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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

The Mandela Effect

January 6th

Take a look at the above-featured picture. What do you see? Is your perception of the event depicted in the photo influenced by what you think you know about the events of January 6, 2021, regarding the United States (U.S.) Capitol building in Washington, D.C.?

If so, how do you know what you think you know? Were you present on the day in question? I wasn’t. These days, there’s no way I’d be interested in gathering with that many people in one place.

Still, I watched multiple livestreams of the event on that day. I observed various perspective angles of people assembling to march on the Capitol building—many of whom called for peaceful protest and warned of glowies who were suspected of having infiltrated protester groups.

As well, there were voiced concerns of Antifa purportedly having subversive influence in attempt to present protesters in an unfavorable light. Because I witnessed live feeds of the event and wasn’t physically present, I can only speculate as to who may or may not have done what.

I watched as Capitol police opened doors and even escorted some protesters through the building. Unfortunately, I also witnessed the fatal shooting of Ashli Babbitt—an unarmed person who appeared to be maneuvering her way through the Capitol building.

I recall being eyewitness to clusters of protesters who transitioned into rioters outside of the Capitol building and who presumably were antagonistic towards law enforcement officers. I also remember a number of people in the Capitol building engaged in criminal mischief.

In a blogpost entitled My Ni, I stated, “I recall during the so-called ‘summer of love’ 2020, when reportedly $1 billion-plus in property damage and arguably over 20 deaths resulted from ‘fiery but mostly peaceful protests’ and gatherings.”

When watching the alleged “insurrection” of January 6th—a day that has been compared to the events of the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11—I saw exceedingly less devastation than I observed during the “summer of love” 2020. Then again, I wasn’t there so what do I know?

False memories

Since I’m sharing memories, it may be worth momentarily discussing what I recall about working with military police (MP) from my service in the U.S. Marine Corps. Early on, I learned that the memory is reconstructive.

As a child, there was a running joke about how grandfathers’ stories about the fish that got away weren’t necessarily believable. Each time the story was retold, the fish kept growing in size. Over the years, how did a grandpa’s escaped fish go from one-foot to nearly the size of the boat?

Were grandfathers around the country intentionally lying about their fishing expeditions? As an MP, I learned that the answer was a bit more complex than a wholly fabricated story. For illustrative effect, consider the following diagram:

Vehicles 1 and 2 are involved in a minor impact collision. Driver of vehicle 1 is witness 1, driver of vehicle 2 is witness 2, and witness 3 is a bystander who isn’t associated with witnesses 1 or 2. The red circle indicates the point of impact and in this scenario there are no injuries.

What I found when investigating motor vehicle accidents of this sort is that witnesses 1, 2, and 3 would often provide differing accounts of what happened. Witness 1 may assert that she had the right of way when passing through an intersection with a yellow light.

Witness 2 could dispute this claim by insisting he had the right of way, because he recalled the traffic light favored his direction of travel. Still, witness 3 may provide a different account, suggesting that the traffic lights were inoperative altogether, thus constituting an all-way stop condition.

Could it have been that each of the witnesses lied to me? Maybe, though not necessarily. There is an effect that may explain how each of the witnesses was probably providing what they believed to be accurate accounts of the collision.

Per one source, “In psychology, a false memory is a phenomenon where someone recalls something that did not actually happen or recalls it differently from the way it actually happened.” Witnesses 1, 2, and 3 could have maintained false memories of the accident.

According to one source, “The claim that eyewitness testimony is reliable and accurate is testable, and the research is clear that eyewitness identification is vulnerable to distortion without the witness’s awareness.” Anecdotally, this was my observed effect as an MP.

Expanding upon this claim, another source states, “Many people believe that human memory works like a video recorder: the mind records events and then, on cue, plays back an exact replica of them. On the contrary, psychologists have found that memories are reconstructed rather than played back each time we recall them.”

When a granddad retold the story of the fish that got away and his missed opportunity becomes more unbelievable with each retelling of the event, it isn’t because the elderly man is lying. Likewise, witnesses 1, 2, and 3 weren’t intentionally deceptive in their accounts of an event.

Rather, these people merely experienced a well-known phenomenon related to false memories. This effect may explain why one source claims that “eyewitness testimony accounts for about half of all wrongful convictions,” and why not all information is reliable.

The Mandela Effect

Following the events of January 6th, I’ve heard retold accounts about that day. Many of these unreliable claims have been believed by U.S. citizens—to include some within my inner circle—who believe that day marked a treasonous insurrection in our nation’s history.

However, one source accurately states that “words like sedition, treason, and insurrection have been used to describe what happened on Jan. 6, 2021. Yet, none of the hundreds of people charged in connection with that day have been charged with those specific crimes.”

How is it that so many within the U.S. citizenry erroneously believe otherwise? Similar to the false memory phenomenon experienced by witnesses during my time as an MP, there’s a noted effect that may explain January 6th questionable narratives.

Per one source, “The Mandela Effect is an observed phenomenon in which a large segment of the population misremembers a significant event or shares a memory of an event that did not actually occur.” This isn’t to suggest that January 6th didn’t occur at all.

Rather, I assert that what many people believe about the events associated with that day is invalid. To be fair, even my recollection of livestreams from two years ago isn’t entirely accurate.

Regarding the Mandela Effect, one source states, “Nelson Mandela, who this theory is named after, died in 2013. However, countless people distinctly remember him dying in prison in the 1980s.” Again, this effect doesn’t suggest deliberate deceitfulness.

Humans are fallible creatures and we make lots of mistakes. I defy the reader to provide one example of any person known in your lifetime who has never made a mistake—and no, deities or demigods don’t count.

To demonstrate the Mandela Effect, one source illustrates, “If you watched Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, you probably remember the line, ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?’ You may be shocked to learn, then, that the line actually began with the phrase ‘Magic mirror on the wall’ instead.”

Given understanding about this effect, consider what you’ve likely heard about former President Donald Trump having allegedly encouraged violence on January 6th. Set aside your assumptions of his character, emotions about him as a person, and sociopolitical beliefs. Can you do it?

Would it surprise you to know that on January 6th, Trump stated to a crowd, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard”? Is a call to peace akin to incitement of violence?

Were you also aware of Trump’s tweets on that day in which he stated, “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!” and, “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you”?

Are you able to challenge your own bias to the degree whereby you rationally consider evidence, or will you allow irrational emotion to impact your assessment of January 6th? Would you rather know truth or perhaps rely on a false memory and misinformation regarding this matter?

Concerning the latter, one source states, “Have you heard of confabulations before? This could be another probable mechanism underlying faulty memories and the Mandela Effect. Confabulations are essentially false statements or anecdotes of events that do not have factual support or relevant evidence.”

Earlier in this post, I asked about how you know what you think you know. Do you accurately recall January 6th, remember confabulations to the events on that day, or perhaps even retain a memory of a memory of a memory about the events?

One source states that “each time we recall a memory, our brain networks alter the way we remember an event. In other words, the next time you recall an event from the past, you may remember certain details from the last time you recalled the memory—not the original event.”

The Mandela Effect may demonstrate what it is you recall—or rather do not actually remember—about the events of January 6, 2021. Things are not always as they appear. This is true in relation to memories and controversy surrounding January 6th.


I wasn’t at the U.S. Capitol building in D.C. on January 6, 2021, though I watched many hours of footage wherein I observed what could be most credibly described as a protest that devolved into riotous behavior for some enclaves of participants.

Rather than relying on false memories to serve as fuel for rigid beliefs about that day, I keep in mind the Mandela Effect and how confabulations distort what I assume about protesters and rioters. I simply don’t know what I think I know.

In fact, if I know anything about January 6th, it’s that what I think I know is at least questionable—let alone evidence worthy of driving my emotions and behavior. This is a rational perspective.

In my psychotherapeutic practice, I invite clients to employ critical thinking which entails questioning how people know what they think they know. For instance, witnesses 1, 2, and 3 may be fully convinced of what they saw during an auto accident.

However, would these people be able to accurately recall events from that day with the passage of time—perhaps a couple years following the event? Think about the grandpa who may actually think he almost caught a seven-foot fish.

If the reader accepts the proposal of reconstructive memory, how might this lesson apply to other areas of your life? Are the memories you maintain valid and beyond criticism?

Maybe the grudge you’re holding against a friend or family member, based on a false memory, is worth reconsideration. Likewise, perhaps the Mandela Effect regarding so-called “domestic terrorists” of January 6th may explain the unreliability of memory.

Are you willing to consider that your outrage may be based on a falsely reconstructed memory? If so, and you’re in search of someone to help you challenge your assumptions about memories so that you may be able to live a more meaningful life, I may be able to help.

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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