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Blame for the deadly Capitol riot? A new poll says violent rhetoric, racism and Trump

Republicans and Democrats agree in survey by Public Religion Research Institute that “harsh and violent language in politics” begets more actual violence.

Rioters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.
John Minchillo, Associated Press

A majority of Americans now blame white supremacists, former President Donald Trump and conspiracy-spreading conservative media for the deadly Capitol riot on Jan. 6.

Sixty-two percent of voting age Americans believe that white supremacists “hold a lot of responsibility” for the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol building earlier this month, according to a new poll from Public Religion Research Institute taken Jan. 15 to Jan. 18. The institute describes itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit that researches the “intersection of religion, culture and public policy.”

Of those polled, 57% also blamed the former president and “conservative media platforms that spread conspiracy theories and misinformation” for the actions done by the mob of Trump supporters on Jan. 6, which left five people dead. But a quarter of Americans polled said the former president bears little responsibility and 18% said conservative outlets are blameless, according to the institute.

In a speech the morning of the riot, Trump told his supporters at a D.C. rally they were “going to have to fight much harder” and encouraged them to “walk down to the Capitol,” where Congress was preparing to certify that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris had won the 2020 presidential election.

The House impeached Trump a second time — making him the only president to have been impeached twice — after the deadly riot for “incitement of insurrection.” He faces a Senate trial beginning Feb. 8, but a conviction isn’t expected, as it would take 17 Republican senators to join all 50 Democrats to find Trump guilty.

The new survey also found Trump’s culpability falling along partisan — as well as racial — lines.

Only 18% of Republicans said their former party leader was responsible for the insurrection, while 88% Democrats said the former president was primarily at fault. More than a third of Republicans blamed white supremacists for the deadly riot.

Less than half, 48%, of all white respondents said the former president was mostly to blame and 80% of Black Americans cited Trump. Hispanics equally blamed white supremacists and the former president at 69%.

Supporters of President Donald Trump, including Jacob Chansley, center with fur hat, are confronted by Capitol Police officers outside of the Senate chamber inside the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.
Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

Racial divides were also seen within religious institutions, according to the survey.

Less than half of “white evangelical Protestants” and “white mainline Protestants” — 23% and 44%, respectively — blamed Trump, while nearly three-fourths of “Protestants of color” said the former president was responsible.

Religious affiliated respondents were most likely to blame white supremacists and those unaffiliated with a religious organization thought Trump was mostly responsible for the riot.

But a large majority of Americans think Trump was supportive of white supremacists, a belief that has risen in the aftermath of the riot, according to the poll.

Nearly two-thirds of those polled, 64%, said Trump had encouraged white supremacist organizations during his time in the White House,

In September 2020, 57% said Trump had encouraged white supremacists during his presidency. Fewer American also now believe that Trump had discouraged the racists, down from 7% to 4% since September, reported PRRI.

More Americans now also believe that violent language is connected to violent actions, according to the new poll.

“Harsh and violent language in politics contributes to a lot of violent actions in society,” said 60% of respondents. This number had grown from 51% in September. The increase was seen among Republicans and Democrats.

Republicans who attribute violent language to violent acts has grown from 31% to 37% since September. Seventy-nine percent of Democrats now connect language with violence, up from 72% in September.

More religiously affiliated and unaffiliated also believe that violent rhetoric begets violence. White evangelical and mainline Protestants are up from 39% and 44% in September to 44% and 57% now.

Protestants of color showed an increase of 15 points in the last four months to 71%.

In September, half of those religiously unaffiliated believed speech led to violence. Now, 61% believe so, the institute found.

The latest findings align with other polls taken since the uprising. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll from Jan. 11 through Jan. 13 showed that 58% of voting age respondents said Trump had “great deal” or “good amount” of blame for “what happened at the U.S. Capitol,” NPR reported.

Divisions were also along party lines in their poll, with 92% of Democrats and 17% of Republicans saying the former president was culpable.

An NBC News poll published Jan. 17 found similar results.

A 52% majority of voters said Trump was “solely or mainly responsible for the protests that led to rioters’ overtaking the Capitol,” NBC News reported, with 91% of Democrats and 11% of Republicans thinking so.