Pink hat bullhorn lady

Empathy vs. sympathy vs. pity. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Quote of the Day

“You don’t have to go to the dark web, or anything, you just go to the straight up internet and you can buy pretty much anything you want.”

— Nick Bilton, in his new documentary “Fake Famous,” about how easy it can be to game the social media economy in order to become a famous online “influencer” (making lots of money in some cases).


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I just need to talk to an attorney

In the days after the protest/riot/invasion/insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, quote a few anonymous faces became well-known in a hurry.

One of them was Pink Hat Bullhorn Lady, who became famous largely because of her actions in two video segments in particular. In one video, she’s apparently seen encouraging other people via a bullhorn to organize to smash windows and push deeper into the building; in another she appears to be using a long pole to break in.

Probably not legal things to do. The FBI was on her trail, and Internet sleuths ran down a TON of leads (including some that turned out to be 100 percent wrong.)

But this week, Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker has a fascinating story in which he says he not only identified Pink Hat Bullhorn Lady and tracked her down, but that she spoke with him during a two-hour phone interview.

Her name, according to Farrow: Rachel Powell, age 40, a single mother of eight children ranging in age from 4 to mid-20s, who separated from her husband three years ago, works at a few part-time jobs to support them all, and gardens and sells cheese at a farmer’s market.

She’s from Mercer County, Pennsylvania but spoke “from an undisclosed location.”

“Very granola, very crunchy,” a friend of Powell’s told Farrow. “Does yoga, eats vegetarian, homeschools all their kids.”

So, the big question: How on Earth does a single mom of eight—who didn’t even vote for President Trump in 2016, although she supported him vehemently in 2020—wind up allegedly leading at least a small part of the insurrection at the Capitol?

(As a lawyer, I have to ask the second big question: Why on Earth is she talking with a reporter for two hours?)

As Farrow tells the story, it started about a year ago with her revulsion at the idea of people wearing masks to combat Covid, which she thought was at least partially a hoax—and grew pretty smoothly into distrust of the election results.

From there, she spent a lot of time on Facebook and cited Rudy Giuliani’s claims as a big influence in shaping her thinking.

There’s more to the story of course, I’m going to stop reciting Farrow’s entire article here; seriously, I recommend it. But we get to the point now where there are more questions than answers—and I came away feeling sorry for Powell.

I’m not eager to forgive and forget; I still think this was a huge, unprecedented even that threatened democracy and lead to death. And, we don’t yet know the extent of her involvement; we just have this one account.

But I do think you can hold those thought while also feeling sorry for a mom of eight, who is now potentially neck-deep in something that has the federal government talking about charges of sedition, conspiracy, and RICO.

Recently, I put together a free ebook recently about emotional intelligence (link here for subscribers, in case you’re interested). One of the chapters is based on an article I wrote about the difference between empathy, sympathy and pity. Here’s what I came up with.

  • Empathy: A feeling of shared experience or togetherness that results from a conscious effort to achieve understanding.

  • Sympathy: A feeling of shared experience or togetherness that is similar to empathy, but results more automatically, perhaps due to existing similarities of background or experience.

  • Pity: A feeling of sorrow or compassion caused by others’ misfortune, but not indicating any level of shared experience—and sometimes even disdain for the others’ experience.

People sometimes use these words interchangeably; I think it’s pretty clear which of them applies here. And frankly, I think we’re going to need a lot more empathy and sympathy (and maybe even pity) in this country over the short- and medium-term.

As for Powell, it seems she realizes how much trouble she’s in now. In fact, reading between the lines, she might actually be in hiding at the moment.

“I just need to talk to an attorney,” she says a few times. Just, hopefully not Rudy Giuliani.

7 other things worth your time

  • The CEO of Parler said he’s been fired by his company’s board. (The Verge)

  • Schools should reopen quickly, and there is no reason to wait until teachers have been vaccinated, the head of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, told reporters Wednesday. (CNBC)

  • A 22-year-old New Jersey man who was horribly burned in a car crash two years ago was the recipient of a face and two hands transplant, doctors and the patient himself revealed. So far, things are going better than could have been expected. (AP)

  • Dr. Fauci to America: Please do not attend Super Bowl parties during a pandemic. Also, just an interesting person to read about: Air Force Capt. Sarah Kociuba, call sign “Gucci,” will lead the military’s fly-over of the big game. (Axios, Fox News)

  • A Black passenger says she found an “African American Service [Charge]” on her credit card statement after flying with American Airlines. Capital One took responsibility, saying it was the result of one system shortening “American Airlines” to “AA,” and then another one un-shortening it thoughtlessly to “African American.” Can you imagine the frantic emails at American and Capital One over the last few days? (View From the Wing)

  • Prosecutors say they can’t find Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old accused of killing two people at a Wisconsin protest, who is out on a $2 million bond, and have asked for an arrest warrant. His lawyers say he and his family are in hiding due to death threats. (WISN)

  • This makes perfect sense: After a year in which it seemed half the country stayed home and watched Netflix, the streaming service dominated the Golden Globe nominations this week with Mank and The Crown leading the way.


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