The Capitol Insurrection By The Numbers
Jaclyn Fox is a Ph.D. candidate at American University, School of International Service, specializing in political violence and security. Her work explores the links between online rhetoric and offline violence across the far-right ecosystem.
Four months after the attempted insurrection in Washington DC, law enforcement officials, researchers, and journalists are still seeking to make sense of what occurred on January 6th. Investigators unpack social media postings and real-life activities to determine what happened in the lead up to the incursion of the Capitol Building: who must be held accountable, and what comes next. Journalists and researchers dissect arrest records to understand the connections between the Capitol Insurrection and organized far-right and militia groups, military veterans, political figures, Capitol Police, Trump administration officials, and various demographic characteristics.
While all of this research is essential in understanding the events of the 6th and the current state of domestic extremism in the US, below I highlight five key numeric figures. These figures map the scale of participation in both online and offline activities related to election fraud conspiracy and help us conceptualize varying levels of movement engagement.
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1. 70 million – The Stop the Steal Movement goes Mainstream
Participation across multiple mainstream social media platforms
The Atlantic Council’s DFRlab, using the social media tool BuzzSumo, identified 8,200 news articles containing the key phrases “Stop the Steal” or “#StopTheSteal” from September 1, 2020 through February 2, 2021. These 8200 articles saw an astounding 70 million engagements (e.g. likes, dislikes, and views) across social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Reddit. The majority of engagements (83% or 58.5 million) were with YouTube videos. Although all interactions were not necessarily supportive of “election fraud” (e.g. merely viewing or even disliking a video promoting the conspiracy), the large number suggests the degree to which this movement penetrated mainstream discourse.
2. 458,000 – Trump’s dedicated Twitter Followers
Participation on one mainstream social media platform: Twitter (Trump Tweets)
While Trump tweeted about election fraud numerous times in the lead up to the insurrection, the tweet about the 6th that garnered the most interaction was on December 30th, 2020. Over 458k individuals liked the simple message “JANUARY SIXTH, SEE YOU IN DC!” with 89k sharing it.
The 6th was touted as the time when all of the election fraud evidence would be revealed and everyone would have to accept Trump as the rightful victor in the presidential election. Hundreds of thousands of individuals continued to like and share his misinformation in the days leading up to the insurrection — and even beyond — until Trump was finally banned from the site. Trump also re-tweeted march organizers, including self-proclaimed MAGA Activists and former 8chan site administrator and QAnon conspirator, Ron Watkins.
These 458,000 individuals represent Trump supporters who actively engage in online movement support. However, as Twitter is a mainstream platform, this is a relatively low-effort way to show online support. Followers do not have to proactively seek content away from mainstream sites or register with any alternative services.
3. 23,781 – MAGA Online Army
Participation on alternative social media platform: thedonald.win
Thedonald.win has been noted as a key site used by individuals to organize in the lead up to January 6th. Participants on this publicly accessible platform repeatedly discussed plans to enter the Capitol building, even going as far as sharing maps of the US Capitol complex and landmarks/access tunnels running beneath it. Online rhetoric also included threats against members of Congress, and the coordination of travel plans to arrive in DC together. Members of thedonald.win created a thread about “Daddy” (Trump) telling them to be in DC on January 6th and as of the morning on the 5th, 23,781 individuals had “upvoted” it, leaving 5798 additional comments. Content within this thread varied and included discussion of bringing weapons to DC with 55 mentions of “guns” alone.
This figure, 23,781, represents individuals with an additional degree of commitment to the MAGA/election fraud cause. They needed to proactively seek out a space outside of the mainstream to celebrate Trump and created their own content in support of the movement as opposed to merely responding to Trump or other movement leaders’ messages.
4. 20,000 – Trump’s Supporters Take to the Streets
Participation in-person in Washington, DC on January 6th, 2021
The Crowd Counting Consortium estimates that 20,000 people attended the largest of the protests in DC on January 6th. This event – “The March to Save America” was organized by Women for America First and identified participants include Stop the Steal, Proud Boys, Chinese American Association for Trump, Groypers, Oath Keepers, VDARE, Three Percenters, Ohio State Regular Militia, Republican Attorneys General Association Rule of Law Defense Fund, and Cowboys for Trump. Additional smaller events were also organized around DC, most notably the “March on Congress” held by American Conservatism, which was attended by approximately 300 individuals.
These 20,000 individuals represent the highest degree of support in our list so far. They needed to expend real resources – time, money, planning – to get to DC and engaged in on-the-ground movement participation.
5. 432* – Hardcore Supporters Storm the Capitol
Participants in the Capitol insurrection who were arrested on Federal (n = 406) and non-Federal — i.e. District of Columbia jurisdiction — (n = 26) charges as of May 1, 2021.
According to The George Washington University’s (GWU) Program on Extremism, of the 406 federal arrests, the average age of arrestee was 39 years old, they hailed from 43 states and the District of Columbia, and 87% were men. In an April 12th report, GWU calculated that 12% of federal arrestees (43 out of the then 357 charged) had prior military experience, the majority of those (93%) being veterans. In addition, individuals with military experience were four times more likely to be affiliated with Domestic Violent Extremist groups, such as the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, than those without.
These 432 individuals could be conceptualized as the most fervent movement supporters who engaged in illegal activities in support of Trump and/or against perceived election fraud. These participants not only expended resources to attend the events in DC but their participation resulted in long-term and severe consequences.
While the most extreme supporters often draw the greatest attention (i.e. those who invaded the Capitol), we must remember that arrestees are a drop in the bucket of a larger mainstream belief in election theft. In order to combat misinformation surrounding election fraud, it’s necessary to first conceptualize the full scope of the movement along with varying levels of engagement. While only select social media platforms were discussed in this piece, it serves as an important starting point in understanding the scale of support for election conspiracies.
This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.