Friday, January 15, 2021

Were rural folks responsible for the Capitol riots last week?

Over the past four years, rural voters have drawn enormous attention in relation to--and enormous responsibility for--the presidency of Donald Trump.  Ditto working-class whites, people like coal miners and factory workers, for example.  Now, however, in the wake of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, the media are waking up to the fact that many of the insurrectionists were neither rural nor low-income.  Indeed, the media are waking up to a fact I've been trying to draw attention to for some time:  lots of rich folks voted for Trump, and they were prominent among the folks who led the raid on the Capitol last week.  We're learning more and more about them because (1) they are starting to be arrested and (2) the dead among them are being identified. 

This story from the Los Angeles Times provides a good overview of who the rioters were.  The headline is "A broad cross section of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, arrests show. Now what?," and Kevin Rector, Chris Megerian and Anna M. Phillips report.   Here's an excerpt:  

The reality of the Jan. 6 attack, captured in affidavits and court filings in dozens of criminal cases, is that the crowd included not just fringe radicals but also a broad cross section of President Trump’s supporters — people with office jobs, kids and mortgages, and otherwise respectable public reputations.

Among those identified and charged with crimes by law enforcement as participating in the insurrection were municipal employees, former members of the military, social media influencers, police officers and a school therapist. Also charged were a data analytics company’s chief executive and a two-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer from USC.

They came from across the country. A West Virginia state delegate livestreamed himself alongside the rioters. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said one of his officers — who resigned Thursday — had “penetrated” the Capitol building and was expected to face federal charges soon. Two Virginia police officers have been charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
Law enforcement officials are alarmed by the varied backgrounds of the pro-Trump intruders and say it can be difficult to prevent attacks and uncover dangerous motives when extremists hide behind the veneer of normality.

Among the folks that apparently surprised us as having been involved in the Capitol raid is this Dallas-area real estate agent who flew a private plane to DC for the riot.  Note that the framing by law professor Jennifer Taub, who re-tweeted the story, implies that Trump voters are homogeneous by highlighting the topic of socioeconomic class based on one very rich rioter.  That is, she appears to question the economic anxiety or economic distress of all Trump voters by noting that this Trump-inspired rioter is under no economic distress.  Law professors should be above that sort of shoddy reasoning.  

What follows are some Tweets that further illustrate the point that the rioters were not just--and perhaps not even primarily--working class whites.     

Here are two other stories about relatively affluent folks who participated in the Capitol riots, this one about a CEO from suburban Chicago and this one about a man who owns a carwash in suburban Atlanta.  Finally, here's a deep dive by Connor Sheets for Pro Publica about a rioter from Decatur, Alabama (part of the Huntsville, Alabama metro area) who appears to have been living a middle-class existence; he died of a heart attack during the events in Washington, DC.  He's one of those particularly intriguing Trump devotees who was, until relatively recently, a Democrat and voted for Obama in 2008.

In spite of what we're learning about the rioters, some are nevertheless blaming working-class white and rural voters for the riot.  Others see the riot as vindication of sorts of the working-class and rural folks who've been widely blamed for Trump's presidency.  In the Tweets immediately below, I respond to a journalist, Olivia Paschal, who is ignoring some important facts about poverty on the day after the riot. Interestingly, she grew up and now again lives in the same county as the Gravette, Arkansas man, Richard Barnett, who was widely photographed with his feet up in Nancy Pelosi's office, the one now in federal custody.  That's Benton County, Arkansas, a metropolitan county that's home of Walmart's "home office" (aka corporate headquarters).  It's one of the wealthiest counties in the state.  Gravette is an exurban part of the county, but the journalist grew up in one of the two large cities, Bentonville and Rogers, that have now effectively merged.  She went away for an Ivy League education and is now back working as a reporter for Facing South.  Generally, I am a fan of her work, but her argument that there is no "economic anxiety" in Benton County or elsewhere is an unhelpful one that will alienate many voters who are, in fact, suffering economic distress.   That said, I have read that Barnett, the Gravette ma,n is a contractor, from which one could surmise he is not economically distressed.  

Screenshot taken January 7, 2021

Here's more of that unhelpful framing, which I've not (yet) responded to, from Amy Siskind, a notable progressive who leads The New Agenda.

Screenshot taken January 15, 2021

Siskind went down this path after the Charlottesville riots, too, suggesting that event proved racism on the part of Trump supporters, to the exclusion of economic anxiety.  I wrote about the problem with that thinking here.  What's lost in that framing, obviously, is that not all folks who voted for Trump--not nearly all of them--marched in Charlottesville or on the Capitol last week.  Siskind's comment also has the very unfortunate effect of dismissing the economic pain experienced by many Americans who voted for Trump, just as journalist Paschal did in her tweets above.  

Here are some more Tweets about who the Capitol rioters were (along my responses to some of them): 

Screenshots taken January 8, 2021

Smarsh is the author of Heartland:  A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.  

Screenshot taken January 14, 2021

Screenshots taken January 12, 2021

Finally, here's a screenshot I've shared frequently in recent years; it's from the 2016 election exit polls broken down by income.  It shows that it is, in fact, those who might be called the "petit bourgeoisie," those who've gotten a leg up on the poor folks around them, who are most likely to oppose social safety net programs and support Trump.  The point is fleshed out in my scholarly writings and also illustrated here.  

Cross-posted to Working-Class Whites and the Law

Post script:  Here's a Washington Post story about how Washington insiders helped to organize the January 6 rallies that preceded the insurrection.   


thabe331 said...

"Here are two other stories about relatively affluent folks who participated in the Capitol riots, this one about a CEO from suburban Chicago and this one about a man who owns a carwash in suburban Atlanta."

If this is about the car wash in Acworth, GA then it should be noted he no longer owns the car wash and the current owners have had a lot of trouble running the business after it was reported that he was a previous owner at that location.

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