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Legitimate protest, riot or insurrection: Republican views of Jan. 6 are shifting

Many admirers of the former president have reverted to the Trumpian explanations of what occurred that terrible day.

An image of pro-Trump rioters storming the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
An image of pro-Trump rioters storming the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
REUTERS/Ahmed Gaber

A couple of new poll results below underscore what one might call the weakness of information to influence people’s beliefs, at least for very long.

First, a confession. I’m not a big fan of former President Donald Trump. He’s such a prolific liar that if he asserts something as a fact, I make no presumption in advance that it is probably true and am quick to believe, upon the production of any evidence of its falsity, that it is false.

But, because of my line of work, I constantly see, read and hear new information that might update my understanding of recent events. As a point of journalistic necessity, I take serious note of information that cuts against my prejudices and include such facts in what I pass along. I have long preached against the dangers of “selective perception” and “confirmation bias” that enables some people to ignore inconvenient facts that might complicate their thinking. It’s a lifelong project to avoid these traps and I don’t always succeed, but I try.

Still, I fear that I’m past the point of reconsidering my conviction that Trump is a colossal liar. Feel free to differ, and I’m sure that many Trump admirers and Republicans in general do and will differ.

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But here’s some recent polling showing that many Trump admirers, even those who succumbed to certain obvious evidence that Trump had incited and produced a riot on Jan. 6 of 2021 designed to overthrow the true result of the November 2020 election (Trump lost; Joe Biden won), have reverted to the Trumpian explanations of what occurred that terrible day.

In June of 2021, just five months after the insurrection of Jan. 6, Monmouth University polled on which of three labels described what happened that day: “legitimate protest,” “riot” or “insurrection.”

A year later (June of 2022) Monmouth repeated the poll to see how views of the correct label of the legitimate protest/riot/insurrection had changed.

Among Republicans: The portion that embraced the word “insurrection” to describe what happened had dropped from 33 percent to 13 percent.

The portion who considered event to be a “riot” had dropped from 62 to 45 percent.

Whereas the portion who called the events of Jan. 6 a “legitimate protest” had risen from 47 to 61 percent.

I take the above numbers from an analysis piece by Aaron Blake of the Washington Post.

Blake also referenced a similar experience with a CBS News/YouGov poll, taken immediately after the  Jan. 6 riots and again in December. It showed, similarly to the Monmouth Poll, that a large portion of Republican respondents had changed their understanding of the events of Jan. 6 over the course of the year. Blake wrote:

“While in January 2021, 56 percent of Republicans understood Jan. 6 as an attempt ‘to overturn the election and keep Donald Trump in power,’ that number dropped to just 33 percent by December.”

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Blake’s full column showing ways in which Republicans have revised their views of what happened on Jan. 6 can be accessed via this link, although I’m not sure if non-WashPost subscribers can get it.