Experts warn that seven to 51 million Americans may support political violence: report

Experts warn that seven to 51 million Americans may support political violence: report
Former President Donald Trump supporters outside the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 (TapTheForwardAssist).

On January 6, 2021, far-right groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers rioted at the U.S. Capitol to prevent Joe Biden from becoming president. Their members didn’t act alone, often relying on funders and others who supported their violent efforts.

This compelled The Hill to question how many U.S. residents actually support political violence. According to academics from institutions like John Hopkins, Stanford, Cornell, and the Universities of California and Chicago, the number could range anywhere from 3 to 20 percent of the U.S. adult population, signifying between 7 to 51 million people.

For comparison, the population of New York City is around 8.6 million and the population of California is 39.6 million. So, put another way, the U.S. has enough supporters of political violence to nearly fill New York City or to just under two Californias.

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This may seem like a theoretical exercise. After all, if that many people actually supported political violence, why aren’t we seeing revolt in the streets or daily attacks on political leaders?

But, as the Army’s Counterinsurgency Manual points out, supporters of political violence offer all sorts of assistance which can aid the growth of violent insurgency movements.

“Active popular support often has the greatest impact on the insurgency’s long-term effectiveness,” the manual says. “Popular support results in safe havens, freedom of movement, logistic support, financial support, intelligence, and new personnel.… As the insurgent group gains in support, its capabilities grow.”

However, recent studies suggest that voters often misbelieve that members of their opposing political viewpoint approve of violence more than they do. This makes people more inclined to support using violence against them. Conversely, if someone is shown data to prove that their opponents don’t favor using political violence, their own support of political violence lowers.

Also, studies suggest that one’s own support of political violence also decreases the more serious the offense. So while some voters might support property damage or theft against an opposing political party, their appetite for violence decreases with more serious offenses, like death threats or actual physical assault.

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