One of the most surreal images (among many) to come out of the January 6 Capitol siege features people in the Senate chamber, on the central dais where the vice-president typically presides. In the photo, a blonde woman wearing a red Bebe coat and “Make America Great Again” leggings, carrying a sign that says “The Children Cry Out for Justice,” holds her phone up to another insurrectionist as if trying to show him something on it, or maybe she is actually filming herself. The look on her very visible, unmasked face is one you might have if you unexpectedly got backstage at a concert, a kind of happy, excited disbelief; it’s as if she has no concept of the gravity of her crimes.
The woman in the picture probably has a better idea now that she has been arrested for her participation in the Capitol riots. After the aforementioned extremely identifiable image went viral on social media, she was outed as Christine Priola, 49, an occupational therapist at a high school in Cleveland. On Thursday, she was charged by the FBI with knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building, violent entry, and unlawful activities on Capitol grounds, and booked into federal custody.
Priola apparently resigned from her Cleveland Schools position on January 7, when her identity became known in the wake of the riots. In a colorfully disturbing resignation letter, Priola reportedly listed several reasons for quitting, including that she was refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine; that she “will be switching paths to expose the global evil of human trafficking and pedophilia, including in our government and children’s services agencies”; and that she does not agree with paying her teacher’s union dues, “which help fund people and groups that support the killing of unborn children.”
Is it terrifying that a woman who is clearly deep into a panoply of far-right conspiracy theories was employed by a school district and supposed to help children and teenagers with their well-being? Absolutely. But given that we’re now learning how many rioters had come from all kinds of institutions — including law enforcement, state legislatures, and academia — it is depressingly unsurprising.