Jan 6, 2022 - News

One year after Jan. 6, extremist views have become more mainstream in North Carolina

Insurrectionists including Grayson Sherrill of Cherryville, NC, inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images.

Today marks one year since insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol with hopes of overturning the results of the presidential election.

The state of play: Federal investigators have charged more than 700 individuals in connection to the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, according to the George Washington University Program on Extremism.

  • 27 of those individuals are from the Carolinas — 16 from North Carolina, and 11 from South Carolina, the report shows.

For instance, there’s Aiden Bilyard of Cary, who can be seen in photos shooting bear spray at a line of police officers, the Observer wrote. Bilyard, 19, later used a baseball bat to break out a Capitol window; the FBI arrested in him in November.

  • And last month, a grand jury indicted Grayson Sherrill of Cherryville, about 40 miles west of Charlotte. Sherrill is accused of several acts of violence inside the Capitol, including assaulting a police officer with a metal pole, per the Observer.
  • Ongoing investigations could prompt additional arrests and charges.

Why it matters: While the role of locals in the Jan. 6 insurrection may be relatively small compared to other states, the legacy of extremist views and conspiracy theories espoused by the insurrectionists — such as the idea that the 2020 election was stolen — persist in the Carolinas.

  • The beliefs that prompted people to travel from their homes in places like Huntersville and Kernersville and Fort Mill are no longer only held by extremist groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, either.
  • The theories and views have become more prominent and mainstream, Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, tells Axios.

Context: U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, for instance, has casually embraced the idea that citizens should be able to take up assault weapons against the federal government. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson has made derogatory comments about the LGBTQ community, referring to them as “that filth.”

  • “These are folks we elected – in free and fair elections, I’ll add, just like we did Joe Biden,” Cooper tells Axios.

“Hearing extremist views come from elected officials normalizes them,” he adds.

The other side: Republican politicians who denounced the attacks have risked alienating a portion of their potential voter base and support from former president Donald Trump. Just ask former Gov. Pat McCrory, who is running for U.S. Senate to replace Richard Burr.

  • McCrory has been slammed by his own party for denouncing Trump’s claims of election fraud. On his radio show last Jan. 6, McCrory said he would have upheld the election result, McClatchy reported.
  • Six months later, Trump came to North Carolina to endorse Ted Budd in the Senate primary against McCrory.

“Even if privately establishment Republicans say they don’t like this rhetoric, the ones who depend on votes are reticent to do it publicly,” Cooper says.

The big picture: Roughly 15,000 North Carolina Republicans switched parties, mostly to “unaffiliated,” after last Jan. 6. Susan Roberts and Michael Bitzer, political science professors at Davidson College and Catawba College, respectively, unpacked the reasons behind the switch in a blog post a few weeks after the riot.

“Having the opportunity to switch to a seemingly ‘non-partisan’ unaffiliated status may be a rebuke to the party in the guise of ‘I’ve had enough,'” they wrote.

A range of factors drove people to Washington — from a perceived fear over their way of life being threatened to anxiety about a decline in participation in church, Jordan Green, a Greensboro-based writer who covers extremism for RawStory, recently wrote.

  • Anxiety over a declining local white population is partly a reason for insurrectionists’ participation in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, Green wrote.
  • He identified a dozen “hotspots,” or counties where at least four people are facing federal charges related to the assault on the Capitol. All of those counties saw some decline in their white non-Hispanic populations between 2015 and 2019, per Green.

“A good majority of them feel like their version of America is under threat in a variety of ways. They’ve had those fears exacerbated by the pandemic,” Amy Cooter, a sociologist at Vanderbilt University, told Raw Story.

Zoom out: 2022 is a pivotal year for elections in North Carolina. And we’re headed into it with a growing portion of the voting-age population distrusting the election system.

“It is a crisis that people don’t trust the basic apparatus of elections in North Carolina and the rest of the country,” Cooper says. “We need not only winners in North Carolina but good losers. We need people who are willing to lose and concede and not attack the referees.”


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