Curious Reads: Family is Complicated for an Insurrectionist
A January 6th defendant pleads his case to the adult son who turned him in to the Feds.
Hello friend, Liz here.
#1 Today’s top of the fold story is the story of a January 6th defendant whose adult son turned him in to the FBI and what their relationship is like now.
For those of us who understand the difficulty of parent/adult child political disagreements, the story of Brian Mock (age 44) and his son A.J. (21) will hit a nerve.
Read “A Jan. 6 Defendant Pleads His Case to the Son Who Turned Him In” by Eli Saslow at the New York Times.
A.J. and his dad, Brian, generally like and trust each other. In fact, when A.J. came out as gay to his dad over text by sending him a link to a cheesy YouTube song, his dad responded seconds later saying, “I love you. I’m proud of you. But I’ll never forgive you for getting this dumb song stuck in my head.”
The two joke around. They enjoy each others’ company. But father and son disagree about Brian’s actions on January 6 when Brian joined a crowd of Trump supporters in storming the Capitol.
Brian had never taken politics so seriously before. He’d voted Republican and he’d voted for Obama. A few times, he even wrote in his own name a few times, just for fun.
But then came Trump’s presidency.
While Brian agreed with his son that Trump was “a straight-up jerk” (Brian’s words), he also appreciated the economic growth the presidency had ushered in. He also resented how left-leaning news sources could dismiss millions of Americans as “bigoted white supremacists just because we won’t say Trump is the devil.’”
2020 exacerbated the divide between Brian and his son A.J. Lockdowns in their hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota hurt Brian’s landscaping business, and then father and son took opposite sides about the protests related to the murder of George Floyd in their city.
And then Brian became obsessed with Trump’s presidential loss in 2020.
Brian spent his free time studying voter turnout data. Brian learned the intricacies of the 12th Amendment. And finally, Brian pulled A.J. aside at family game night to ask if the son would watch his father’s dogs and house while Brian and a friend drove to D.C. for a rally. A.J., shocked and bewildered, agreed. But A.J. did not understand until later.
The day of the riot, father and son checked in with each other over text, which is how A.J. learned his father had not only watched Trump’s speech, but had also joined the crowd’s march afterward.
A.J.: News is saying the riot is over. Are you OK?
Brian: It was a hell of a fight. We got gassed bad. Me and Connor got clubbed. I got mine.
A.J.: You got what?
Brian: I did some damage.
A.J.: What you guys did today was treason and a homeland security threat. In all reality, everyone there should be locked up for the rest of their lives. Including you.
Brian: You’ve got to be kidding me. We showed up and it was peaceful and then they gassed and attacked people.
A.J.: You STORMED THE [EXPLETIVE] CAPITOL!
Brian: They started the violence, and now they understand the measure of our resolve.
A.J.: You have 4 kids at home. What the hell made you think this was a good idea? If that was a BLM protest, everyone would have been killed with no questions asked.
A.J. was furious. But Brian’s resolve only grew on the trip home. He’d stood up for freedom, for his children. He was a patriot. And his actions had been justified. While he wasn’t an official militia member, wasn’t a white supremacist or misogynist, he saw himself as a patriot.
Perhaps his father’s self-righteousness (and a bit of teasing and baiting) encouraged A.J. to do what he did next. A few weeks after the riot, when A.J. stumbled onto an article urging citizens to identify the crowd at the riot, he emailed the F.B.I. to point out his dad’s face amongst the hundreds of photos. And he attached their texts as evidence.
Then a few months later, A.J. visited his dad’s house one afternoon and found it ransacked. A 16-page charging document rested on the coffee table, and the F.B.I. had taken Brian into custody. A.J. flipped through the charges and found a photo that still haunts him:
He saw photos of his father lifting his fist in defiance and pulling away a police officer’s riot shield.
He wondered, how could that be his dad? His dad who had been politically moderate, not nutty or extremist, and never violent. His dad who had raised four children, who had offered so much support and care. How could his father have harmed an officer like that?
When asked to explain at his trial, Brian explained that he heard the officer threaten to shoot. Though the officer had testified that he’d been backing away in that photo, Brian disagreed. Brian said he had believed the officer yelled to stand back or he’d shoot; that when the officer looked down, he’d been looking toward his holster; that Brian was his target. So, in self-defense, Brian pushed the officer hard in the chest and the officer fell hard onto the marble stairs behind him.
For that push, the judge found Brian guilty. A.J. agrees with the verdict. Though he wants to believe his dad’s account…he doesn’t understand it. He remains bewildered.
It’d be easy to tell this story from the angle of betrayal. But A.J. and Brian are still close. They talk almost daily as Brian awaits his sentence. In fact, A.J. helped in his father’s defense: gathering documents, acting as power-of-attorney on his dad’s behalf, and testifying in D.C. as a character witness for his dad (a request by Brian).
When he arrived for the trial, A.J. came bearing a gift, too. In their love language of jokes, A.J. gave his father a mug with a fake Trump quote printed on the ceramic: “You are a really, really great dad. The best. Just fantastic. Other dads? Losers. Total disasters. Everyone agrees.”
Brian, too, gave his son a gift at the trial. Brian, who defended himself, questions A.J.:
Brian: What do you think about our relationship might be complicated?
A.J.: We don’t always see eye to eye on things. We’re both quite stubborn.
Brian: Chip off the old block. Would you stand up here and lie to keep me out of jail?
A.J.: No. I’m not going to put myself at risk of perjury. All I have ever wanted is for this to be over. For whatever the truth is, whether it puts you in jail or whether it keeps you out of jail — I just want the truth to be heard and discovered.
Brian [nodding, clearing his throat]: You know I’m proud of you, right?
Brian: And I love you, and there’s nothing you can do to ever change that, right?
A.J. [voice breaking]: Yes.
What’s so moving about this story is its complexity:
Brian is a good father, and he is an insurrectionist.
A.J. is a good son, and he gave up his father to the Feds.
Both broke trust with the other, they do not agree, and they care deeply for the other.
The article opens and closes with Brian trying to remedy the gap between himself and his son by going over the evidence an F.B.I. prosecutor used at his Washington, D.C. trial.
“Earth to A.J.,” Brian said. “I’m not some lunatic frothing at the mouth. I got in a bad situation for about five minutes. Do you see where I’m coming from?”
“I’m trying,” A.J. said.
He’s trying. They both are.
I don’t know about you, but even though Federal agents have not come for me or my parents, I can relate to this complex familial relationship. Here, there are two stories, two truths, and two adults who love each other.
Disagreements like these do not resolve easily. Maybe they never resolve.
We do not see eye to eye, and we cannot make each other understand. Yet we can be together. We can be. We can sit at the same table and talk. We can try. And we can hope and pray that our feeble actions are good enough to bridge the gap.
Can any of us offer more?
Thanks for reading. Warmly, Liz Charlotte Grant
P.S. As promised, if you scroll to the very bottom of this email, you’ll find a list of recent political dramas worth knowing about. ;-)
YOUR TURN: How have you navigated disagreements in your intimate relationships? What have you learned from your failures and successes?
More Curious Reads
#2 The most popular Instagram portrait painter freaked out about a critic’s review and mobilized his followers for revenge. —Art Net
“A little more than a week ago, I wrote a review of an art show by the artist and TikTok sensation Devon Rodriguez, best known for live drawing subway riders …It went up on a Friday. On Saturday morning, I woke up to a tidal wave of anger from Rodriguez on Instagram, tagging me across scores of posts. Hundreds of his followers went on the attack, swarming my Instagram: “loser,” “hater,” “pathetic,” “jealous,” “your a dick,” and on and on and on. There were many creative variations on “kill yourself.” Others said they were going to get me fired, or said things like, “we are going to start a cancellation campaign against you.” A large number thought that defending Rodriguez meant calling me bald, ugly, fat, or whatever they thought could get under my skin. Most didn’t seem to have actually read my article. A contingent went after my wife. “Some women will do anything for money,” one commented. That one was funny, actually.”
(This was such a fascinating read! I ended up watching a 45-minute You Tube explainer afterward because I couldn’t stop thinking about it.)
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#3 Israelis and Palestinians alike are traumatized people who love the land and deserve to live there in peace. Both are worthy and both are being harmed. Theirs is another example of two stories being true at the same time. —The Christian Century
#4 The problem isn’t inflation—it’s prices. (By which I mean, corporate greed.)—Vox
#5 This past August, a dog and his owner climbed a mountain in Colorado. 72 days later, only the dog made it home. —Outside Magazine
At least the Weather Has Finally Turned…
I present to you: “Orange Jesus” (AKA A Few Political Dramas Worth Knowing About)
About that insurrection… turns out, Mike Pence was on the fence about certifying Biden’s 2020 election victory because he feared he would hurt “his good friend,” he told the special counsel. Except, before the big vote, his Marine son encouraged Pence to stick by his oath to the Constitution. That extra bit of pressure meant that Mikey went through with the certification after all. (How is democracy this fragile?!)
Have you heard that Republicans have a nickname for Trump? According to an excerpt from Liz Cheney’s forthcoming memoir, they call the former president
This past week. Joe Biden turned 81, making him the oldest president in American history, and he’s finally begun cracking jokes about his age.
Meanwhile, on the president’s birthday, Trump released a doctor’s note saying that the former president was in “excellent” health…which is like me gifting my husband a floral bathrobe in my own size on his birthday.
But have no fear! Nikki Haley is not out of the presidential race yet (though Ron DeSantis is raising hell about her). The Never-Trumper Koch brothers (and their influential Republican PAC) have, in fact, agreed to back Haley in the Iowa Republican primary and beyond.
In addition, two issues seem to be rising to the surface for both parties as they approach an election year: immigration and Obamacare. (Random?) Yet to young voters, the Israel-Hamas war means more than any other issue, and polls have begun to indicate that they’re willing to vote for anyone who will stop it. Meaning Biden is in trouble if he keeps backing Israel only.
Last and least, the crimes of Rep. George Santos seem to have finally caught up with him… though it’s doubtful that SNL will stop using him as a punching bag anytime soon. May he be a lesson to us all! (Lookin’ at you, Orange Jesus.)