Research / Other publications

Introduction to the 6 January Forum

When crowds of supporters of President Donald Trump flocked to Washington in response to the President’s claims of widespread election fraud, most Americans were unsurprised. The remarkably disparate crowd that descended on the capitol to protest the congressional ratification of the election was for most Americans, simply good television. In any case, it was well within the law.

What followed, however, came as a shock to all but the most astute followers of all things Trump. Following rabble-rousing addresses from the President, his son Donald Trump Jr., and for a touch of the bizarre, from Trump attorney and one-time mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani, a portion of the crowd, believing that Trump would lead them, descended on the Capitol building and, in an act unprecedented in U.S. history, attempted to stop the legislative proceedings by force in the belief that through their efforts Donald Trump would remain President. In Trump’s words:

We’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.
So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.

What struck most observers about the crowd that descended on Washington in answer to the President’s call was their diversity. Suburban soccer moms, teenagers and young adults, Evangelical Christians, a handful of Muslims, a scattering of racial minorities and camouflage-clad military veterans appeared side by side with armed militia members and members of racist and neo-Nazi groups. It was a conservative version of the flash mobs made famous in the left-wing anti-globalization demonstrations of the 1990s. The crowd had a chaotic, carnival-like atmosphere until the attack on the capitol. That attack, however, was anything but random and appears to have been long-planned.

Washington 6 January: Who answered the call

Those who answered Trump’s call to descend on Washington were a fairly diverse lot, but they can be placed in two distinct categories: the unaffiliated and the organized groups. The unaffiliated came to Washington on their own, or in small largely ad hoc groups of family and friends. The affiliated were members of organized militia or white supremacist groups who came armed and ready for war.
Reliable estimates of the crowd place it at 10,000 or less.2 Not a lot as far as demonstrations go. Most important though were the competing agendas of the two constituencies. Although hard data remains sketchy, interviews with participants and subsequent investigations suggest that, while some of the unaffiliated intended to disrupt the congressional session at the capitol, most went to Washington to lawfully demonstrate their support of the President and their rejection of an election they genuinely believed to be fraudulent. The affiliated, by contrast, came with at least
vague plans to ignite a revolution that would keep their President in power, perhaps indefinitely.
When violence happened and the attack on the capitol occurred, a minority of the unaffiliated were drawn to the capitol building. Some, fired by the exhortations of the Trumps and Rudy Giuliani, entered the capitol knowingly. Others claim to have been caught up in the crowd and the frenzy of the moment and simply followed the surge into the capitol without thinking of the repercussions. When the repercussions came, many of the unaffiliated expressed surprise, both at their arrests and, even more, at how easily they were identified.
The forum The events in Washington on 6 January 2021 had profound repercussions in the United States and throughout the world. They alerted the world not only to the threat to democracy posed by the far right and of the impact of social media driven conspiratorial fantasies and the power of outright and constantly repeated falsehoods. With this in mind, the editors of Terrorism & Political Violence felt it incumbent on the journal to open a scholarly forum that would go beyond the headlines and the ‘what happened’ as a first step toward understanding why it happened and, of greatest import, can it happen again?
The Forum opens with Rick Jensen’s historical examination of the October 1922 March on Rome by Italian fascists. Focusing on the beliefs of the true believers then and now, Dr. Jensen notes the parallels and discontinuities between the March on Rome and the Capitol insurrection in 2021. Max Taylor provides an examination of the impact of President Trump’s rhetoric on his followers and how it led to the events of 6 January. David Rapoport examines the role of the far right in the insurrection, while placing it as possibly the next phase of his Four Wave theory. Jeffrey Kaplan examines the role of conspiracy theories floated by QAnon and others in bringing people to Washington to support
President Trump’s claims of election fraud. Beatrice de Graaf and Leena Malkki close the forum with reflections on the impact of the 6 January insurrection in Europe; with Dr. de Graaf’s consideration of Germany and the Low Countries and Dr. Malkki’s examination of Sweden and Finland.
Together, it is our hope that the Forum will stimulate scholarly discussion and further research into the underlying causes, and possible future portents, of the events in Washington on 6 January 2021.


To cite this article: Jeffrey Kaplan (2021) Introduction to the 6 January Forum, Terrorism and
Political Violence, 33:5, 901-902, DOI: 10.1080/09546553.2021.1932336
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/09546553.2021.1932336