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Millions sympathize with the rioters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, survey finds


Twelve months after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election, evidence continues to point toward a future of greater political violence in the U.S. Now, a new survey from the University of Chicago suggests that as many as 21 million adults sympathize with the rioters. NPR's Odette Yousef covers domestic extremism. Welcome back to the program.


CORNISH: How is this movement described in the study?

YOUSEF: Well, Audie, the 21 million sits at the Venn diagram intersection of two beliefs. First, the lie that the election was stolen and that President Biden is an illegitimate president. And second, that using force to restore President - former President Trump to the White House is justified. And this study from the Chicago Project on Security and Threats and the National Opinion Research Center calls this population the American insurrectionist movement.

CORNISH: And does it detail the demographics of the movement?

YOUSEF: Yeah, the profile of the average person here is that they're a late millennial or Gen Xer living in an urban or suburban place, where their political and ideological beliefs aren't popular and who may kind of feel under siege. But what really separates them, Audie, from the rest of the body politic in the U.S. is that they appear to believe in a conspiracy theory called the great replacement. This is the University of Chicago's Robert Pape.

ROBERT PAPE: They are very concerned about the idea that the rights of whites are being overtaken by the rights of minorities, or that the Democratic Party is deliberately bringing in immigrants in order to change the demographics in the country deliberately to disenfranchise the current conservative voters.

YOUSEF: You know, Audie, the great replacement conspiracy theory has existed on the fringe for years, but now we're seeing it increasingly in mainstream American discourse.

CORNISH: How mainstream? And what are the implications of that?

YOUSEF: Well, you know, Pape says the implications are that when there's widespread mainstream support for an insurrectionist movement, you can see people less likely to inform authorities of violence before it happens, that the pool of potentially violent actors is larger and that those actors may, in fact, feel that they have a mandate for violence. And most notably, he says that community support is often an element that's seen in the - early in the trajectories of countries that have descended into political and ideological violence.

PAPE: With Northern Ireland, for instance, in 1968, 13% of Catholics believed violence was legitimate for their political causes. And it was a year later that the Provisional IRA emerged, which then carried out several decades-long terrorist campaign.

YOUSEF: Now, we don't have too many data points on this in Western democracy, but Pape says it's important to be aware of how those trajectories played out.

CORNISH: And how does this shape your understanding of last year's right at the Capitol?

YOUSEF: Well, it's clear that time has not corrected the false narrative of the big lie and that we live in an America with a deeply divided understanding of what happened on January 6 and whether or not it was right. But, Audie, I think of particular concern is that we're seeing the same doubts planted already about the results of the upcoming midterm elections. So, you know, tremendous concern that we have this population that Pape describes as dry kindling for a wildfire ready to ignite with the smallest spark.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Odette Yousef.

Thank you for your reporting.

YOUSEF: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TORTOISE'S "TEN-DAY INTERVAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Odette Yousef
Odette Yousef is a National Security correspondent focusing on extremism.
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