook have become the 21st century battlefields, there were Masons to be found on both sides of the political divide acting less than Masonically to each other.
|R. David Walker, Jr., Grand Master |
Grand Lodge AF&AM of North Carolina
On Friday, January 8th, MW R. David Walker, Jr., Grand Master of the Grand Lodge AF&AM of North Carolina, issued a statement to the Brethren in his jurisdiction concerning Wednesday's events. The statement was circulated on the North Carolina grand lodge website and Facebook pages (click image to enlarge).
(To answer a question posed by many over the last few days, North Carolina also weighed in last summer with a joint statement with the MW Prince Hall GL of NC concerning the riots following the death of George Floyd. See it HERE.)
The condemnation of a mob attack on the very center of American democracy should scarcely be a controversial message. But almost as soon as the statement was publicly posted, an avalanche of positive and negative online reactions ensued. The message was greeted in several Masonic Facebook groups with appalling accusations, insults and reactions between Brethren, so much so that moderators shut down many of the discussions completely or removed entire conversations. The political vitriol that has become so commonplace in the profane world was on full display throughout the virtual Masonic community as well.
The result is that I have now seen scores of Masons announce their intention to leave the fraternity, or at least reconsider their membership over it. Worse, the public can easily find these toxic exchanges, which only serves to smear Freemasonry as an institution that doesn't practice what it preaches.
It has been a cornerstone of Freemasonry since its official beginnings to prohibit the discussion of religion and politics within the confines of our tiled meetings because of the potential for heated divisions among our members. The online battles that have raged over the North Carolina statement are a clear demonstration of why that rule is necessary. Since the various riots and demonstrations around the country that began in summer of 2020, there have been no instances of Freemasons actually engaging in or organizing them AS MASONS. It's arguable that grand lodges issuing messages of support, solidarity or condemnation of political demonstrations and social uprisings have as much effect as Starbucks Coffee, Macy's, or the My Pillow company weighing in on political positions: regardless of the stance taken, the practical result is to needlessly conflict with a substantial proportion of existing customers (or members, in our case).
Grand lodges all over the country have been wrestling with adopting online social media rules of conduct over the last few years. Some have been minimal, common sense recommendations, but others have been needlessly detailed, draconian and picayune. The breakdown of social norms and the loss of what used to be called the 'civic virtues' that the Founders recognized as being the only way a democratic republic could endure have helped bring us to this gloomy moment in time. Historically, Freemasonry was deliberately encouraged to expand across America after our Revolution specifically to teach a rough, disparate and illiterate public how to get along with each other - to disagree without being disagreeable, and to unite men for the common good "among whom no contention should ever exist but that noble contention, or rather emulation, of who best can work, and best agree." Religion, politics, social and economic status, level of education - none of these were supposed to matter in the sanctuary of the lodge room or between Brethren in daily life, and those frontier Masons learned to sit side by side with men diametrically opposed to their own opinions.
It's probably irrational to believe that Freemasonry as a philosophy can successfully calm and subdue the passions of all of her members during this time of upheaval and 24-hour rage-making stoked by opportunistic activists, basement revolutionaries, keyboard warriors, politicians and media figures. Enforced isolation from the COVID shutdowns has prevented us from meeting face to face, Brother to Brother, for nine months now. But it certainly has no possible hope of succeeding with Masons who would rather quit than learn to coexist with their Brethren over politics. The COVID aftermath will certainly exact a dramatic toll on the fraternity from Masons who decide to drop their membership out of ennui caused by the shutdowns. Let's all hope that political strife and disagreements between Masons over transitory elections don't do even worse.