The most important element of January 6 was in place before the election

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Attorney General Merrick Garland reiterated at a press conference Wednesday that the Justice Department is both investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot — and leaving open the possibility of high-profile indictments.

“We must hold accountable anyone criminally responsible for attempting to nullify a legitimate election,” Garland said, “and we must do so in a manner of integrity and professionalism.”

“No one is above the law,” he insisted – even as reporters pressed him to explain whether former President Donald Trump could be charged.

Americans are skeptical that he will. A new NPR and PBS NewsHour poll conducted by Marist shows that about a quarter of the country expects Trump to be charged with a crime. Half of Democrats think it will happen; three-quarters of Republicans think not.

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That this is the state of affairs is not surprising, given the longstanding partisan divide in views of the Capitol attack. The ongoing House Select Committee hearings appear to have helped make people (especially independents) less likely to describe the day as a constitutionally protected day of protest. But opinions on Trump’s guilt haven’t changed much, despite the new evidence presented at those hearings.

And despite the other ways in which our understanding of how the day unfolded expanded. This month brought two new pieces of research showing how Trump supporters were prepared to reject the results before Election Day and what motivated participants in the riot itself.

Trump supporters were prepared to reject the results

The clearest summary of research on the pre-election period published this week is: “support for Trump’s resistance was independent of the election itself.”

Researchers Brendan Hartnett of Tufts University and Alexandra Haver of New York University School of Law conducted a national poll in late October 2020 to gauge how prepared supporters of the then president were to regard any result as unacceptable. Their thesis was that the willingness to reject the results should depend on the margin: a loss of 1 point should yield more people indicating a willingness to resist than a loss of 10 points.

This was not the case. Presented with a range of possible losses from 1 to 12 points, somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of respondents thought the results should be challenged. It was only after a 12-point win for Joe Biden that support plummeted.

“Even when respondents were given a hypothetical scenario in which Biden’s large margin of victory would make issues of voter fraud particularly irrelevant, there was still broad support for Trump to resist the outcome,” Hartnett and Haver write.

Importantly, they also asked respondents Why they thought the election should be contested. More than a third of those who said they should just quote were Trump supporters. “For these respondents,” the researchers write, “their support for Trump’s resistance to the election results was not inspired by concerns of electoral malfeasance; instead, they simply didn’t care about the election itself and wanted Trump in power no matter what.

But, of course, many respondents also specifically pointed to alleged concerns about the election (37% of respondents) and the possibility of fraud (17%). That more than half indicated concerns about fraud before the election is a reflection of Trump’s efforts (aided by the right-wing media) to elevate those concerns.

Participants in the riots pointed to the same reasons

Then there’s research from Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, first reported by NBC News, considering the reasons the rioters themselves allegedly offered for participating in the violence of the day. I write “allegedly” because the research comes from an analysis of documents filed in legal proceedings against the rioters and, therefore, is the government’s presentation of evidence, often taken from the suspects’ social media accounts. .

What did the participants in the riot cite as the reason for their presence that day? The two most common reasons were familiar: Trump’s urgings and the belief that the election was rigged.

Those who named Trump as the turnout trigger generally did so in one of two contexts, the authors write: “an expression of pro-Trump sentiment or a specific belief that Donald Trump has personally requested their attendance on Capitol Hill. “.

The belief that the election was tainted was itself often downstream from Trump. “[M]all of the defendants were quoted in the documents as expressing specific concern about the integrity of the 2020 election after hearing Donald Trump claim the presidency was stolen from him,” the report said.

After Trump and concerns about the election, the third most commonly cited reason for participation was “a desire for armed revolution or civil war,” cited by about 1 in 12 people whose documents were reviewed.

None of this is surprising, of course. That Trump was the primary trigger for what happened on January 6, 2021 has been evident since the violence erupted — as has the effort to steer Trump away from guilt.

House committee hearings uncovered a glut of evidence fleshing out the details of Trump’s efforts to nullify the election in the weeks following Nov. 3, 2020. Research released this week adds additional context: the (alleged) justifications of the rioters themselves and the extent to which Trump supporters were prepared to fight his downfall, however dire.

Information that Merrick Garland assures Americans that he is considering.

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