2021-03-08

The Pink Hat Lady’s Path to Insurrection (Spoiler: Through Facebook)

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“Pink hat lady” was one of the most-noted rioters in the January 6 Capitol insurrection mob. The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow identified her, and got her to speak for an extensive interview:

Before the pandemic, Rachel Powell, a forty-year-old mother of
eight from western Pennsylvania, sold cheese and yogurt at local
farmers’ markets and used Facebook mostly to discuss yoga, organic
food, and her children’s baseball games. But, last year, Powell
began to post more frequently, embracing more extreme political
views. Her interests grew to include conspiracy theories about
covid-19 and the results of the Presidential election, filtered
through such figures as Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and the
Infowars founder Alex Jones. On May 3, 2020, Powell wrote on
Facebook, “One good thing about this whole CV crisis is that I
suddenly feel very patriotic.” Expressing outrage at the
restrictions that accompanied the pandemic, she wrote, “It isn’t
to late to wake up, say no, and restore freedoms.” Several days
later, she posted a distraught seven-minute video, shot outside a
local gym that had been closed. “Police need to see there’s people
that are citizens that are not afraid of you guys showing up in
your masks. We’re going to be here banded together, and we’re not
afraid of you,” she said. “Maybe they should be a little bit
afraid.”

On January 6th, during the storming of the United States Capitol,
Powell made good on that threat. Videos show her, wearing a pink
hat and sunglasses, using a battering ram to smash a window and a
bullhorn to issue orders. “People should probably coördinate
together if you’re going to take this building,” she called out,
leaning through a shattered window and addressing a group of
rioters already inside. “We got another window to break to make
in-and-out easy.”

It’s a fascinating interview. But what jumps out, electrically, is the role Facebook clearly played in Powell’s radicalization.