Are Veterans More Prone to Political Violence than Civilians?

A Report by the New War Research Consortium
Policy Paper
March 13, 2023

The visible involvement of veterans among those arrested for participation in the January 6th, 2021, attack on the Capitol has raised questions about whether veterans are more likely than others to engage in political violence.

Grappling with this question head on, a new report from the New War Research Consortium finds that, compared to civilians, veterans more readily rejected political violence across a range of situations and were more likely to support a peaceful transition of power. Veterans were also more likely to prefer democracy over other forms of government, and to believe that respecting America’s laws and institutions and solving political differences peacefully were fundamental to being a “true American.”

The report also presents an interesting tension that merits further exploration: While veterans reject political violence more forcefully than civilians, they have more favorable views of those who stormed the Capitol on January 6th. They were less likely than civilians both to view the participants in the violence as insurrectionists and to regard the charges against them as legitimate.

The contradiction between the shared value veterans place on democracy, peaceful transition of power and the rule of law and their sympathy for the January 6th participants may be explained by the simultaneous love that veterans have for America and their suspicion of its political leaders.

Using a nationally representative sample, Are Veterans More Prone to Political Violence than Civilians? explores these findings and others related to the comparative attitudes of veterans and civilians toward American values and institutions, the Constitution and democracy, political violence, and the events of January 6th. The report uses data collected by Over Zero, New America, and Protect Democracy via YouGov in January 2021.

Earlier reports in this series explored how deeply and why Americans hold their views on accountability for January 6th. The research found that over 60 percent of Americans hold their January 6th-related views as sacred values—strong, absolutist views or moral imperatives that, when challenged, can backfire, causing value-holders to disengage from further conversations. Read more about these findings and their implications here and here.