Texas Had An Outsized Presence At The Capitol Insurrection. Why?
More than three dozen Texans have been arrested and charged with various crimes in connection with the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. That's more than from almost any other state in the country.
Those arrested range in age from their early 20s to their mid-60s. They hail from Houston and Dallas, Lubbock and Midland. They include veterans, police officers, and Realtors — people you might find in any Texas community.
The question is what drew so many of them to march on the Capitol.
Jenna Ryan is perhaps one of the best known Texans accused of breaching the U.S. Capitol. The Frisco real estate broker allegedly livestreamed herself on Facebook throughout the riot, according to court documents. The video went viral.
"You woke up the sleeping giant!" Ryan allegedly said. "You're trying to make us into Venezuela! You know what? We are armed and dangerous!"
Ryan is currently facing four charges: entering and remaining in a restricted building; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building; violent entry and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building; and parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building.
Social media posts also appear to show Ryan traveling with three others. That brought them to the attention of Hava Johnston, another Frisco-based Realtor. Johnston said she helped identify several of the rioters from their social media.
"Jenna Ryan, although we've never met each other in person, I know who she is," Johnston said. "When they go and do something that stupid and that big and that national, it wasn't hard, you know, it came across my timeline."
The type of people who stormed the Capitol, Johnston said, are her neighbors. She said many of them may have held far-right beliefs or conspiracy theories, but didn't talk much about it. And Johnston said she saw signs of such activity as far back as the beginning of the Obama administration.
"This isn't anything new. They used to just be bugs under a rock. Donald Trump kicked that rock over," Johnston said. "This is where they live. This is where they've always lived. They were just quiet about it."
"It is these very people who are holding onto a false reality, who feel threatened because their way of life is slowly coming to an end, or they see that they are losing power, they're losing control," she added.
That’s something familiar to Kerry Noble, a former white supremacist and Christian nationalist who lives near Fort Worth. Noble has dedicated his life to spreading the word about the threats posed by extremism.
"People want to feel like they still have control in their lives, and when they don't feel like they have control, and they feel like they're very discontent with life, then they are more apt to go extremist one way or the other,” Noble said.
But the roots go much deeper in Texas, according to Noble. He pointed to a combination of factors that make Texas a hotbed for such extremism. He cited the state’s strong gun culture and a deep streak of Christian fundamentalism, as well as its history as a briefly independent nation.
"You've just got a history of people, because of the independence that Texans feel, that when they start to feel pressured, they don't just idly sit back,” Noble said. “When they start feeling like government is coming against them, then they're pretty quick to stand up.”
Even before the march on the Capitol officially began, some prominent Texans were firing up the crowds in support of then-President Donald Trump. State Attorney General Ken Paxton spoke at a rally outside the White House, with his wife state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, at his side.
"I want you to know that Texas fights," the attorney general said. "We fought 12 straight lawsuits related to mail-in ballots, related to signature verification, federal court, state court, Travis County, Austin, Houston. We fought. We won every single one of those cases, and because of that, Donald Trump won Texas by over 600,000 votes."
The Attorney General's Office is seeking to withhold all e-mails and text messages Paxton sent or received while in Washington. ProPublica and five different Texas publications — the Houston Chronicle, the Austin American- Statesman, the Dallas Morning News, the San Antonio Express-News, and the Texas Tribune — are currently working together to try to obtain the documents.
Seventeen Texas Republicans voted that day to reject the results of the 2020 presidential election. And Briscoe Cain, a state representative from Deer Park who now chairs the House Elections Committee, traveled to Pennsylvania to help the Trump campaign challenge the results of the 2020 election.
Other experts agree that Texas has a unique culture that breeds such extremism. Brian Hughes — associate director of American University's Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab, which tracks far-right extremism — said many of the characteristics of extremist ideology flourish in the Lone Star State.
"Very frequently, what we see is the intersection of that ideology and culture, looking at an idealized version of the American founding and the American frontier, the role of the rugged individual, and the role of gun culture,” Hughes said. “Texas has a reputation of taking pride in all of those things.”
Even if most of the Texans in the Capitol Insurrection were self-radicalized, at least some of them had ties to organized militia groups like the Three Percenters.
That's no surprise to Lindsay Schubiner, a program director at the Western States Center, who said Texas is home to 20 antigovernment groups, including six paramilitary groups — a higher concentration than most other states, Schubiner said.
The attack on the Capitol likely was not a culmination of far-right activity, but a new beginning, Schubiner warned. And it’s likely to provide a deep pool of new recruits — particularly in Texas.
"We saw white nationalists side-by-side with QAnon adherents, with Proud Boys, with other folks who may not have been affiliated with specific groups but may have been influenced by far-right conspiracy theories,” she said.” So, it's also a moment when far-right and white nationalist groups, I think, are able to recruit from a much larger number of Americans who've been influenced by dangerous far-right conspiracy theories."
This story was produced by Houston Public Media.