Contextualizing the Capitol Riot

A photo of the Capitol during the January 6, 2020 riot in response to Trump’s loss in the 2020 Presidential election. (Photo by Blink O’fanaye on Flickr, CC).

On Wednesday, January 6th, Trump supporters (many of them White supremacists) carried out a riot and invasion in the U.S. Capitol in response to Trump’s loss in the 2020 Presidential race. While many expressed shock and sentiments that “this isn’t America” on social and news media, the actions of this group are actually very reflective of the long, sordid history of White supremacy and racial politics in the U.S. In addition, many pointed out the drastically differential (i.e. less violent and more accepting) police, government, media, and public responses to this group of predominantly White rioters in comparison to the predominantly Black protestors of the Black Lives Matter movement. Below is a list of pieces (with free access hyperlinks) that we have published on issues of White supremacy, racism, the alt-right, racial politics, and Trump’s presidency throughout Contexts Magazine’s recent years. We hope they give you the background knowledge many are looking for right now as they process this (not so) unprecedented event and envision ways to fight White violence and supremacy and achieve a better America in the future.


“White Allyship Means a Transfer of Power” by Cynthia Levine-Rasky and Sabreena Ghaffar-Siddiqui (Issue: Fall 2020).

Abstract: The conspicuous shift in public opinion on issues of race, branded in 2019 as the “Great Awokening,” has reached an all-time high with protests in over 140 U.S. cities after Floyd’s murder of May 25, 2020. But will the current resurgence in protests lead to enduring change?


“Why Did So Many Urban Working-Class Whites Support President Trump?” by Andrew J. Cherlin (Online First Feature: October 21, 2020)

Abstract: Working-class Whites support for Donald Trump: The accepted explanation points to racial and ethnic resentment and to anxiety about immigration, with economic factors secondary. Based on a community study, I argue that feelings of reverse discrimination and anti-immigrant sentiment reflected both racial and economic factors. It is difficult to conclude that either factor was more important than the other.


Stability and Change in Americans’ Perception of Freedom” by Orlando Patterson and Ethan Fosse (Issue: Summer 2019)

Abstract: Any American will tell you, this nation’s highest ideal is freedom. Survey data teases out how race, income, and political affiliation inflect individuals’ sense of liberty.


“Terrorism and the Digital Right-Wing” by Elizabeth T. Harwood. (Issue: Summer 2019)

Intro: The March 2019 massacre by a self-identified fascist in New Zealand that left 50 dead and even more injured is part of a growing trend in White supremacist terrorism. Journalists were quick to latch onto the terrorist’s manifesto and livestream as evidence of this being, according to Kevin Roose of the New York Times, “an internet-native mass shooting, conceived and produced entirely within the irony-soaked discourse of modern extremism.” His manifesto, first released on the online imageboard site 8chan, heavily references various memes, online trends, and internet celebrities. He claims to have been most radicalized by Candace Owens, a young, Black woman who serves as the Communications Director for the conservative advocacy group Turning Point USA. Is this reference a genuine reflection of her extremist politics? A sarcastic attempt to throw journalists off by blaming his White supremacy on a Black woman? It may be difficult–near impossible–to cut through the dense field of acerbic mockery the terrorist left behind. Preliminary computational analysis of the text reveals similarities in discourse between the terrorist and various influencers like Candace Owens.


“Living While Black” by Junia Howell, Marie Skoczylas, and Shatae’ DeVaughn. (Issue: Spring 2019)

An excerpt: It is well noted, thanks to scholars like Michelle Alexander, that Blacks are more likely to be arrested for drug related crimes. However, what has been less examined is the propensity for Blacks to also be arrested for mundane acts. The inflated federal funding to national and local law enforcement agencies associated with the War on Drugs has also increased the number of Black residents being arrested for minor nonviolent non-drug offenses such as vandalism, vagrancy, curfew, loitering, suspicion, runaways, disorderly conduct, gambling (including sports), prostitution, commercialized vice, drunkenness, violating liquor laws, and other nonviolent offenses. To examine how these trends have changed over time, we combine the FBI’s Uniform Reporting Data with Census data on the metropolitan areas to calculate the rate at which Blacks and Whites were arrested for minor nonviolent non-drug offenses from 1980 to 2015.


“The Deadbeat Presidency” by Rodrigo Dominguez-Martinez. (Blog: February 7, 2019)

An excerpt: It seems ironic that many of the controlling images and stereotypes that are ascribed to the most socially marginalized groups (including Black women and men) are the most accurate ways of describing the President. The welfare king: a man still receiving pay without doing any real work and the deadbeat father that continues to neglect a nation and its citizens; especially its most vulnerable.


“White Supremacist Danger Narratives” by Ashley C. Rondini. (Issue: Summer 2018)

An excerpt: Danger narratives justify state-sanctioned and vigilante forms of violence against oppressed communities while also implicitly functioning to assert the “rightful” place of White men in positions of power. By casting men of color as innately predatory, White men set themselves up as the logical defenders of a civilized White society. History bears out this pattern repeatedly.


“Racial Reckoning and White Empathy: Lessons From My Mother” by Judith Taylor (Blog: August 12, 2018)

An excerpt: It is very much the belief of White people who want to further the legacy of civil rights (in this and prior eras) that other Whites are the primary obstacles to positive change. “They want to maintain their power, are not moved by the pain of others, don’t want to be named as ‘White people’.” It is reasonable to believe that, if more White people experienced proximate racism and its toxicity, they might not be so insensitive to the modest assertion that Black Lives Matter. What if it takes more than witnessing racism to break an allegiance with White supremacy? We can’t socially engineer so much misfortune, much as Whites might stand to benefit from those painful lessons. My mother didn’t live to see the Starbucks video, in which a short clip taken by a White woman bystander reveals Black men escorted out of a Philadelphia coffee shop for no apparent reason other than their Blackness, but I wonder if this video and others—from “BBQ Becky” to “Permit Patty”—might signal a new, more accessible form of White anti-racism. Seeing and hearing White people challenge the police shows that we don’t need to experience direct racism to oppose it. Proximal racism and the empathy and outrage they spur are important. Forty years before it could be hash-tagged, my mother wanted to see White people do the right thing.


Winter 2018 Special Issue on Trump and U.S. Politics

“The Algorithmic Rise of the “Alt-Right’” by Jessie Daniels. (Feature Article)

An excerpt: There are two strands of conventional wisdom unfolding in popular accounts of the rise of the alt-right. One says that what’s really happening can be attributed to a crisis in White identity: the alt-right is simply a manifestation of the angry White male who has status anxiety about his declining social power. Others contend that the alt-right is an unfortunate eddy in the vast ocean of Internet culture. Related to this is the idea that polarization, exacerbated by filter bubbles, has facilitated the spread of Internet memes and fake news promulgated by the alt-right. While the first explanation tends to ignore the influence of the Internet, the second dismisses the importance of White nationalism. I contend that we have to understand both at the same time.

“Why Clinton Lost: An Interview with Melissa Harris-Perry” by Hana Brown. (Q&A)

An excerpt: Hana Brown: You anticipated Trump’s election. You called it “terribly predictable.” What did you see that other people didn’t? Melissa Harris-Perry: I long believed that Hillary Clinton was unable to win the presidency. She would have been a perfectly adequate president. I believed she could not be elected based on what we know about what it takes for a Democrat to win the Presidency. If we take the example of President Obama’s initial win in 2008 and his reelection in 2012, then we have an idea of the critical importance of Black voters—particularly Black women voters. The Democratic Party relies on Black voters not simply as supporters, it requires they turnout at stunning levels.


“Staking Post-Racialism in Charlottesville” by Milton Vickerman (Blog: September 6, 2017)

An excerpt: “Clearly, a precedent for extreme racism exists in the city, but one also needs to take seriously the city’s claim that it has become a much more tolerant place. The outstanding characteristic of modern-day racism is its complexity. Rather than disappearing, as some pundits would have it, racism co-exists with apparent positive changes in racial attitudes, takes many forms, operates culturally through colorblindness, and persists in structures that disproportionately harm people of color without leaving fingerprints. Also, increasingly, in backlash against ever-increasing immigrant-fueled diversity, racism is reverting to its brutal, atavistic form.”


“The [Un]surprising Alt-Right” by Robert Futrell and Pete Simi (Blog: August 18, 2017)

An excerpt: “Since the election, observers have tried to explain the sudden rise of the so-called alt-right, but to those who track the far right, there’s nothing sudden about it. Long before election night, White supremacists had become savvy at outwardly masking their real beliefs and intentions while most wrote them off as politically innocuous wackos. Having bided their time, they are reemerging to try to capitalize on a racially recharged political climate. The collective surprise at White supremacists’ arrival on the national stage reflects a lack of attention to the varied and persistent forms of racial extremism that have long simmered in America. Since their heyday in the mid-1920s through the Civil Rights era, white-hooded Ku Klux Klansmen have stood as the timeworn face of White supremacy. In the 1980s, neo-Nazi skinheads fused a racist ideology and a punk youth aesthetic with visions of a global Aryan movement. Their militant public displays drew new attention, along with strong challenges from authorities and anti-racist groups.”


“After Charlottesville: A Contexts Symposium” by Contexts Magazine (August 2017)

Summary: A collection of essays written in the aftermath of the August 11, 2017 “Unite the Right” rally and corresponding counterprotests in Charlottesville, Virginia. Counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed and nearly two dozen others sustained injuries, but in his belated second statement, President Donald Trump said that there was “blame on both sides.” Political pundits call this sort of statement “a moral equivalence.” We call it siding with racists. If a person blames both the racists and the people resisting the racists, it suggests that the person has no problem with racists. These essays are by writers who specialize in research on race, racism, whiteness, nationalism, and immigration to provide sociological insights about how the public, politicians, and academics should process and understand the broader sociohistorical implications of the events in Charlottesville. 

Part 1: “‘Hilando Fino’: American Racism After Charlottesville,” Eduardo Bonilla-Silva; “The Souls of White Folk in Charlottesville and Beyond,” Matthew W. Hughey; “The Persistence of White Nationalism in America,” Joe Feagin; “A Sociologist’s Note to the Political Elite,” Victor Ray; “Are Public Sociology and Scholar-Activism Really at Odds?” Kimberly Kay Hoang ; and “Sociology as a Discipline and an Obligation,” David G. Embrick and Chriss Sneed

Part 2: “Setting the Record Straight on Confederate Statues,” Wanda Rushing; “Defining Disorder Down,” Chris Uggen; “The ‘Many Sides’ Implicated in Charlottesville,” Dawn M. Dow; “Charlottesville Yields Few Sociological Surprises,” David Brunsma; “Charlottesville and Our Racial Fault Lines,” Rodney D. Coates; “What Are Our Universities’ Obligations?” James M. (JT) Thomas

Comments 4

t rex game

January 29, 2021

Thanks for sharing your precious time to create this post, It so informative and the content makes the post more interesting. really appreciated.

Sophia Willam

February 26, 2021

Wow, cool post. I'd like to write like this too - taking time and real hard work to make a great article... but I put things off too much and never seem to get started. Thanks though

March 31, 2021

Who really is responsible for such happenings? Mob should always think first before going in and join. Imagine, these riots happened during pandemic.

Stickman Hook

May 25, 2021

Thanks for sharing this helpful information. The news is very valuable and is very popular.

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