In the wake of the Capitol Hill Riots anniversary, what impact have these events had and what more can we expect to take place?
January 6th and the Fallout
On January 6, 2021, at 10:58 am, members of right-wing militia organization The Proud Boys were first seen heading towards Capitol Hill to support former U.S. President Donald Trump, according to BBC. At 1:45 pm, protestors went past Capitol Hill officers on the west steps and soon after, it was reported that there was a riot taking place. Rioters went through the halls of Capitol Hill, raiding the offices of senators and congressmen. Tear gas was released, causing lawmakers to wear gas masks for protection. The event continued to escalate, with one protestor, Ashli Babbit being killed in a standoff along with three other protestors. This eventually spiraled into hours of violence that did not stop for hours. Trump ultimately posted a video to Twitter asking protestors to “go home,” at 4:17 pm. Finally, at 8 pm, Senators could return to the session to confirm Electoral College votes, according to ABC news.
As of Dec. 14, of this year (eleven months after the events), around 727 people have been arrested for their role in the riots, with the number continuously growing. Rachael Pert and Doe Winn, a Middleburg, Florida couple, were recently charged according to News 4 Jax, as well as Amy and John Schubert, a couple from Cresthill, Chicago. The role of government officials is still being debated, but according to an October Rolling Stone interview, an organizer and planner alleged that they met with congress members to discuss breaking into Capitol Hill (dozens of briefings were held to be specific). Some of which they allege included Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar and Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks.
The Impact on how the Right Wing operates
According to Jared Holt, an investigative reporter who researches right-wing extremism, a majority of participants were not linked to known extremist groups or movements but there was plenty present on Jan.6 (Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Q-Anon). To him, the big impact was not necessarily obvious in the right-wing itself, it was more so in the advancement of the anti-government ideology amongst the right-wing and the narrative of unjust treatment of the rioters.
“The broader impact of the Capitol Riot has been most obvious in the advancement of anti-government sentiment among the broader conservative base, and the kind of paranoia that has spread which has opened the door to a lot of various conspiracy theories,” Holt. “Many of which build on pre-existing attitudes about the “deep state” and this prevailing narrative that has come out of it in the last year and thinking about it today has been that the Biden administration and national security apparatus has been unjustly hard on people who participated in the Capitol Hill riots.”
The argument of unjust treatment towards rioters can be seen in both Rep. Matt Gaetz and Green’s continued argument that the imprisoned rioters are being mistreated, stating that they have faced abuse and unsanitary conditions, according to Newsweek.
“They have been beaten by the guards. They are called white supremacists. They are denied religious services, haircuts, shaving, the ability to trim their fingernails,” Greene said during a press conference. “Many of these people have never been charged for a crime before. Some of them are veterans. And the treatment is unbelievable.”
The focus on the mistreatment of the prisoners was criticized in a New York Times article for suddenly providing a focus on the mistreatment of D.C. prisoners when this has been an issue for years.
“Amid these expressions of outrage, it was never mentioned that the jail had been plagued with problems long before the Jan. 6 defendants got there,” Alan Feuer of the New York Times said. “Six years ago, for instance, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs issued a report calling the conditions at the jail “appalling.””
The Impact On The Media’s Narrative
To Holt, the impact of what we have learned in light of the Capitol Hill riots (the alleged involvement of Congress members as reported by an Oct. 24 Rolling Stone interview with an alleged planner and organizer) on the larger mainstream media’s narrative has been fairly pronounced. However, in a more isolated media bubble that the conservative audience (though as Holt points out, isolated media is not a partisan issue) lives in, there has not been much of an impact.
“Over the Trump era, whether it was through terms that I think we all know today like “fake news” and that sort of thing, there were a lot of devices and encouragement for people who supported Trump to kind of wall themselves from traditional news,” Holt said.
This push for isolationism could be evidenced by an NPR article, where Fox News host Laura Ingraham stated that “there were some reports that Antifa sympathizers may have been sprinkled throughout the crowd.” The FBI however, disputed the claim that Antifa was present at the Capitol Hill riots at all. A popular right-wing social media app Parler, according to Business Insider also held several posts that suggested the riots were a staged event and one post by conservative lawyer Lin Wood was shared 18,000 times, with others theorizing that the rioters were led by BLM members, Antifa and China.
“Antifa/BLM infiltration of the citadel [fortress] gives the Liberal media narrative claiming Trump supporters were the ones to blame,” one Parler screenshot read.
Holt stated that from the polling he’s seen, while there continues to be an effort to recast the history of the events at Capitol Hill as more innocent than they were, the majority of Americans have continued to see what happened at the Capitol to be negative.
“These narratives recasting the history of January sixth as an innocent affair-have not really become the dominant train of thought for people who were die-hard Trump supporters or who have a very hyper partisan right-wing media diet,’’ Holt said. “They may view that in less – with less alarm but generally speaking polling tells us that majority of Americans see what happened on January 6th and view it as a bad thing.”
A poll released by the Pew Research center shows that in light of the Capitol Hill riots, his approval rating among Republicans did drop to 60 percent (a drop from its previous 77%) and 10 Republicans voted to impeach Trump, which according to the New York Times is the most bipartisan effort of any impeachment.
Extremist Organizations and How They Have Been Impacted
According to Holt, the riots’ lasting impact on the right-wing organizations that were successfully tied to the riots such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers has caused them to put in an effort to decentralize and move their work to lower-level political targets. He stated that this serves two functions: to lower the levels of national scrutiny they [right wing organizations] may be subjected to and to increase the chances of them achieving whatever agenda they have at that moment. QAnon and extremist elements, however, may try to ingratiate into mainstream media as quickly as possible.
“There’s been some more partisan news elements that are taking the opposite approach which is to basically try to drive themselves as deep into mainstream media as they possibly can as fast as they can,” Holt said.“To try to make sure that the perceived gains that they had during the Trump era don’t fade away.”
Since the Capitol Hill riots, the Proud Boys have continued to organize meetings in Portland, Nevada and Kansas City according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, aiming for local anti-mask protests, school board meetings and anti-vaxxer protests. This, however, has left local governments in over their heads about how to properly deal with these organizations.
“The idea that Portland, or any city, can single-handedly defeat white nationalism is a fallacy,” executive director of Portland’s Western States Center Eric Ward said in a press release via the Southern Poverty Law Center. “This is a national problem that demands national resources.”
The Future Narrative of the Capitol Hill Riots
The lasting effects of the riots on right-wing politicians has shown a shift away from addressing and acknowledging the events of January 6 even amongst Republican politicians who previously denounced the actions of rioters. Particularly, as Holt states because it would contradict the account of events by Trump. He believes that aside from abhorrent information surfacing what can be expected is “silence and indifference.”
The push towards silence can be seen with the noted silence during the Sept. 18 “Justice for J6,” rally in defense of some of the rioters who were arrested. According to Politico, while Republicans like Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Louie Gohmert argued that some rioters are “political prisoners,” stayed silent regarding the rally, declining to comment about the event.
How the Riots Will Impact Future Elections
As for the impact of January 6th will have on upcoming elections, Holt stated that at the very least, the outcome will be interesting. The events of January 6th that republicans have been silent or indifferent towards could end up being what the republicans lean on during midterm elections and debates. As an example, he points to Virginia, where members of the democrat party tried to tie Glenn Youngkin to Trump and the events that took place on January 6th. However, as he points out, elections can at times be uniting. While groups such as Q-Anon and the Proud Boys may have opposing ideas, their views on larger topics (LGBT rights, racial justice, COVID-19, etc) are unifying.
“The 2022 midterms could be a uniting force for different extremist movements and when you pair that with the strategy they’ve shown in the last year of taking some of their battles down to state and local levels- it could just be one giant mess,” Holt said.