Echoes of Police Violence

“Police kill so many people that each death drowns out the last.”

Olayemi Olurin tweeted that sentence this morning, and the violence she describes echoes through Crowd Counting Consortium’s data on protest activity across the United States. We record new protests, vigils, demonstrations, marches, banner drops, and direct actions in response to police brutality every day. The names and locations change, but the flow is relentless.

The chart below shows daily counts of protest events against police brutality, loosely construed, from the start of 2021 to the end of January 2023. There are notable surges, including a large one in spring 2021 around the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, and then a smaller but still significant one in recent weeks after the killing of Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran in Atlanta’s Weelaunee Forest on January 18 and the January 27 release of video showing the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis.

What may be most noticeable in that chart, though, is the near-constancy. In several places—McCarren Park in Brooklyn, New York; outside the Sherman Oaks Galleria in L.A.; in front of city hall in Rockford, Illinois; and on the square in downtown Wooster, Ohio—daily actions that began in the summer of 2020 continue more than two and half years later. In dozens of other towns from Maine to Georgia to Oregon, Black Lives Matter–themed vigils and demonstrations recur weekly or monthly. Meanwhile, when bursts of activity in response to a police killing or death in custody die down in one town, there are always loved ones and activists busy organizing new protests or vigils somewhere else.

The map below shows that neither fatal encounters with police nor protests against them are regionally specific. While police killings—as documented by the remarkable Mapping Police Violence project—and protests against them occur more often in major urban areas on the coasts and in the upper Midwest, we also see many of both scattered across sparsely populated parts of the Midwest and Great Plains and desert Southwest. No part of the country escapes this perpetual crisis.

The red dots on that map, and the green bars in the chart preceding it, represent nearly 9,000 protest actions against police brutality across more than 800 different cities and towns, just since the start of 2021. Those nearly 9,000 events mention more than 500 different names.

On the evening of January 24, I drove to DC’s Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park for a vigil honoring Tortuguita. Police sat in numerous cars on at least two sides of the rectangular park, and a handful of officers stood in the grass 40 or 50 yards away. By my count, more than 150 people came out in the cold to light candles, write postcards to activists jailed in Atlanta, contribute their art to a banner, and, in some memorable cases, take to the mic to verbalize their rage and grief.

Just a few days later, many of the same people were back out in response to the video showing police officers fatally beating Tyre Nichols. Per DCist:

In Franklin Park, activists with the local abolitionist group Harriet’s Wildest Dreams held space for about 50 community members ahead of the release of video footage showing the officers’ fatal beating of Nichols, a father of a four-year-old. Later in the evening, a small group gathered in Lafayette Square, growing to about 50 demonstrators by 8 p.m. chanting “no justice, no peace.”

Both events dwindled within a few hours, amid a mood of exhaustion among longtime organizers. Several told DCist/WAMU that they would not march through the streets for a lengthy protest – exhausted by decades of police violence and killing of their community members. Instead, they said they are resting and saving their energy to support the community’s needs.

“Black people die every fucking day at the hands of the police,” Mikki Charles, an organizer with Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, told the crowd at Franklin Square. “The list is endless. And I’m tired of coming out here and listing every single name that’s been killed.”

Review of Left-Wing Protest Activity in 2022

The Crowd Counting Consortium recorded more than 13,400 left-wing protests, counter-protests, rallies, demonstrations, and direct actions in more than 2,000 different U.S. cities and towns in 2022, where “left-wing” includes everything from Democratic partisan rallies to demonstrations by communist, anti-fascist, or anarchist groups. This post summarizes a number of patterns and trends we observed in those events.

In 2022, the U.S. saw several waves of protests and rallies for reproductive rights against a backdrop of persistent activism against structural racism and police violence. Environmental concerns, LGBTQ+ rights, and gun reform also featured significantly in left-wing protest activity over the course of a year that brought worsening news about the climate crisis, a surge in anti-queer activism and terrorism from the right, and nearly 650 new mass shootings. The incidence of arrests, protester injuries, and property damage at left-wing protests all declined further from their 2020 peaks, while the count of armed left-wing protests increased slightly.

CCC makes and freely shares the data on which this analysis is based in hopes of supporting scholarship, journalism, and activism on these issues. For details on definitions and methods underlying these data, please see our coding guidelines. To access the data and documentation, please visit our GitHub repository. If you are a scholar, researcher, journalist, or activist who is interested in working with the data set and have questions about how to use it, please contact Jay Ulfelder at julfelder@hks.harvard.edu.

Counts

In 2022, CCC logged more than 13,400 left-wing protests across more than 2,000 different U.S. cities and towns. That’s a 7-percent increase over the roughly 12,500 left-wing protests we recorded across 1,878 cities and towns in 2021, and—consistent with long-standing patterns—more than twice the count of right-wing protests we saw in 2021 (about 5,700; for a discussion of trends in those, see this blogged report.)

We were able to find information on crowd sizes for about 39 percent of the left-wing events we recorded in 2022, up from 34 percent in 2021. At the roughly 5,200 events for which we had information about crowd size, we saw approximately 2.6 million participants, give or take a million. The mean crowd size at events with information on it was just under 500, while the median was 50, both up from 121 and 40, respectively, in 2021. New York City’s annual Pride March was by far the largest of those events, with “thousands” or “millions” of participants and observers, depending on which source you consult. (Since its inception in 2017, CCC has consistently regarded LGBTQ+ pride festivals and parades as inherently political and included them in its collection process, a status implicitly reaffirmed by the recent surge in right-wing mobilization against them.)

Arrests occurred at 170 left-wing events in 2022 (1.3 percent), down significantly from 284 in 2021 (2.3 percent) and far below the more than 1,000 events (5.6 percent) with arrests in 2020.

Protesters damaged property at 86 left-wing events in 2022 (0.6 percent), down from 105 (0.8 percent) in 2021 and 550 (2.9 percent) in 2020. Damage in 2022 ranged from graffiti and broken windows to arson.

Participants were reportedly injured at 45 left-wing events in 2022 (0.3 percent), down from 66 (0.5 percent) in 2021 and 379 (2.0 percent) in 2020.

Three participants died at left-wing events in 2022.

  • On February 19, a right-wing counter-protester shot and killed 60-year-old June Knightly as she was helping escort a march for justice for Amir Locke in Portland, Oregon.
  • On June 19, a teenager attending a Juneteenth celebration in Washington, DC, was shot and killed in an attack that was not related to the event’s politics.

Participants evidently carried firearms at 46 of the left-wing events (3.3 percent) we recorded in 2022, up a handful from 42 (3.3 percent) in 2021. (We only began consistently tracking this information for all events we log in 2021, so we can’t provide comparable statistics for 2020.)

Themes

The bar chart below shows counts of protest events in 2022 at which participants’ demands were linked to the several dozen issues we routinely track with tags based on protester claims. Individual events can and often do raise any number of issues, so the sum of the counts shown in the chart is much larger than the annual count of events reported above.

Racism and policing have been two of the most common themes in left-wing protest activity since 2020, and that pattern persisted in 2022. Some of these protests occurred in response to new cases of police killing Black people, including (but not limited to) Amir Locke, James Williams, Jayland Walker, Patrick Lyoya, and Donnell Rochester. Hundreds of others were gatherings that recurred monthly, weekly, or even daily to keep boosting the Black Lives Matter movement’s calls for racial justice and police reform or abolition.

While racism remained the single most commonly raised issue in 2022, reproductive rights nearly displaced it, and leapfrogged over policing, due to several waves of action in response to the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade. As shown in the chart below, protests related to abortion rights spiked four different times in 2022:

  • In early May, right after Politico reported on the leaked draft ruling in the Dobbs case;
  • In early October, when Women’s March led the Women’s Wave of rallies connecting the defense of women’s and reproductive rights to voting for pro-choice candidates in the upcoming midterm elections.

For the period from the May 2 leak until Election Day on November 8, CCC recorded nearly 4,000 protests calling for abortion access across more than 1,200 U.S. cities and towns. By comparison, the George Floyd uprising of 2020—possibly the largest protest wave in U.S. history—involved nearly 9,700 protests across more than 3,050 cities and towns during the 10 weeks from late May until the end of July.

The judiciary and women’s rights rounded out the top five themes in 2022 because of their linkage to abortion access and reproductive rights.

The environment was the next-most common theme in left-leaning protests last year. The two busiest days on this topic in 2022 were March 25, when Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future called another global climate strike, and Earth Day, April 22. In some ways, though, the puzzle of left-wing activism of 2022 was that there weren’t even more environment-themed actions, given the increasingly evident urgency of the climate crisis. Even the busier of those two days last year, the March climate strike, barely saw more than 100 events across the U.S., far fewer than the hundreds associated with the Global Climate Strike of September 2019, and a September 2022 global strike called by Fridays for Future produced only about 30 actions in the U.S., according to our data.

LGBTQ+ rights also ranked among the top 10 issues raised at left-wing protests last year. In addition to new and longstanding annual pride parades and festivals, communities also mobilized in 2022 to push back against a wave of state legislative actions and right-wing protests and violence targeting the queer community.

Guns rounded out the top 10 issues raised by left-wing protesters in 2022. Led by March for Our Lives and Everytown for Gun Safety, crowds mobilized nationwide in the wake of mass shootings at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, to call for federal and state legislation tightening access to firearms. The attack on Club Q in Colorado Springs in November and the 10-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary also spurred waves of activism around gun violence. Education also landed in the top 10 themes for 2022 because of the references to school safety at protests following the Uvalde mass shooting and in the many Sandy Hook remembrance vigils.

Rhetoric

This past spring, CCC began using the ‘claims’ field in our data set to capture verbatim as many non-duplicate slogans and chants we see in photos and video and from, and prose about, each event as we can, along with coders’ summaries of protesters’ aims. The result is a rapidly growing corpus of protest rhetoric that helps us describe what protests were about in participants’ own words.

The centrality of abortion rights and Black Lives Matter activism to left-wing mobilization in 2022 is plain to see in a chart of the 20 phrases we saw or heard most often from protesters over the past year. A full 17 of the 20 phrases—including nine of the top 10—relate to reproductive rights or women’s rights. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” ranked fourth, and the “no justice no peace” refrain often heard at protests against racism and police violence cracked the top 20 as well. The only other theme with a phrase in the top 20 was gun reform, as “protect kids not guns” landed in the middle of the chart between “never again” (often seen on homemade posters at protests for abortion rights alongside an image of a wire hanger) and “keep your laws off my body”.

A word cloud of more than 6,800 distinct terms from all those verbatim phrases tells a similar story. More interesting here is the color and variety of the language used, especially across those thousands of protests for abortion rights. Lots of references to bodies and body parts (uterus, vagina, ovaries, cervix, pussy, womb), religion (church, rosaries, theocracy, Jesus), specific Supreme Court justices (especially Alito, Barrett, Thomas, Kavanaugh, and Roberts), a few Spanish words (aborto, libre), and—especially in the wave of events immediately following the June 24 SCOTUS ruling—a fair amount of cursewords (fuck, fucketh).

Armed Community Defense Groups

One notable trend evident in our data from 2022 was the growth in activity by armed leftist and anarchist groups, including but not limited to John Brown Gun Clubs (JBGCs) and chapters of the Socialist Rifle Association (SRA). We saw JBGCs at 29 protest or counter-protest events in 2022, up from 7 in 2021 and 5 in 2020; and we saw SRA chapters at 7 events in 2022, up from 2 in 2021 and none in 2020. Of the 29 events at which we saw JBGCs in 2022, 19 related to LGBTQ+ rights, and 11 were counter-protests. Notably, we also saw 14 different named JBGCs at those 29 events in 2022, up from three in 2021 (Puget Sound, Elm Fork, and Connecticut) and one in 2020 (Puget Sound).

Mainstream media coverage often lumps these groups together with right-wing militias an casts them as part of broader and problematic escalation of political violence, but that view obscures some crucial differences. Most importantly, these leftist groups construe themselves as agents of community defense rather than self-appointed enforcers of a particular political or legal order. They are, in the words of one prominent JBGC, “intolerant of injustice,” and they aim to help protect targeted groups against violent expressions of it. Rather than deputizing themselves as proactive peacemakers, as various right-wing militias did in the summer of 2020, these organizations generally only come when invited and included in security planning, and they typically adopt a protective posture rather than a confrontational one.

That’s not to say there are no parallels. Similar to many right-wing militias, even when operating under a common label, these community defense groups generally lack central governance. As a member of one JBGC put it, John Brown Gun Club is a decentralized brand rather than a formal organization or hierarchical network. Also like some right-wing militias, these groups routinely engage in a variety of other activities consistent with their missions, including firearm practice, first-aid training, and mutual-aid actions.

These armed leftist and anarchist groups are also part of a much larger and longer tradition of organizing for community and self-defense by marginalized groups who are faced with intimidation and terrorism, and who—with cause—see police as part of the problem rather than a solution. The Black Panthers are an obvious reference point from the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, when armed community defense arguably played a more important role in supporting the cause of racial justice than the conventional narrative acknowledges. John Brown Gun Clubs have been around for years, and their history is intertwined with an antifascist movement called Redneck Revolt that surged after Trump’s election in 2016. More recently, this movement has spawned efforts like We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For’s Arm the Girls initiative, which aims to promote a culture of self-defense among BIPOC trans femmes. It has also birthed organizations like Sacramento’s Pride Was a Riot, who share an antifascist ethos with JBGCs while focusing their energy on support and defense of the local queer community.

Review of Right-Wing U.S. Protest Activity in 2022

In 2022, Crowd Counting Consortium recorded more than 5,700 right-wing protests, counter-protests, rallies, demonstrations, and direct actions across nearly 1,650 different U.S. cities and towns, where “right-wing” includes everything from Republican partisan rallies to demonstrations by alt-right and far-right extremists. This post summarizes a number of patterns and trends we gleaned from those events.

Overall, we saw little change in the scale, form, and themes of right-wing protest activity from 2021 to 2022, but that wide-angle view conceals significant increases in the past year in right-wing extremist activity centered on white supremacy and antipathy toward the queer community. Counts of protest events by issues raised also reveal the Christian nationalist character of right-wing activism in the U.S., the intensity of mobilization against public COVID mitigation measures, and the declining relevance of Donald Trump.

CCC makes and freely shares the data on which this analysis is based in hopes of supporting scholarship, journalism, and activism on these issues. For details on definitions and methods underlying these data, please see our coding guidelines. To access the data and documentation, please visit our GitHub repository. If you are a scholar, researcher, journalist, or activist who is interested in working with the data set and have questions about how to use it, please contact Jay Ulfelder at julfelder@hks.harvard.edu. This post is based on data recorded as of December 30, 2022, so future summaries for the same period may show slightly different values as we record new events or revise previous entries.

Counts

As noted at the start of this post, CCC logged more than 5,700 right-wing events in 2022. That’s a 23-percent increase over the roughly 4,700 we recorded in 2021.

  • While the number of events captured in our data set grew, we saw no clear shift in the scale of participation in those events. Information about crowd size was only available for about 1,500 of the 5,700 events we recorded in 2022, or 27 percent.
  • Across all events with reported crowd size or photo or video evidence of it, we saw a total of nearly 300,000 participants, give or take several tens of thousands. That’s down from nearly 400,000 in 2021, but we had information about crowd size for a larger number of events that year (about 2,200 of 4,700, or 47 percent).
  • The mean crowd size at events with data on that feature was 186, up a bit from 171 in 2021. The median crowd size was 24—the number we assign when reports say “dozens” and we lack additional information—which was down from 40 in 2021.

Many hundreds of the events for which we lack information about crowd size are flag waves, vigils, and other demonstrations that repeat weekly for long spells, or daily for some fixed period of time. Organizers typically post flyers for these events on their social media feeds or list them in their online calendars, but they generally aren’t covered by the press, and we rarely find after-the-fact images or videos of them in other sources that would allow us to estimate crowd size.

Arrests, injuries, and property damage were rare at right-wing protest events in 2022. We only saw arrests of right-wing participants at 52 events (1.0 percent); reported injuries of right-wing participants at 18 events (0.3 percent); and property damage by right-wing participants at 13 (0.2 percent). Those figures were all down from 2021, when we recorded arrests at 67 events (1.4 percent), injuries at 29 (0.6 percent), and property damage at 17 (0.4 percent). We did not observe any deaths of right-wing participants at right-wing protests in 2022, down from one rather prominent event in 2021.

Consistent with those trends, we also saw a decline in armed right-wing protests in 2022, where “armed” means that at least one participant visibly carried a firearm. Our count of those events fell from 103 (2.2 percent) in 2021 to 70 (1.2 percent) in 2022.

Themes

For decades, faith-based anti-abortion activism has served as the rhythm section of right-wing political mobilization in the United States, and that pattern held in 2022. As shown in the chart below, religion and reproductive rights were the two most common themes last year, each appearing in protester claims at more than 2,000 of the roughly 5,700 events we recorded, or over one-third. Patriotism was the third-most common theme, rounding out the trifecta that makes plain the Christian-nationalist character of much contemporary right-wing activism in the United States.

The next several bars in the chart might seem like a hodge-podge of disparate themes—civil rights, COVID, health care, and education—but in 2022 they represented a coherent cluster linked by opposition to public-health measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With slogans like “My body, my choice” and “Let them breathe” and often waving Gadsden flags, protesters railed against the “tyranny” of mask and vaccination mandates in schools and workplaces, including but not limited to hospitals, government contractors, and the military. In a small share of these events, protesters decried vaccines altogether or parroted theories about global conspiracies (Plandemic, The Great Reset) involving various nefarious elites or secret cabals (Bill Gates, George Soros, Anthony Fauci, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden).

Two of the next three most-common themes were the presidency and democracy, and a substantial share of those events are ones where speakers or protesters amplified Donald Trump’s baseless and destructive claims of fraud in the last presidential election. Some 20 of those events in 2022 featured Donald Trump himself, with an average audience of about 5,000. That count of Trump rallies was much higher than the eight we saw in 2021—including the so-called March to Save America near the U.S. Capitol on January 6th—but the average attendance was down sharply from more than 13,000 that year.

Racism also appears in the top 10, but not in a good way. Virtually all of the right-wing events associated with that theme in 2022 involved either opposition to anti-racism protests from the left (e.g., Black Lives Matter) or open assertions of white supremacy by alt-right and neo-Nazi groups like Patriot Front, White Lives Matter, and NSC-131.

LGBTQ+ rights landed just outside the top for similar reasons. As discussed in a previous blog post and shown again in the chart below, right-wing protests targeting pride events, support for LGBTQ+ students in schools, drag shows, and other queer spaces surged in 2022, especially in the second half of the year. In December 2022 alone, we recorded more than 40 anti-LGBTQ+ protests, four-fifths of them specifically targeting drag shows or drag story hours. Although these events still represented a relatively small share of right-wing protest activity overall, they were just one part of a much broader wave of reactionary vitriol directed at the queer community that has also included scores of proposed and passed state laws; dehumanizing and dangerous speech from right-wing infotainment celebrities and other conservative elites; targeted hate from prominent social media accounts; open or anonymous threats to terrorize public servants, performers, and small-business owners; book-banning campaigns; vandalism; arson; and murder.

Rhetoric

We can also use a word cloud of terms from protesters’ claims to examine the content of right-wing protest activity in 2022. This past spring, CCC began using the ‘claims’ field in our data set to capture verbatim as many non-duplicate slogans and chants we see in photos and video and from, and prose about, each event as we can, along with coders’ summaries of protesters’ aims. The result is a rapidly-growing corpus of protest rhetoric that helps us represent what protests were about in participants’ own words.

The word cloud below summarizes data on nearly 2,400 words that appeared at least 10 times on right-wing protesters’ banners and placards or in their chants that we captured in 2022. There’s a lot to explore in that chart, but here are a few highlights.

  • Consistent with the bar chart we already saw of events by theme, several of the top terms here—”life”, “abortion”, “baby”—demonstrate the centrality of anti-abortion activism in right-wing protest activity. “God”, “Jesus” and “pray” also land toward the top of the distribution, underscoring the specifically religious character of much of the right’s anti-abortion activism.
  • The appearance of “white” in the top five terms demonstrates the prominence of white-nationalist and white-supremacist groups in right-wing protest activity in 2022. The single most common phrase here was “White lives matter”, but others such as “Make white babies”, “Protect white children”, and “Stop white genocide” also boosted the prevalence of this term.
  • A host of relatively prominent terms reflect the tenor of protests against public-health measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: “mandate”, “freedom”, “mask” and “unmask”, “COVID”, “vax” and “vaccine”, “breathe”, “tyranny”, and “comply”, to name a few.
  • “Trump” was more common than “Biden” in 2022, but “Brandon” was more common than both, reflecting both the decline in Trump’s prominence as a focal point of right-wing activism and the prominence of the “Let’s go, Brandon” slogan as an expression of conservative and reactionary disgust with Democrats. (See next chart for more on that.)
  • The appearance of homophobic and transphobic slurs and other malicious terms from protests targeting pride festivals, drag shows, and other queer spaces in the middle and lower tiers of words in the cloud illustrates the foregrounding of anti-LGBTQ+ claims in right-wing activism last year. Examples of this dangerous speech include: “groomer”, “grooming”, “sexualizing” (from phrases like “Stop sexualizing kids”), “pedo”, “pedophile”, and “pervert”.

We can also get a sense of the tone of right-wing protest activity in 2022 by counting the full verbatim phrases we captured. First, though, remember that we don’t record duplicate claims from single events—for example, even if we see many people at an event holding “I am the pro-life generation” signs, we only record that phrase once—and we can only record claims we see or hear in images and reporting from an event. So, these tallies should be understood as counts of the number of events at which each phrase was evident to us, rather than a fuller census of the occurrence of those phrases. What’s more, we only started recording verbatim claims in a consistent fashion in spring 2022, so phrases that appeared in the first few months of the year, when abortion and COVID mandates were central themes (see the next section), are likely to be underrepresented.

With those caveats in mind, here’s a chart of the 20 phrases we saw most often.

  • While all of the year’s major themes—abortion, COVID mandates, and structural racism—still bubble to the top, antipathy toward President Biden (“let’s go brandon”, “fuck joe biden”) also becomes clearer in this view as a common thread linking protests on a variety of themes.
  • The prevalence of Thin Blue Line flags reminds us of the right’s veneration of police, and the way that the George Floyd uprising of 2020 spurred a reactionary backlash that continues to shape right-wing activism more than two years later.
  • The appearance of “my body my choice” in the top 10 illustrates how right-wing protesters often co-opt language from liberal and left-wing human rights movements, perhaps to try to legitimize their claims to a broader audience. In this case, right-wing protesters have repurposed what’s probably the central phrase of activism around abortion access in recent decades for their own protests against COVID masking and vaccination mandates.
  • Finally, the appearance of the QAnon-linked hashtag #WeWillAllBeThere in the top 20 reminds us of that movement’s persistence as a force in right-wing mobilization beyond the Trump presidency (and beyond the U.S.).

Dynamics

In the aggregate, right-wing protest activity in 2022 presented a few temporal patterns. The chart below shows monthly counts of protest events nationwide. The two apparent spikes, in March and October, both result from periods of coordinated activity against abortion: the semi-annual 40 Days for Life vigils outside clinics across the country in the spring and fall, and, in October, the annual National Life Chain action, which, according to organizers, involved more than 600 events in the U.S. alone. The spring was also a time of relatively heavy activity against COVID mandates (including various efforts inspired by Canada’s so-called Freedom Convoy), and counts crept up again in the fall as midterm elections approached.

When we group events by political themes and extend our gaze back through 2020, we also see how right-wing activism in the U.S. over the past few years has tended to bandwagon around specific issues, then collectively swarm toward a new theme as mobilization around the old one peters out, or a new trigger occurs.

To see what I mean, take a look at the chart below.

  • In early 2020, protests against COVID mandates surged alongside the pandemic.
  • In late May 2020, right-wing activism abruptly shifted to issues of racism or policing in response to the George Floyd uprising and largely stayed there until Trump lost the presidential election, at which point the Stop the Steal movement became the right’s focal point for a few months.
  • After the failure of the January 6 insurrection, conservatives and reactionaries laid low for a few months before swarming back to COVID-related protests as schools reopened and vaccination mandates came down.
  • When that wave finally receded in early 2022, activists apparently followed the lead set by conservative infotainment leaders and state lawmakers in 2021 and shifted their energy to protests against various (often imagined or nefariously misrepresented) aspects of queer identity and sexuality.

Right-Wing Extremism

CCC also records the names of all organizations that reportedly participate in each protest event, and we can use that information to explore the ebb and flow of activism by specific groups over time. The chart at the bottom of this section shows annual counts of U.S. protest events involving one or more a handful of selected far-right groups over the past three years.

  • Of the selected groups, the Proud Boys—whose former national chairman, Enrique Tarrio, is on trial in early 2023 for charges related to his involvement in the J6 insurrection—remained the most active in 2022, with more than 150 appearances, but that count was down significantly from the 210 we saw in 2021.
  • Various state chapters of the white-supremacist group White Lives Matter were involved in nearly 110 events in 2022, up from just 25 in 2021. Almost all of these appearances were concentrated on the group’s monthly “days of action,” which typically involve demonstrations or banner drops at locations not announced in advance.
  • In New England, white-nationalist NSC-131 went from six events in 2021 to nearly 30 in 2022, including one outside a hospital in Boston. By contrast, the better-known Patriot Front held steady at just 15 appearances in 2022, many of them brief but flashy marches or demonstrations. One, a protest against a pride festival in Boise in June, ended in a mass arrest.
  • The surge in anti-trans and anti-queer rhetoric and activism from the right in 2021 and 2022 has also birthed a number of new organizations focused specifically on that theme. Two exemplars of that trend were the maliciously-named Gays Against Groomers, who organized or appeared at 24 events and blamed queer people for the mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs; and Protect Texas Kids, who appeared at 16 events, all in Texas and often alongside Proud Boys, armed militia members, and sometimes neo-Nazis. As we discussed in our September blog post on this topic and a recent Daily Kos piece described as well, these protests were regularly met with large, sometimes armed, often joyful, and often successful community defenses.

Protester/Counter-Protester Interactions

Last but not least, in cases where counter-protests occur, CCC records information about those actions as well. In the data set, a unique ID ('macroevent') links each counter-protest to its target(s), and that allows us to generate statistics summarizing the forms and consequences of those interactions.

CCC defines a counter-protest as an action that is organized, or occurs, in direct response to another action and usually (but not always) engages directly with that original action. See our coding guidelines for more details.

Of the more than 5,700 right-wing events we recorded in 2022, nearly 447 (8 percent) were counter-protests, and another 376 (7 percent) were counter-protested. In total, 822 of the right-wing events we recorded in 2022 were part of a set of protest/counter-protest interactions. In fractional terms, that’s about 14 percent, which is essentially unchanged from the 13 percent we saw in 2021.

Of the 845 protester/counter-protester interactions we recorded in 2022, at least one protester on at least one side visibly carried a firearm at 56 of them, or about 7 percent of the time—the same rate as 2021 (45 of 691, also 7 percent). Protesters were visibly armed on both sides in 12 of those 55 armed interactions in 2022, double the count of mutually armed interactions we saw in 2021 (6).

Injuries occurred on one of both sides of 49 of 845 protester/counter-protester interactions in 2022, or less than 6 percent of the time. That was down slightly from 48 of 691 (7 percent) interactions in 2021. In 2022, only 5 of those 49 cases with casualties involved injuries on both sides, compared with 18 of 48 in 2021.

In 2022, the incidence of injuries at armed protester/counter-protester interactions was about twice as high as it was at unarmed ones: 7 of 49, or 13 percent vs. 42 of 789, or 5 percent. What we can’t say from those summary statistics is which way the causal chain runs: does the presence of firearms increase the risk of violent confrontations between protesters and counter-protesters, or are protesters more likely to bring firearms to actions that present a higher risk of violence with or without the guns? Our data offer some ways to explore that question, but doing it properly would require a more complex analysis than we can undertake for this annual review, so we’ll aim to take it up in a future post or paper. 

Finally, we can also report that assaults, fights, and other forms of physical scuffling which may or may not have caused injuries occurred at 106 of the 845 protester/counter-protester interactions we logged in 2022, or nearly 13 percent of the time. By comparison, we saw physical altercations at 99 of 689 protester/counter-protester interactions in 2021, or more than 14 percent of the time. In February, one person—60-year-old June Knightly—was killed and five others wounded when a right-wing counter-protester grabbed a gun from his home and shot into a group of volunteer traffic marshalls during a march for justice for Amir Locke in Portland, Oregon.

2020 Anti-Racism Protests and Their Aftermath in Connecticut

This is a guest post by Mason Holland, an undergraduate student at the University of Connecticut majoring in Political Science. He also serves as President of the Student Body.

In 2020, the United States bore witness to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests that arose in the wake of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and, most prominently, George Floyd. BLM protests have been cited as among the largest organized demonstrations in recent US history as Americans and world citizens alike protested police brutality, anti-racism, and called for substantive institutional and legal shifts pertaining to policing. What was the impact in the state of Connecticut?

From May 31 to December 31, 2020, 105 of Connecticut’s 169 towns held at least one protest, with some towns hosting multiple events. In total, there were 316 protests listed in the data of the Crowd Counting Consortium (CCC), with many events being concentrated in a few, specific towns. The towns that saw the most anti-racist protests were Southbury with 33, Hartford with 29, New Haven with 27, Bridgeport with 16 and Stamford with 14, all together accounting for about 37% of all Connecticut anti-racism protests listed in CCC data for that time period. 

On that list, Southbury is a notable anomaly, with the town of just under 20,000 accounting for the highest concentration of demonstrations. The anomaly can be attributed to the consistency of social justice group, Justice for Southbury, in holding anti-racist demonstrations on a weekly basis from late May to December of 2020. It is also important that the media reported on the weekly protests so that CCC could gather the information; the press may lose interest in weekly events, especially outside of major metropolitan areas.

While all the aforementioned demonstrations can be broadly categorized as anti-racism protests they generally differed in terms of the resulting impact of individual demonstrations. The evidence of impact is mixed, with some of it demonstrating a correlation between a protest and outcome and other stronger evidence substantiating a causal tie.

In New Haven and New London, demonstrators called for the removal of each town’s Christopher Columbus statue. In both cases, protest organizers argued that Christopher Colombus represented a deeply racist and colonial history of America and that honoring him with a statue was deeply offensive to residents of color. New London saw a series of demonstrations over late May and early June 2020 calling for a series of changes, including the removal of the Columbus statue. After multiple demonstrations and one in which a group of youth activists vandalized the statue, the Town Council voted to remove the statue on July 16, 2020. Statue removal occurred similarly in New Haven as demonstrations and instances of vandalism led to the New Haven City commission voting to remove the statue on June 24, 2020. In both cases, it is evident that the advent of anti-racism protests in 2020 were crucial and consequential in both statues being removed. 

In two other examples, the evidence is suggestive that protests led to policy change: the passage of the 2020 Police Accountability Bill and the simultaneous efforts to implement police reform in Connecticut. We see a correlation between the protests and the policy changes that followed. Despite being initially spurred by the killing of George Floyd, the Police Accountability Bill began to receive support from demonstrators in Connecticut in various ways. A Fairfield protest in June 2020 specifically called for House Bill 6004 to be passed through the Connecticut legislature. Protests in other towns, such as New Britain called for measures that ended up in the bill, such as the expansion of body camera use. These two demonstrations demonstrate preliminary evidence of a link between Anti-Racism demonstrations and the passage of the 2020 Police Accountability Bill. But we do not have enough evidence to state with certainty that they are causally linked.

In addition to protests that actively called for legislative action on police accountability, Hartford began to implement police reform in the wake of demonstrations. In June 2020, the city voted to “reduce and reorganize” the policing budget after days of demonstrations calling for reduced police allocation in favor of funding social services. While there is evidence to suggest a correlation between Connecticut demonstrations and police reform, there is not yet enough to suggest a causal link. 

A key recognition we made is that in a few of these towns, Bridgeport, New London, Hartford and New Haven in specific, there were several demonstrations that occurred pre-2020 that laid the groundwork for policy changes and implementation. For example, all of these towns saw demonstrations, relating to the death of Jayson Negron, police brutality, and police reform stretching back months and years prior to May of 2020. This suggests that the history of protests allowed time for these demands to spread and develop within individual communities. Previous protests raised people’s consciousness about the issues. 

This research is preliminary in establishing the true range of impacts that anti-racism protests in 2020 have had on Connecticut. It also opens future avenues of research that can be further developed through a closer analysis of those demonstrations through interviews, research into related government documents, and the systematic assessment  of police reform and policy changes that were spurred on and inspired by anti-racism demonstrations.

Escalating Right-Wing Attacks on the LGBTQ+ Community

In 2022, the American right has sharply escalated its attacks on gay and transgender people and the broader queer community. This escalation shows up in the Crowd Counting Consortium’s data as a steep and sustained increase in the rate of right-wing demonstrations pushing anti-LGBTQ+ claims.

These anti-LGBTQ+ actions represent a still-modest but growing fraction of all right-wing protests and demonstrations in the U.S. In CCC’s data, the monthly share of right-wing events with anti-LGBTQ+ claims stayed at or close to zero from the start of collection in 2017 until mid-2022. By September of this year, however, it had increased to about 16 percent.

A substantial share of these recent anti-LGBTQ+ events have explicitly targeted transgender people.

Drag shows and Drag Queen Story Hours have also been a common target of the current hate wave. So far in 2022, CCC has logged more than 40 actions targeting these events, including at least 15 so far in September.

Firearms have also become more common at anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations. Armed protests with these theme are still the exception rather than the rule, but they have clearly been more frequent this year than they were last year. (CCC only started consistently tracking this and other tactical specifics in 2021.)

That escalation in intimidation and terrorism stems, in part, from violent groups like the Proud Boys shifting their attention to anti-LGBTQ+ issues and actions as right-wing media and influencers increasingly harp on these theme, as watchdogs like Media Matters have documented.

If you’re wondering just how ugly it’s getting, look no further than a September 24 protest against a drag bingo event at First Christian Church in Katy, Texas. Promoted on Steve Bannon’s War Room show, that protest drew not just Proud Boys but also Patriot Front and members of the Aryan Freedom Network waving flags with swastikas.

What these charts don’t show (but CCC is also tracking) are the frequent and usually successful counters to these anti-queer protests. You can see one in reporter Candace Bernd’s Twitter thread on the recent protest in Katy, but there’ve been many others, too.

These counters are often joyful in tone and creative in tactics. At recent pride festivals in Provo, Utah, and Boise, Idaho, for example, some counter-protesters wore large angel wings and stood in a line to block peoples’ view of the protesting bigots. In Helena, Montana, counter-protesters danced to music from a speaker and blew an air horn to drown out protesters’ shouts. Outside the Arlington Hills Library in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a counter-protester parked their car near shouting Proud Boys and cranked up the stereo while others formed a wall with blankets and banners.

Counter-protest at Boise Pride on September 11, 2022. Photo credit: Redoubt Antifascists (@RedoubtAFA on Twitter)

In other cases, armed community defense groups are helping hold the line. At the counter-protest outside that recent drag bingo fundraiser in Katy, some participants openly carried firearms. On August 28 in Roanoke, Texas, the Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club provided armed security in the face of an protest at a drag brunch event. Back in June, the same group led an open-carry march through the street in Dallas in response to protests against drag shows at local establishments.

This is part of a broader trend we’re seeing in the CCC data toward more frequent armed protests and counter-protests organized by groups on the left (broadly speaking), including socialists and anarchists. As the chart below shows, these remain rare, but they’ve been more common in the past several months than they were in late 2021 and early 2022.

Technical Note: All of the charts in this post were made with R using the compiled and augmented version of the CCC dataset posted to the Nonviolent Action Lab‘s GitHub repository on September 28, 2022. Right-wing actions are identified by a 2 in the ‘valence’ column, and we look for the “lgbtq rights” tag in the ‘issues’ column to identify actions associated with that theme. To look for armed protests, we apply the following regular expression to the text in the ‘participant_measures’ column:

"(?<!water |squirt |bb |stun )\\b(hand ?)?guns?|rifle|(?:fire|side)arm"

Most of the material in this post was originally shared as a Twitter thread.

Demographic Change and Anti-CRT Protest in U.S. Counties

Last week, NBC News ran a piece linking changes in the racial diversity of student bodies in U.S. schools to recent pushback against school districts’ diversity, equity, and inclusion measures. Per its authors, Tyler Kingkade and Nigel Chiwaya,

Student enrollment data suggests that [conflicts over these diversity and inclusion measures] tend to occur in communities that experienced significant demographic shifts in recent decades.

As someone whose dissertation centered on competition theories or race and ethnic relations, Kingkade and Chiwaya’s hypothesis rings true to me. As a social scientist, though, I found their research design wanting. Instead of looking at changes in racial diversity and the occurrence of recent pushback in all school districts nationwide, or even in a random sample of districts, the authors looked only at “33 cities and counties where school districts have faced rancor over equity initiatives this year in at least three recent school board meetings,” according to NBC News’ tracking of media reports. And they found that, in 22 of those 33 districts, “The exposure of white students to students of color increased more than that national average.”

This kind of design is called selection on the dependent variable. Researchers identify cases that experienced an event or change of interest and then look for commonalities among them to see what might be driving that change.

The problem with this design is that it doesn’t tell you whether those common elements differentiate the cases studied from cases that didn’t experience the event or change of interest, which is what you really want to know when you’re trying to draw inferences about cause and effect. Kingkade and Chiwaya nod in this direction by comparing changes in school diversity in their set of 33 districts to the national average, but that’s not as robust a test as we’d ideally like to see.

Like I said, I’m a social scientist, and I happen to work on a project that collects data on protest activity in the United States, including against critical race theory and other concepts connected to the school equity, diversity, and inclusion measures discussed by Kingkade and Chiwaya. So, I thought I’d take a crack at their idea, but with a statistical model applied ot a larger sample that escapes this problem of selection on the dependent variable, and with some other features that also affect, or at least co-vary, with counties’ propensity to protest.

To be clear, I’m not exactly replicating what Kingkade and Chiwaya did. Their analysis used school districts as its units of observation; their event of interest was people showing up repeatedly at school board meetings in 2021 to complain about diversity, equity, and inclusion measures; and they looked at change in the demographic make-up of student bodies in those districts as a potential driver. By contrast, my analysis uses counties as the unit of observation; my event of interest is the occurrence of at least one protest in 2021 at which participants complained about critical race theory; and I’m looking at demographic changes in the county as a whole as potential drivers, rather than in the student body in particular. Also notable, while some of the protests considered in my analysis occurred at or around school board meetings, not all of them did.

Okay, so what did I find?

First, it’s important to note that only a small fraction of counties have actually seen any protests against critical race theory in 2021. Of the 3,223 counties in the United States, CCC has only recorded anti-CRT events in 72 of them, or about 2.2 percent. Of those 72 counties, 60 had just one anti-CRT protest; eight had two protests; three had three protests; and one had six. By contrast, in the peak part of the George Floyd Uprising in June and July 2020, CCC recorded protests against racism in 1,400 counties (43 percent). So, while protests against CRT have garnered a fair bit of media attention this year, they haven’t exactly mushroomed, at least not so far.

Because these events are so rare, I decided to treat their occurrence as a binary outcome (any vs. none) rather than trying to model counts of events or participants, as I’d prefer to do if there were more variation in those things. So, instead of something like a Poisson or negative binomial model, I’m just running good old logistic regression.

For demographic change, I tried differences in two different measures, both estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 and 2019 five-year American Community Surveys: 1) change in percent white alone (i.e., not white and some other race(s)), and 2) change in percent foreign born. Per competition theory and consistent with Kingkade and Chiwaya, I expected to find that, other things being equal, counties which experienced larger declines in the white share of the population or larger increases in the share of the population born outside the U.S. from 2009 to 2019 would be more likely to have seen protests against CRT in 2021. Because these two measures are interrelated, I fit a separate model for each.

As for what other things we should hold equal, I included several in my model: total population (logged), median household income (logged), whites as a share of the county population in 2009 (to get a “pre-treatment” take on local demographics), and the share of the presidential vote won by GOP candidate John McCain in 2008 (to get a “pre-treatment” take on local partisan loyalties). Because prior analysis leads me to expect a non-linear relationship between GOP vote share and these events, I used a generalized additive model (GAM) with smoothing splines for that one covariate.

The first chart below plots the predicted probability of any anti-CRT events in 2021 across the observed range of changes in percent white, holding all the other socio-demographic covariates constant at their median values and holding the 2008 GOP vote share constant at 50 percent. The second does the same with changes in percent foreign born. In both plots, the vertical dashes along the x-axis show the distributions of those quantities (change in percent white or change in percent foreign born, respectively) in the observed data.

As I read those charts (and the tables summarizing the relevant models, which I won’t dump here), I see some support for the hypothesis that demographic changes are helping to drive recent right-wing mobilization against anti-racist education, which often gets shorthanded by its opponents this year to “critical race theory.” With both measures of demographic change, the effects work in the expected direction, and they are statistically significant (at the 0.05 level for change in percent white and the 0.01 level for change in percent foreign born). They are not substantively large, however. For percent white, the difference in the probability of any anti-CRT events from one end of the fat part of the distribution of observed values to the other (-0.2 to +0.2) is only about 0.005, or about 25 percent. For percent foreign born, it’s more like 0.01, or roughly double. That’s hardly trivial, but remember that most observed values are closer together than that.

So, on the whole, I’d say my analysis supports the view that different experiences with demographic change are contributing to local variation in recent backlash against purportedly leftist anti-racist education efforts in schools. Best I can tell, the effects aren’t large, but they do seem to be there at the margins, at least in the data I can assemble now. Where whites’ share of the population is shrinking faster or the foreign-born population is growing faster, people are more likely to gather in protest against anti-racist activism and ideas that some (many?) whites might construe as insulting or threatening. As others have noted, white grievance has effectively become the organizing principle of the Republican Party, and many whites apparently feel more aggrieved when they find that they’re encountering more and more people in their daily lives who don’t don’t share their racial identity.

Right-Wing Backlash Against COVID-19 Mitigation Measures

Over the past two months, mobilization against public-health measures meant to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. has swelled to levels that exceed the wave of protests against business closures and stay-at-home orders around the start of the pandemic in 2020, Crowd Counting Consortium (CCC) data show. And, so far, the current surge shows no signs of abating.

The figure immediately below charts daily counts of protest events in the CCC dataset that had the COVID-19 pandemic as a major theme and were labeled as right-wing. In the CCC data, events related to COVID are generally labeled “right-wing” when they oppose public-health measures such as mask or vaccination requirements, whether or not the protesters explicitly identify themselves in a partisan fashion. So, for all practical purposes, these are events at which participants were protesting against those kinds of mandates, usually on grounds that those mandates infringe upon their personal liberty, parental prerogatives, or “medical freedom.” (Consistent with CCC’s general practices, this set of events does not include protests voiced during comment sessions at meetings of bodies such as school boards or county councils, unless those protests deliberately and successfully disrupted or derailed the larger meeting.)

As the figure shows, the ongoing wave has already exceeded the one seen in spring 2020 in both intensity and duration, and it may not even have peaked yet. The single day with the most protest actions in the current wave happened just a few days ago, on August 28, with more than 60 events nationwide, many of them backed by the Tea Party Patriots.

The next figure plots daily sums of participants in those protest events, splitting the difference between the high and low crowd estimates recorded by CCC coders for each action. This chart suggests that the recent protests are not drawing larger crowds than the ones in 2020, even as there are more of them. (Note: estimates of crowd size are unavailable for roughly 40 percent of the events in the CCC data set, so these sums almost certainly underestimate the scale of participation in these events. That’s true for 2020 and 2021, however, so it probably doesn’t affect comparisons across the two waves.) 

The scale of the ongoing wave has varied widely across states. As shown in the bar chart below, the state with the most of these protests in the past two months by far is California, where opposition to COVID-19 public-health measures is thematically and organizationally intertwined with the effort to recall Governor Gavin Newsom. Washington ranks second, due mostly to a statewide, single-day mobilization led by the group Unmask Our Kids Washington on Wednesday, August 18. Despite its liberal reputation, New York ranks third, and New Mexico and Florida follow close behind. Only Wyoming and Puerto Rico have yet to see any events in the current wave, or at least any that CCC was able to spot.

In per capita terms, however, California does not look so exceptional. As the next chart shows, relative to their population size, it’s New Mexico, New Hampshire (“Live Free or Die”), and Hawaii that have contributed proportionately the most to the current wave. Washington state still lands in the top five, but Idaho, the Dakotas, Montana, Oregon, Maine, and Alaska now show near the top of the list as well. (James C. Scott’s work on resistance to government from afar among hill peoples in Southeast Asia comes to mind…)

So, why is this happening now? As the person who’s been reading the news stories and social-media posts and watching the TV-news videos to code events during this period, I’d say it’s pretty clear that the current wave has two main catalysts.

  • The approach of the new school year, and the imposition of mask mandates in many districts where students will at least start the year attending school in person; and
  • COVID-19 vaccination requirements announced by many hospitals and other employers in the healthcare industry—and, in places like New York and Oregon, by city and state governments as well.

Mask mandates in schools were more often the focal point through much of July, but the wave really swelled in August as deadlines for vaccinations as a condition of employment at many healthcare facilities began to loom. In California, a group calling itself America’s Healthcare Workers for Medical Freedom has promoted dozens of demonstrations against COVID-19 vaccination requirements for healthcare workers on social media in recent weeks, most of them outside area hospitals. But similar demonstrations have occurred across the country in places like Staten Island, New York; Miami, Florida; and Memphis, Tennessee.

A crucial question we can’t answer clearly with our data is the extent to which the impetus for the current wave is coming from national conservative groups with broader goals, as opposed to local activists motivated specifically by frustrations over these public-health measures. The frequent appearance of groups like the Tea Party, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, and the Proud Boys in the lists of organizations involved with these events suggests that right-wing movements are looking to use frustrations over COVID public-health measures to boost recruitment and mobilize voters for upcoming elections to everything from local school boards to federal office. So, too, does the appearance of GOP office-holders and candidates at some of these events, including one this past Sunday on the steps of the state capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and one earlier in the month in Lansing, Michigan. Long-time observers of the anti-vaccine movement have also described how its leaders are exploiting public frustration over COVID mandates to push the Republican Party toward a broader anti-vaccination agenda. For now, though, we’ll have to leave more confident answers to the “grassroots vs. astroturf” question to the investigative reporters, who, as far as I can tell, are still digging.

Pro-Palestine Movement of 2021

In May 2021, opposition to Israeli occupation and the displacement of Palestinians set off a large wave of pro-Palestinian protest activity in the United States. The initial protests were especially motivated by the Israeli push to remove Palestinian families who live in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and replace them with Israeli Jews, but other factors contributed as well. During this period, the Crowd Counting Consortium has logged more than 460 events in the United States in support of Palestine with more than 130,000 total participants, and, more than a month later, the movement continues to unfold and evolve.

While protests against expulsions from Sheikh Jarrah had already occurred in Israel and Palestine, the first 2021 event captured in CCC’s dataset that specifically mentions “the current violence against Palestinians in Jerusalem” occurred in Boston’s Copley Square on May 1. One week later, Palestinian-led groups organized demonstrations in Brooklyn and Chicago to condemn Israeli actions and support Palestinian resistance in Sheikh Jarrah. 

Over the next several days, various pro-Palestinian organizations organized a series of “emergency” actions across the U.S. to decry the expulsions from Sheikh Jarrah and aggressive Israeli police actions in the al-Aqsa Mosque. As the charts below show, on Saturday, May 15, roughly 60 events nationwide drew tens of thousands of participants, and nearly as many turned out for a smaller number of events the next day. That peak weekend included massive marches in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles on Saturday and in Chicago and Dearborn, Michigan, on Sunday. The Chicago and L.A. marches both reportedly drew 20,000 or more, while high estimates for the D.C. and Dearborn events put turnout around 10,000 each. These are some of the largest political crowds CCC has seen in the United States in 2021 so far.

As of June 10, CCC had recorded events associated with this wave in 250 unique cities and towns. The geographic scope of the groundswell of recent activism in support of Palestine is also evident in the animated map below.

At many of these events, organizers and participants harshly condemned Israeli practices, using words such as ethnic cleansing, atrocities, genocide, and apartheid. Recent reports from Human Rights Watch and from B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, characterizing the Israeli system as apartheid have brought renewed attention to that wording. But it has long been the Palestinian contention that the Israeli system meets the international definition of apartheid. Moreover, organizers from Black Lives Matter–associated groups have used such messaging fairly consistently since at least 2016.

Indeed, at some events, anti-racist and abolitionist organizations and pro-Palestine demonstrators have expressed solidarity with one another, emphasizing related experiences with settler colonialism, white supremacy, and police brutality. The chant “From Ferguson to Palestine,” which existed prior to this protest wave, speaks to the ways in which many contemporary activists draw on Black radical traditions to articulate common cause between Palestinian and Black liberation struggles. Solidarity protests along these lines took place in Dearborn, Greenville, Portland, New York, L.A., and elsewhere. 

Sometimes the protests have explicitly challenged U.S. policy that favors Israel over Palestine. At numerous actions, protestors called for ending U.S. aid for Israel, about $3.8 billion annually. Pro-Palestine protesters have recently demonstrated at the offices of members of the U.S. Congress, at the U.S. State Department, and at the headquarters of corporations like Boeing, Raytheon, and Gulfstream. In the first few weeks of the current wave, several actions were held outside Israeli consular offices in places like Los Angeles and New York. In June, demonstrators in several cities have gathered to prevent Israel-flagged ships from off-loading cargo in U.S. ports.

A wave of mobilization in support of Israel has also occurred during this same period, but it has been much smaller. So far, CCC has recorded 57 explicitly pro-Israel events since May 1, 2021, with 10,000-15,000 total participants across 46 different cities and towns. The first third of those events all occurred on Wednesday, May 12, when the Israeli-American Council collaborated with local groups to organize rallies in 19 cities under the slogan “Stand Up Against Terror, Stand with Israel.” The early phase of these waves also saw a number of direct counter-protests and some physical clashes between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrators. 

As antisemitic attacks in the U.S. accelerated, the Israeli-American Council coordinated a second batch of rallies on Sunday, May 23, that emphasized opposition to antisemitism in addition to support for Israel. The single-largest in-person pro-Israel rally during this period took place in Cedarhurst, New York, on May 27 when an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 people came to a local park “to show support for Israel and Jewish people around the world.” A number of leading American Jewish organizations had declared May 27 a national Day of Action Against Antisemitism, and a virtual rally held that same day drew faith leaders and top lawmakers from across the country.

Among other things, these protests supporting Israel or Palestine serve as a reminder of how sensitive the protest environment is to current events. From January through April 2021, CCC tallied only two protests in the United States in support of Palestine and none in support of Israel.  

In our research thus far, we did not try to disentangle the various aspects of Israel-Palestine to ascertain exactly which sub-claims were the most important. The Sheikh Jarrah displacement, heavy-handed Israeli police actions in Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque, Israel not allowing Palestinians to congregate at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City during Ramadan, the IDF bombing of Gaza, and Israeli Jewish citizens attacking 1) Palestinians in Jerusalem and 2) Palestinian citizens of Israel inside pre-1967 Israel (e.g., in Lod, Haifa, Jaffa) all could affect the organization of, and participation in, pro-Palestine events. Each of these sub-claims reinforces certain aspects of a larger Palestinian narrative about Israeli occupation, settlements, and apartheid; Palestinian dispossession; and the need for Palestinian rights and/or statehood. While the exact sub-claims would vary, the same connection between specific issues and a larger narrative is happening among U.S. groups and protesters supportive of the Israeli government.

Protest Themes in Biden’s First 100 Days

On April 29, 2021—today—President Biden has held office for 100 days. While the president plans to mark the date by headlining a rally in Atlanta, we decided to use the occasion to look back at the major themes in U.S. protest activity in the first few months of the Biden Administration.

So far, the Crowd Counting Consortium has logged just over 5,300 events since Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021. Of those, roughly 60 percent (3,202) have been ostensibly left wing in their political orientation; 31 percent (1,664) nonpartisan or other; and only about 8 percent (441) right wing.

One hallmark of contentious politics under the Biden administration so far is that left– and right-wing activists are mostly talking past each other. When they gather in public spaces to voice political grievances, they are mostly emphasizing different issues and speaking in different terms.

Here, we’ll use two types of charts to show this pattern: tree maps and word clouds.

  • Tree maps use visual area to represent the relative frequency of categorical data. In the compiled version of the CCC dataset, we use natural language processing to attach tags to each event identifying the recurrent political issues raised by its participants. In the tree maps in this blog post, the size of each rectangle represents the relative frequency with which each of the three dozen recurrent issues we track were raised, where frequency is measured by counting the number of times each tag appears in the ‘issues’ field in the data.
  • Word clouds do something similar with words, only here it’s text instead of rectangles that represent each element (word) in the summary data, and the size of the text indicates relative frequency. The larger the text, the more frequent the word. The word clouds below are derived from the text coders use to summarize protesters’ grievances (the ‘claims’ column in the data). All that text gets dumped into one big pool; each unique word in that pool (minus words like “the” and “a”) gets identified and then counted; and then the word cloud visualizes the relative size of those counts.

As the tree map below shows, the dominant themes in left-wing protests over the first 100 days of the Biden presidency have been racism and policing. These two issues have figured in nearly three-quarters of the thousands of events we’ve observed so far. Other leading themes have included migration (e.g., calls to shut down ICE detention facilities, or to offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants); labor (including nationwide support for the unionization drive at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama, which many activists also cast as a push against racism); the economy, and the environment (led by calls for urgent action on climate change and opposition to the Line 3 pipeline project). The coronavirus pandemic (covid) makes the top 10, but not by a lot, and is similar in frequency to concerns about democracy, education, and native peoples’ rights (which, in recent months, often co-occurs with ‘environment’).

The word cloud below visualizes the relative frequency of individual words in coders’ summarizations of protesters’ grievances. Here, we can see more clearly what any regular news reader would already know: when left-wing protesters are raising concerns about racism and policing, they are mostly demanding an end to police violence directed at Black people; calling for police who perpetrate that violence to be held accountable; and, often, calling for defunding or abolishing police departments. The past several weeks also saw a surge in activism rejecting racist violence and hate targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and a spate of events in response to the killing of Daunte Wright by a police officer in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.

The dominant themes of right-wing protest in Biden’s first 100 days look very different. As the tree map below shows, racism has been only a tertiary issue, and policing is just one of a host of quaternary concerns. (And, it should be noted, these counts include events endorsing racism and some events expressing support for law enforcement.) On the right, the coronavirus pandemic (covid) has been the leading concern, followed by reproductive rights (mostly annual anti-abortion events around the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision), executive (a tag that gets attached to events expressing support for Donald Trump or opposition to President Biden), and civil rights (including concerns about censorship and freedom of speech).

The word cloud below helps clarify what, exactly, those right-wing COVID-related protests have emphasized: opposition to state– or county-mandated public-health measures meant to control the virus’ spread, including mask mandates and vaccinations. As captured in the word cloud, right-wing protesters often describe these mandates as a form of tyranny and cast themselves as agents of freedom and patriotism in their opposition to them. Donald Trump has been invoked at some of these events (76 of 441), but—somewhat surprising to me, anyway—he has not been a focal point of most right-wing rallies and demonstrations in Biden’s first 100 days. (That may change soon, however.)

Finally, we can also take an early look at patterns in the more than 1,600 events—some 31 percent of the total so far—that CCC identifies as neither left-wing nor right-wing. This set includes actions over most local and workplace issues, along with actions about wider concerns that aren’t particularly partisan (say, local criminal violence, or sexual assault). Here, the dominant theme is clearly the covid pandemic and its effects on schools (education), hospitals and nursing homes (healthcare), and access to housing. This is also where most strikes and other local worker actions show up (labor), along with recent flurries of events opposing the military coup in Myanmar or the war and purported genocide in Ethiopia’s Tigray region (foreign affairs).

A word cloud of claim summaries at local and nonpartisan events mostly reinforces what the tree map showed: in the first 100 days of the Biden Administration, the coronavirus pandemic has spurred a lot of protests over school closures and worker safety in hospitals and other places of business.

We’ll try to revisit this analysis later in the Biden presidency to see how these patterns change.  Meanwhile, If you’re interested in replicating or tweaking this analysis, you can find the R script used to generate these figures and stats on the Nonviolent Action Lab’s GitHub repository. The compiled CCC dataset is posted there as well, but please note that it changes with each weekly update, so you can expect to get slightly different results if you rerun this analysis after early May 2021.

FIPS Codes!

To make Crowd Counting Consortium (CCC) data easier to integrate with other datasets commonly used by scholars and journalists studying social and political behavior in the United States, we have added FIPS codes to the version shared on the Nonviolent Action Lab‘s GitHub repository (here).

Federal Information Processing Series (FIPS) codes are numbers that identify geographic areas. They include two-digit codes for states; three-digit codes for counties and county-like entities (e.g., Louisiana parishes, Alaskan boroughs, and independent cities in various states); six-digit codes for census tracts; and four-digit codes for blocks within tracts. As the U.S. Census Bureau explains, these numbers can be combined to generate unique IDs for geographic entities.

FIPS codes for smaller geographic entities are usually unique within larger geographic entities. For example, FIPS state codes are unique within nation and FIPS county codes are unique within state. Since counties nest within states, a full county FIPS code identifies both the state and the nesting county. For example, there are 49 counties in the 50 states ending in the digits “001”. To make these county FIPS codes unique, the state FIPS codes are added to the front of each county (01001, 02001, 04001, etc), where the first two digits refer to the state the county is in and the last three digits refer specifically to the county.

The compiled version of the CCC data now includes a column called fips_code that shows the unique five-digit (state + county) code for the county or county-like entity in which each event occurred (assuming that coders were able to associate the event with a specific locality). These codes make it much faster and cleaner to merge the CCC data or summaries of them with U.S. Census Bureau files and other U.S.-specific resources that already include FIPS codes for this purpose. Faster and cleaner merging, in turn, should make it easier for us and others to study the relationship between protest dynamics, social-structural conditions, and other forms of political behavior (e.g., voting).

If you’d like to see code we’re using to generate these IDs—mostly leaning on the lookup_code() function from the R package tigris, with custom handling of various exceptions—you can find it on the NAL repo, too (here). If you hit any snags or find any errors in this field in the dataset, please open an issue on GitHub to let us know. (And note the advice in the data dictionary on how to handle the likely omission of leading 0s when the data are ingested.)

Happy number-crunching!