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Conservative students at MSU reflect on the events of Jan. 6, one year later

January 26, 2022

On Jan. 6, 2021, eyes were glued to televisions, radio volumes were turned high, all covering what was thought to be impossible. 

Rioters in Washington, D.C., fueled through anger over the results of the previous November’s election, broke into the Capitol and delayed both the House of Representatives and the Senate’s certification of the Electoral College vote for president.

The event left five dead. Of the five, two supporters of former President Donald Trump were dead, one shot by Capitol Police, the other being crushed by stampeding rioters; three police officers died as a result of the event, one from injuries from the riot, while two others died by suicide.

Political theory and constitutional democracy senior and James Madison College Conservatives, or JMCC, president Gavyn Webb said when he heard about what was happening, he thought the news was exaggerating. It was not until later, when he saw tweets and posts about the storming of the Capitol, that he started paying attention. 

Webb, the vice-chairman of Young American Foundation, or YAF, at MSU, said he was horrified that the Capitol was being besieged. He said he voted for Trump in the 2020 election and while he understood the frustrations with the outcome, he did not think it was right to disrupt the process of the Electoral College. 

Webb said he is open to the idea that there was voter fraud somewhere in the country, but he does not think that it was widespread enough to change the outcome of the election.

These events unfolded while many MSU students were still on holiday break. Most organizations at MSU were not going to meet for another two weeks, and even then, the meetings would be over Zoom. Webb said that for JMCC members, many of the conversations about Jan. 6, 2021, happened over group chats. 

MSU College Republicans Chairman Ryland Bennett, a political science senior, expressed disgust toward the events of Jan. 6, 2021. He said he did not think there was enough voter fraud to flip anything more than a precinct or two. 

Trump and several other prominent Republicans, like House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, as well as Fox News personalities like Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, insisted there was voter fraud. Trump sued in six key states, including Michigan, claiming rampant fraud. An investigation by the Associated Press published last month showed there were less than 500 instances of potential voter fraud the 159 million votes cast in 2020.

Bennett and Webb’s view of the 2020 election is not universally shared among conservatives at MSU.

Criminal justice sophomore Caity Martin is the president of the MSU Chapter of Turning Point USA, a conservative group on campus which Martin describes as anti-socialisist. Martin is also a member of YAF at MSU. Martin said she believes voter fraud was happening “across the country” and that it was enough to turn the results of the election.

As for what caused the day’s events, physics sophomore Connor O’Neal, a contributor to The Morning Watch, a conservative publication on campus, said the cause of the Capitol being broken into was mob mentality. He thinks there were agitators in the crowd telling them to keep moving forward.

Bennett also said the presence of Proud Boys, The Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters confirmed this. These hate groups are part of the modern paramilitary white power movement. In a presidential debate, Trump infamously told the Proud Boys to “Stand back and Stand-by.” Bennett called Trump an “instigator of passion” but stops short of saying he directly is responsible for the events of that day. 

“Just like any other politician does is show up to protests,” Bennett said. “He did his job. He got people there to be loud and vocal because that’s what he wanted … He did not say, ‘Go storm the Capitol. Go punch a cop.’”

Webb, however, finds a different view for why the storming of the Capitol happened. He blames the events of Jan. 6, 2021 on political discourse. He said the political climate has reached a toxic level of divisiveness. 

“You can go back to 2000,” Webb said. “People started casting doubts in that election. I think that both sides see that there is no way they can ever lose again. So, when they do (lose), they have to chalk it up as not that they ran bad candidates, but the fact that they were cheated out of an election, and I think it’s much easier to say you were cheated out of an election than to actually own up and say that you lost.”

Webb does not think that Trump’s rhetoric about how he lost the election and that the election was stolen from him was the driving factor for what happened at the Capitol. He said it was “not helpful” but ultimately not the main reason. 

Social relations and policy senior Jack Wheatley, who has done extensive research into the recent history of white supremacist activity at MSU, said Jan. 6, 2021 was a culmination of what the conservative movement has been pushing for a long time.

Wheatley argued that only denouncing Jan. 6, 2021 as a singular bad moment in American history by these conservative groups is not a legitimate stance against the actions of that day. He said it refuses to denounce the rhetorical and ideological sentiments that led to the Capitol being stormed, and so they continue to harbor the fear and disinformation that led to the violence seen that day.

“When it comes to how those groups may view Jan. 6, it will be almost like this outward disavow, or outward condemnation of one event that they can easily say that they are not in support of,” Wheatley said. “But the sentiments behind all of that? The idea of anti-intellectualism, anti-democracy … That sentiment still holds strong and will continue to grow.”

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Bennett said there are some students in College Republicans who believe the election was stolen. These students, he said, are still important to have a “dialogue” with.

“At the end of the day, we’re trying to help people win elections and we know that that vote, we just need that person voting for us,” Bennett said. “And that sounds kind of scummy, but it’s true.”

The College Republicans need to have wiggle room for their members’ beliefs, Bennett said, even if it is about Jan. 6 and whether the election was stolen or not.

Webb said he thinks every student in JMCC recognizes the election of Joe Biden was fair and legitimate. But, for JMCC to take an official stance about Jan. 6, 2021 or the Stop the Steal movement, Webb thinks it is not their place to officially weigh in on divisive political issues within the conservative movement, fearing it would isolate conservatives without that stance. 

“At the end of the day, a lot of these people come to JMCC looking for like-minded people,” Webb said. “There’s not a lot of conservatives … People can have their own opinions on whatever they want. As long as they’re not hateful and un-democratic, then I don’t really think it’s the club’s stance to mitigate their discourse.”

As for the future of the Republican Party, Bennett said the idea of a Trump reelection bid in 2024 is a bad one. Webb said he would not like the idea either, but ultimately would vote for whomever the Republican nominee is, saying he agrees with Trump on “85%” of his policies. Both Bennett and Webb point to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as their ideal candidate in 2024. 

DeSantis has never said one way or another if he believed Joe Biden fairly won the election, but Florida’s state legislature has been one of the 17 states that have taken action to make it harder for their citizens to vote. 

In December 2021, DeSantis proposed an “Election Crimes Police,” which would enforce and investigate cases of election fraud. DeSantis has done this in the name of “election integrity.”

Wheatley, however, does not believe there is much the American conservative movement can do to detach itself from sentiments of anti-democracy unless it abandons tenets of the Republican Party.

Webb said he hopes that the day does not define the conservative movement and believes what happened is not a good representation of it. When asked if he views the day as a stain on the Republican party, he said he does not believe it to be a fair characterization of the whole party or movement, but instead, just a small part of it.

“I do think to a certain extent, those were Republicans at the end of the day,” Webb said. “I struggle to name them conservatives because I don’t think conservatives would do that, but they were Trump supporters who were representatives of right-wing politics. And to an extent, yes I do think that will be a stain or at least a talking point of a small section of conservative politics.”

This story appeared in our Jan. 25 print edition. Read the full issue here. 


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