Would You Play a January 6 Board Game?

“It was a freak show. And I love a freak show,” said Brace Belden, co-host of the podcast True Anon and co-creator of the Storm the Capitol game.

Would You Play a January 6 Board Game?
Photo:True Anon/Instagram, Shutterstock

You can probably easily recall images of Trump supporters storming the Capitol on January 6, 2021: a grown man wearing horns, body paint, and fur strutting through the halls of American democracy; another adult man yelling “falling down” as he did exactly that while attempting to scale a wall; that one particularly deranged-looking man who smiled and waved at cameras while parading about holding then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lectern.

For many, it was a very scary day that carried the implication that many pro-Trump rioters would resort to murderous violence to overturn the election in his favor. (A bipartisan Senate report on the events of January 6 found at least seven people died as a result of the attempted insurrection.)

But for some, including Brace Belden, co-host of the popular leftist True Anon podcast, January 6 was also very funny: “You had these people saying, ‘This is an insurrection that’s gonna take out the government,’ but once people get in there, all they can do is just livestream and take pictures of themselves that get displayed in federal court like a year or two later,” Belden told Jezebel. As he watched the riot unfold on TV, he was struck by a particularly online brand of troll-y creativity (our words, not his), and created a board game that he’s now been playing with friends for three years—and which, on Saturday, went on sale for everyone on True Anon’s online shop.

Before you ask, no; the game did not include any kind of formal research (even though he and his co-host Liz Franczak tend to do fairly extensive research for their episodes). “I’m not going to tell you that this is the most realistic game ever made,” Belden said. Instead, he stressed, that the game is meant to “capture the feeling” of January 6. “It was a freak show,” he said. “And I love a freak show.”

The board game, called “Storm the Capitol,” allows people to play as six different “patriot archetypes” based on famous January 6 rioters; their objective is to steal enough ballots to overturn the election (as well as Congress members’ personal belongings), Belden said. In the game, the “patriots” win by stealing 100 ballots and reaching “the final room,” where former President Trump awaits to take the “patriots” for a ride in his helicopter to “ratify the real results of the 2020 election.” Meanwhile, two people can play as Capitol police officers who try to stop the “patriots” with lethal force—or stave them off for 10 turns until the National Guard arrives. (The actual game play is fairly straightforward: Players roll dice, use direction cards, and navigate across a board.)

Despite his own stated belief that the Capitol riot was a comedy goldmine, Belden said that the game is “for everybody”: Whether “you were at January 6, or if you spent the next two years spending all your free time on LinkedIn trying to find people who were [there to] get them fired or arrested, this game is for you,” he said.

But unsurprisingly, Storm the Capitol has generated controversy, or what Belden described as “uniformly negative press.” I’ll readily admit that some of what unfolded on January 6 was indeed deeply funny, and has only gotten funnier with the passage of time (in no small part due to rioters laying down a god-awful track featuring a voiceover from former President Trump). But it was also extremely creepy to watch in real time, and it made staffers and members of Congress legitimately scared for their safety. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) recounted during a harrowing Instagram Live a few weeks after January 6 that she feared the rioters would kidnap and sexually assault her.

So it tracks that True Anon’s board game has been accused of glorifying January 6 and applauding those who fought with police. A cursory search of reactions to the game on Twitter shows many think the game was created not by left-wing podcasters but by actual would-be insurrectionists. Belden told Jezebel that he and Franczak aren’t bothered by public outrage; True Anon is merely “breaking new ground here,” he said. (It was not immediately clear how serious he was being.)

Belden told Jezebel that he’s seen similarities in the ways politicians and media have spoken about January 6 and 9/11; both are considered equally harrowing moments in American history by many politicians and voters. In the aftermath of 9/11, Belden recalled a culture flooded with solemn ad campaigns and hawkish films, books, and TV. “That was how we collectively chose to capture the sort of feeling of 9/11: with movies like Zero Dark Thirty,” he said. In contrast, he told Jezebel that the “feeling of January 6,” in all its absurdity, “could only really be captured by a board game.” After he developed the idea, he and Franczak “passed it around the N.Y.C. punk scene” and “played it a bunch of times” before eventually formalizing the rules and deciding to make it available to the public for the third anniversary of the Capitol riot.

To craft the game and bring January 6 to life, he relied heavily on his memory of the day and its most infamous moments—like the costumes fit for Burning Man; the characters like the QAnon shaman; and the cartoonishly self-incriminating self-owns from rioters like the man who walked out of the stormed Capitol and told reporters, “We been in there, there ain’t nothing going on.”

Many Congress members and political figures commemorated January 6 with solemn statements and social media posts. On Saturday, President Joe Biden gave a speech about democracy and called January 6 “the day we nearly lost America.” But as True Anon has made clear, the day means different things to different people. Belden told Jezebel he planned to mark the occasion a bit differently: “By trying to make $1 million off the events of January 6.”

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