Among the images that circulated in the aftermath of last month’s Capitol insurrection, one video stood apart, an almost iconic representation of the mob unleashed. In it, an enraged supporter of Donald Trump wields a pole flying the American flag to repeatedly strike a police officer who, having been dragged down the stone steps of the Capitol, lies at the crowd’s feet. The video requires no deep analysis to identify the violence it portrays as a threat to liberal democracy.
A very different video that began to go viral in late September is of another register altogether. In it, a man, later identified as Nathan Apodaca, is seen skateboarding, taking a swig of cranberry juice and then lip-synching to Fleetwood Mac’s classic rock hit, “Dreams.” It’s a mystery what made the 26-second video, first posted to TikTok, go viral; as with most things these days, it involved an opaque algorithm. Subsequent reporting revealed that Apodaca’s truck had broken down. Instead of waiting to have it jump-started, he decided to skateboard the rest of the way—first to his job at an Iowa potato warehouse, and 35 million-plus views later, to a new life as the latest star of the “attention economy.”
Apodaca’s video, of course, doesn’t represent a threat to liberal democracy in the way the video of the flag-wielding assault of the Capitol police officer does. But it can still serve as an entry-point to help us understand how and why that threat to liberal democracy emerged.