“You spoke of unleashing the Kraken,” the person said. “Is the country ready for this?”
It was an absurd question, unless you think about what the Kraken represents. Is it a metaphor for vengeance? Is it a strategy of chaos?
Powell herself has been called the Kraken. Her client Michael Flynn, Trump’s former (and recently pardoned) national security adviser, has been called the Kraken. Supporters of the Kraken got very excited on Thanksgiving eve, which they dubbed “Kraken Day,” when Powell filed one of several election-related lawsuits, each perhaps a tentacle of a legal Kraken that would upend the election result. Creepy people on Twitter, a cephalopodic monstrosity of its own, have let their imaginations run wild for the past month. The Kraken, they say, might be a secret wing of the intelligence community that is about to bring Trump’s imaginary deep-state purge to an epic climax. The Kraken, they say, might be an advanced security system from the U.S. Army that can detect a disturbance as small as a rabbit from nearly four miles away.
Perhaps the Kraken is something less shadowy, less slithery, less imaginary. America is enduring roughly a Pearl Harbor’s worth of death per day, minus the explanatory power of a military attack from the sky. It is in a state of financial emergency, minus the clarity of a stock-market crash. Evidence of a real crisis abounds; somehow that’s no match for suspicion of an invented one.
Look around, though. We are definitely in the grips of something, and it is pulling us under.
In Georgia this past month, citizens gave chase to trucks and staked out loading docks looking for suspicious boxes that surely contained fraudulent absentee ballots.
In South Dakota, a nurse claimed that gasping patients were denying the existence of the virus that was about to kill them, while in North Dakota, where hospitals were at capacity, the governor assured the public that “you don’t have to believe in covid” to do the right thing and wear a mask.
In Pennsylvania, during a hearing by the state senate’s policy committee, President Trump called in to say “We won this election by a lot” even though he did not.
In Texas, a county judge walked by cooling trailers stocked with 286 corpses while his inbox filled with emails from small-business owners who say he doesn’t understand suffering.
In Michigan, a talk-radio host from Antrim County described how he found a pile of Ethernet cables “hiding” a high-speed commercial router at his polling place, and how this indicated that Trump was cheated out of four more years.
“This election is stolen is what we believe,” Randy Bishop told the oversight committee of the Michigan Senate last week. “Prove. Us. Wrong.”
Our Kraken, our selves. America was founded on certain myths and beliefs relating to freedom, individualism and righteous rebellion. Now these myths and beliefs are encircling our necks. Over the past month, as we’ve moved into a third wave of coronavirus and toward a Joe Biden presidency, some Americans have lived in an alternate reality, a Kraken reality.
Linda Sawyer, a retired nurse from Detroit, drove to Lansing, Mich., last week because she needed to tell the state senate about what she saw, or believed she saw, while working as a poll challenger at the TCF Center. She saw poll workers use the pandemic as an excuse to keep her from witnessing shady business. She saw small piles of ballots that didn’t look tabulated. Around midnight, she says, multiple computer monitors “rebooted” and around 4 a.m. more ballots arrived. She sensed something lurking.
“They used covid to throw us out,” Sawyer told the oversight committee. “As a nurse I found that despicable.” She added: “I don’t believe the numbers are true.” Powell, the Kraken releaser, “did discuss something about this in Rudy Giuliani’s press conference,” Sawyer added, referring to an event where Trump’s legal team publicized exotic conspiracy theories about fake votes, “and I do believe I witnessed that.”
Reached by phone later, Sawyer was asked whether she believed that hundreds of regular Americans — precinct captains and poll watchers and mail carriers — were perpetrating a vast conspiracy to capsize the country.
“Could be,” Sawyer said. “It was that belief that made me drive in a snowstorm all the way to Lansing. . . . So they’re purposefully not letting me see the ballots, they’re purposefully moving me away from the monitor. Why else would they do that? So now I absolutely believe there’s fraud going on.”
Poll watchers in a few key states unleashed a wave of affidavits that testified to the suspicious creasing (or creaselessness) of ballots, to the odd positioning of random boxes, to the snippy behavior of fellow volunteers who were anxious about the virus and vigilant about pandemic precautions. The affiants wrote as if they’d been told to beware a mythical menace — “MAIL-IN VOTING WILL LEAD TO MASSIVE FRAUD AND ABUSE,” Trump tweeted months before Election Day — and then swore they glimpsed a tentacle out of the corner of their eyes.
While many Americans were obsessing over whatever the Kraken is, or what it is doing, public health officials warned about that other creature: SARS-CoV-2, lashing the country like a seabeast upon a fragile vessel, leaving 286,000 bodies in its wake. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked people not to travel for Thanksgiving, to avoid juicing infection rates, to little avail. The volume of inter-regional travel only decreased 4 percent from 2019 levels, according to anonymized cellphone data provided to NPR.
Solidarity against an invisible enemy became anger toward a familiar one. Republican culture warriors added another myth to their lore: Liberals were using the pandemic to expand their perennial War on Christmas; they now wished to ruin birthdays, reunions and Thanksgiving, too. On Nov. 21, four days before “Kraken Day,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) tweeted a silhouette of a turkey subtitled with “COME AND TAKE IT.”
Has politics devoured all? A pile of Ethernet cables may be easier to fret about than a pile of bodies. A majority of Republican citizens think the best thing for healthy people to do right now — amid mass death — is live their lives normally, according to Gallup, while Democrats remain amenable to lockdowns and restrictions. A color-coded map of the country shows uncontrolled spread nearly everywhere. A red ocean of surrender.
“We’re looking at the virus as a political phenomenon and not a scientific one,” says Ricardo A. Samaniego, the county judge of El Paso County, Tex., which has been racked by covid-19. As of last week, there were 268 corpses in overflow cooling trailers, a queue of 600 deaths waiting to be investigated, and a 15.5 percent positivity rate.
“It’s so irrational that anybody would base the way they protect themselves on their political party line,” Samaniego says. “Just like it’s irrational that they’d believe an election is fraudulent because of a political party line. It’s a very interesting phenomenon.”
Nearly half of Trump supporters expect the president to be sworn in again on Jan. 20, according to a recent study by Bright Line Watch. An overwhelming majority of his supporters — as many as 85 percent of them — believe that the election was corrupted by “millions” of instances of malfeasance. The data suggest that Trump’s mythmaking has hexed many Americans’ confidence in the system.
“The levels of fraud in which these respondents profess to believe are staggering,” wrote the authors of the poll, “and would require the complicity of thousands of local electoral officials and volunteers, including numerous Republicans and non-partisan participants.”
It’s a wild thing to believe, but believe they do. On Monday, though, not one but two Kraken lawsuits foundered on the rocks of the American legal system.
“Belief is not evidence,” wrote U.S. District Judge Linda V. Parker, quoting case law, in her rejection of a suit asking to decertify Michigan’s election results.
A similar case was dismissed in Georgia. “Much like the mythological ‘kraken’ monster after which plaintiffs have named this lawsuit, their claims of election fraud and malfeasance belong more to the kraken’s realm of mythos than they do to reality,” wrote attorneys for the state.
“The Kraken is more like calamari,” tweeted Marc E. Elias, a voting rights lawyer for the Democrats, as he marked a 50th post-election court defeat for Trump and his allies on Tuesday.
“It appears the only Kraken being released will be the @SeattleKraken next year,” Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) tweeted, referring to the city’s new hockey team, named over the summer in this year of the Kraken.
Powell could not be reached for comment about why she settled on the Kraken as her touchstone, though the creature seems to resonate among followers of QAnon (the delusional online mythology that paints Trump as a godlike figure who is always one thunderclap from victory or vindication or whatever). Perhaps Powell is merely a fan of the 1981 film “Clash of the Titans” or its 2010 reboot.
“Let loose the Kraken!” Laurence Olivier, as Zeus, commands in the first.
“Release the Kraken!” Liam Neeson, as Zeus, growls in the second.
Cinematically, Giuliani was hospitalized Monday with covid. On Tuesday Axios reported that his co-counsel Jenna Ellis tested positive. Whatever the Kraken is, it’s loose.
Absent any satisfying explanation of why the country is Krak’d out, we turned to the “prince of paleo-fiction,” a novelist named Max Hawthorne, who wrote a trilogy of Kraken-centric books. The appeal of the Kraken, he says, is that it’s a fictional exaggeration of real fears (the deep) and real creatures (like the giant squid).
Consider the very real Donald Trump, and the very real virus, and it’s not hard to summon rage, doubt, fear and other perils that lurk beneath. Krakens everywhere. Krakenism as a way of life. How else to explain this sinking feeling? There are mundane explanations and less fantastical crises available. And yet demand is high for a monster from the deep: evil, otherworldly.
Hawthorne reduces the appeal of the Kraken to its dark essence. Adrift and vulnerable, we marvel at our own annihilation.
“The thought of being at sea and having your vessel suddenly immobilized, while slimy tentacles slither up and drag people to their deaths, instills a primal terror in us,” Hawthorne says by email. “Take it from an author who writes about these things: Exploring the fear of being devoured alive is something the human psyche can never get enough of.”