Capitol riots play out in pinball at centre of the MAGA universe

People play Jan 6-themed pinball game at the Conservative Political Action Conference  meeting in Maryland
People play Jan 6-themed pinball game at the Conservative Political Action Conference meeting in Maryland - AMANDA ANDRADE-RHOADES/REUTERS
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“This is the most fraudulent thing,” Donald Trump proclaims as the pinball machine flashes neon red lights.

The virtual “pinball” is ready, and its striking targets include an image of the US Capitol building or the “fake news” outlets Fox and CNN.

I begin my turn, hitting the silver ball straight over pictures of rioters and a line of red “MAGA” caps, directly into the Capitol.

My points from round one are calculated on a mounted screen which shows footage of a mob storming Congress, but the former president’s voice is upbeat as he declares: “Our brightest days are before us.”

This is the Jan 6 insurrection: the MAGA version.

I’m taking this spin on the pinball machine in between listening to prominent Right-wing media personalities and politicians address the Conservative Political Action Conference in the suburbs of Washington.

The annual event was once the forum for the Republican Party to debate its vision for the future. Now, it’s a public exhibition of Mr Trump’s grip over the GOP.

Trump's presence was everywhere at the conference, even in the jewellery
Trump's presence was everywhere at the conference, even in the jewellery - REUTERS/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades

We’re only a few miles from the Capitol, where the attack on Jan 6 2021 played out.

But here among the Republican Party faithful, we are in the MAGA universe, where the events of that day have been recast in a much different light.

The customised pinball game has been put together by Jon Linowes, a game software developer who tells me he was motivated to create it by a belief that the “narrative” around Jan 6 has been “contrived” by the media and government operatives.

His game “J6: Insurrection: an educational documentary game” is being offered free of charge online.

“People who play games tend to not be that political, so it’s a corner of the culture that I thought could benefit from seeing what really happened and doing it in a playful way,” he said.

For Mr Linowes, the insurrection tagline is “tongue-in-cheek”. In his view, the day was a “big free speech rally” marred by a handful of bad actors and government agitators.

Having spent hours outside the Capitol that January day, this spin on the day’s event is jarring, to say the least.

Sany Dash shows off a purse in the shape of a gun at her stall
Sany Dash shows off a purse in the shape of a gun at her stall - REUTERS

The day claimed the life of Ashli Babbitt, a 36-year-old who was fatally shot by police as the crowd tried to breach Congress and left around 140 officers injured.

There is no reference to the noose that was menacingly hung from a tree.

Or the chants of “hang Mike Pence” that issued from the crowd as they attempted to thwart the then-vice president’s certification of Joe Biden’s victory.

I ask Mr Linowes if he was outside the Capitol on the day of the riot.

He was not, but seems unconvinced when I describe how volatile the atmosphere felt.

Jan 6 pinball machine
This game reflects the MAGA version of the Jan 6 insurrection - Kent Nishimura/Bloomberg

The pinball game has different modes, including “stop the steal”, a reference to Mr Trump’s election fraud claims; “political prisoners”, a reference to the more than 1,300 rioters who have been charged; and “Babbitt murder”.

The latter mode plays footage of those around Babbitt questioning the sequence of events that led to her death.

I ask how Babbitt’s family feels about her featuring in this game.

“I think her mum was fine [with it]. She was here earlier,” said Steve, a musician who has also been playing pinball.

Steve regularly attends a vigil, along with Babbitt’s mother, outside the Washington DC jail where defendants are being housed.

He plans to help Mr Linowes bring the game along tonight, in fact.

Trump supporters spell out their support
Trump supporters spell out their support - REUTERS/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades

One floor above us, Trump allies are taking to the stage to rousing applause from grassroots activists.

Jack Posobiec, a prominent activist, tells the crowd: “Welcome to the end of democracy. We are here to overthrow it completely.”

“We didn’t get all the way there on January 6, but we will endeavour to get rid of it and replace it with this, right here,” he said, raising his fist above his head.

“Amen,” cries Steve Bannon, Mr Trump’s one-time White House chief strategist.

Is this satire? At this point, it’s hard to tell.

My time at the pinball is up. After successfully storming through the Capitol on the first ball, by my third I’ve lost my way, and it’s game over.

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