In the month since the Jan. 6 insurrection, law enforcement officials, legislators, political pundits, journalists, and everyday Americans have been struggling to understand the deeper motivations of Trump rioters who stormed the Capitol. Were they simply victims of former President Trump’s echo chamber of lies? Or is there something deeper gnawing?
A Washington Post analysis of public records for 125 defendants published on Wednesday hints that economic anxieties may have pushed rioters past the brink. One in five of the defendants have faced foreclosure, and 18 percent have filed for bankruptcy — double the national average.
The specific details include five and six-figure state and federal tax liens, unpaid lawsuit judgments, extensive family histories of bankruptcy and foreclosures stemming from the Great Recession, and struggling business ventures on the verge of collapse.
“I think what you’re finding is more than just economic insecurity but a deep-seated feeling of precarity about their personal situation,” American University Polarization and Extremism Research Innovation Lab researcher Cynthia Miller-Idriss told the Post. “And that precarity — combined with a sense of betrayal or anger that someone is taking something away — mobilized a lot of people that day.”
The article focused on several well-known rioters, including Riley June Williams, who allegedly stole a laptop from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, Proud Boy member Dominic Pezzola, and Texas Realtor Jenna Ryan.
Ryan garnered additional media attention for her social media posts leading up to and during the riot, which included a picture of the private plane she charted to Washington D.C. and a Facebook video of her and a group of friends preparing to attend the rally-turned-riot. However, her last post drew the most ire — a now-deleted Facebook Live broadcast where she said, “Y’all know who to hire for your Realtor. Jenna Ryan for your Realtor.”
Ryan hoped to receive a pardon from former President Trump and even pled her case for one during two appearances on a local CBS network and NBC’s Today Show. But Ryan was left out of Trump’s last-minute pardon rush, although five other real estate professionals made the cut.
“Not one patriot is standing up for me,” Ryan told the Post of her pardon denial. “I’m a complete villain. I was down there based on what my president said. ‘Stop the steal.’”
Ryan said she simply identified as “politically conservative” before Trump’s presidential bid and voted for him in 2016, although she “wasn’t strident” in her support. However, her lukewarm support turned into a fervor in 2020 as the pandemic busted her business and QAnon conspiracy theories became part of her daily reading.
She also shared she’s twice divorced and has struggled to build her real estate career — a challenge that only intensified during the coronavirus pandemic. Ryan also admitted she’s paying off a $37,000 federal tax lien, and had almost lost her home to foreclosure in the past. Lastly, she shared that she filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and had another tax lien in 2010.
“It was all like a football game. I was sucked into it. Consumed by it,” Ryan said.
Ryan is facing federal charges, alongside trip organizer Jason L. Hyland and fellow attendee Katherine S. Schwab. Although she didn’t deny her attendance or the videos she posted, Ryan said her boisterous posts weren’t a true reflection of the anxiety and reluctance she felt that day.
“Now I see that it was all over nothing,” Ryan concluded. “He was just having us down there for an ego boost. I was there for him.”
Albeit confusing to some of the public, University of Kansas political science professor Don Haider-Markel said Ryan’s actions, and those of others like her, align with past insurrections and coups. Haider-Markel said Trump’s messaging was a dog-whistle for those who’d lost or feared losing their financial security and social status.
“It’s hard to ignore with a Trump presidency that message that ‘the America you knew and loved is going away, and I’m going to protect it,’” he explained. “They feel, at a minimum, that they’re under threat.”
“Somehow they’ve been wronged, they’ve developed a grievance, and they tend to connect that to some broader ideology,” he added.