On January 6, 2021, a collection of protesters traveled to Washington D.C, many of them hoping to disrupt a joint session of The United States Congress at the Capitol Building. Elected members of the House of Representatives and Senate were meeting in separate chambers of the Capitol to certify the vote count of the Electoral College of the 2020 Presidential Election, declaring Joseph Biden as the 46th president of the United States. As became infamous, a large crowd gathered outside the Capitol building and began to force their way through temporary barricades and fight with police. While the certification proceedings were still underway, the exterior doors and windows of the Capitol were breached. The joint session of Congress was forced to suspend the proceedings and politicians were evacuated from the Senate Chamber. Video footage, both from national news coverage and individuals presenting themselves on mobile devices and posting to social media, captured the events of that day. One of the individuals captured by various media was Nathan Wayne Entrekin. Entrekin, a 48-year-old Arizona man dressed head-to-toe in a custom-made costume inspired by a character featured in the Book of Mormon, was seen inside the Capitol building carrying a wooden dowel. On that dowel was a piece of white cloth which read:
“IN MEMORY OF OUR GOD, OUR RELIGION, AND FREEDOM, AND OUR PEACE, OUR WIVES, AND OUR CHILDREN. ALMA 46:12”
Entrekin posted several photos on his own social media account and was interviewed by various media outlets that day. In one interview posted on YouTube, Entrekin characterized his presence at the Capitol as a “fight for freedom” and described the enemy (among some off handed comments about Jews and Native Americans) as political figures like Mitt Romney who, according to Entrekin, “sold out to the system.” Entrekin state that the former president Donald Trump inspired him to attend the rally in Washington D.C. Social media posts show that Entrekin had planned for weeks to not only attend the rally but dress as the mythical “freedom fighter.” By comparison, Entrekin’s actions that day were relatively benign, especially compared to the many other Insurrectionists who had more sinister intentions that day. He was not accused of assaulting officers, breaking windows, or stealing government property. In fact, Entrekin had become the butt of many jokes with late night comedians. Stephen Colbert dedicated part of his monologue on “The Late Show” to mocking Entrekin, focusing on his overweight stature and painting him as a sexually repressed bachelor unable to distinguish reality from fantasy. However, I will argue that Entrekin was not merely wearing a costume and participating in a protest, he was performing a particular fan identity, one in which he was answering the call to defend the country from “infiltrators” intent on destroying it. Of course, there is no way to judge the degree to which Entrekin believed what he was saying or if he was simply “playing out” a part. I contend that the level of incredulousness does not matter. Even if Entrekin was not initially motivated to overthrow the government, he did participate in an event in which multiple people were severely injured and five were killed. This is not to place the blame of those deaths on Entrekin. It does however, highlight the ambiguous nature of play itself.
I argue that Entrekin and many of the other Capitol Insurrections were playing out the tactical body, a specific iteration of, what I am calling, the white masculine crusader (WMC) fan identity. This embodied identity performance not only reaffirms a regressive interpretation of the ideal body and doubles as a political statement, but is defined by the call to prepare the body. Considering fannish practices have become a popular mode of civic engagement and the WMC fan identity is defined by the desire to prepare the body, the various individuals and communities who play out this identity are more inclined to take advantage of the playful possibilities of digital platforms.
Framing Entrekin and the other Capitol Insurrectionists as fans helps highlight the playful nature of political engagement in the digital age. We could certainly point to the fannish elements of the January 6th Insurrection; including the practices and behaviors that we traditionally associate with fandom like emotional investment in a fan text, creating a community, experimenting with identity performance.
Hills (2017) states that reacting to rumors, generating speculation, discussing theories, and gathering information provides fans with “interesting everyday microdramas.” Therefore, fandom is essentially “always-on” and creates a “24/7 chorus of affect.” Unfortunately, digital technologies not only provide the means for fans to create content, but also instigate highly antagonistic moments when fans are defending against threats to their fan objects (threats which traditionally have been perceived as the inclusion of women and people of color). The ramifications of 24/7 “always-on” fandom, Hills argues, is antagonism is often amplified in various fan communities and digital platforms. Petersen and Sundet (2019) write that fans seek out and contribute to digital communities in the hopes of creating and maintaining a full range of playful moods that are pleasurable and encourage more play. Considering digital technologies and online platforms have become increasingly accessible and affordable while providing more playful possibilities, fan communities have been provided with more avenues and opportunities to “stay in play.” Understanding fan practices as a form of mediatized play not allows researchers to examine how an affective charge is brought about by a fan’s attachment to a fan object and how this fuels digital participation but how this charge is ‘played out’ as a form of identity performance and body politics. I contend that understanding fans as players (rather than simply viewers or consumers) provides a theoretical lens for analyzing the media experience as a function of codependence. Rather than assuming fans blindly accept the ideology perpetuated in media, fans actively negotiate with media and in some cases alter the logic of platforms in a dynamic relationship.
Hills, M., 2017. Psychoanalysis as an engagement with fans’“Infra-Ordinary” experiences. The Routledge companion to media fandom, pp.18-26.
Petersen, L.N. and Sundet, V.S., 2019. Play moods across the life course in SKAM fandom. The Journal of Fandom Studies, 7(2), pp.113-131.