Years before the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, compelling evidence existed that race and “cultural anxiety” — not economic dislocation — were at the heart of President Trump’s appeal. In 2017, the Public Religion Research Institute and the Atlantic released an analysis, which found that “besides partisanship, fears about immigrants and cultural displacement were more powerful factors than economic concerns in predicting support for Trump among white working-class voters.”

For example, according to the report, “White working-class voters who say they often feel like a stranger in their own land and who believe the U.S. needs protecting against foreign influence were 3.5 times more likely to favor Trump than those who did not share these concerns.” That, by the way, has been a major theme espoused by right-wing talk-radio hosts, columnists and TV personalities. By contrast, those “who reported being in fair or poor financial shape were 1.7 times more likely to support [Hillary] Clinton, compared to those who were in better financial shape.”

The role of race featured prominently in a 2018 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As the New York Times reported on the study: “Losing a job or income between 2012 and 2016 did not make a person any more likely to support Mr. Trump. … Neither did the mere perception that one’s financial situation had worsened.” It was not “unemployment or the density of manufacturing jobs,” either. The real driving force was a sense that White, Christian men no longer dominated society. The study found that social dominance orientation — a psychological concept that measures how much a person supports group-based hierarchies — was linked to support for Trump. Per the Times: “Trump support was linked to a belief that high-status groups, such as whites, Christians or men, faced more discrimination than low-status groups, like minorities, Muslims or women.”

That is the essence of white supremacy: Whites used to be on top, and that is the way it should be. The code words “defending Western civilization” or “war on Christians” are fig leaves meant to disguise Trump followers’ conviction that White Christians are the “real Americans.”

Anyone who paid attention to Trump’s rhetoric and polling of his supporters would have seen that “Make America Great Again” — a call to return to the way America used to be — is rooted in white supremacy. That was evident at the violent attack at the Capitol. We did not see people carrying “Save the factories!” or “More jobs!” signs. The insurrectionists told us exactly who they were. As The Post reported on Thursday: “Dozens of people on a terrorist watch list were in Washington for pro-Trump events Jan. 6 … [and] the majority of the watch-listed individuals in Washington that day are suspected white supremacists whose past conduct so alarmed investigators that their names had been previously entered into the national Terrorist Screening Database.”

We saw exactly what ideology drove the mob to attack the Capitol. As National Geographic described it:

When the insurrectionists came at the Capitol, they came with symbols.
Some were immediately identifiable by most Americans watching the chaos unfurl on their screens. The Confederate flag, first swung on the country’s battlefields by secessionist states who saw their future in the enslavement of others; the gallows and noose, shorthand for the terrorization of African-Americans under Jim Crow as well as quick and dirty frontier justice.
But there were other symbols, obscure visual handshakes that acted as a wink and a nod among the motley crews of Trump supporters, conspiracy theorists, and white supremacist groups that wreaked havoc and death upon the nation’s capital on January 6. Whether paraded on flagpoles or tattooed on the skin of seditionists, these symbols shared a common call, harkening back to an idealized history with white Christian men at the front and center.

This, of course, was not the first time such people showed up at a rally. They’ve been out there in the Trump rallies and in the events his allies in Congress put on. They’ve shown up to right-wing events celebrating the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The Republican Party has known exactly who they are for a long time.

The question is not just whether the party will ever break it to them that Trump lost, but whether the party continues to bait such voters. As the Anti-Defamation League said in a written statement this week:

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A sense of grievance lies at the heart of every extremist movement. And right now, many right-wing extremists, including white supremacists, QAnon conspiracy fanatics and anti-government militia members, believe the election — and, more broadly, their “rights” as Americans — have been or are being stolen by actors in a far-reaching left-wing, globalist or “Marxist” conspiracy. White supremacists and some other extremists, including Islamophobes, are also driven by manufactured fears around demographic change, which they believe will accelerate during the Biden administration, which will likely enact more humane policies towards non-white immigrants and refugees. Some extremists equate those policies to “white genocide.”
Militia and other antigovernment groups may be very active in the next few years. The militia movement has historically derived much of its energy and vitality from its rage towards the federal government.
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They are not going away. To the contrary, their rage at the federal government is just getting underway.

Does the Republican Party want to become a grab bag of these hate groups, or does it want to repudiate them and return to the fold of normal small-“d” democratic politics? Before they can decide that, they need to acknowledge who these people are, what they represent and how they are inflamed. Although courts, media and civil society have a role to expose these seditionists, it is the Republican Party that will decide whether it descends into white supremacy and authoritarianism.

Early on Jan. 6, The Post's Kate Woodsome saw signs of violence hours before thousands of President Trump's loyalists besieged the Capitol. (The Washington Post)

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