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Is political violence against the government ever justified?

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(AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo rioters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington.

Were the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, and the ambush of a female U.S. senator in a bathroom, one-off incidents? Or were they a harbinger of percolating anti-government sentiment that deems it permissible to act out against opposing political ideologies? Fresh research into public opinion suggests it may be the latter: nearly one-quarter (23%) of U.S. residents—both liberals and conservatives—agree that violent protests against the federal government are ever justified. This was especially true among men and 18- to 29-year-olds. Women and the elderly were least likely to be supportive of aggressive measures.

The research was conducted nationally by the Covid States Project, a collaborative effort by Northeastern, Harvard, Northwestern, and Rutgers universities. The online poll lasted about a month, starting shortly after Christmas and lasting several weeks after the one-year anniversary of the Capitol incursion. The findings would suggest that acrimony toward government was a recent phenomenon as reflected by a string of headline-worthy incidents, including the Virginia woman who threatened to bring loaded guns to her children’s school over a mask requirement.  But animosity toward government in general can be traced as far back as the Revolutionary War.

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