By Martin Pengelly
One in three Americans believe violence against the government is sometimes justified, according to a new Washington Post poll.
The survey, with the University of Maryland, was released on New Year’s Day – five days short of a year since rioters attacked the US Capitol in an attempt to overturn Donald Trump’s election defeat by Joe Biden.
According to the authors of The Steal, a new book on Republican attempts to fulfill Trump’s aim through legal action in key states, the rioters of 6 January 2021 “had no more chance of overthrowing the US government than hippies in 1967 had trying to levitate the Pentagon”.
But it was still by far the most serious attack on the seat of federal government since the British burned Washington in 1814 and the Post poll comes amid a sea of warnings of growing domestic strife, even of a second civil war.
The Post reported: “The percentage of Americans who say violent action against the government is justified at times stands at 34%, which is considerably higher than in past polls by the Post or other major news organisations dating back more than two decades.
“… The view is partisan: The new survey finds 40% of Republicans, 41% of independents and 23% of Democrats saying violence is sometimes justified.”
As pointed out by Mark Bowden and Matthew Teague, authors of new book The Steal: The Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election and People Who Stopped It, Trump was ultimately stopped by “the integrity of hundreds of obscure Americans from every walk of life, state and local officials, judges and election workers. Many of them … Republicans, some … Trump supporters”.
Nonetheless, at a rally near the White House on 6 January, Trump told such supporters to “fight like hell” in his cause.
“And if you don’t fight like hell,” he said, “you’re not going to have a country anymore”.
Five people died, including a rioter shot by law enforcement and a police officer.
The Post poll found that 60% of Americans said Trump bore a “great deal” or a “good amount” of responsibility for the Capitol attack. However, 72% of Republicans and 83% of Trump voters said he bore “just some” responsibility or “none at all”.
The Post reported: “A majority continue to say that violence against the government is never justified – but the 62% who hold that view is a new low point, and a stark difference from the 1990s, when as many as 90% said violence was never justified.”
The paper interviewed some respondents.
Phil Spampinato, 73, from Dover, Delaware, and a political independent, said he first “contemplated the question of whether violence against the government might be justified” as a way of “defending your way of life” after he saw Republicans changing state laws to restrict voting by Democrats and to make it easier to overturn results.
“Not too many years ago,” Spampinato said, “I would have said that those conditions are not possible, and that no such violence is really ever appropriate.”
Anthea Ward, a Republican 32-year-old mother of two from Michigan, said: “The world we live in now is scary. I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist but sometimes it feels like a movie. It’s no longer a war against Democrats and Republicans. It’s a war between good and evil.”
Ward said she did not approve of the Capitol attack. She also said she would not participate in violence over Covid-19 vaccine mandates – another social flashpoint.
But, the Post reported, Ward did say other people could be justified in choosing to “express their second amendment right” if the government “infringe[d] their freedom of choice” over vaccines, “and nonviolent action such as protests were unsuccessful”.