Was January 6th an act of desperation? No. The insurrectionary assault on the United States Capitol was the most targeted act of violence against the American state since the Confederate Army killed hundreds of thousands of American troops. Without granting any degree of sympathy to the MAGA terrorists, however, we can examine the sociological roots of that attack.
The New York Times published an analysis of districts that elected election-challenging congresspeople that will soon be regarded as essential. In the accompanying piece, the Times notes that “objecting” districts domicile fewer college graduates, and more victims of so-called deaths of despair, than Republican districts whose representatives did not challenge Biden’s victory. These grim indicators suggest the sense of betrayal that MAGA voters feel toward governing elites, a species of paranoia that made them susceptible to the lies of right-wing charlatans. Clearly, the constituents of non-objecting Republicans feel more secure about their lives and status.
But another factor looms more menacingly. “Objecting” districts not only stand out for their level of distress, but for the rapidity of racial change within their borders. As the Times observes, objecting districts have seen a 35% greater increase in the proportion of people of color in their districts than the districts that elected Republicans who didn’t attempt a constitutional coup. This trend is familiar. For centuries in the South, whites have wielded the axe of racism more fiercely when they face a more concentrated African American community. Because the objecting Republicans were by no means exclusively Southern, the racial backlash indicates how all of hard-core Republican America has joined Dixie in its darkness and hate.
In this Southern state, all but one Republican congressperson voted to challenge the electoral results. But Congressman David Rouzer’s district in the southeastern corner of the state best illustrates the combination of social distress and racial hatred that drove Republican election denial. Rouzer represents a district that is beset by opioid addiction and is rapidly browning. Wilmington, the largest city in the district, has one of the highest opioid addiction rates in the country. But what may have inspired Rouzer to attempt to steal the presidency from Joseph R. Biden is the explosive growth of Latinos in Old-South hollows like Duplin County. Racial panic propelled a coup in Wilmington in 1898, and that same sense of demographic threat felt acutely by racist whites drove their congressman to vote for a coup to occur again.
Obstreperous entitlement was the soul of January 6th. For 400 years white people have occupied the highest rung in the American hierarchy. Those whites who have not suffered a decline in status, it appears, remain socially secure enough to avoid projecting insurrectionary violence against our new multiracial democracy. But in communities where white decline has collided with a new hardship, the Caucasian Right sent its shock troops to arrogate America by deadly force. This may be a harbinger of the future if more white people do not embrace tolerance, change, and love.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.