Proud Boy Leaders were Charged with ‘Seditious Conspiracy’ – Here’s Why That Matters
By Paul A. Djupe
[image credit: Reuters, Jim Urquhart]
Monday, the Justice Department announced that five Proud Boys leaders were charged with ‘seditious conspiracy’ for their actions on January 6, 2021 at the Capitol. Earlier in the year, members of the Oath Keepers were similarly charged. The charge is a serious one that carries greater penalties, though it is harder to prove. In any event, I suspect that the language of the charge is important. It’s already hard to remember, but while initially after “J6” Republican leaders expressed shock and dismay, many quickly and radically moderated their tune. A year later, the Republican National Committee censured Representatives Kinzinger and Cheney for participating in the Capitol Riot investigation, arguing that they were involved in “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.” Does the label applied to the J6 insurrectionists matter?
As part of other projects, we’ve been asking about support for J6, with the intent that it is a signal moment in American politics that demarcates support for the rule of law. In a March 2021 survey (conducted with Jason Adkins and Jake Neiheisel) – so, well before the language crystallized about the J6 participants – we ran a survey experiment where we randomized their description. The 3,600 survey respondents from a Lucid panel (analyses use Census-based raking weights) were shown one of the following descriptions in a feeling thermometer battery (ranging from 0=cold to 100=warm):
- People who tried to “Stop the Steal” on January 6 (quotations marks in the original)
- People who waged Insurrection at the Capitol on January 6
- People who attacked the Capitol on January 6
Feelings toward these people was not high, but did vary between them. “Stop the steal” recruited the warmest sentiment (36 points), while the other two were just over 10 points lower (24 for “attacked” and 25 for “insurrection”). So, here’s one way in which the government’s charges are important – they signal to the population that these are insurrectionists who attacked the government with the intent to overthrow it.
But this is a blog about religion and politics, so I was curious if the frames were just as effective among Christian nationalists and, of course, where Christian nationalists stood on the J6ers one month out from the event. I also have data from a bit later that I can draw on, though without the experimental component. So, what do the frames look like across a standard Whitehead and Perry style Christian nationalism battery?
The figure below shows that support for the J6ers increased no matter the frame as Christian nationalism grew. Warmth is in the single digits and doesn’t depend on the frame for the least CN. But those with higher CN are closer to 50 warmth points, at least when J6ers are framed as fighting to “Stop the Steal.” Support is consistently ~10 points less warm when framed as “insurrection” or an “attack.” So, the frame does make a difference, if not an enormous one. Tangent: Here again (I’ve seen this many times before), we see an upside down J curve, where attitudes trend a bit more moderate for those with the very highest levels of CN. This remains a bit of a mystery that is worth parsing at some point down the road. They are clearly a bit different and perhaps more of a fundamentalist or separationist bent that is not as politicized as those just down the scale.
These results jibe with the statement by Perry and Whitehead in Time showing a growing identification with the Insurrectionists among ardent Christian nationalists from February to August, 2021. They find that loyalty to Trump and adopting The Big Lie about the election were major factors driving these shifts, reinforced by their social isolation as well as the perception of persecution (factors which run together). Obviously, I’d add that the language the GOP started using to excuse the J6ers was important to a degree. These results also accord with results I found from the summer of 2021 that I’ll reproduce below – support for the insurrectionists is almost completely composed of Christian nationalists. For instance, in the upper right quadrant, of those who strongly agree that the J6ers was an effort by patriots to protect and restore our Christian nation, 86 percent were in the top half of the Christian nationalism scale.
It is no surprise, then, that due to the combination of these forces reinforcing the narrative that Democrats represent the forces of evil, Trump is anointed by God to return to power, and that, therefore, the Insurrectionists were God’s advance team, support for the Insurrection did not fade, but intensified with time. Just how long this can keep up is an open and pressing question. However, the government’s efforts to take the insurrection seriously and apply the most serious charges may place a dent in that support, especially if they are successful prosecutions.
Paul A. Djupe, Denison University, is an affiliated scholar with PRRI, the series editor of Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics (Temple), and co-creator of religioninpublic.blog (check out his posts). Further information about his work can be found at his website and on Twitter.