This week on Intelligence Matters, host Michael Morell interviews Robert Pape, international security affairs expert and political science professor at the University of Chicago. Pape is also the director of the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, where he leads a team producing new research on the insurrection at the Capitol in January. Pape discusses the historic nature of the storming of the Capitol.
- "Suddenly, we're in a very different category": "Since the War of 1812, the U.S. Capitol has not been attacked. If we look from World War II on, in modern democracies, of course, the U.S. Capitol has never been attacked. But the British parliament has never been attacked, the German Bundestag has never been attacked, the French parliament has never been attacked. The Israeli Knesset was attacked with something like a mob, a smaller mob in 1952. If we look at the democracies that have had their parliaments attacked Sri Lanka, 1987, Russia 1993, India 2001, Chechnya 2010, Venezuela 2017. So, suddenly we're in a very different category."
- Where did the insurrectionists come from? "What we discovered is because we have their residences in the court documents, is that these 290 have come from 42 states in the United States. That's really stunning. It's rare to have people travel from across the country to come to a rally in Washington. We have lots of rallies in Washington. And why do I say this with such confidence? Because we also studied the pro Trump rallies in Washington, D.C. that occurred on November 12 and December 14. And we studied the arrests that occurred there. And we know that those individuals here, over half of them, came from simply Washington, D.C. and Maryland. "
- A mass movement that's "congealing": "It's a mass movement that hasn't fully congealed, but it is congealing and left to its own devices, I'm afraid that we should be expecting it will congeal further. And why do I say that? It's because key accelerants of that congealing are already present. First, the movement has a leader in Donald Trump with demonstrated support for extra-legal behavior. Second, the movement has mass grievances believed by many millions of people in the form of the of the steal that the election was stolen, and that President Biden is not, in fact, the legitimate president and that we are now living under an illegitimate government. Third, we have a focal point of that now of January 6 itself, which as a focal point has brought thousands of people, let's call them would-be extremists to Washington, D.C., participated in this event to varying degrees, have done things like swapped cell phone numbers. They are they're able to congeal in numerous small groups, going to be very difficult to track as they move on to WhatsApp and other encrypted platforms."
"Intelligence Matters" transcript: Bob Pape
Producer: Ariana Freeman
MICHAEL MORELL: Bob, welcome back to Intelligence Matters. It is great to have you on the show again.
BOP PAPE: Thanks, Michael. This is just always wonderful to be on with you.
MICHAEL MORELL: So before we dig into our topic, I mentioned in the introduction when I was sharing your biography with our listeners that you teach a very popular class at UT Chicago called Strategy. And I wanted to ask you, what is it that you do in that class?
BOB PAPE: What I do in strategy is I focus on American grand strategy from 1945 all the way through to the present day. That and I especially focus within American grand strategy on the threats that face America and how those threats have changed over that grant long period of time. I focus on the tools that we use.
BOB PAPE: So of course, I've studied air power for a long period of time, economic sanctions for a long period of time, but also nuclear deterrence. And I talk about how the emphasis in American grand strategy has changed across regions of the world during that period of time so that students who come out of this are really well prepared for going into an academic career where they can delve into very specific issues and have a broader context for work as a PhD student.
They're really, really well prepared for going into government service because, again, they as they go into government service for today and the decades going forward, it's very helpful to have that broad context and increasingly for folks who go into business. Because businesses deal with a lot of political risk issues. And so increasingly folks in business are interested in taking strategy.
MICHAEL MORELL: Are there any kind of key takeaways from the class, you know, key themes?
BOB PAPE: The key theme is that as much as structural pressures matter, strategic choice is still crucial. It is very important to know how well specific strategies do, sort of the base rate of how well, how successful they are, because it matters not just what are the constellation of political forces, economic forces and social forces that come into a problem, but the choice of strategy. And so there are just simply some strategies which outperform other strategies, not in every single case, but in most cases. And it's helpful to see that over time so that, you know, for instance, that if you're going to adopt economic sanctions as a tool to put pressure on, say, the government of Venezuela to change its behavior vs an opposition leader, that's highly unlikely to work, it doesn't mean you can't use it at all. It just means you have to understand the odds of success here are sort of in the five percent range. And that means you need to be prepared with backup strategies if as you lead with that very low probability of success strategy. And that gives students then a real sense coming out of what are not just the arrows, not just the tools we have in our toolbox, but how successful they are so that they can put together packages of tools.
Because as we know, when things go belly up and don't succeed, you can get some pretty big disasters, like in the case of, say, Kosovo, we did a strategic bombing campaign in March 1999, supposed to only last three days hit fifty one targets in and around Belgrade. And what happened? We had no backup plan. And so when Milosevic launched his army against the Kosovar civilians, he killed thousands, pushed a million people out of the country. And we could do nothing to stop that because we hadn't prepared with backup plans and it took us three months to figure that situation out. So this is the kind of issue that's really helpful, I think, for, again, academics, for folks going into the government and for folks in the private sector.
MICHAEL MORELL: That's great. It's a great example. Today we have with us Robert Pape, a renowned professor of political science at the University of Chicago, specializing in international security affairs. So, Bob, let's let's talk about the research you've done on the insurrection at the Capitol. But first, remind us of of what CPost is, an organization that actually did the research?
BOB PAPE: That's right. So the University of Chicago Project on Security and Threats is a research center that I founded in 2004. Today, it has six full time staff members. Half of those have PhDs. Some have PhDs as long ago as eight years. And in addition to that, we have 40 undergraduate and graduate student researchers who work part time, say, 12 hours a week or 15 hours a week. We have some of the best and the brightest at the University of Chicago, which is already saying quite a bit because University of Chicago is a highly selective school. And so what we have at the University of Chicago, CPost, is a very relatively small army who can then have a lot of experience in areas of political violence, because that's what I've been doing for the last 17 years and apply that to problems as they come up.
So in this particular case, I started to prioritize American political violence starting in April. I did that because as the government, federal government dropped the ball on covid, I knew there would be mass deaths in the United States. And that, unfortunately, has come to be. But with that, I believed there would be a dramatic loss of social trust that could lead to new kinds of political violence in our country. So we started this in April, and so we were poised to do major work on the George Floyd protests that kicked off starting in the summer, even though we had no idea in April it would be the George Floyd protest. And so there's a lot of work on that. Michael, we won't talk about today, but has been submitted to academic journals and so forth. And then what that meant is as we were doing that work, the Capitol Hill insurrection occurred. So we were able to within just a few days, Victor, the team to the arrest and all the records of the arrests, and this is something that we've done at Cpost really for years, we did this with the ISIS indictees in the United States. So we've done I've started doing this in 2005 with my book on suicide terrorism, where I did a large demographic study of suicide terrorists. So we were able to very quickly vector. And so we then produced the first systematic study of the demographics and political geography of the Capitol Hill insurrectionists.
MICHAEL MORELL: OK, Bob, let's get to the specifics. So on January 6th, a mob of 800 people stormed the Capitol in what I believe was an act of domestic terrorism and an act of treason. The media was very quick to blame far right groups for the insurrection. But you at Cpost decided to actually look at the facts and you found some very interesting things. Can you tell us what you did and can you walk us through those findings?
BOB PAPE: Absolutely, Michael. I think the very first thing to to to remind our listeners is of the truly historic nature of what happened on January six. Since the War of 1812, the U.S. capital has not been attacked. If we look from World War II on to today in modern democracies, of course, the US Capitol has never been attacked, but the British parliament has never been attacked. The German Bundestag has never been attacked. The French parliament has never been attacked. The Israeli Knesset was attacked with something like a mob, a smaller mob in 1952. If we look at the democracies that have had their parliaments attacked Sri Lanka, 1987, Russia 1993, India 2001. Chechnya 2010. Venezuela 2017. So suddenly we're in a very different category, Michael, than we have. And this is a truly historic event that we have just witnessed. Now it's very important to know who was involved in storming the capital. If we're going to build viable solutions for America, it's very important to know the who was involved in this action. We can't just make quick estimates or knee jerk assumptions. And we're fortunate in this case because the democracy we live in requires that for every individual who's arrested, there are public records. And that allows us at Cpost here to be able, as long as we have a large research team who has familiarity with court documents to be able to quickly collect and analyze every court document related to every person arrested for breaking into the US Capitol or the Capitol grounds on January six. That number today is 290. That's a very large number of people. So it's there is no such thing as a perfect analysis, Michael, but being able to analyze the demographics of the 290 and to do it up to the day. So we are not like three weeks out of date or two months out of date. We're up to date to the day. And that really allows us to be able to see who stormed the Capitol.
MICHAEL MORELL: And that's a very good sample size, particularly when you're talking about an overall population of about 800 people so 290 is incredibly representative.
BOB PAPE: So now what do we find? What we find is we are dealing with here not merely a mix of right wing organizations, but a broader mass movement with violence at its core. This is fundamentally a political movement, one that's not only centered in red parts of the country, but also consists of pro Trump supporters who are in the political minority in many places. Now, I want to underscore this is a political movement. In the court documents, there are interviews with the FBI that the individuals gave to the FBI, which they're held accountable for, and also other interviews where there are dozens and dozens of statements by the individuals about their motives and what's the absolute number one motive. In fact, there's hardly another motive given, the motive for storming the Capitol was to follow Donald Trump's orders, his request to stop the certification of the election for Joseph Biden. That was the absolute direct intent of the individuals who stormed the Capitol. And there's really no competing motives here to really even debate. It's in some cases we could talk about debates. That's not the case. Further, it's important to underscore that this wasn't a collective, act of collective violence. Normally, when we see right wing violence in our country, what we have witnessed is an act of an individual who's racially motivated or ideologically motivated or ethnically motivated to attack another individual or a very small group to attack another either individual or small group. That's not what happened here. What happened here is we saw 800. And keep in mind that as many as probably could get in the capital at that point in time, there were a thousand behind them who stormed the Capitol. This was an act of collective political violence that's very different than we have seen before.
BOB PAPE: So the first thing we did when we started to analyze the data, Michael, is we wanted to know where did the insurrectionist come from? And what we discovered is because we have their residences in the court documents, is that these 290 have come from 42 states in the United States. That's really stunning. It's rare to have people travel from across the country to come to a rally in Washington. We have lots of rallies in Washington. And why do I say this with such confidence? Because we also studied the pro Trump rallies in Washington, D.C. that occurred on November 12th and December 14th. And we studied the arrests that occurred there. And we know that those individuals here, over half of them, came from simply Washington, D.C. and Maryland. And they and and they came if we include both rallies from a total of 17 states, not 42. So this really is quite a striking national beginnings of a national movement. Second thing we noticed right away is over half 44% come from counties that Biden won. That's very striking. That's most people think that the insurrectionists would come from the reddest parts of America. That's true for 46 percent. So it's not not true at all. But 44% are coming from large urban areas that went easily for Biden, like Dallas County. So Dallas went 65% percent for Biden. And in fact, we tend not to even study Dallas politically because it's so easy to put in in the Democratic camp, but that just because of one 65% for Biden, we tend to miss that. That means that 300,000 people still voted for Trump. Dallas set for insurrectionist, one of the largest. Where else did they come from? San Francisco, L.A. and within L.A., Beverly Hills, Chicago. These are not viewed as the Trump strongholds. So it's terribly important to see that we already are learning that it is to be sure, these are pro Trump individuals. The biggest predictor of where they're coming from is simply the largest quantity of votes, not the reddest parts of the country.
MICHAEL MORELL: This thing is broad based?
BOB PAPE: Broad based into the mainstream. So, then the second question we asked is, how does this compare to the insurrectionist to the normal pass right wing extremists? Well, we had just done a study I mentioned earlier in your program, Michael, in April, we started to study American political violence. And the first thing we did was we studied the 108 individuals that the FBI arrested for deadly violence in their room V, it's called, which is their racially ethnically motivated violent extremists. And this was from 2015 to 2020. And so we were able to use that as a baseline to compare the demographics of the insurrectionists on January 6. And what do we find? We find a very different demographic profile. Now, first, where are they similar? They're similar in that both of these groups are overwhelmingly white, 94% white. Both are overwhelmingly male. The pass right wing extremists from 2015 to 2020, 81, 94% male. The Capitol Hill insurrectionist, 86 % male. But that's pretty much where the similarities stop. Age is one of the key things that jumps right out at you in the Capitol Hill insurrectionists. One of the first things we noticed right off the bat was age, Michael, over two thirds of the Capitol Hill insurrectionists are over the age of 30 for many in their 40s, 50s. And this is very different than what we've seen in the past with political with violent extremists.
BOB PAPE: So that group of right wing extremists that the FBI arrested for deadly violence, 2015-20 two thirds were under the age of 34. And that's very important when you start to think about solutions. So with past right wing extremists, say skinheads or the proud boys, normally what you think about as a solution is they grow up and you get them married and they have kids and they have extra responsibilities. Well, the capital insurrectionist, that's already the case. So right off the bat, this means some normal solutions here just are nonstarters. Second thing we noticed was how few were unemployed compared to the normal large amounts of unemployed. We usually see in right wing extremists in the Capitol Hill arrests only 9% are unemployed. And that compares to 25% of the right wing extremists from 2015-20, drilling a little bit more into economic issues. One of the other striking things about the Capitol Hill insurrectionists is 11 percent are business owners. They're CEOs, they own various shops and businesses. Another 30 percent are white collar or have white collar occupations. They're doctors, they're attorneys, they're architects. One's a Google Field operations specialist. This is so striking, Michael, because when I've done my other studies of the demographics of of violent extremists, we don't have a category for business owner. This is very, very unusual. And that what this means also is one of the other tools we often use to manage our in CBE is let's get him a job. Well, OK, if they're already doctors, lawyers and architects, how much more we could employ them? You see this right away. It shows that, again, our normal bag of tools here is is going to be very, very limited.
MICHAEL MORELL: The business owner thing is fascinating. Right, because, you know, not only do they have a stake right. In the current society that they're protesting against, but they're also influencing large numbers of other people who work for them?
BOB PAPE: Exactly right, and the more you drill into this so keep in mind that we're only still hitting the tip of the top of the iceberg here. Michael, even with your wonderful long show, if we drill into gender here, it turns out the women who are they're still only a small percentage here, 14% of the capital insurrectionists, but 17% of them are business owners. They're even more likely to be business owners and white collar here, which is even more perplexing. So it's just the more you get into this, the more you see this is a very different set of profile than we're used to seeing. Now, perhaps the most striking finding, though, of all that we found is that only 12% are coming from militant gangs and militias like the proud boys, to be sure. 37 are being our proud boys or Oath Keepers or 3%. That that's there's no doubt. 37 are, but that's 37 out of 290, you say. So what's very striking is nearly 90 percent are not affiliated with Milot organized militant groups. Now that if we compare it to the usual again racially ethnically motivated, think of them as the usual white supremacists. Half of the usual white supremacists are affiliated with militant groups like the proud boys. So overall, Michael, you're seeing a big reach into the mainstream. This is not the usual suspects here. So just rounding up the usual suspects, I'm not saying we shouldn't go after people who were going into the capital here. You know, I'm not saying take the pedal off the metal. What I'm saying is we can't be confident that's going to suffice because the organized, right wing militants were really quite a small part of this, if you only had the organized right wing militants, we probably wouldn't have had the storm. We probably wouldn't have been here today. What made the Capitol Hill attack a storm where the 88 percent who were not part of the right wing militias. And that's why we really need to understand what's occurring in this situation.
MICHAEL MORELL: What's the bottom line of these findings to you? What do they mean? What do they suggest about the problem we're facing? How do you answer that question?
BOB PAPE: wordsThe bottom line, Michael, is that we are facing a new phenomenon of collective political violence that is not reducible to simply a slightly larger version of what we've been dealing with for the last five, 10 or 30 years. This is a new phenomenon. It's a mass movement that hasn't fully congealed, but it is congealing and left to its own devices. I'm afraid that we should be expecting it will congeal further. And why do I say that? It's because key accelerants of that congealing are already present. First, the movement has a leader in Donald Trump with demonstrated support for extra legal behavior. Second, the movement has mass grievances believed by many millions of people in the form of the of the steal that the election was stolen and that President Biden is not, in fact, the legitimate president and that we are now living under an illegitimate government. Third, we have a focal point of that now of January 6th itself, which as a focal point has brought thousands of people, let's call them would be extremists to Washington, D.C., participated in this event to varying degrees, have done things like swopped, cell phone numbers. They are they're able to congeal in numerous small groups, going to be very difficult to track as they move on to WhatsApp and other encrypted platforms. And this is the kind of social networking we know from protest to protest to protest can lead to violence. Why do I say that the plot against Governor Wittmer, which we know quite a deal about because of the 20 page indictment by the FBI when they when they arrested the 13 who were involved, that plot began by individuals who didn't know each other, starting to meet at anti lock down rallies in Michigan in April.
BOB PAPE: And two months later, starting in June, they started weekly face to face meetings with small, separate, overlapping clusters of the 13. And then over the summer, that led to forming an IED, testing the IED to see if it's going to go off on time, reconnaissance of Governor Whitman's cabins and so forth, so that they could kidnap her and then plans to have a trial and then execute her. So this was not a sort of kind of a drawing board. This happened basically because the anti lockdown rallies in Michigan in April were a focal point of that. Well, think about this is January 6th is like those anti lockdown rallies on steroids. Further they go down in the memory of the movement. So January 6th is already being referred to as the new Independence Day for our country by the believers in the movement. And what does that akin to? That's akin to the Boston Tea Party. So in 1773, there was a focal point event in the United States called the Boston Tea Party. It only involved a few dozen individuals here, some of them dressed up as Indians. You know, kind of laughable. Right. And that became the snowball mythical event that was very much help mobilization for what became the American Revolution three years later. So I'm not telling you we're heading toward a revolution, OK? I'm not telling you. Certainly not. Not yet. What I'm telling you is we need to be aware that what we're seeing is the early stages of a broad based mass political movement with collective violence at its core. And if left to its own, there are risks of it congealing and going further. So what we need to do is we need to put more resources into that.
MICHAEL MORELL: What do we do about all this?
BOB PAPE: So, the first thing we need to recognize is that we've already have substantial findings. We have a pretty good idea of what's going on. Even now. We now know that normal pro Trump activists joined with far right extremists to form a new kind of mass political violent movement. Very important. So the next stage is to thicken that understanding so that our diagnosis of the drivers, the size and potential size, I should say, and nature of this movement can lead to truly viable solutions that can work for America. So we're already underway to build this thrust, to thicken our understanding. This requires no, this isn't just an intel problem, Michael, where if only we had the cell phones and we could eavesdrop on the cell phones. I'm not saying the FBI shouldn't do stuff like that. But I'm saying that this is an understanding problem. This is a problem where we need sociologists, political scientists like myself, economists. We need to study as we do at CPost we do neuroscience studies of militant propaganda by other by Islamic groups. We need to understand the neuroscience of how propaganda is working here with extremists in our own country. We need to apply these broad based tools of social science and natural science so that we're not just left sort of kind of feeling our way and wondering, well, you know, was this motive, this social trend broadly important or not? We have the best social scientists in the world right now. They're not vectored much on American political violence. And that's been true for decades. Well, now is the time to change that.
MICHAEL MORELL: And your point is if we don't understand it, we're never going to be able to make the right policy choices to deal with it?
BOB PAPE: Yes, yes. Michael, a good example of this for me is after 9/11, we all wanted to know what causes a suicide bomber. And much like today, people are saying, oh, my gosh, you can't talk them out of it. So I guess we're just going to have to go in and use force. Right. Well, not saying force today, but that was the thinking after 9/11, what did that lead to that led to the invasion and occupation of Iraq? Because I believe our political leadership genuinely believed that Islamic fundamentalism was the only driver of suicide terrorism. And therefore, we should go in and transform these societies to get rid of that evil seed of Islamic fundamentalism. Well, what we missed was that there is multiple motives driving suicide bombers. And in fact, many are nationalists. Many are, in fact, secular nationalists. So if you invade and conquer a country, you can touch off the largest suicide terrorist campaign in modern times, which said we would do. I said this to Paul Wolfowitz, OK, we did it anyway. And then afterwards it was the Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld Pentagon that started CPost because they were really interested in my studies about the various motives of the suicide bombers. And how did that matter in the CIA? Well, in 2006, the CIA produced an analogy on Iraq that for the first time split the motives of suicide bombers in Iraq. They said there were religious and nationalist motives that laid the groundwork for the Anbar Awakening, that laid the groundwork to take the risk because it wasn't clear was going to work, that we could split AQI and split off the tribes from AQI using some of the political tools, which turned out to work tremendously and was one of the biggest success stories we had in 2007-8 here in stopping the civil war and the suicide bombing in Iraq at the time.
MICHAEL MORELL: Bob, you mentioned a couple of times the word congeal that if we don't deal with this correctly, the movement will congeal. What do you mean by congeal?
BOB PAPE: What I mean by that is you will have more and more extremists move from being passive supporters of this movement to being willing to be active supporters and even willing to participate in violence for the movement. So as as we've seen in studying other militant groups and circumstances around the world, a militant group isn't a single thing. A militant group occurs along a spectrum of support and the situation becomes more congealed and more violent as you have more move from being passive or you think of it as loose or only partly supporters of the movement to becoming more actively involved here and simply following also the direction of the leader. And so what we are seeing on January 6th is quite a bit of direction following the leader. So if we were sort of pursuing studies anywhere else in the world, we would notice that President Trump's speech here was the triggering event that led the people that he had called to the capital to go and and be, "strong." That is storm the capital to go after the, "weak Republicans like Mike Pence to specifically punish them for disobeying the movement." Then afterwards, he called them off. He called them off. They obeyed. They when went right down, they stood down within minutes. So the fact is this is quite a bit, especially when he told them to stand down. This is quite a bit of control on the part of the leader. So you can see already that there's been a fair bit of congealing here in terms of following the leader. The second thing I'm worried about is independent of the leader. The whole way social networking works here in the modern world where when you have protests, you can tap one phone to another to transfer contact information within a second. And that allows for then follow up. And further networking afterwards, it's extremely difficult to track how we work with a social media company here. This is not going to be so easy to track here, especially on encrypted.
MICHAEL MORELL: So if this congeals, does that make it easier for far right extremist groups to recruit people or not?
BOB PAPE: The insurrectionists who came to storm the Capitol have come from 42 states, many of them are going to be, you know, are within an hour's drive of a militant group. I mean, a militant far right extremist group, that will be pretty, you know, that's going to be common. But there is even more the possibility that they'll start to form new organizations, which are not well known, don't have easy insigne out of track. So it's once you start to congeal a movement under surveillance now, we shouldn't be expecting they're just going to tip their hand so easily. And we know that many of the people who went to Washington have stripped their social media since going to Washington. So one of the reasons why you're not seeing lots of stories by journalists about all the social media of the Capitol Hill insurrectionists or those who came to Washington is because they destroyed it. So they already understand they're under tremendous surveillance here. And so that's going to make it very difficult to use these intelligence tools to be able to track the congealing of the movement. That's why it's important to try to get to the deeper political, economic and social roots of the movement here, to really start to understand more about the grievances here and also what we can on the organizational congealing at the same time. So I'm not saying we don't study the organizational congealing, I'm saying that given the environment we're in today and the fact that the leader is politically active got an even more legitimacy now because of the way the trial in the Senate went. We just saw this Sunday tremendous support here of not just for the leader as an individual, but also for the belief that is the oxygen that helped to fuel this, which is that the election was stolen and that he is the legitimate president of the United States. These are happening right in front of us. And so that's why I think it's so important to move further in understanding the drivers of this movement.
MICHAEL MORELL: So, Bob, we have run out of time, but this has been a fascinating discussion and in many ways deeply, deeply worrying. Thank you very much for taking the time to join us today.
BOB PAPE: And thank you, Michael. I don't know what we would do without shows like this. We need more shows like this. Thank you, Michael.
MICHAEL MORELL:You're welcome. Thanks.