A warrant for violence? An analysis of Donald Trump's speech before the US Capitol attack

Ntontis, Evangelos; Jurstakova, Klara; Neville, Fergus; Haslam, S. Alexander and Reicher, Stephen (2024). A warrant for violence? An analysis of Donald Trump's speech before the US Capitol attack. British Journal of Social Psychology, 63(1) pp. 3–19.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/bjso.12679


On January 6th, 2021, Donald Trump's speech during a ‘Save America’ rally was followed by mass violence, with Trump's supporters storming the U.S. Capitol to prevent the certification of Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election. In its wake, there was a great deal of debate around whether the speech contained direct instructions for the subsequent violence. In this paper, we use a social identity perspective on leadership (and more specifically, on toxic leadership) to analyse the speech and see how its overall argument relates to violence. We show that Trump's argument rests on the populist distinction between the American people and elites. He moralises these groups as good and evil respectively and proposes that the very existence of America is under threat if the election result stands. On this basis he proposes that all true Americans are obligated to act in order prevent Biden's certification and to ensure that the good prevails over evil. While Trump does not explicitly say what such action entails, he also removes normative and moral impediments to extreme action. In this way, taken as a whole, Trump's speech enables rather than demands violence and ultimately it provides a warrant for the violence that ensued.

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