Entertainment

A Comedian's Firsthand Account of the Capitol Riot

"You felt like you were in a war, if Eric Andre made a war."
Ashwin Rodrigues
Brooklyn, US
January 14, 2021, 8:29pm
Jason Selvig the good liars interviewing man in mesh mask
Screenshot via The Good Liars Twitter

Jason Selvig and Davram Stiefler have been making videos as the comedy duo The Good Liars for a decade, offering absurdist, often deadpan takes on current events. On January 6, in the hours before a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol Building in a violent insurrection that left five people dead, the New York-based comedians were in Washington, D.C. shooting interviews with demonstrators at the president's "Stop the Steal" rally. Many of them were more than happy to answer questions; some even started enthusiastically chanting the words "second place," at the pair's instruction. Then the day took a frightening turn. 

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Selvig and Stiefler's videos—which often see the comedians inserting themselves into hot-button cultural happenings, such as "occupying" Occupy Wall Street, or attempting to steal from noted content thieves Fuck Jerry—are relatively straightforward. Some are pre-planned, Selvig said, while others originate from impromptu interviews. Often, it's the interview subjects who provide the comedic material, such a woman who admitted to voting twice for Trump in 2016.

Ultimately, the comedians' coverage of last Wednesday was more disturbing than anything else. Before the storming, they interviewed a man wearing a useless mesh mask, and another who appeared to cry while telling Stiefler what he'd tell the outgoing president, if given the chance to speak with him. Their initial plan was to leave during Trump's speech, as they figured the president would rile up his biggest fans. On their way out of town, though, they managed to capture some surreal footage of the rioters descending on the Capitol as a woman sang on a stage about "peace in the name of Jesus."

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The riot was decidedly not funny, and a frightening sign of potential violence to come. The interviews, however, shed light on some of the personalities that attended the rally, providing jarring real-world examples of people regurgitating misinformation they've ingested on the Internet. In an interview with VICE, Selvig insisted these people were not outliers. "This is not cherry-picking," he said. "It's the majority of the Trump supporters that we've talked to. Granted, these are people that go to Trump rallies, and are going for a march for something that is built on a fantasy." 

Vice spoke to Selvig about The Good Liars and what it was like to be at the Capitol in the leadup to the riot. 


VICE: How did The Good Liars start? 
Jason Selvig:
We started in 2011. We did a video during the Occupy Wall Street protests, where we dressed up as investment bankers and went down and protested the protests, saying we were occupying Occupy Wall Street. We thought it was a joke—a funny one-off video. But then all these real investment bankers thought it was real. And they started joining us in the protests, while we're saying things that are making fun of them—like, "If we keep doing this, we're gonna have to bump our cocaine addiction and sell our fourth house in the Hamptons."

A lot of stuff that I've seen [in your videos], depending on your political alignment and your brain, it's either a statement of fact, or a joke. For example, the guy in the mesh mask.
It's interesting: We've been doing this together for a long time, to varying degrees of success. This mesh mask thing—that would be a parody video if there was a pandemic in 2017. Somebody would write that and write his response, as part of a comedy bit. 

It shows how divorced from reality people are. Some people might look at that interview and think it's unremarkable.
That's been an interesting thing. People always say, "Don't look at the comments." But I actually think it's interesting to look at the comments and see the people that are disagreeing with you, and why. We've done some videos talking with Trump supporters about COVID—and about wearing masks and all that stuff—and you see people's response, being like "The masks don't work. Science has told us that the masks don't work, and COVID has a 99.98 percent survival rate." And I'm like, This sounds completely crazy. Where are they getting these numbers from? I did the math and realized they just don't understand how percentages work. This is the most basic thing that you've got wrong here. How have we failed you in society? 

Have you seen anyone that you spoke to in the pictures of people actually storming the Capitol?
As we were walking, there was a guy that looked like he got shot with a rubber bullet in the face. The inside of his face was showing, and he was bleeding. I thought he was going to the hospital or something. The next day, looking at pictures from the floor of the Senate, that guy was there. He had a hole in his face.

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Were there any people you spoke to that were more normal than you expected?
That's a good question. I'm trying to think of whether we talked to anybody that I would say is "normal." [laughs] Because, most of the people there—and I do mean, the majority of the people that we talked to—they were there chanting things like "1776." We'd ask them questions like, "Do you think there's going to be a civil war?" And they were implying that war was starting that day, and this date was important to U.S. history, and they were on the right side of U.S. history. That's a belief based on a fantasy: that an election was stolen, and that they're going to save democracy by storming the Capitol. So I guess, no. 

There's people you talk to, and they're not screaming; they're not just immediately starting to cry, like the guy that Davram interviewed. You're having a normal conversation, but they're also saying crazy things.

The [video of the man who started crying when talking about Trump] really bummed me out. I laughed at "We're at the biggest gathering of losers," but the way that guy's emotional tenor immediately changed—I thought that was an advertisement for why we need healthcare.
A lot of the videos bum us out, too. We feel really sad about the direction of the country, how people are totally cut off from reality. When you watched that video, it bummed you out—that's the intent in some of it. This is a bad place we're in. This is where our fellow countrymen are right now.

When in the day did you shoot that video?
That was probably about 20 minutes before Trump spoke. We tried to avoid the big crowds, because it's a super-spreader event. We were wearing masks. You could go there with MAGA capes on and stuff, but if you're wearing a mask, somebody will be like, "Are you supposed to be here, man?" People really didn't like people wearing masks. We got lots of looks and people saying things to us just because we were wearing masks.

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If you're wearing a mask, or holding a microphone, these are identifiers that you might be an enemy of these people. What was the vibe you were getting from people throughout the day?
Backtracking a little bit, we were there on Tuesday. We filmed a little on Tuesday, and then walked around Tuesday night, to where Alex Jones was speaking, and Ali Alexander and Roger Stone and Michael Flynn. That was the closest thing I could imagine to being at a Nazi rally, with Roger Stone screaming, like, 'We're gonna go to war against the globalists," and people getting riled up. As we were walking the streets, there were Proud Boys, or militia members, on every corner with walkie talkies. They had set up a perimeter. While we were interviewing, they would come and just watch at certain times. It was just an intimidation thing for anybody who had a microphone—like, You should be afraid that you're here.

How did you hear about the event?
We heard about it from Donald Trump tweeting about it. He was like, "Go here, it's gonna be crazy." From the people we were following, the far-right extremists like Sidney Powell and Ali Alexander—[it seemed like they were] saying this is going to be a huge day. We were like, "Something's going to happen." 

We didn't want to be there when it happened, for the record. Our plan was to leave during Trump's speech. We assumed there was going to be violence. We didn't think it was going to be the storming of the Capitol. But we assumed after Trump riled everybody up there was going to be something that happened. I wasn't surprised that people died that day. 

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Where were you when that happened?
We were right outside. Our plan was to leave during Trump's speech; we got our car from the hotel. By the way, sharing a hotel where every single other person is a Trump supporter was an insane experience. But [as] we were driving out and looking at the National Mall, we could hear "YMCA" playing, which is the song [Trump] dances to. So we're like, "Oh, it's over." But then we saw a sea of people all walking the same way. They were walking towards the Capitol, which was the direction we were driving. 

We parked the car and walked past 15 Capitol Police officers who were on the road. It was getting violent—they were pushing the cops, and there was still a barricade in between them. Then they pushed through that barricade and it was just the cops and them on the steps. We saw the same Capitol Police officers who just walked by 5-10 minutes earlier, running with their hands on their guns, with a panicked look on their faces. And they were screaming into their radios, asking where they needed to go. And all this is happening. 

There was a stage set up there. All of these Evangelical or—I don't even know—Pentecostal Christians chanting into a microphone 'Protect Donald Trump, the blood of Jesus covering this place.' As they're storming the Capitol, there's just people on the ground bowing down. It's what I think about when I go to sleep, I close my eyes. Flashbangs were going off, your whole body's shaking. You felt like you were in a war, if Eric Andre made a war.

What about sharing a hotel with a bunch of Trump supporters made it crazy?
A lot of them would just sit around and not wear masks and look around like they're doing the coolest thing in the world by not wearing a mask. It was half frat party, half I assume what it's like with soldiers when they get pumped up to go to war. While we were going to sleep, we were hearing pump up music. It woke me up in the morning, too, at 6:30 in the morning, these guys were getting pumped up. It was the Georgia election results, the runoff, we turned on the TV. We were watching it and then we realized that it was pretty loud, and we were watching CNN. We're like, 'That might be a justifiable homicide for some of the people that are here right now.' We purposely didn't want to film right around there, can you imagine if we get on the elevator with somebody we just interviewed?