Analysis of Arrests Supports Scholars Who Say Political Extremism Is Not Rural Phenomenon

Capitol Police officers fire pepper spray pellets from a balcony into the crowd of Trump supporters and other extreme right-wing groups rioting on the steps of the Capitol building. Photo: Chris Jones/100 Days in Appalachia

Violent right-wing radicals come from every corner of the U.S., says Anti Defamation League researcher. What they have in common is that they are “extreme Trumpists.”

Credit: The Daily Yonder

Extremists like those who stormed the Capitol on January 6 are no more likely to be from small towns or rural areas than from any other parts of America, say experts who study far-right movements.

Since the insurrection more than 180 people have been arrested for their involvement in the violent incursion on the Capitol. The Daily Yonder’s analysis of those arrests shows that the rioters came from around the country. Those arrested came from urban, suburban and rural counties at about the same rate as the overall population. And those arrested were only slightly more likely than the overall population to come from counties that Donald Trump won by a landslide.

“[The rioters] came from urban areas and rural areas, they converged from everywhere on Washington, D.C.,” said Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League and expert on extremism in the United States.

Madelyn Webb, an investigative researcher with anti-misinformation organization First Draft, explained that the rioters were not unified by geography or even ideology. Instead, they came from across the conservative spectrum, ranging from libertarian opponents of vaccination to religious pro-life activists to QAnon conspiracy theorists. “The thing that all these people have in common is that they think the election results were manipulated,” she explained.

States governments manage federal elections individually and no state has reported any instances of widespread voter fraud.

Webb attributes the relative success of the “stop the steal” campaign to its prolific online presence in the months following the election. “The misinformation forces did a really good job of making this ‘fraudulent election’ narrative adaptable to pretty much any fringe ideology that has a presence on social media, which is a lot of them,” she said.

Although a number of the insurrectionists have been linked to white supremacist organizations, militias, conspiracy groups and alt-right media, Pitcavage identified many of the participants as a new type of extremist, the “extreme Trumpist.” According to Pitcavage, these are people who have no ties to traditional extremist groups, but instead are unwavering in their support for Donald Trump.

“Among the great many Trump supporters across America, there was this small subsection of them who had become so extreme in their support of Donald Trump that they were willing to put Donald Trump above party, Donald Trump above country, to the point that they were actually willing to interfere with the electoral process, free and fair elections, and the peaceful transfer of power to another administration,” he said.

Geographic Analysis of Arrests

Much has been said and written about “Trump Country,” a narrative that attributes the election of Donald Trump to small-town and rural voters. Trump did win nonmetropolitan counties in 2020 by a margin of 2 to 1. But that analysis omits the broad support Trump received in all but the central counties of the nation’s largest cities. Trump got more votes on Long Island than he did in West Virginia. 

The Trump supporters who were arrested on charges related to invading the U.S. Capitol have similar widespread geography. Arrestees were a bit less likely to be from nonmetropolitan counties than the overall U.S. population. Fourteen percent of the U.S. population is from rural counties. Only about 10% of the people arrested so far on charges related to the insurrection are from nonmetro counties.

Arrestees are also proportionately represented in the nation’s political landscape. About a quarter of the U.S. population lives in counties where Trump won by a landslide. Twenty-seven percent of people arrested for the Capitol incursion are from such counties. More than half of those arrested come from counties where Biden won the popular election.

The arrestee numbers support Pitcavage’s assertion that when it comes to right-wing extremism, “it’s not a very fair perception to put all or most of the blame on rural areas,” Pitcavage said.

“There are extremists who come from small-town and rural America, but there are also extremists who come from every corner of America. And of course, most of the population of the United States lives in cities and suburbs, and that suggests that extremists would come from those places as well. There’s nothing that makes people in rural areas more likely to become extremists than people living in urban and suburban areas.”

This article was originally published by The Daily Yonder.

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