On Monday, Reuters published a supposedly damning report about Republicans’ attitudes on the January 6 Capitol riot. “Half of Republicans believe false accounts of deadly U.S. Capitol riot: Reuters/Ipsos poll,” the headline reads. The article cited a spokesperson from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) — which brands mainstream conservative and Christian organizations “hate groups” and plots them on a map with the Ku Klux Klan — who claimed the poll portends more violence.
“That is the biggest danger – normalizing this behavior,” Susan Corke, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project (the division of the SPLC that manages the “hate group” accusations), told Reuters. “I do think we are going to see more violence.”
Corke’s claim should not be surprising. After the Capitol riot, the SPLC called for Congress to censure or expel every single Republican who voted to contest the results of the 2020 election. The SPLC has dialed up the Democrats’ fears, fueling the domestic “War on Terror.” The Democrats’ fear mongering about the riot is likely fueling Republicans’ skepticism about the Left’s narrative of the event.
“Since the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies have pushed false and misleading accounts to downplay the event that left five dead and scores of others wounded. His supporters appear to have listened,” reporters James Oliphant and Chris Kahn wrote.
While some of the results of the Reuters/Ipsos poll are indeed concerning, Oliphant and Kahn painted some of the responses in a misleading light.
“Three months after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to try to overturn his November election loss, about half of Republicans believe the siege was largely a non-violent protest or was the handiwork of left-wing activists ‘trying to make Trump look bad,’ a new Reuters/Ipsos poll has found,” they wrote.
The specific claim that many Republicans “believe the siege was largely a non-violent protest” actually conflicts with the results of the poll. From this claim, readers might think the pollsters asked respondents if the “Capitol riot” or “the siege of the Capitol” or the “attack on the Capitol” was “non-violent.”
In reality, pollsters asked, “To what extend to you agree or disagree with the following statements? The people who gathered at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were mostly peaceful, law-abiding Americans.”
More than half of respondents who identified as Republicans said they either “strongly agree” (25 percent) or “somewhat agree” (26 percent) with this statement, while 42 percent of Republicans said they disagreed with it. Another 25 percent of Independents said they either strongly or somewhat agreed with it.
In reality, it is true that most of the people who marched to protest at the Capitol on January 6 were peaceful — only a small percentage of the crowd climbed up the Capitol walls and broke in, carrying out acts of vandalism and threats. The fact that a small percentage of protesters engaged in that violence does not implicate the majority who did not, just as it does not implicate the Republicans in Congress who voted to contest the election results.
That said, the Reuters/Ipsos poll did reveal that Republicans agree with one patently false claim about the Capitol riot. Pollsters asked respondents if they agreed with the statement “The Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol was led by violent left-wing protesters trying to make Trump look bad.” More than half of self-identified Republicans (55 percent) said they “strongly agree” (32 percent) or “somewhat agree” (23 percent) with this statement. Another 19 percent of self-identified Democrats agreed with that statement.
While protesters previously identified with antifa did take part in the Capitol riot, Trump supporters led the violent attack on the Capitol. It is wrong to suggest otherwise.
Finally, the Reuters/Ipsos poll found that only 28 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement that “Trump is at least partly to blame for starting the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.” Most Democrats (86 percent) and Independents (52 percent) agreed with that statement, while 63 percent of Republicans said they disagreed with it.
Although Trump’s claims contesting the 2020 election did lay the groundwork for the violent attack on the Capitol, many Republicans may have balked at the idea of claiming that Trump “started” the riot.
While it is tragic that so many Republicans say they think violent left-wing protesters led the Capitol riot, this does not necessarily suggest they are likely to engage in violence in the future. If Republicans think that leftists led the violence and then blamed it on Republicans, they will be less likely to get swept up in angry mobs, fearing that the Left may be orchestrating violence.
Furthermore, Trump conceded the 2020 election after the riot, ending the rioters’ premise for violence. While the Capitol riot did represent a true threat of violence from the Right, Trump’s concession definitively ended that threat. The isolated chatter afterward does not portend true violence.
The Reuters article cited John Geer, an expert at public opinion at Vanderbilt University, who claimed that “Republicans have their own version of reality.” Yet Democrats have their own version of reality, too. Democrats have spread persistent lies and misinformation about the Georgia election law, for example. President Joe Biden falsely claimed that the law will end voting hours early and he called the law “Jim Crow in the 21st Century,” apparently because the law requires photo ID for voters requesting absentee ballots (as if black people were less likely to have a photo ID).
The legacy media has spread these lies about the Georgia law with such abandon that many companies have condemned the law and Major League Baseball pulled the All-Star Game out of Atlanta.
While it is tragic that some Republicans believe misinformation about the Capitol riot, Republicans are hardly alone in rejecting the plain truth in pursuit of their agenda.
The Reuters article also twisted the truth to suggest that the Right is more dangerous than it truly is. Right after citing the Susan Corke’s prediction of “more violence,” the reporters noted the vehicle attack at the U.S. Capitol last week.
“In a fresh reminder of the security threats the U.S. Capitol faces since Jan. 6, a motorist rammed a car into U.S. Capitol police on Friday and brandished a knife, killing one officer and injuring another and forcing the Capitol complex to lock down. Officers shot and killed the suspect,” Oliphant and Kahn reported.
The reporters refused to mention the fact that the suspect, 23-year-old Noah Green, followed Nation of Islam Leader Louis Farrakhan, even hailing Farrakhan as “Jesus.” If this heinous attack has political significance, it does not reflect any violent threats from the Right but rather from the Left.
Yet Oliphant and Kahn actually spread misinformation in their article about Republicans’ gullibility toward misinformation. “The rioters – many of them sporting Trump campaign gear and waving flags – also included known white supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys,” they wrote.
The SPLC, which has branded the Proud Boys a “hate group,” notably refrains from accusing the organization of being “white supremacist.” The SPLC web page on the Proud Boys notes that the organizations’ former president, Gavin McInness, “repeatedly attempted to distance himself and the Proud Boys from white nationalism, calling the ideology ‘remarkably esoteric’ and insisting that ‘it’s unlikely any of us will ever meet a white supremacist.’”
In fact, the Proud Boys bylaws explicitly condemn white supremacy and racism. The bylaws state that “a person that believes in the inherent supremacy of any one race over another, or who is a member of any organization promoting the supremacy of any one race over another, may not become or remain a member of this Fraternity. This includes, but is not limited to, any person who currently identifies as a white nationalist, white supremacist, or alt-right.”
If Reuters intends to condemn Republicans for accepting misinformation, the outlet may want to avoid spreading misinformation itself. Just a thought.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.