Following the storming of the United States Capitol building by Trump supporters on 6 January 2021, demonstrations remained at an elevated level last week compared to the average throughout December 2020. Demonstrations have averaged slightly under 300 events per week in January, in comparison to under 200 events per week last month. The driving force behind the demonstrations, however, has changed significantly. Many Republicans in Congress have voiced concerns over then-President Donald Trump’s role in the Capitol unrest and some, albeit fewer, voted to impeach him (The Guardian, 12 January 2021). For the first time since the election in November, anti-Trump demonstrations outnumbered pro-Trump demonstrations last week. Notably, this trend is driven by a major drop in pro-Trump demonstrations rather than an increase in anti-Trump demonstrations.
‘Stop the Steal’ rallies in support of Trump’s unfounded allegations of voter fraud decreased by about 90% from the first week of January 2021. The decline is likely due to a combination of public aversion to the Capitol breach as well as actions by major social media companies, such as Facebook, to ban content related to the movement (CNN, 12 January 2021). Additionally, ‘Stop the Steal’ demonstrations were largely located outside of major metropolitan areas last week, with significantly lower turnout than weeks prior. The only cities with populations greater than 100,000 people to host ‘Stop the Steal’ demonstrations were St. Paul, Minnesota, Austin, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The largest reported turnout for a ‘Stop the Steal’ demonstration last week was around 150 participants in Hernando, Mississippi (Commercial Appeal, 10 January 2021). This number pales in comparison to the thousands reported at multiple ‘Stop the Steal’ demonstrations throughout the country in weeks prior.
Despite the decrease in ‘Stop the Steal’ and other pro-Trump events, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) maintained its warning of violence surrounding President Joe Biden’s inauguration on 20 January in Washington, DC, and in all 50 states (New York Times, 13 January 2021). Up to 25,000 National Guard units from all 50 states and three US territories have been authorized to conduct security and other missions in Washington, DC (US Army, 14 January 2021). With such significant troop numbers, the FBI initiated a vetting process of National Guard personnel, which has resulted in at least a dozen members being removed from duty due to links with anti-government groups (Washington Post, 19 January 2021). It has also warned of attempts by members of far-right movements, such as QAnon, to infiltrate the National Guard to instigate violence (Washington Post, 18 January 2021). These warnings come as one man attempted to gain entry to a secure area in Washington, DC with over 500 rounds of ammunition (Fox 5 DC, 16 January 2021). A woman also attempted to gain access to restricted areas in the city after pretending to be a member of law enforcement and the Cabinet (NBC News, 17 January 2021). Both were arrested.
Meanwhile, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies continue to identify and arrest various people accused of participating in the unrest at the Capitol. Law enforcement agencies have opened over 200 case files and have made over 100 arrests throughout the country in connection with the riots (BBC News, 19 January 2021). In comparison, law enforcement in Washington, DC arrested 289 people during demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement on 1 June 2020, in which participants neither stormed past barricades into restricted areas nor assaulted officers with deadly force (Washington Post, 14 January 2021). The discrepancy in the police response to the two movements has garnered significant criticism, including from former President Barack Obama (Twitter, 8 January 2021), and is supported by ACLED data (FiveThirtyEight, 7 January 2021; Guardian, 14 January 2021). For more on use of force by authorities during demonstrations, see this recent ACLED report.
Last week, demonstrations against restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic increased compared to the week prior. These events nearly doubled from under 15% of all demonstrations during the first week of January to over 25% of all demonstrations last week. Additionally, anti-restriction demonstrations accounted for over two-thirds of all demonstrations related to the coronavirus. The increase in anti-restriction demonstrations is driven by a more than five-fold increase in calls for schools to reopen. In California, high school students, parents, and coaches held ‘Let Them Play’ rallies throughout the state on 15 January (The Mercury News, 15 January 2020), calling for the resumption of school sports. Although demands for reopening schools continue to center on sports and the social benefits for kids, an underlying cause of the increase in demonstrations is linked to heightened concerns over mental health issues stemming from the isolation of at-home learning (NPR, 18 January 2021).
Demonstrations associated with the BLM movement slightly increased relative to the week prior, but significantly trailed the numbers recorded during summer 2020. These demonstrations were reported in 17 states and Washington, DC last week. They featured a mixture of general protests against police violence targeting the Black community, as well as calls for justice in local cases in which Black, indigenous, or other people of color were killed or attacked by police. During the past week, Patrick Lynn Warren Sr., an unarmed Black man, was killed by police in Killeen, Texas when the authorities responded to a call about a mental health crisis (KXXV 25, 13 January 2021). The killing sparked protests and calls for the officer to be arrested for murder.
In other developments, reported militia activities — outside of participation in demonstrations — continued their downward trend since early December. Only the American Contingency reported such activity, hosting two firearm training events on consecutive days in Arizona. Militia activity is likely underreported as groups may fear that publicizing their activity would invite investigation by federal and local law enforcement amid the crackdown on far-right organizations following the Capitol riots.
Data on political violence and demonstrations in America are made available through the US Crisis Monitor, a special project launched by ACLED and the Bridging Divides Initiative at Princeton University. For more information about the project, click here.
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