When Protest Becomes Insurgency Revisited

Today, the House of Representatives is holding its first hearing of the January 6th Committee, which includes the testimony of 4 police officers.

Listening to the testimony is chilling but provides us with important reminders that there is much to learn about how January 6th happened. Every single testimony provides evidence that the insurrection was premeditated and coordinated. Important questions that need to be answered include: what groups were involved, how were they coordinated, how did they communicate with and mobilize participants, as well as how were the people involved connected to people in positions of power. I hope that those who investigate January 6th take advantage of the tools of the social sciences that we have used to study social movements.

While I listen to the testimony, I am reposting my piece from January 11th:

Since violent insurgents stormed the US Capitol on January 6th, myriad accounts of what happened have been reported. It is clear that what many believed would be a peaceful protest that was legally permitted by the National Park Service, turned into something altogether different. In contrast to some claims that the actions of January 6th were unexpected (and that is why the Capitol police were so ill-prepared), expectations of violence had been reported far and wide prior to the events last Wednesday. For example, here is a detailed report from the day before the event in the Washington Post.

The distance between peaceful protest and violent confrontation that can turn into an insurgency is smaller than you might expect but it is not a spontaneous process–it involves significant planning and coordination. When we look back over the past 8 months, there were many signs that pro-Trump groups were radicalizing, in terms of the targets of their grievances and the tactics that they were considering. Look back at the ways they responded to COVID restrictions and organized counter protests to Black Lives Matter events in cities for clear signs.

As I noted less than three weeks ago, the current moment is the product of normalizing hate, legitimizing untruths, and emboldening misinformed Americans to challenge the legitimacy of the US government and take up arms in the streets. Yesterday, I published a new piece in Business Insider that asks: How do we stop an insurgency provoked by the President of the United States? How do you douse the flames of hatred, mistrust, and deliberate misinformation that creates a false reality?

The piece ends by noting how differently participants in the insurrection at the US Capitol last week were treated than protesters have been treated at events I have observed while studying protest for the past 20+ years. Although law enforcement is now rounding people up, there’s an enormous difference between escorting people out of the building to go back to their hotels and arresting everyone who breached the building. A clear message was telegraphed on January 6th that Pro-Trump supporters can incite violence, threaten elected officials, and occupy federal buildings with no recourse. We are now seeing some of the participants facing consequences, but I worry that this type of post-hoc response is not sending a strong enough message as groups prepare to return to DC this weekend and stay through the inauguration next week.

Networks of Engagement Around the 2020 Election

As part of the Indivisble Census, members of the Indivisible network were asked to indicate how they worked with the Democratic Party, Individual Candidate’s Campaigns, and other groups during the 2020 election. About half reported working with each.

Respondents wrote in about 2,000 groups that they had worked with around the 2020 elections.   Five groups were each named by more than 200 respondents individually: Vote Forward, MoveOn, Swing Left, Fair Fight, and ACLU.  It’s worth noting that there was quite a bit of overlap with the organizations mentioned in 2020; 12 of the top 15 groups were in the top-15 during both years.  The three groups that were new were: Fair Fight, Flip the West, and Black Lives Matter. For those respondents who reported participating with other groups as well as Indivisible, more than half of them (56%) reported that Indivisible was their “primary connection to the progressive movement.”  The following figure shows the groups that were mentioned by at least 60 individual respondents in 2021.

To look at how Indivisibles worked with other groups, here is an affiliation network map of connections to other groups that were mentioned by at least 100 Indivisibles.  The blue nodes are the nine organizations that were mentioned the most. Nodes are sized based on the frequency of mention by respondents.  The map shows that the network is extremely dense and is made of activists with numerous overlapping organizational affiliations.

Affiliation Map of Indivisible Network

To understand better the relationship between the different groups, the following visualization uses an algorithm that more clearly shows co-affiliation patterns among individuals.

Overall, this analysis provides clear evidence of the ways that Indivisibles worked across a range of progressive groups, which focused on a diversity of tactics, during the 2020 election.

On the Anniversary of the Murder of George Floyd: More Evidence that White Allies Are Continuing to Push For Racial Justice

On the 1 year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, I am releasing some preliminary findings from the 2021 Indivisible Census. As I’ve written elsewhere and documented with data collected from participants at BLM protests in summer 2020, and with data from the American Resistance dataset, the murder of George Floyd was a turning point for the movement against systemic racism in the US (see also the discussion in a new piece in Politico today).

The 2021 Indivisible Census, which closed earlier this month, provides more evidence about the ways that White Allies have joined the call to end systemic racism in America (note that the Indivisible network is made up predominantly of highly educated, middle aged White women). When asked what issues are motivating their political work, we see a clear shift in priorities for Indivisibles: many more are motivated by issues of Police Brutality and Racial Justice and fewer are motivated by Trump (who is no longer president).

This is NOT What Democracy Looks Like! State-Level Efforts to Limit Protest are on the Rise

Across the country, while efforts to limit voting have been introduced in most states and gained substantial attention, more than 80 bills have been simultaneously been introduced in 34 states that aim to reduce citizen’s right to assemble and protest.  These attacks on the very foundation of democratic participation—voting and peaceful assembly—are the most recent example of a coordinated effort by the Right to target policies at the state-level while all eyes are on a new Democratic President and his high-profile efforts to implement progressive change at the federal level.

My new piece discussing what these bills mean and how they are hollowing out democracy from the state-level up is now available at Business Insider.

The 2021 Indivisible Census is Open!

Last night, the 2021 Indivisible Census opened. The Census is collecting data on the Indivisible Network to see how this Resistance group has grown over the past year. It will provide insights into the priorities of the network in terms of who is participating, what they are doing, and what is motivating them. Here’s a map of respondents from the 2020 Census (14,144 members of the network participated). Hopefully we’ll get a similar response this year or even more!

Will the Resistance Join the Graveyard of Democratic Politics (take 2)?

I posted a piece with this name right after the midterm elections in November 2018 and, after it came up in a conversation with Danielle Kurtzleben on NPR about the future of the Resistance, it seems like a good time to revisit it.

With yesterday’s inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States, the 2020 election is finally behind us. As executive orders are signed to replace some of the most unpopular of Trump’s policies, we need to ask ourselves (again): Will the Resistance join the Graveyard of democratic politics? History suggests that progressive political movements lose their potency after Democratic electoral wins.  Just look at the post-9/11 anti-war movement and the Obama campaign in 2008 for evidence.  Although some called the campaign to elect Barack Obama a movement to elect the first Black president, the campaign’s infrastructure (which became Organizing for America) was subsumed into the Democratic party quickly after the inauguration.  The grassroots army of activists celebrated as the future of grassroots organizing was swiftly disarmed into a cadre of donors and phone bankers.  Will the Resistance meet a similar fate?

Before the 2020 election November, I conducted another wave of follow-up surveys with participants in the American Resistance. Some preliminary findings from that survey was published on election day in the Washington Post. Overall, the data showed that many resisters continued to be politically active through fall 2020 and that they had channeled their activism into working for the election.

In part thanks to these efforts, the 2020 election had record turnout with two-thirds of registered voters participating. But what happens to a movement that has been laser focused on one election after that election is over?  Leaders of Resistance groups have developed strategies to keep fighting and channel their members’ enthusiasm into specific political and legislative campaigns now that the Democrats hold the majorities in both houses of the Congress and the Presidency, but will the ground troops continue to follow their lead?

At this point, it is too soon to tell.  History provides a cautionary tale, but the sting of the past few years and the very real threat of the Radical Right may just provide sufficient incentive to stay engaged.

When Protest Becomes Insurgency

Since violent insurgents stormed the US Capitol on January 6th, myriad accounts of what happened have been reported. It is clear that what many believed would be a peaceful protest that was legally permitted by the National Park Service, turned into something altogether different. In contrast to some claims that the actions of January 6th were unexpected (and that is why the Capitol police were so ill-prepared), expectations of violence had been reported far and wide prior to the events last Wednesday. For example, here is a detailed report from the day before the event in the Washington Post.

The distance between peaceful protest and violent confrontation that can turn into an insurgency is smaller than you might expect but it is not a spontaneous process–it involves significant planning and coordination. When we look back over the past 8 months, there were many signs that pro-Trump groups were radicalizing, in terms of the targets of their grievances and the tactics that they were considering. Look back at the ways they responded to COVID restrictions and organized counter protests to Black Lives Matter events in cities for clear signs.

As I noted less than three weeks ago, the current moment is the product of normalizing hate, legitimizing untruths, and emboldening misinformed Americans to challenge the legitimacy of the US government and take up arms in the streets. Yesterday, I published a new piece in Business Insider that asks: How do we stop an insurgency provoked by the President of the United States? How do you douse the flames of hatred, mistrust, and deliberate misinformation that creates a false reality?

The piece ends by noting how differently participants in the insurrection at the US Capitol last week were treated than protesters have been treated at events I have observed while studying protest for the past 20+ years. Although law enforcement is now rounding people up, there’s an enormous difference between escorting people out of the building to go back to their hotels and arresting everyone who breached the building. A clear message was telegraphed on January 6th that Pro-Trump supporters can incite violence, threaten elected officials, and occupy federal buildings with no recourse. We are now seeing some of the participants facing consequences, but I worry that this type of post-hoc response is not sending a strong enough message as groups prepare to return to DC this weekend and stay through the inauguration next week.

Kicking off 2021

It’s going to be a wacky week! Yesterday, the 117th Congress began. On Tuesday, the Georgia Senate runoffs take place, which will determine which party controls the US Senate. On Wednesday, the Congress will meet to count and certify each state’s electoral votes, which is expected to include a number of challenges by Republicans.

At the same time, thousands of Trump supporters are expected to travel to DC to protest the outcome of the 2020 election. Numerous permits have been issued for around Washington on Wednesday January 6th for rallies that will demand Congress overturn the results of the 2020 election. These protests are expected to include participation by the Proud Boys and other groups that have been linked with white supremacy and violence.

Given the calls for violence and encouragement from the President, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser issued an appeal to locals from the DC area not to participate in counter protests, asking people to avoid areas where protests are scheduled to take place. So far, it is unclear how local groups that have organized counter protests to previous Trump rallies and demonstrations against systemic racism will respond (especially as videos of Proud Boys destroying the BLM memorial fence are being shared on social media).

In other news, American Resistance is now available in paperback!

Are We Drifting Towards Civil War?

Yesterday, I posted a new piece at Business Insider that lays out three reasons why America may be drifting towards a Civil War: first, the President and his allies have coaxed hate out of the dark corners of society where it had been relegated by social norms; second, the Trump Administration has cultivated a culture of untruths and alternative facts; and third; misinformed Americans have been emboldened to challenge the legitimacy of the US government and take up arms in the streets.

Although some have responded by saying that I am fear mongering and using the title (which the editors changed to ask if we are heading towards a ‘serious schism’) as click bait, anyone who is paying attention to what happened at the Oregon capitol yesterday can see even more evidence. With the President joining with MAGA supporters to call for a ‘wild protest’ at the US Capitol on January 6th, this is only the beginning.

As the Electors meet, Protests get much more dangerous

Today, the electors will meet to cast their votes for the 2020 Election. While many people who have been involved in the American Resistance since Donald Trump took office expected to be seeing light at the end of a four-year long tunnel, there is growing evidence that we are entering a dark place where violent conflict fueled by conspiracy theories against our democracy are rampant.

I spoke to Annie Gowan at the Washington Post on Friday about how we got here for her piece on public officials being targeted by activists: “What we’re seeing is an escalation, so that instead of people calling each other nasty names and cursing each other out on Twitter or Parler, instead they’re doing it in person while holding weapons…The country is at risk of serious armed confrontation in the days to come.” The original quote said that we were at risk of slipping into a Civil War (a not unlikely continuation of our country’s current path).

Since the interview, videos have circulated social media from this weekend’s protests in Washington, DC where Trump supporters were joined by Proud Boys who clashed with counter protesters. There will be a lot of discussions about who fanned the flames of this type of violence in the coming days and weeks. Unfortunately, what we saw this weekend is almost definitely only the beginning.