It was a sobering scene for millions of Americans, shocked at the behavior of their fellow citizens. But were those who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, a fanatical fringe of American society?
“That’s not what we see in our studies of the insurrection,” said Dr. Robert Pape, the director of the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Threats, who has spent the last year studying every one of the 716 arrestees from the Capitol attack.
Far from the fringe, he says in actuality, they were from the mainstream of American society.
“Over half are business owners, CEOs and from white collar occupations,” Pape said.
Pape said his study revealed that those arrested from the attack on the Capitol came from 45 states and the District of Columbia, with the largest number from Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas.
More came from counties won by President Joe Biden than former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, his analysis showed.
A quarter of those arrested have college degrees, he says, and only a third had any kind of criminal record.
“Only 13% are from militia groups like the Oathkeepers or extremist groups like the Proud Boys,” Pape said.
To dive deeper into the sentiments that drove the Capitol attack, Pape commissioned a survey by the University of Chicago’s nonpartisan research organization NORC.
He said the study suggests there are tens of millions of people who share the beliefs of those who descended on Washington, D.C., one year ago.
“The equivalent of 21 million American adults believe two radical beliefs. One, that Joe Biden is an illegitimate president because he stole the 2020 election, and two, that the use of force to restore Donald Trump to the presidency is justified,” Pape said.
A deeper dive into those numbers reveals more about the 21 million Americans who share those beliefs.
Pape said 75% indicated a belief in the conspiracy theory known as the “great replacement,” that liberals and the Democratic Party are deliberately trying to change the electorate with non-white immigrants.
“The second main idea is about 49% believe in the QAnon cult idea, that there is a satanic cult of pedophiles running the U.S. government,” Pape said.
If those numbers are accurate, the research points to a troubling conclusion: that as horrifying as the images were, they should not be viewed as a one-off event from the past, because even now, there are millions of Americans who share in the beliefs that fueled the Capitol attack.