More Republicans are now calling Jan. 6 a ‘legitimate protest’ than a ‘riot’

When the dust settled on January 6, 2021, we could not agree on whether Donald Trump had incited the insurrection. But at least one conclusion crossed partisan lines: This had been a very bad and violent thing.

Apparently, we can’t even agree on that anymore. The passage of time has prompted many Republicans to develop an increasingly fantastic view of what happened that day.

A new poll from Monmouth University holds harsh lessons for the job ahead of the House committee on Jan. 6, as the panel seeks to convince conservative Americans that Trump committed a crime that day. This is because they increasingly disbelieve that what happened that day – and what they previously accepted as reality – actually happened.

The poll shows significant reductions in the percentages of Republicans who call Jan. 6 not just an “insurrection” but also a “riot.” And it’s not the first to point in that direction.

Additionally, the poll shows that more Republicans view Jan. 6 as a “legitimate protest” than a “riot.”

The poll asked people in June 2021 and June 2022 if each of these labels were appropriate descriptors for what happened on January 6, 2021. And the GOP changes are pretty consistent:

  • While 33% of Republicans said in June 2021 that Jan. 6 was an insurrection, that number is down to just 13%.
  • While 62% of Republicans called it a “riot” at the time, that’s down to 45%.
  • While 47% said it was a ‘legitimate protest’, it’s now down to 61%.

So while more Republicans once said it was a “riot” rather than a “legitimate protest,” by a 15-point margin, that was reversed, with Republicans favoring the 16 point “legitimate demonstration” tag. A majority of Republicans don’t even consider Jan. 6 a “riot” anymore.

And that’s not to mention the fact that, yes, it was an insurrection. But at least in this case, skeptics might not quite understand what that word means or might have been given questionable and incorrect definitions by their favorite cable hosts and pundits. (On the other hand, people know what a riot is.)

Indeed, what is particularly striking about these numbers is that it is not a matter of comparing the views of the GOP on January 6 to the immediate consequences; it compares them to the views in June 2021. By then, the insurrectional movement and its cohorts had already gained momentum. Yet a third of Republicans still saw it as an insurrection, and 6 in 10 saw it as a riot. The months that followed apparently persuaded many people to join the skeptic movement.

Other polls suggest it has indeed been a slow burn.

The CBS News/YouGov poll is the other major poll to repeatedly ask such questions — both immediately after Jan. 6, 2021, and again in December. While 32% of Republicans in January 2021 said it was an insurrection, that percentage dropped to 21% in December. Belief that it was an attempt to overthrow the government fell from 27% to 18%.

But by far the biggest change came on an interesting – and eye-opening – question. While in January 2021, 56% of Republicans understood Jan. 6 as an attempt “to void the election and keep Donald Trump in power,” that number has dropped to just 33 percent by December. That’s a remarkable number of people who accepted a pretty vanilla statement about reality and then, almost a year later, abandoned it.

Was evidence presented in the months that followed that the insurgents were not, in fact, trying to nullify Trump’s election? Of course not. Claims about the provocateurs had steadily plummeted, even then. But many, many people still defended themselves against the idea that the express purpose of the events of January 6 was in fact the purpose. Other terms might be considered more subjective, but this one is pretty black and white.

And perhaps best of all, it shows what’s at work here.

About Therese Williams

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