Jan. 6 rioters driven by loyalty to Trump, not insurrection: Harvard Study

Most people were motivated by loyalty to Trump or the idea that the election was stolen from him

Updated: August 1, 2022 - 9:59am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The rioters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, were motivated by loyalty to then-President Trump, not attempting to stage an insurrection, according to a recently released Harvard study.

Roughly one-in-five rioters were motivated out of support for Trump, the university's John F. Kennedy School of Government found. The same number of participants said they broke into the Capitol over Trump's claims that the 2020 election was stolen, The Harvard Crimson reported.

The third-most-common-reason rioters gave was a desire to start an armed revolution, with fewer than 8% of them giving that as a reason.

The study focused on court documents from 417 of the more than 800 defendants prosecuted for being involved in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. 

"I don’t think I expected the result to be this stark," said one of the study's author, Kaylee Fagan.

The study authors say the documents show "Trump and his allies convinced an unquantifiable number of Americans that representative democracy in the United States was not only in decline, but in imminent, existential danger.

"This belief translated into a widespread fear of democratic and societal breakdown, which, in turn, motivated hundreds of Americans to travel to D.C. from far corners of the country in what they were convinced was the nation’s most desperate hour."

About 4% of defendants cited the QAnon conspiracy theory as a reason they participated. The study's authors expected the number to be much higher.

"The folks with QAnon T-shirts, and signs, and flags were so prominently displayed in much of the visual imagery that came out of the Capitol attack," Fagan said. "So we expected to see more QAnon-related concepts come through in the documents."

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