The Process of Radicalisation: From Conspiracy Theories to a Coup Attempt at Capitol Hill
Updated: Dec 21, 2021
The storming of the Capitol Building on the 7th January 2021 shows a key example of conspiracy theories forming processes of radicalisation. The storming of the building involved many Trump supporters, many ascribing to the ideology of the Q-Anon conspiracy.
How did we get to this point?
Due to the diversifying state of US politics, many voters have attached their views to conspiracy theorists' ideas. The Q-Anon case is another key example of voters expressing their views, but to the extreme of showing their opinions by performing an act of political violence.
Many people in America, due to the first past the post system of voting, believe their vote is wasted and turn to other forms of action to voice their concerns. Therefore, with Q-Anon, the US faced another politically dissatisfied group which turned to storming the Capitol as a way to express their grievances.
So, how did a conspiracy theory snowball into a coup attempt at one of the United States’ most iconic political buildings?
Many Republican voters followed the theory out of dissatisfaction, as it became more apparent that Trump was not going to make it back into the Oval Office. The conspiracy presented a way for such voters to show their concern with the political system that had allowed many Democrats to keep their seats in the house, who they believed to be the cause of the problem. As the democrats gained more votes and secured the presidency, the group only grew more displeased with the government, and decided to take action.
What is Q-Anon?
Q-Anon is the conspiracy theory which suggests a day of reckoning will arrive where those disliked by the group will be executed. The conspiracy states that in areas of business, government and the media, Trump is battling against paedophiles.
For more detailed information on Q-Anon, see our guide here.
Whilst many social media companies have tried to limit Q-Anon content and propaganda, there remains to be thousands of people who believe in its theories.
There are even members of congress who have spoken about their support of the theory, such as Majorie Taylor Greene, the so-called “Q-Anon candidate” who was elected to congress in November.
During his rally on the day of the Capitol attack, Trump mobilised supporters using rhetoric that was similar to that of Q-Anon. Phrases such as “We won this election and we won it by a landslide” emphasise the Q-Anon believers’ ideas about the election being “stolen”, and the involvement of the Democrat win to cover up the paedophiles’ actions.
The radicalisation of Ashli Babbitt
Ashli Babbitt was a US veteran who was shot dead by a Capitol Officer during the coup. She had become involved with the group after leaving the military, expressing her concerns about immigrants, Democrats and Covid-19 safety measures.
Ashli Babbitt had previously shown her alliance to Obama during his presidencies. However, during the 2016 election, she couldn’t provide support for Hillary Clinton and switched her allegiance to Trump. Ashli often expressed admiration for Trump via Twitter, and was especially vocal in her support of his tweets regarding voter fraud claims.
Voicing claims of voter fraud led her to find supporters of the Q-Anon theory, and ultimately join the group herself.
Why did Ashli believe that storming the Capitol was the right thing to do ?
It is also noted that Ashli believed that the government was not listening to her grievances, which was especially painful to her after having been so devoted to the US through her service to the country. The feeling of neglect and abandonment by the government led Ashli to turn to the Q-Anon group for answers, and the support of many people who shared similar beliefs and sentiments.
Her social media accounts showed tweets and involvement in the ideology of Q-Anon, her hatred for the Democrat Party, and her intentions to join the mob in Washington.
It is these beliefs that are said to have brought her closer towards the Q-Anon group. She subscribed to the far-right conspiracy that Trump was battling a clandestine war against Satan-worshipping paedophiles, and that many Democrats were involved in the cover-up.
Many people hold grievances against the government. However, the personal beliefs of the group combined with Trump's support of action to be taken is what turned these conspiracy theorists into perpetrators of violence.
From a rally to an attack
It is questioned whether Trump supporters had planned to storm the Capitol before they had attended the rally. Many members of the group had previously described a ‘day of reckoning’ in which they had intended to attack the conspiracy’s key targets. However, it is clear that the words of Donald Trump angered and inspired many of the group’s followers to take action against the government.
Ashli had also previously expressed her intentions to impact the government, tweeting just beforehand that she ‘will be in D.C on the 6th’. Debates have arisen regarding whether Ashli’s intention was to storm the Capitol on that day or simply be there to support Trump during his rally. However, once the crowd began to walk towards the Capitol, Ashli’s intentions about storming the building had been set.
The aggressive rhetoric Trump expressed during his rally led to him asking his supporters to storm the Capitol building on grounds of election fraud.
With Q-Anon disagreement already established against the Democrats, in addition to such words spoken by Trump, the group and many others turned to the building to seek reparation.
Overall, the impact on US democracy is critical. It shows that whilst free speech is supported in the country, there are beliefs and theories which people will follow to the extreme. It shows the power of a group if motivated and invested in their beliefs. Ultimately, you should always research what you believe, supporting it with facts and evidence.
For more information on this topic, head over to our section on US Politics.