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- Many of the Capitol riot defendants have something in common: a history of financial difficulties.
- A Washington Post analysis found that a substantial number of defendants had money woes.
- The documented financial problems include bankruptcies, debt, foreclosures, and unpaid taxes.
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The more than 240 defendants charged in the January 6 insurrection on the Capitol siege came to Washington, D.C. from around the United States and from all walks of life, but something in common: a history of financial difficulties.
A new Washington Post analysis of court records and financial documents found that out of 125 defendants who had publicly available financial information, nearly 60% had filed for bankruptcy, had unpaid tax bills and other debts, been sued for unpaid debts, or faced losing their homes through eviction or foreclosure.
The Post also found that among that group, the bankruptcy rate was 18%, almost double the national average.
Among them were some of the most infamous accused rioters who have become faces of the insurrection. Jenna Ryan, the Texas real estate agent charged with two misdemeanors in connection with Capitol insurrection who flew to Washington, D.C. on a private jet, had filed for bankruptcy in 2012, almost lost her home before then, and had a history of unpaid federal taxes.
Ryan, who was also banned from PayPal after trying to raise funds for her legal defense on the platform, told the Post that she now fully regrets her participation in the riots and says she “bought into a lie.”
Riley June Williams, the 22-year-old Pennsylvania woman accused of being involved in the theft of a laptop from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, had herself filed for bankruptcy when she was just a child, according to the Post.
And Ashli Babbit, who was shot and killed by law enforcement during the insurrection, had been hit with a $23,000 judgment from a lender a few years prior.
Research shows that low-income people with lower levels of education are not necessarily more likely to fall into extremist movements — but being saddled with debt or other struggles can make some feel as if they have nothing left to lose.
The Capitol insurrection further displays how outwardly successful and educated people in society’s mainstream can fall into anti-government movements.
Those arrested so far include people associated with extremist groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, but also people who had never before been charged with a federal crime or had a connection to those movements.
The rise of domestic right-wing extremism and the QAnon conspiracy theory haven’t just targeted low-income or uneducated people, however, but have swept up many well-off, college-educated professionals, too.
One researcher interviewed by the Post said that middle-class and educated people may be more likely to be lured into extremism when they feel their position in society being jeopardized or threatened.
Ryan, for example, told the Post that while she had voted for Trump in 2016, she didn’t become politically engaged until 2020, when she started consuming right-wing media like the Gateway Pundit, Infowars, and Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast, and fell down the rabbit hole of the QAnon conspiracy.