You don’t need me to tell you that on the evening of 6 January 2021, a mob of several thousand people stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, following a rally to protest against Donald Trump losing the presidential election. What I’d like to touch on here is the role the Capitol riot plays in the ongoing radicalisation of the Republican Party, also known as the Grand Old Party (GOP).
Radicalisation is an 8-stage emotional process that begins long before public events like the Capitol riot.
The process of radicalisation
Radicalisation is an 8-stage emotional process that begins long before public events like the Capitol riot. To understand where the riot fits into that process, let’s first review its stages.
A person feels, rightly or wrongly, that the world is against them for some reason that is inherent to their being; something that they were born with or otherwise cannot be changed. This creates a sense of discrimination. The stage ends with the person trying to alert the outside world to their painful feelings.
The person vents their feelings of discrimination, but these fall on deaf ears and nothing changes. This creates a sense of frustration. The stage ends with the person feeling discrimination is institutionalised and cannot be changed through available social processes.
Unable to get their voice heard, the person feels helpless. This creates a sense of victimization. The stage ends when this reaches an acute level, often through a specific external event that brings their sense of grievance to a head.
An incident, which may happen to the individual personally or be a world news event, brings all the painful feelings from the previous stages to the surface in an emotional eruption. This creates a very painful sense of humiliation and shame that propels them out of the earlier, more passive stages into the more active phases of radicalisation.
The person consciously or unconsciously forsakes community cohesion, abandoning all efforts at seeking restitution through available processes. The stage ends with the person becoming emotionally—and often physically—isolated from the wider community.
The person withdraws from the wider community, creating a vacuum in their psychological framework that makes them vulnerable to extremist narratives of unrecognised superiority, victimization and retribution. The stage ends when the person discovers such a narrative that resonates with them.
The person embraces an extremist narrative. The stage ends when the person accepts the idea that violence is the only means of addressing their perceived grievances and commits to participating in or supporting such violence.
The person joins an extremist group and/or perpetrates an extremist act.
Radicalisation of the GOP
The Grand Old Party has loomed large in American politics ever since its founding in 1854. Its first president was Abraham Lincoln, who abolished slavery in 1865. Over the course of the 20th century the GOP gradually embraced what is termed American conservatism.
By the time of the 2016 presidential election, after eight years of Democrat Barack Obama, the GOP’s supporter base was looking for a significant shift to the right. The Obama years moved many GOP supporters through the first three stages of the process of radicalisation: discrimination, frustration and victimization.
At that point Donald Trump, a political outsider, appeared. Driven by a mercurial refusal to fail—itself the product of childhood arrested development—Trump’s divisive rhetoric appealed to disaffected GOP supporters and he swept into the White House.
During his presidency, Donald Trump hi-jacked the Grand Old Party. It stopped being the Republican Party, with him as current president. Instead, it became the Trump Party with him as commander-in-chief, dynastic founder, and messianic saviour.
The 2020 election
Impelled by his profound emotional need not to be seen as a loser, Trump bet everything on the 2020 election. This proved his undoing. His inflammatory manner united the previously divided Democrat Party behind Joe Biden, who won the election.
For Donald Trump and his supporters, the election loss was the fourth stage of the process of radicalisation: humiliation.
Unable to accept the loss, Trump launched a slew of under-evidenced legal challenges on the election results. They failed. This propelled the GOP base through stage five: rejection.
As Donald Trump experienced the greatest emotional setback of his life, his rhetoric amped up and exceeded socially accepted standards of fake news and disinformation. The result: a ban from Twitter and other social media platforms. Across the digital landscape, many right-wing groups found themselves shut down, banned, or tagged as fake news.
For much of the world, there was a sudden sense of a much less toxic online environment. Supporters of the Grand Old Party, however, found themselves in a vacuum, stripped of their usual channels of communication. This vacuum is stage six: alienation.
Radicalisation and the Capitol riot
By the beginning of 2021, Trump’s supporters had been rapidly pummelled through the emotionally gruelling experiences of humiliation, rejection and alienation. They were ready for indoctrination—ready to hear a more violent message than what they’d heard before.
Donald Trump supplied it. At a rally on the morning of 6 January, Trump claimed that, “”if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Thousands of his supporters took him at his word and stormed the Capitol. Five people, including a policeman, died during the incident.
This was the final stage in the process of radicalisation—perpetration. The Capitol riot had been coming for years. All it took was the right—or wrong—circumstances and the powder keg of Donald Trump’s rage-fuelled rhetoric.
The problem for the Grand Old Party is, where to now? Much of its supporter base is radicalised and in thrall to Donald Trump, as are many of its representatives. There’s no doubt that Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Marjorie Taylor Greene are radicalised.
Worse yet, after the Capitol riot many swing voters will simply refuse to support a party still dominated by Donald Trump. More cripplingly, corporate sponsors that have lavished funds on Republican campaigns in the past cannot ignore the negative publicity that is now likely to generate. They have no choice but to withdraw their funding.
The problem for America is much bigger. A huge yet unknown number of Trump supporters are out there, radicalised to some extent. The legacy of the Capitol riot and its radicalisation of the Grand Old Party may be decades of domestic terrorism.
Photo by Tyler Merbler on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)