The first major comprehensive study of those arrested for participation in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol strongly indicates that the true motivation of these rioters was not some quasi-patriotic reaction to Donald Trump’s fanciful assertions of election fraud. Rather, the root cause underlying that day of violence boils down to out-and-out racism by insecure whites, alarmed about the prevalence of darker-skinned Americans in their hometown environments.
In other words, this was certainly an attempt to overthrow a legitimate, democratic election. But it was an opportunistic insurrection, borne out of deep-seated resentments having nothing to with democracy but rather with preserving and maintaining white power in this country.
As reported by the New York Times:
When the political scientist Robert Pape began studying the issues that motivated the 380 or so people arrested in connection with the attack against the Capitol on Jan. 6, he expected to find that the rioters were driven to violence by the lingering effects of the 2008 Great Recession.
But instead he found something very different: Most of the people who took part in the assault came from places, his polling and demographic data showed, that were awash in fears that the rights of minorities and immigrants were crowding out the rights of white people in American politics and culture.
Pape, a security expert and political science professor at the University of Chicago, drew on comparative demographic and geographical data from those arrested at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and others arrested at two post-election, pro-Trump rallies last year. His preliminary findings, published Tuesday in the Washington Post, revealed one singular fact:
One fact stood out in Mr. Pape’s study, conducted with the help of researchers at the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, a think tank he runs at the University of Chicago. Counties with the most significant declines in the non-Hispanic white population are the most likely to produce insurrectionists. This finding held true, Mr. Pape determined, even when controlling for population size, distance to Washington, unemployment rate and urban or rural location.
Pape’s research confirmed what seems patently obvious based on those arrested for the Jan. 6 riots to date: 95% were white and 85% were male. As Pape notes, the rioters were not all from “deep-red” counties or states: “Some 52 percent are from blue counties that Biden comfortably won.” But as his Post op-ed describing the research findings explains, a consistent majority of the insurrectionists lived in counties that had rapidly diversified in recent years. Pape uses Texas, home to many of the rioters, as an example:
For example, Texas is the home of 36 of the 377 charged or arrested nationwide. The majority of the state’s alleged insurrectionists — 20 of 36 — live in six quickly diversifying blue counties such as Dallas and Harris (Houston). In fact, all 36 of Texas’s rioters come from just 17 counties, each of which lost White population over the past five years. Three of those arrested or charged hail from Collin County north of Dallas, which has lost White population at the very brisk rate of 4.3 percent since 2015.
The pattern described above also holds true with those arrested from the state of New York, and at a ratio that is mathematically implausible to attribute to mere chance. As Pape writes, “Put another way, the people alleged by authorities to have taken the law into their hands on Jan. 6 typically hail from places where non-White populations are growing fastest.”
Pape concludes that despite the fact that only 10% of those charged had direct ties to known right-wing, white supremacist organizations, it was nonetheless an act of racially motivated, political violence that we saw on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, a uniquely homegrown American violence, the same strain that begat the Civil War and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. As his Post op-ed explains, Pape’s Chicago Project on Security and Threats (CPOST) conducted two independent surveys earlier this year in an effort to determine “the roots of this [white] rage:”
One driver overwhelmingly stood out: fear of the “Great Replacement.” Great Replacement theory has achieved iconic status with white nationalists and holds that minorities are progressively replacing White populations due to mass immigration policies and low birthrates. Extensive social media exposure is the second-biggest driver of this view, our surveys found. Replacement theory might help explain why such a high percentage of the rioters hail from counties with fast-rising, non-White populations.
Interviewed for the Times article, Pape warns that none of this violence and white resentment is going away. These people will be back, perhaps summoned by someone other than Trump, but their fears and insecurities will continue to be stoked as the country assimilates more and more people whose skin color differs in shade from their own: “[W]e have to realize that it’s not going to be solved—or solved alone—by law enforcement agencies … This is political violence, not just ordinary criminal violence, and it is going to require both additional information and a strategic approach.”
Perhaps a good start to that “strategic approach” would be educating the American people what Jan. 6 was really all about.