12 March 2021

The U.S. Capitol Attackers

Welcome back. The January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was difficult to watch and more difficult to comprehend. As various investigations dig deeper into all facets of the insurrection, the George Washington University Program on Extremism released a preliminary assessment of the participants.

Trump supporters trying to break through a police barrier during Jan. 6 Capitol Hill siege (Associated Press photo by John Minchillo).
At the time of the report, 257 people had been charged in federal court. (That number now exceeds 300 and is still climbing.) The GW program reviewed hundreds of court case documents, Department of Justice press releases, Freedom of Information Act requests, interviews with government officials and news to track and categorize the 257 alleged siege perpetrators.

Although the data and findings will certainly evolve, I found the report fascinating and thought you would find some highlights of interest.

Preliminary Findings
- The alleged perpetrators included 221 men and 36 women, average age 40 (18 to 70), from 40 states and more than 180 counties; fewer than 10% were from the Washington metro area.

- 13% had military backgrounds, and of those, 36% had links to extremist groups, mainly the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters. (The GW investigators thought the range of right-wing groups was particularly striking. Such groups often splinter and form rivalries, though in some cases there is enough common cause to mobilize together as they did in 2017 for the Charlottesville rally.)

- Those charged could be placed into 1 of 3 categories: militant networks characterized by hierarchical organization and chains of command; organized clusters, especially groups of family and friends; and inspired believers. Unlike individuals in the other categories, those in the militant networks coordinated logistics, methods and plans of action in the weeks before January 6. They are alleged to have planned to breach the Capitol and, in many cases, conduct violence inside the walls of the building.

Trump supporters climbing west wall of the U.S. Capitol during Jan.6 siege (Associated Press photo by Jose Luis Magana).
- The alleged perpetrators face an average of 5 counts and as many as 17, with charges ranging from trespassing and illegal entry to conspiracy against the U.S. government and assault of law enforcement officers.

- Social media played heavily in federal court evidence. Charging documents for 83% contained evidence from social media--47% from their personal accounts; 30% from the accounts of others in their networks; and 7% from both. Regarding evidence on personal social media accounts, 15% of extremists publicly indicated their intent prior to storming the Capitol, 68% documented their actions in real time and 25% commented on events in the days and weeks that followed.

QAnon supporter of Trump confronting U.S. Capitol Police outside of Senate chamber during Jan. 6 siege (Associated Press photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta).
Wrap Up
In time, recommendations will be forthcoming from congressional committees and others. The recommendations of the GW program’s preliminary report focused on the need to improve access to data on domestic terrorism investigations, conduct a systematic review of intelligence gathering and policy response to domestic terrorism alerts, and use existing structures to improve information-sharing between the federal agencies tasked with combating domestic violent extremism.

We’ve got a long way to go. Thanks for stopping by.

George Washington University Program on Extremism: extremism.gwu.edu/
GW Program’s preliminary assessment of Capitol Hill siege participants: extremism.gwu.edu/sites/g/files/zaxdzs2191/f/This-Is-Our-House.pdf
Article on report on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/gwu-nro030121.php
Related articles on Capitol Hill siege:

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