They weren’t just neo-Nazis and Proud Boys. They weren’t just kooks in Viking helmets. They were doctors and lawyers. They were firefighters and police officers. They were former — and current — members of the United States military. They weren’t 20-somethings, as insurrectionists usually are; their average age was nearly 42. The overwhelming majority had jobs — even as CEOs or entrepreneurs. They staged a failed government coup on Jan. 6, 2021.
Almost all of them were white.
To understand their behavior, one must understand their backgrounds, especially the changing demographics of their hometowns. The University of Chicago’s Dr. Robert Pape has studied roughly 700 people who were arrested for their Jan. 6 actions. Stunningly, he found that most were not from counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump in 2020. Further, most of their home counties are not economically troubled.
The crucial factor is that they primarily came from counties wherein the non-Hispanic white population is shrinking. Specifically, if the white population in a county had fallen by at least 1% in recent years, that county was much more likely to have had an insurrectionist in Washington.
Mistrust of our electoral process is also at issue. According to at least one poll, only 4 in 10 Republicans believe that their votes will be counted fairly in upcoming elections — down from nearly 9 in 10 a year ago. (Notably, Trump quietly disbanded his presidential voter fraud commission when it found … no evidence of widespread voter fraud.)
Not surprisingly, recent polling suggests that only 1 in 5 Republicans believe that Joe Biden was elected legitimately. (Yet, when asked, they cannot explain how the election was rigged.) Most alarmingly, at least one poll indicates that roughly 3 in 4 Republicans are sympathetic to the insurrectionists. The constant drumbeat of Trump’s “big lie,” combined with a relentless right-wing media campaign, has caused Republicans to question the foundations of American democracy.
Not surprisingly, race is at the core of the insurrectionists’ existential concerns. There is a through-line in American history from Appomattox to Charlottesville to Jan. 6: Whites who fear racial progress often react violently to perceived advances by people of color. For example, the South’s defeat in the Civil War, combined with Reconstruction, led to the creation of the KKK. “White replacement theory,” which is infinitely more dangerous than critical race theory ever could be, was the impetus behind Charlottesville. Jan. 6 must be examined in this light.
According to Barton Gellman, an author and lecturer at Princeton University, “Almost two-thirds of (the insurrectionists) agreed that ‘African American people or Hispanic people in our country will eventually have more rights than whites.’” Gellman also found that those who believe in white replacement theory are nearly four times as likely as those who do not to support the violent removal of President Biden.
Gellman goes on, “As word spread in right-wing circles that the then-unidentified officer (who shot Ashli Babbitt) was Black, race quickly entered the narrative. Henry ‘Enrique’ Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, shared a Telegram message from another user that said, ‘This black man was waiting to execute someone on January 6th. He chose Ashli Babbitt.’ An account called “Justice for January 6” tweeted that (the officer) ‘should be in jail for the execution of Ashli Babbitt, but instead he is being lauded as a hero. The ONLY racial injustice in America today is antiwhiteism.”
Tragically, powerful Republicans are complicit in the would-be dismantling of our nation. Indeed, most rioters believed that Trump had personally summoned them. (Many have testified as much.) Additionally, Ali Alexander, who created the “Stop the Steal” movement, claims to have had discussions with at least three Republican congressmen (and Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend) ahead of the riot.
Still, Fiona Hill, who is a former member of the National Security Council, warns: “A key problem is that so many Americans are in denial (about the threat to democracy).” Millions of well-meaning Americans — of all political stripes — simply do not understand (or do not agree with) the fact that our democracy is genuinely in peril.
Yet, as Congresswoman Liz Cheney has said, “How we address Jan. 6 is the moral test of our generation.” A tiny handful of Republicans literally prevented our democracy from falling. Given the laws that have been passed and the political bullying that has taken place since the failed insurrection, such would not be enough to prevent a similar coup attempt in 2024.
Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at email@example.com.