On Wednesday we saw the limits of LARPing. The longed-for irruption of what Marxist intellectuals call “the real” — an actual attempt at the destruction of one of the most enduring symbols of the American civic order — happened. Supporters of a president who only moments before had been insisting that the recent election was illegitimate took him at his word and stormed the U.S. Capitol, smashing windows, occupying the floors of both chambers, vandalizing offices, skirmishing with police officers. At least one person appears to have been shot dead. Republican elected officials who had been only too happy to pretend that the fate of democracy itself depended upon the success of their absurd procedural gambit fled in terror. Liberal politicians who had decried the use of the National Guard to disperse looters only a few months ago screamed for a crackdown. Men and women with “Back the Blue” stickers fought with law enforcement in the streets. Unverified bombs everywhere.

There is a bizarre quality to the images of the protestors. Groups of tentative faces huddled around the ropes, as if unsure whether they should proceed after breaching the initial security checkpoints; men in body paint and plastic Viking hats screaming in the faces of cops; a lone fanatic in a beanie making a Roman salute in the speaker’s chair while a journalist looks on from the gallery above; a congressman in some kind of spacesuit fleeing goodness knows where; bearded men waving as they make away with podiums emblazoned with public seals — one imagines the storming of the Bastille carried out by a group of college football tailgaters. But far stranger than their appearance is the lunatic inevitability with which virtually all of these people will return home to television, social media, consumption, gainful employment. This fact is in some sense even more horrifying than the violence itself.