“A mass movement with violence at its core.” I heard Robert Pape, a political science professor at the University of Chicago say those words Friday night on CNN as he talked about the chilling statistics that he and his research team have uncovered about the Capitol insurrectionists. They have conducted demographic studies of international and domestic terrorists for the past 15 years, so can contextualize what they have learned. Struck by what he was saying, I sought out his article, The Capitol Rioters Aren’t Like Other Extremists, in The Atlantic.
by Ruth Neuwald Falcon, Seattle, Washington
Their first conclusion, that the attack on the Capitol was “unmistakably an act of political violence,” is no surprise. Their second one, however, is that only one-tenth of those they studied “can be classified as supporters of gangs, militias, or militia-like groups such as the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and Three Percenters.” This means that “89 percent of the arrestees have no apparent affiliation with any known militant organization.” This is very different from “suspected right-wing extremists arrested after incidents of deadly violence from 2015 to 2020… 26 percent of those were members of white-nationalist gangs, and 22 percent were part of militias and other organized groups.”
The third point is even more discomfiting. When they studied earlier far-right extremists, they found that “61 percent were under 35, 25 percent were unemployed, and almost none worked in white-collar occupations.” On the other hand, the average age of those arrested in the Capitol riots is 40, with two-thirds 35 or older. “40 percent are business owners or hold white-collar jobs.” Only 9 percent are unemployed.
Their fourth and final point is that, contrary to what we might imagine (I know I did), “most of the insurrectionists do not come from deep-red strongholds.” More than half of those arrested “came from counties that Biden won.”
“Big metropolitan centers where Biden won overwhelmingly, such as the counties that include New York City, San Francisco, and Dallas, still have hundreds of thousands of Trump supporters. A third of suspected insurrectionists come from such counties; another quarter come from suburban counties of large metro areas. This breakdown mirrors the American population as a whole—and that is the point. If you presumed that only the reddest parts of America produce potential insurrectionists, you would be incorrect.”
Professor Pape and the article’s co-author, Kevin Ruby, do not claim to know “which political tactics might ultimately prove helpful” to deal with this “broader mass political movement that has violence at its core.” It is clear that some of the standard approaches to “countering violent extremism—such as promoting employment or waiting patiently for participants to mellow with age—probably won’t mollify middle-aged, middle-class insurrectionists.”
I haven’t been able to get Professor Pape’s words out of my head since Friday night. I also awoke in the middle of that night with a bad case of night dreads, my mind throwing up one instance after another of things that seem insurmountable in that endless 3 A.M. darkness. This afternoon, I feel exhausted. Gee, I wondered as I got up from my computer to make a cup of tea, could that possibly have anything to do with what I have been reading?
Don Lemon was not surprised to learn of Professor P’s findings. I can’t say I’m surprised either. We have been watching this growing for longer than the past five years of Trumpism. The cancer, or the virus, or whatever horrible deadly disease metaphor we use to describe it, hasn’t peaked yet, the treatment hasn’t been discovered, the fever hasn’t broken, the vaccine hasn’t been found, the limb hasn’t been amputated.
In August of 1999, after a White supremacist walked into a Los Angeles Jewish Community Center and opened fire with an Uzi submachine gun, I wrote a piece for Seattle’s Jewish newspaper. Its headline was “I didn’t grow up thinking it can’t happen here.” But even then, I couldn’t have imagined what we are being faced with now. Over the past twenty-plus years, to return to the disease metaphor, the cancer has grown and metastasized in our country. I understand better than I ever have, and better than I would ever have wished to, why my father couldn’t answer my childhood question, “If people could see it coming, why didn’t they stop it?”