In a recent survey, 12% of respondents supported storming the Capitol on January 6th. We should be grateful the number is this low, with all the intentional polarization we’re struggling beneath these days. And it confirms my own estimates. From years of studying social psychology, everything from cult phenomenon to hypnotism, I have posited that in any given population, 40% of people can be easily influenced, but 15% can be outright radicalized. Large-scale cult schemas have layers that demonstrate this well. Only 40% of people stay stuck in a closed ideology long-term with no major shocks to their beliefs, whereas about 15% will go down with the ship no matter what reality crashes upon it.
People say 70 million people support Trump, which was doubtfully ever true. (Fanatics actually suggest 200 million are on his side, not coincidentally the White Christian population of America.) At least 40% of Americans would vote third-party in a heartbeat if the option was there and seen as viable. But how many voted out of excessive fear of a socialist bogeyman but otherwise would not have voted for him? How many just like seeing their 401k go up, all else be damned?
Yet tens of millions FEEL he “loves America” and “fights for the common man”, or supports our particular values. More accurately, he opposes values outside of their own. This is why he is the poster boy for supremacies of all kinds. There is indeed a cult fanaticism unparalleled in our time, with his name superimposed on the American Flag, or even replacing it. But don’t waste too much breath criticizing Trump — either you will never, ever be believed in the most blatant facts, or they simply don’t care about him personally. The flawed champion gets the job done in a way that wets their nethers.
Eventually, it became apparent he never did walk down that street to the Capitol with them. He made an about-face on finally accepting peaceful transition (only after his thumbs were cut off by Twitter and being financially cancel-cultured left and right). But it didn’t matter. The hard-core believers said his speech was a deep fake, in the same way as one of their most prominent members was made out as an antifa plant through careful photo cropping. Most just ignored the facts once again with concocted projections and red herrings. But some actually are turning on him, telling him to “get out of the way” so they can slay the deep state dragon themselves.
These last holdouts are the “15%” of his cult. Perhaps the 12% gives us an estimation of the larger body, bringing us mathematically to see that his base was smaller than we thought. It was just more willing to come out in a pandemic and make the most noise. Supremacists of all flavors were already emboldened against BLM, and COVID-19 needed a scapegoat, as irrational as all that turned out to be. Imagine the landslide (in our non-alternate reality) if gerrymandering and voter suppression would not be the norm.
So now we have an idea. Two-thirds of Republicans and Trump voters described the participants of the attack as criminals and fools. But the 5% that described them as patriots — roughly 15% of the base — are the ones we are talking about here. Smaller countries have had successful coups with less support. “Patriots” who call themselves Three Percenters is in reference to the estimate that 3% of the population of the colonies actively brought about the American Revolution. And this whatever-percent is why we need the National Guard to turn inauguration into a military operation.
So what of Trump’s volunteer keyboard army and literal militia? The 40% are likely those who have ethnocentric and nationalistic tendencies. Within that shell, we find White Nationalists, Evangelical-Fundamentalist fanatics, and Red Dawn reenactors (“patriot” militias) who have been waiting for their chance to shine. But within that inner layer is QAnon in all its insane glory that only the 15% could love. Trump gets his news almost exclusively from networks who adore him, and they cross-tweet conspiracies without substance into a feedback loop, broadcast to believing masses what often is a crackpot “fact” from a fringe blogger.
Trump is actually not the center, but allowed himself to be an actual member of that group. Sometimes perceived as a strong leader, he is fearless in the sense of foolhardy and unconcerned, but otherwise a weak fake version of himself upon closer inspection. When people realize that, he’s still the poster boy. He will accept any recruits, not matter how deluded or deranged. January 6th was inevitable.
There will always a 15%. We can fact check and censor them all day long, but they are determined fanatics, emboldened by an emperor with no clothes. They won’t go away after the inauguration, and we have to start rebuilding our defenses of education and common sense so the 40% — which sometimes may include us — don’t become an army of pawns in the wrong war.