On January 16, I ventured away from the Covid theme to comment on the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. In conclusion, I wrote that events like this are partially due to “a neglect of education.” Now we have research out of the University of Chicago that broadens our understanding of who was involved. A lot of the rioters are, in fact, educated people.
The news about the rioters starts with this: Trump “got to the White House with the support of more college-educated professionals than is often acknowledged,” writes Eugene Scott in The Washington Post on April 12, about those who stormed the Capitol. You may have already heard of research coming out of the University of Chicago about the 377 Americans arrested for their involvement in the January 6 riot. The research is led by Robert A. Pape, director of the Chicago Project on Security and Threats. Scott cites Pape’s work in detail, and the findings indicated that there is more going on here than just a lack of education.
Plus, we know now that many of those arrested had no history with radical “right-wing’ groups. Pape adds, “Those involved are, by and large, older and more professional than right-wing protesters… in the past.” When Pape’s team “scrubbed media sources,” they discovered that those arrested were “mainly middle-class to upper-middle-class Whites,” in fact, “95% White and 85% male, and many live near and among Biden supporters in blue and purple counties.”
Whether or not we can assume that the relatively small group in the study represents a cross-section of the thousands of rioters that day, Pape’s summary statement is eye-catching: “... the people [arrested on January 6] typically hail from places where non-White populations are growing fastest.”
So not so much educational as cultural? Maybe. As David Brooks noted in the New York Times Friday, “The G.O.P. response to the Biden agenda has been anemic because the base doesn’t care about mere legislation, just their own cultural standing.”
On the other hand, we have this: an NPR News story on April 13 cited that even though, in 2020, Trump won a majority of voters who earn over $100,000/year, to Biden’s majority in the less than $50,000/year group, those in the voting block imperfectly described as the “working class” nevertheless figure prominently among Republican voters. “Since 2010, the most significant growth in the Republican coalition has been white voters without a college degree,” NPR reported.
Without question, we need to know more. A bipartisan letter posted on Medium on April 6 called on Congress to “establish an independent and bipartisan national commission to investigate the January 6th assault…” The letter was signed by an impressive list of former senior national security, military and elected officials, including James Clapper, William Cohen, Chuck Hagel, Michael Hayden and William Perry. A proposal to establish just such a commission is stalled in Congress. It’s a lot to expect people to agree to investigate themselves.
In my previous post I left the impression that we might educate our way out of the radical thinking that underlies the January 6 riot. Now we see that our troubles run deeper and broader than that. And these days social media* is deeply embedded in our culture, the better to fan the flames of insurrection.
Brooks’ op-ed is a gloomy take on the current state of affairs. He’s afraid the G.O.P. is headed toward “an abyss of authoritarian impulsiveness.” And he’s the political scientist, not me.
Let’s see if we can take comfort in the long view.
Monday was Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts. On April 19, 2025, we’ll commemorate the 250th anniversary of the first battles of the American Revolutionary War. Since 1775, we have made progress. The Republic managed to get past the Civil War in one piece, ending slavery. Women finally achieved suffrage. In the 1960s we emerged from the Jim Crow era, and in this millennium we have the progression of an Obama presidency, a Trump presidency, and now a Biden presidency. Even though the country is plagued by police violence on Black people, on Tuesday America was able to sigh with relief at the verdicts in the Derek Chauvin trial.
It hasn’t been pretty, but it seems only reasonable to hope that the next 250 years will find us continuing to wend our way toward an ever so slightly more perfect Union.
* In the interest of transparency, I have never signed up for accounts on Facebook or Twitter.
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[Photos by JK unless otherwise noted.]