The types of people who were arrested for taking part in the January riot at the Capitol are in fact the usual suspects for such an incident, and believing otherwise ignores the vast majority of domestic terror incidents in the United States.
First and foremost, this was an act of domestic terrorism. It was not only a riot or an act of violence but a coordinated effort to break into a federal building and threaten the formalities surrounding the election and the lives of members of Congress. It was carried out by Americans who wanted to cause fear and chaos.
According to the Department of Justice, more than 400 people have been charged in federal court in connection to the riots as of March 24.
Of those arrested, 56 people have identifiable ties to extremist or fringe groups or ideas. At least 52 people have direct connections to far-right militias and/or terrorist groups that have xenophobic and discriminatory ideologies, such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. This should not be shocking.
From 1994 to 2020, far-right terrorists committed 57% of domestic terror plots and attacks. Far-left groups accounted for 25% of plots and attacks.
Recently, the Washington Post examined the financial situations of the people who were arrested for the acts committed at the Capitol. The article called one woman a seemingly "unlikely participant" in such an event for being outwardly so stable, except for her financial situation. Despite arriving on a private jet, she filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and was still paying off an IRS lien for unpaid federal income taxes when she was arrested.
Her finances aren't the reason she’s a likely participant: the far-right stuff is. The Post suggests severe financial insecurity was one of the reasons these people stormed the Capitol. While the Washington Post is correct in asserting a link between economic insecurity and the ease to fall into far-right circles, there is not a scientifically proven link between economic instability and terrorism.
No matter your financial situation, or the emotional and mental impact that might have on you, that is not an excuse to direct frustration, anger or even violence towards others. What caused this was hatred and lies: Hatred of someone other than the right ruling the country and of people other than the far-right and lies about the election. Being pushed to the brink financially might be a reason some people have found solace in far-right circles, but it is not the reason the same people set fire to the Capitol or sent death threats to members of congress.
So what is the reason that the people in this attack are seen as shocking criminals, as extremists that are unique in their everyday normalcy?
It’s the same reason people are stunned when they find out the sweet boy who grew up down the street is a neo-Nazi or when someone who was outwardly loving toward their spouse kills them: You don’t want to believe the same downward spiral can happen to someone you think of as normal.
You don’t want to reanalyze, or even analyze at all, the subtly uncomfortable actions and words of your neighbors and your family members. Nobody really does. You don’t want to think that uncle who believes the election was rigged by voting machines and China could actually hurt someone.
And, yeah, maybe those are just some poorly chosen political beliefs. That’s not something to worry about.
Or maybe it is.
It's America. It’s your right to believe anything. However, if you see a friend or family member slipping down a weird, disquieting slope, try to get some sense into them before it’s too late.
Due to the fact that the vast majority of domestic terror incidents recently are due to far-right extremism, the people who stormed the Capitol were, in fact, the usual suspects. They seemed normal until they very much didn’t.
Yes, they held far-right, conspiratorial and discriminatory beliefs before this, but everyone in these people's lives shrugged that off because who wants to be the person to try to change someone’s mind on that? One day, maybe today, you might have to be that person.
After all, it’ll be a lot more awkward having to be the one to report your uncle to the FBI.