White masculinity and the January 6 insurgency

Jacob Chansley, widely known as QAnon Shaman, was one of hundreds of men who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Chansley, who pleaded guilty to obstructing formal congressional proceedings, said he has now lost faith in former President Trump. (Blink O’fanaye / Flickr)

Over the past year, political commentary on the causes of the Capitol uprising has rightly tended to focus on issues of race. The crowd was extremely white. The Confederate flag was visibly displayed in the crowd. According to the liberal consensus in academia and journalism, although the main catalyst for the riot was a set of totally unproven claims about a “stolen election”, the anxiety and grievances of the white race were its passions. animating.

But while it is absolutely necessary to analyze the racial politics of January 6, this focus too often has the effect of rendering invisible another key aspect of this tragic event: the role of gender. The vast majority of insurgents were not just white people; they were white Men.

While it makes sense to discuss the assault on our democracy in terms of racial identity and the rioters’ agenda, it also makes sense to explore why the vast majority of them were men. Any close examination of the ideological and cultural forces at work on January 6 must take into account the crucial intersection of race. and genre.

Consider the numbers. According to data compiled a few months after the insurgency by researchers at the University of Chicago, of those arrested and charged with committing crimes on Capitol Hill, 93% were white and 86 percent were male.

Among the organized groups most involved in planning and executing the day’s actions were cartoonish hypermasculine groups like the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and the 1st Amendment Praetorian. One of the reputed brains of the whole operation was Trump’s adviser and strategist Steve Bannon, a far-right ideologue who sprinkles his language with violent and militaristic rhetoric and who early on recognized Donald Trump as a ” patriarch “who could block feminist plans to” undo ten thousand years of recorded history “by advocating for gender equality.

To anyone who paid close attention to the regressive gender politics that underpin right-wing movements, the insurgency was an overt and violent assertion of white men’s centrality and entitlement.

Yet countless stories and media conversations on television, radio, and podcasts use neutral language such as “people,” “individuals,” “extremists,” and “people” to refer to rioters. They almost never use terms like “white masculinity” or refer to the 86% statistic, let alone discuss its meaning. It’s as if the predominantly male makeup of the violent crowd is seen as mundane, so obvious and without exception that it doesn’t require further explanation.

It is a mistake. The 86% male participation rate in Capitol Riot-related crime offers important information not only about the insurgency, but also about the cultural politics of Trumpism. In the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, Donald Trump received far more votes from white men than from any other demographic. His most fervent supporters routinely refer to him as a “dominant male” whose “toughness” and “strength” are the main reasons they revere him.

Of those arrested and charged with committing crimes on Capitol Hill, 93 percent were white and 86 percent were men. (Blink O’fanaye / Flickr)

While many liberals and progressives view much of this adulation of the narcissistic evil real estate developer turned reality TV star as absurd and beyond satire, the former president’s gatherings and the internet are filled with memes and heroic images of Trump as Rambo, a tough, armed warrior whose mission is to save the country from the forces of liberal gentleness, degeneration and social chaos.

It’s as if the predominantly male makeup of the violent crowd is seen as mundane, so obvious and without exception that it doesn’t require further explanation.

It is true that a majority of white women also voted for Trump, especially those with a high school education. It is also true that more than a few (white) women could be found among the angry mob on January 6, and the only insurgent killed that day was a woman, the 35-year-old Air Force veteran. , Ashli ​​Babbitt. Men are by no means the only people sensitive to demagogic appeals from aggressive and charismatic male politicians who promise to protect and defend them – shamelessly and sometimes forcefully – against both foreign and domestic enemies.

But men, many of whom are conditioned from childhood to see themselves first and foremost as protectors and defenders, are the ones who respond most strongly to appeals to help them save their country, by violent means if necessary. Indeed, the “peaceful” rally that preceded the insurgency has been dubbed a “Save America Rally,” underscoring a theme that has pervaded the right-wing media since Barack Obama was elected president that the country risked being lost in the process. taking advantage of the forces of socialism, multiculturalism, feminism, LGBTQ rights and secular recklessness and immorality in general.

It is also impossible to understand the reasons why January 6 happened without understanding how Trumpism is rooted in the wronged rights of millions of white men who are enraged by the loss of their cultural centrality, both as white people. and like men. Equally important is understanding political violence in this context, not as a spontaneous eruption, but as a planned strategy to regain control.

In this way, the feminist movement against domestic violence over the past half century has a lot to teach us. In heterosexual relationships, men’s use of violence is not as impulsive as it is rooted in a belief system in which their needs come first. They use force, or the threat of it, to gain or maintain a woman’s obedience, or to punish her for transgressing her authority.

The analogy with January 6 should be clear. A predominantly white and male crowd sought to take back by force what they failed to accomplish in a peaceful and democratic election. They did so after being pissed off by their leader, the President of the United States, whose speech that day was filled with challenges to their masculinity.

A predominantly white and male crowd sought to take back by force what they failed to accomplish in a peaceful election, after being pissed off by their leader whose speech was filled with dog-whistling challenges to their masculinity.

In his infamous “Stop the Steal” speech that set the stage for the march that followed and then the capture of Capitol Hill, Donald Trump said Republicans were constantly fighting “like a boxer with their hands tied behind their backs. … We want to be so nice… We want to be so respectful of everyone. … We’re going to have to fight a lot harder.

He went on to say, “You will never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.

Congressional investigators and federal prosecutors will have to decide whether they think Trump’s exhortations to the angry mob, as well as his many other behind-the-scenes actions on January 6 and the days and weeks before, have reached an incentive level to crime or even conspiracy. But those alarmed by the growing threat that violence poses to our fragile democracy need not wait to find out whether Trump’s language has had a pernicious effect.

Once you understand that a very large percentage of violence – interpersonal or political – is underpinned by backward beliefs about manhood that both encourage its use and make excuses for it after the fact, the urgent task is to render these beliefs themselves visible, dishonorable and unacceptable. .

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