Of all the searing images on what at least one House Republican has characterized as an innocent “tourist” visit to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, possibly the most appalling was several Trump supporters brutally dragging a police officer down the Capitol steps for the purpose of beating, berating and “tasing” him. One of the perpetrators of that attack was a gentleman named Peter Stager, who wielded an American flag mounted on a flagpole to repeatedly strike that officer as he lay prostrate on those steps.
As reported by the New York Times’ Alan Feuer, Stager was criminally sentenced on Monday for his actions during that time.
A truck driver who assaulted a police officer with a flagpole at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was sentenced on Monday to 52 months in federal prison.
The attack by the driver, Peter Stager, produced one of the most disturbing images to emerge from the Capitol attack. Mr. Stager, 44, of Conway, Ark., was captured on video beating the officer, Blake Miller, with the flagpole in a fit of rage as Officer Miller lay facedown in a mob of other rioters with “no means of defending himself,” prosecutors wrote in court papers.
On one level, this is simply another instance of one of Trump’s loyal, pop-up army of violence-prone supporters getting his just desserts for his behavior and actions at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. For those who would quibble with the 52-month sentence (Stager faced twenty years, but the sentencing judge apparently took Stager’s purportedly traumatic childhood upbringing and history of abuse into account), well, yes, it seems too lenient. However, four years and four months in a federal penitentiary is nothing to look forward to, either.
But sentencing aside, Stager’s choice of weapon in this circumstance, as well as his behavior prior to and after his arrest provides a surfeit of metaphors for the Jan. 6 insurrection that extend well beyond his own sorry circumstances.
The video of Stager’s performance on Jan. 6 is below, from KHBS 40/29, an ABC affiliate in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
As Feuer reports:
After assaulting Officer Miller, prosecutors say, Mr. Stager was caught on video pointing at the Capitol, and declaring: “Everybody in there is a disgrace. That entire building is filled with treasonous traitors. Death is the only remedy for what’s in that building.”
He went on to say: “Every single one of those Capitol law enforcement officers, death is the remedy. That is the only remedy they get.”
The spectacle of this Trump supporter parroting Trump’s own rhetoric (“Everyone in there is a disgrace”) is as apt a symbol of the entire Trump movement in this country as could be imagined. And this was immediately after beating an officer tasked with the responsibility of protecting the democratic process—a process enshrined by our Constitution for the purpose of tallying the results of a free and fair election.
It is a movement wedded to the notion that violence is an acceptable tool when employed in the furtherance of a political goal, even when that goal is to undermine the considered verdict of the “rest” of us, whose values need not be considered. Stager’s brutal use of the flag as a bludgeon of final resort against the institutions of law and civil order neatly distills the Trump ethic as effectively as any other image from the Jan. 6 assault. Stager himself embodies Trump’s ideal, as Trump himself espouses to his followers. It is the same ideal that informs Trump’s Republican enablers who continue to echo it: Only we deserve to be heard, and the rest of you don’t matter. The fact that Stager’s frustration is vented with that flag to crush a helpless police officer is equally metaphoric of Trump’s casual disregard of our system of justice.
We now see this employment of the American flag as a bludgeon, a threat and a weapon, over and over from Trump’s base of support. I’ve gotten to the point where every time I see some yahoo driving around with an American flag on his pickup truck, I grimace a little. Because I know that when I pull closer it’s more likely that this guy (and they’re almost always guys) has either a pro-Trump sticker on his liftgate, some “thin blue line” emblem (whose real purpose, I strongly suspect is to try to get out of traffic tickets), or some pithy, vulgar insult directed to Joe Biden or “liberals.” I gather that what he’s trying to tell me is that he’s a “true American” and unless I ascribe to his love of Trump I cannot be. The great irony of all this, of course, is that by wielding the flag in this manner they continually undermine not only themselves but everything this nation is actually supposed to represent. It’s almost at a stage where the bigger the flag, the more unAmerican this person actually is, at heart.
But there’s something else going on here, something beneath the veneer of phony “patriotism” from these folks. One of the most curious aspects of the entire Jan. 6 debacle is the seeming obliviousness of its participants to the sheer treachery and illegality of their actions, or even the glimmer of realization that what they were doing was wrong. They all appeared to proceed that day under the assumption that they are untouchable, acting out of some kind of righteous indignation.
Here is Stager’s arrest and booking, captured on a police bodycam back on Jan. 15, 2021. As you can see, he’s cut his hair. As you can also see, he’s quite a large fellow, very imposing, physically.
Stager’s attitude here suggests that he feels he’s among friends. And indeed, he may be. Imagine a Black defendant charged with similar crimes—beating a police officer over and over with a blunt object—jauntily wishing his captors to “be safe” and “have a good one” as he’s marched off to a shower. The sense of entitlement itself is telling, and quite, almost unbearably, white in its essence. Just as he so boldly declared on the Capitol steps, he is the arbiter, the judge of all who, as he said, deserve only death for committing the sin of failing to meet his standards.
And that is the Trump movement in a nutshell: An entitled white male, instilled with an aggrieved sense of patriotism, egged on by a charlatan who operates from a distance, making him very, very upset that things aren’t going the way he wants. Trump gave him license to lash out, and he did it in the most telling way imaginable, by transforming the most recognizable of American symbols into a lethal weapon, a tool of punishment and intimidation, to be used as he—and only he—sees fit. That’s the America Trump wants, and it’s the America his followers aspire to.