Survey says 23% of Americans think anti-government violence okay ‘sometimes’—NPR

Protesters gathered around and eventually stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021. (Screen snip, YouTube, Daily Nation)

A group calling itself The COVID States Project has released the results of a survey revealing 23 percent of Americans “say it is ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ justified to ever engage in violent protest against the government. 10% say it is ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ justified to engage in violent protest against the government right now,” according to NPR.

This was not some half-baked exercise by a group of tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists. The bylines are impressive: Alauna C. Safarpour, Anjuli Shere and Matthew A. Baum, Harvard University; James Druckman, Caroline Pippert and Jennifer Lin, Northwestern University; David Lazer, Kristin Lunz Trujillo, Alexi Quintana, Jon Green, Hong Qu and Ata Uslu, Northeastern University; Roy H. Perli and Mauricio Santillana, Harvard Medical School, and Katherine Ognyanova, Rutgers University. That’s 15 people associated with four top universities.

According to NPR, “Last year, a University of Chicago poll found almost 1 in 10 Americans believed the use of force was justified to restore Trump to the presidency after he lost. And in December, The Washington Post and University of Maryland together found that 1 in 3 Americans think violence against the government is sometimes justified.”

This might not be such an unusual phenomenon, according to one COVID States Project official.

“You know, we begin with the American Revolution against an illegitimate government and so we are, in a sense, taught from grade school that it is at some points in history justifiable to engage in violent protest,” said COVID States Project co-director David Lazer. 

What elementary school student doesn’t learn about the Boston Tea Party?

The COVID States Project contacted nearly 23,000 people “across the country” about whether violent protest against the government is ever justified, the NPR report noted. The survey was conducted between Dec. 22 and Jan. 24. People in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia were contacted.

While 23 percent say they would go along with a violent protest, the rest of the country—77 percent—would not.

The nation remembers Jan. 6, 2021 when thousands of people gathered in the nation’s capital to protest the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Hundreds marched into the Capitol building and several people entered the House and Senate chambers. People were arrested and one woman, Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran, was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer. One man, identified by the New York Times as Kevin D. Greeson, suffered a fatal heart attack “on the sidewalk west of the Capitol.”

One officer, Brian Sicknick, died from multiple strokes a day later. Two other officers—Jeffrey Smith of the Metropolitan Police Department and Howard Liebengood with the Capitol Police—committed suicide in the days after the attack, the New York Times reported.

NPR quoted Rachel Kleinfeld, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who said the number of Americans who support the notion of violent protests has doubled over the past ten years. While most people will find that alarming, it does raise a question about what that many people think government has been doing to provoke that level of hostility.

But perhaps another academic quoted by NPR put the matter into perspective. Professor Christian Davenport at the University of Michigan, who is a “research professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo,” according to the NPR report reminded the news agency, “Individuals will say a great number of things on a poll, but never show up for anything.”


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