It will be months before the House special committee investigating the January 6 insurgency on the U.S. Capitol releases its first report into the causes of the deadly violence that day.
New polls show Americans of different parties view it very differently, whose fault, whether violent action is acceptable, and whether those who stormed Capitol Hill were mostly violent or peaceful.
For a year now, images of people storming the Capitol to prevent President Biden’s electoral certification have been repeated. And while most people have formed their opinions on who was involved, one political scientist dug deeper.
Robert pope, who heads the Chicago Project on Security and Threats at the University of Chicago, analyzed the identities of more than 700 people arrested for crossing the barricades that day.
He looked at their court documents and discovered some surprises. After months of scouring the reports, Pope says the picture remains the same: Time and time again, those interviewed by officials said they went to Capitol Hill on January 6 to support former President Donald Trump and claim Trump as a legitimate president, not Biden.
“It’s not just normal criminal behavior or escalations like street fighting,” he says. “This is clearly collective political violence committed by hundreds and hundreds of people for essentially the same political goals. “
Demographic distribution of rioters
Far-right violence is usually strongly linked to skinhead gangs or militias. But in December 2021, he says 87% of the rioters on Capitol Hill he analyzed were not members of violent groups like the Oath Keepers or the Proud Boys.
“We are used to seeing extremists as marginal,” he said. “… What we see over and over again in their demographics and their motivations is really a disturbing picture: that it is coming from part of the mainstream. “
More than half of the January 6 insurgents were white-collar workers such as business owners, architects, doctors and lawyers. Pope, who has decades of experience studying global political violence, says the statistic was unexpected. Of the hundreds of people arrested for breaking into Capitol Hill, he says only 7% were unemployed at the time – near the national unemployment average.
Normally, 40% of right-wing extremists have already done their military service, while the Jan.6 Capitol rioters were at around 15%, he says.
Pope also looked at the criminal records of the rioters and found that “30% of those who broke into Capitol Hill on January 6 have a criminal record, often arrested for drug offenses,” he said. “But that compares to 64% of right-wing extremists.”
Typically, right-wing extremists are young – normally under the age of 34. On January 6, the rioters were mostly in their 40s and 50s.
“It’s uncomfortable for various reasons. This means that many of our usual extremist counterviolent solutions just don’t apply, ”Pape said. “Usually we think we’re going to find them a job. Well, we already have over half of business owners, CEOs, and white-collar workers – that’s not going to work.
Demobilization tactics often involve helping young right-wing extremists develop better relationships and eventually get married and have children. But he says many January 6 rioters have already are married and looking after families.
It is crucial for community advocates, politicians, religious leaders and law enforcement to understand “we have a different kind of problem in our hands going forward,” he notes.
“We really have to understand that what we saw on January 6 is not just the usual bad apples again,” Pope said.
After January 6, many people assumed that the insurgents were coming from the red areas of the country. But Pope says it couldn’t be further from the truth: More than half of the more than 700 people arrested are from counties where Biden won.
Rioters flocked from places such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia and Chicago, he said, or from the immediate suburbs surrounding those cities, where they were essentially the political minority.
Extremists are believed to be on the fringes of society – but not so the Capitol insurgents, a crowd so massive they were able to overtake the Capitol police.
“What we’re seeing is the general public married with parts of the bangs, of course. I’m not saying the bangs didn’t show up at all, ”he says. “But what made the storm a storm on January 6 was not the marginal participation, but the general public.”
Looking at the statistics the Pope compiled on those involved on January 6, the most notable is the number of insurgents from counties that have lost their non-Hispanic white population.
This loss was amplified by a right-wing plot – voiced by key political leaders and media figures – known as the great replacement of whites by minorities and even the Democratic Party to win future elections. The plot is no longer a fringe narrative, but rather touted and embraced by key mainstream players.
“So it really shouldn’t be as surprising as people living in areas that seem, when they look around, to match these media and political narratives start to get angry and then act violently. “
Lynn Menegon produced and edited this broadcast interview with Chris Bentley. Serena McMahon adapted it for the web.