Today's Paper Arkansas News Legislature Newsletters Core Values Sports Public Notices Archive Obits Puzzles Opinion Story Ideas

OPINION | PHILIP MARTIN: The sunshine insurrectionist

by Philip Martin | January 17, 2023 at 4:40 a.m.

People do horrible things. There's a spectrum.

The guy sitting on the weight bench checking his email is objectively terrible. So are people who trigger your flight or fight instinct by walking up to you and asking if you remember them. So are the four or six emailers I hear from every week who start their messages "I never read your column but . . . "

None of those people should go to jail. (Maybe they could get a 15-minute timeout or something. But nothing that requires packing a toothbrush.) Having to be the sort of person who does these things is punishment enough, but their lack of self-awareness probably inoculates them from feeling the judgment and opprobrium decent people feel toward them.

Just as those who are stupid (bless their hearts) lack the capacity to understand they are stupid (and so are empowered to think themselves smart as Fredo Corleone), the oblivious are insulated by ignorance.

I don't know exactly what to do about Bigo Barnett.

I'm inclined to believe his lawyer who described him as "everybody's crazy uncle, but he's not Osama bin Laden." Bigo's biggest crime is that he's not a serious person. If you wanted to be unkind, you might describe him as a clown.

And while painting Bigo as a clown might be bad for his ego, it would be good for his defense. Because, hey, obviously the guy's not a ringleader; he's an easily led buffoon who spent some of his grandkids' inheritance on a flier to try and overthrow the U.S. government at the behest of some other completely unserious guy who once talked tough on a reality TV show.

Bought himself the ultra-deluxe hiking staff/stun gun/flashlight multi-tool, marched into Nancy Pelosi's office, stole an envelope, left behind a bloodied quarter and had his photo taken with his feet propped on a staffer's desk (which the dummy thought was the speaker's desk) and an exultant smile on his face like he'd actually accomplished something.

That's not the most pathetic thing a man has ever done. One thing more pathetic than Bigo's stunt would be sending the guy $100 for an autographed copy of a photo of his sitting at that staffer's desk in Pelosi's office. (Or maybe not so pathetic; the website dedicated to raising money for Bigo's defense no longer offers that incentive, maybe because someone realized it was a bad look, pre-sentencing. So if you got an autographed photo of Bigo sitting at the desk of one of Nancy Pelosi's staffers, you might have a bona fide collectible. You might be able to flip it for a profit, though don't wait too long.)

Another thing more pathetic than Bigo's stunt is wasting a lot of taxpayer money and prosecutorial wherewithal on martyring a clown. That's not to say that the Jan. 6 incursion wasn't a big deal--it was a much bigger deal than your rank-and-file Republicans are willing to admit--only that this idiot from Gravette is a weak-minded loudmouth who felt empowered by the mob.

Bigo never imagined he could be held accountable for his actions. He never thought the U.S. government would go to the trouble of hunting him down. I'm not saying let him go. I'm saying show him some mercy. Slap his wrists. Take some more of his money for restitution.

Had I prosecuted Bigo, I'd have offered him a generous plea deal which would allow him to avoid prison, contingent on two things. He'd have to agree not to exploit his notoriety for profit--no book deals, no selling autographed pictures of himself in Pelosi's office, no paid speaking gigs regaling the soreheads of his intrepid adventures inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, no endorsement deals with the makers of the ZAP Hike N Strike Hiking Staff.

And he'd have to make a formal public apology to the former Speaker of the House.

Maybe he wouldn't have to mean it, but he'd sure have to say it like he did. Pelosi would have to accept it for the deal to go through. She might not do that.

Bigo is 62 years old, but like most of the Jan. 6 berserkers, he's really a child. I don't know what kind of parenting he got, but he's the product of a mediocre public education system and a celebrity-obsessed culture that confers authority on the loud, swaggering and thoughtless while discounting nuance and rectitude. Bigo saw, Bigo did--but he wasn't the organ grinder. He wasn't even a Proud Boy.

He was what you might call a sunshine insurrectionist. Or, like his lawyer said, a moon barker. Definitely not a serious person. Mark this Exhibit 1 for the defense: The rhetoric on his website whines about the Spanish Inquisition. The subtext is that patriots like Bigo are being persecuted for their faith.

Dude, no one is trying to suppress your speech or murder the thoughts in your pretty little head. No one has identified you as a heretic; Tomás de Torquemada isn't coming for you to waterboard you, there's no auto-da-fé in your future.

Your orange crush lost an election and threw a tantrum and suckered all you groupies into doing something really stupid and short-sighted. You trespassed and broke things, disrupted Congress and in the process scared a lot of innocent people, all the while carrying a silly lethal weapon with you. (No offense to the good people at ZAP, who clearly never intended their walking stick to see indoor use.)

Some people died because of the riot you participated in.

You're not the victim here, Bigo. You did horrible things.

But on a scale of one to 100, with one being sneaking an extra spoonful of ice cream before stashing the container back in the freezer and 100 being Thanos snapping his fingers while wearing the Infinity Gauntlet, resulting in the extermination of half of all life in the universe, I'd say your horrible was relatively mild. Nothing remarkable, but maybe a 25 or 26.

If I were you, I'd throw myself on the mercy of the court.

And if I were the court, I'd have some.

Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at

Print Headline: The sunshine insurrectionist


Sponsor Content