Who Believes The “Big Lie”?

As America slowly emerges from the chaos of the last five years, many of us remain mystified about the significant number of people who still support Trump and Trumpism. Virtually every political conversation includes sentiments of bewilderment: who are these people? What explains their devotion to someone so personally repellent? What accounts for their willingness to believe a blatantly illogical fabrication promoted by a documented liar?

The evidence produced at Trump’s second impeachment trial–and especially the films showing the insurrection– prompts most rational observers to wonder what could have motivated those who participated in the horrific assault on the nation’s capitol? The problem with efforts to understand that motivation is that it can lead us to categorize disparate people, to define “them” as a group sharing particular personalities or bigotries, and of course, it’s never that simple.

That said, what do we know? What similarities do “they” possess, if any?

One of the confounding elements of the assault that has been widely remarked upon was the number of middle-class participants without a history of violence or lawbreaking who joined with the Q crackpots and the Proud Boys and their ilk. What impelled their behaviors?

Academic researchers investigating those participants are finding some intriguing and suggestive commonalities. As a Washington Post article reported,

Nearly 60 percent of the people facing charges related to the Capitol riot showed signs of prior money troubles, including bankruptcies, notices of eviction or foreclosure, bad debts, or unpaid taxes over the past two decades, according to a Washington Post analysis of public records for 125 defendants with sufficient information to detail their financial histories.

The group’s bankruptcy rate — 18 percent — was nearly twice as high as that of the American public, The Post found. A quarter of them had been sued for money owed to a creditor. And 1 in 5 of them faced losing their home at one point, according to court filings.

Clearly, there is no single factor that accounts for someone’s decision  to join a mob assaulting the seat of government. But what pundits call Trump’s brand of grievance politics “tapped into something that resonated with the hundreds of people who descended on the Capitol in a historic burst of violence.”

“I think what you’re finding is more than just economic insecurity but a deep-seated feeling of precarity about their personal situation,” said Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a political science professor who helps run the Polarization and Extremism Research Innovation Lab at American University, reacting to The Post’s findings. “And that precarity — combined with a sense of betrayal or anger that someone is taking something away — mobilized a lot of people that day.”

I have seen the term precarity used increasingly in articles describing the effects of America’s huge economic disparities. It’s a term that gets beyond superficial comparisons of poverty and wealth, and for that reason, it is especially useful. When people feel that their position–whatever it may be at a particular time–is precarious, it is unnerving, unsettling. Those feelings of threat and insecurity are consistent with another finding of the research–the larger-than-expected number of participants who had been involved in episodes of domestic violence.

Research into the rise of right-wing extremist groups in the 1950s linked that rise not to  impoverished people, but to people who felt that their positions were precarious–that they were losing status and power. The Post cited a 2011 study that found household income wasn’t linked to whether a young person supported the extreme far right in Germany. “But a highly significant predictor was whether they had lived through a parent’s unemployment.”

Insecurity. Precarity. Fear of loss, and resentment of those identified as the cause or beneficiary of that loss. It doesn’t excuse anything, but it explains a lot.


  1. Good stuff. It makes me wonder what, if any, similarities these people have to the crowds that cheered for Hitler and Mussolini. Trump at times looks like a direct copy of Mussolini.

  2. Lies, big and not so big, are the predominant connections they all share; and denial of rightful assistance during disasters (elected officials getting-out-of-Dodge is another). Denial of rightful assistance leading up to and causing some of the disasters which could have been prevented is another. “Fear of loss” of tax dollars being returned to the Americans in the form of disaster assistance, as well as Social Security and Medicare, to those who paid those tax dollars while the wealthy became wealthier with tax cuts. Privatization – or outsourcing if you prefer – such as we are watching the disastrous results of in Texas continue and escalate into new and more destructive disastrous situations. Compare the now very public public utility privatization situation vs. the areas willing to abide by government regulations in the state of Texas. And public utilities being monopolies with the public having no option in the providers of our day-to-day basic necessities appear to often be problematic in Republican states. Economic disparities rise to the top of the current economy as we are charged the same rates for service as the wealthy, and now utilities are seeking insurance coverage from the public to replace their equipment on our property when there is a breakdown while raising our payments at the same time.

    The basis of racism and bigotry is fear; but the specific source of that fear cannot be named, making the quote “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” our reality today.

  3. That insecurity. Precarity. Fear and resentment also flow from a sense of entitlement coupled with the lack of a sense of responsibility. And I would add that such people have never had a grip on the reality of the ups and downs of life… just like the man they followed.

  4. I believe the Precariat Class would resent being lumped in with these yahoos. I thought Patriots were resentful that their tax dollars would support people who didn’t deserve a handout.

    If this group isn’t paying their taxes, then they have no right to complain.

    Precariats live paycheck to paycheck, which is exactly where the Oligarchs want the American people because you cannot form unions or resist the oppression if you can find yourself unemployed the next day, causing financial ruin to your family. As the WEF described, a massive amount of global workers now fall into this class due to Neoliberalism constructed by Reagan/Thatcher but funded by U.S. billionaires.

    They also say it’s the cause of populism on the right and left, which I somewhat agree with if you add that our government participates fully in crafting this class with the Oligarchic Class’s help.

    If society and our politicos want to grasp the inner workings of this grouping of Americans fully, they need to hold the Oligarchs accountable who are manipulating this crowd for their own benefit.

    Does anybody believe that our Democratic actors in Washington will hold the Oligarchs responsible for the insurrection?

    Once again, you can analyze the protestors all day long, but what about those intentionally manipulating this crowd? Why isn’t the FBI and/or Congress bringing the Mercer’s, Charles Koch, and the Publix heiress to Capitol Hill to testify and/or arrest them?

    The Democratic Party is in charge and supposedly serves the people, so why are they waiting to initiate the law’s full extent?

    Further still, the media loves the backdrop stories of the individuals involved, but when it comes to holding their advertisers accountable and telling the people about the insurrection financiers – silence.

  5. The crowds with their torches and pitchforks are always there, just waiting to be called upon to fulfill their destinies and drive the unwanted out. I would venture to say we haven’t seen the last of this and we may never see the end.

  6. The discussion of precarity did not mention the sense of loss of status as minority groups increase their economic and social standing. Racism has to correlate with the other characteristics mentioned.

  7. Yes, Pascal, loss of their “identity” as racial/ethnic identity sweeps across entertainment, news and politics.

  8. Trumpism, like Hitler’s Nazis is a loser’s club. Trump gave the aggrieved a voice, just as Hitler did. Hitler’s scapegoats were the Jews. Trump’s scapegoats are people of color, with the Jews thrown in as a side show. The parallels are virtually congruent.

    The believers of the BIG LIE are the intellectually slothful. It really doesn’t matter about their views of white privilege. They simply cannot accept their own shortcomings because they can’t think outside of their reptilian brains.

    As a science educator in the 90s and early 00s, I saw these people coming. Irrespective of the bad parenting and the generational transference of hate a prejudice, these kids were actively NON-learners. Add to that the evangelical B.S. that they were fed, and you have the nearly perfect storm for the insurrectionists that we saw on 1/6. So, the roots for these representatives of the aspects of society’s failings lies with the parents and the churches who preach extremism and dutiful obedience.

    Hitler’s youth movement was designed specifically to create good little Nazis from day #1. No, we didn’t have a Hitler creating good little Trumpites. But the perversion of truth, the inculcation of centuries old hate and the fantasies of divine intervention combined to create this fertile ground for a raving lunatic like Donald Trump. If these people were ever considering changing their minds, their entire personas would collapse. That would be a daunting situation for everyone.

    Frankly, I think it’s a miracle that it took this long for somebody like Trump to come along and emulate his hero in our day. The fact that Trump had a copy of “Mein Kampf” at the ready speaks volumes.

  9. Vernon, you are correct with the fact that today’s youth do not have a Hitler’s youth. What they do have is the internet and social media.

  10. This deserves some scrutiny:

    “Nearly 60 percent of the people facing charges related to the Capitol riot showed signs of prior money troubles, including bankruptcies, notices of eviction or foreclosure, bad debts, or unpaid taxes over the past two decades, according to a Washington Post analysis of public records for 125 defendants with sufficient information to detail their financial histories.”

    Seems like those 125 defendants with enough public data to analyze would include disproportionately more people with financial issues- that’s what got them on the list in the first place.

  11. Globalization and technical changes have reduced the value of uneducated labor. In the past Unions helped protect good factory jobs in auto factories, steel mills. In a recently published book, Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism (Ann Case and Angus Deaton, Princeton University Press, 2020) point out that while college-educated men are doing well, those without college education are not. They cannot afford to marry and raise a family or buy a home. At a time when working people were vulnerable to automation and trade, cheap goods from China, politicians and corporations seized the chance for self benefit, redistributing upward to managers and shareholders. We are the only rich country that does not provide health care for all. Health care and pharmaceutical companies that buy up generics to prevent them from ever coming to market result in increasing prices and profits. When GIs returned from World War II the GI Bill made it possible for many to get a good education. For those returning from the Middle East there is no GI bill. Democracy is capable of serving people better. Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930’s resulted in a better life for many.
    Barbara Carlson

  12. When you add to the “precocity” a fear that the “other” (Black, Latino, immigrant) will take what little you have, well, there you go.

  13. “Thomas Edsall writes a weekly column for the Washington Post on politics, demographics and inequality. In the wake of the riot on January 6th, he considered how ‘racism, grievance, resentment and the fear of diminished status came together’ to fuel the fury and violence. He began with the obvious: the dominant role played by ‘out-and-out racism and a longing to return to the days of white supremacy.’” From your post of 2/3/21.
    “…grievance, resentment….” It all comes together with today’s “Insecurity. Precarity. Fear of loss, and resentment of those identified as the cause or beneficiary of that loss. It doesn’t excuse anything, but it explains a lot.”
    Vernon, you NAIL it!
    Richard, exactly.

  14. Barbara @ 9:25 am – You are Right On. Our society has been transformed and the future for many is bleak.

  15. All I know, is that when a person feels life is precarious they definitely will lash out to prevent that trip over the precipice.

    My father fought in Korea but there was a lot of us kids. When he got out of the military, he wasn’t making a lot of money. He was able to buy a house through the GI bill, but, food was always an issue

    when I was old enough to work, I contributed my paycheck to the family. I was around 13 years old then. And later on, after my father died, I helped raise my youngest brother. At that point I was already married. It pushed me to be much more than I ever thought I would. Eventually retiring as a facility engineer from a major electrical utility.

    I never wanted my kids to want like me and my brothers and sisters did. But it didn’t drive me towards hating everyone. It drove me to work harder and be successful at what I was doing. My wife grew up in a very poor household, and she did the same thing! She became an upper middle level manager had a major pharmaceutical company all while earning multiple college degrees. And during that time, attending college and working full-time was fairly difficult for an African-American woman with small children and a husband that worked 70 hours a week. Thank goodness for our mothers!

    I never understood the so-called Patriot class, I guess we can call them the precariot Patriots. They have definitely self aggrieved themselves, self-deluded themselves, because they were and are willfully ignorant of their own lot in life. When people develop an alternate reality, they’re living in a video game they’ve designed which will lead to an outcome that they desire without having to put forth the effort and the intellectual capacity to be successful.

    It’s almost, well, not almost, it is self entitlement at its most raucous and dangerous, where you’ll have those seeking to take back their birthright or self perceived birthright, by hook or crook by insurrection or sedition, whatever they need to do to plant themselves at the Pinnacle of society.

  16. I am not surprised that many of the insurrectionists have engaged in domestic violence. Usually people have more than one kind of bigotry. Men on the extreme right think women should be in the home, not in Congress or dare I say, the Oval office.

    Due to AI and automation, we are in a major global transition. People need to go beyond high school. They need to at least go to a trade school. Question is how many people will become unemployed due to rapid changes in technology.

    In a rapidly changing world, people will feel their way of life is existentially threatened and that their lives are in a precarious place.

  17. The recent insurrections felt “insecurity. Precarity. Fear of loss, and resentment of those identified as the cause or beneficiary of that loss. It doesn’t excuse anything, but it explains a lot.”

    One of the things that it explains is a propensity I’ve noticed on Facebook which is how effectively those who support Trump can be led away from any accountability for people they deem to be like them by blaming people who are deemed to be unlike them. In other words, avoiding accountability for people in cultures that are like theirs by blaming others of different cultures.

    This kind of culture war of course has a starting point in human history. It is the time after the Great Human Migration ended, and everyone had adapted to different places on earth, and the age of exploration started when they encountered different adaptations.

    So we might think same ol’, same ol’. Humans have always been dysfunctional. Here’s the new problem though: the different culture that Columbus had to risk death by drowning or falling off the edge of the world, or starving or getting eaten by a sea monster for, now live next door by necessity because we have become too numerous for the earth to support.

    Culture war has gone from ugly and painful for the victims to existential for the species and we still haven’t learned.

  18. The extreme end of ‘Trumpism’ came to ‘mecca’ to follow the ‘call to action’ they perceived being ‘trumpeted’ by Trump.
    To view and observe a number of his followers who may not have followed the branch of their herd to D.C., one merely needs to view them on the sites of our Indiana Congressional members… They are petri dishes waiting to be observed.
    I do think that the explanations given all contribute to radicalizing thought. I suggest that the actions might also involved a complexity of mental irregularities. A DSMVI could be useful in ascertaining why some think thoughts of violence while others willingly and aggressively carry them out..
    In observing many of the posters on the sites of the congressional leaders who continue to spew false narratives about the election, there seems to be a preponderance of individuals who are ‘fire and brimstone’ orators and those who seem to call for ‘public floggings’ of anyone who they see as lawbreakers. (they fail to address the breaking of laws on 1/6, however.

  19. While reading the numerous responses I could not help but notice that “fear” was probably the most common factor being attributed to why these folks are acting out as such (maybe reacting might be more accurate). Reacting to whom or what would be an important query to examine.

    There may well be a number of various factors we might all agree on that might cause folks to act out or “react towards”. I kept hearing the word “victim” rattle around in my brain as I read and reread the article and responses. Victims of all sorts usually suffer from some form(s) of traumatic experience.

    Trauma takes away one’s sense of existential security, they no longer feel safe within or without. That experience can be of a situational nature, or of a more complex developmental nature. Many people are known to suffer both. We also know that different people respond to traumatic experience in different ways. Some people become active in finding their way out, while others stay stuck in some form of fight, flight, freeze or fawn response. There are many reasons attributed to the different responses people have to trauma.

    Trauma is experienced and stored not just in our brains, but in our bodies at a cellular level. The words “not able to get past their reptilian brains” in one of the previous responses, actually sums up the chemistry of trauma in modern psychological literature. Those who carry unresolved grief issues related to “stuck trauma” are engaged in a never ending loop of being triggered, projecting, and reacting. Abused or neglected people are known to either seek out abuse and neglect in relationships, or they can become the perpetrator. I’ve always called this phenomenon “gestapo victims” or aggrieved “marching victims”. Unprocessed trauma issues from the past, rearing their ugly heads in the present, seeking an outlet for the immense pain that is being carried internally. We tend to medicate our unprocessed trauma with addiction, codependency, compulsions or obsessions. Those of us who do it with something like work are rewarded for our somewhat self destructive behavior, though our marriages and families might crumble. Those who choose drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, sex, or even wander into depression or anxiety issues, are looked down upon as weak.

    The point here is that the pain of trauma seeks an outlet. It doesn’t matter how we try to sedate unresolved grief from situational trauma, or from multi generational developmental trauma, known as complex trauma, unless addressed directly in appropriate therapies it will underly most of our decisions or choices in life.

    Now, try to imagine a bunch of these folks driven by unprocessed hurt and rage, having the same political, theological, or social beliefs banding together, projecting their pain in unfounded conspiracy theories and lead by a likewise damaged demagogue who can stoke their deepest “reptilian fears” and point them in some direction, any direction, maybe towards The Capitol Building during the Electoral College vote.

    The best thing any judge could do with a great number of these folks is to sentence them to a trauma center with follow up afterwards as it take many years of hard work to work through trauma issues. That would be the only judgement that would truly help them. Everything after that will take compassion.

  20. My aunt and uncle support t**** for one reason, and one reason only. They believe he is a Christian, and that’s all they need to know. I find that extremely difficult because, not only do I not think he is a Christian, but Joe Biden is an actual, practicing Christian. I’ll never understand it!

  21. I just had this “why” discussion with my brother last night. It is a good distinction to make between “feeling” the precarious nature of the moment, and “actual” current suffering. The sedition sect “feel” on the edge, “displaced”, etc., but they may actually have the means to buy expensive “play soldier” gear, fly into Washington, and stay at a hotel.

    Excellent post, Sheila, thank you.

Comments are closed.