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'Washington and Seattle are not what you think.' How the Capitol insurrection changed politics across the US

caption: Protesters gather outside of the Washington State Capitol on Monday, January 11, 2021, ahead of the beginning of the legislative session in Olympia. The capitol was fenced off with members of the National Guard present following the January 6 insurrection in DC. Some protesters in Olympia came with weapons.
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Protesters gather outside of the Washington State Capitol on Monday, January 11, 2021, ahead of the beginning of the legislative session in Olympia. The capitol was fenced off with members of the National Guard present following the January 6 insurrection in DC. Some protesters in Olympia came with weapons.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

The fallout of insurrection continues to unfold across the United States, and locally in Washington state, one year after the January 6 riot in DC.

“People think those sorts of sentiments don’t reverberate here. That is not true,” said Christopher Parker, a political science professor at the University of Washington.

“There is a long history of right wing activity in this state," he said. "Most people, when they think of the state of Washington, they think of King County, and more specifically Seattle. Washington and Seattle are not what you think they are. What we are seeing right now, what happened with the insurrection, and the perpetuation of the big lie, that is not confined to Washington DC, to Georgia, to Florida. We have those pockets right here in Washington state, and dare I say Seattle.”

The effects of the current political climate are not limited to radical factions.

RELATED: Following QAnon, conspirational thinking creeps into Olympic Peninsula politics

Parker points out hyper-partisanship has made a more moderate platform untenable for figures like Jeff Flake, a former U.S. Senator who chose not to seek re-election during the Trump administration and who was eventually censured by his own party in Arizona.

On the left, issues like the "defund" movement to cut police budgets have sparked divisions among progressives. Political pundits in Seattle have speculated about the effect that issue had on recent city elections.

Voters elected the first Republican-affiliated city official in three decades; Ann Davison won the race for city attorney over Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, Davison's philosophical opposite.

Seattle voters also elected Bruce Harrell, who was widely considered more moderate than his opponent, former City Council President Lorena González.

Harrell takes issue with the "moderate" label.

“My collaborative style, perhaps, could be confused with moderation because I try to spend as much time listening as I do talking,” Harrell told KUOW. “And the very loud and vocal far left, I think, often replicate what we see on the far right.”

Former Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan would agree.

Demonstrators in Seattle formed the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest in the summer of 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. Durkan has faced criticism from constituents who have not been satisfied with her response to issues like police accountability.

But that summer was different. She suddenly found herself targeted with hate speech and death threats. Durkan told KUOW that the intense political divide that summer was one of the reasons she chose not to seek a second term. Repeated threats against Durkan and her family among other issues prompted heightened security at her home.

"I think we're at a really critical crossroads, both in our community but across our country, in defining what public service is," she said in her final days as mayor. "I never imagine any elected official in the city of Seattle, let alone it's mayor, that they would need 24/7 police outside their house."

In short, some candidates have simply chosen not to participate in a system that has turned volatile.

Hyper-partisan politics

Professor Parker says it's a mistake to assume that volatility does not permeate what may be considered more "liberal" or "progressive" pockets of the country. Parker has studied MAGA strongholds across the U.S., to locate where such political pockets are most severe, and found one such area right outside Seattle. Also in Chicago, San Diego and LA.

“These are areas in which the white population is on the decline and people of color are moving in," Parker said. "So it fits with this narrative that these white folks feel they are losing ‘their country.’ They are scared, they are angry, they are anxious. And that is one of the most powerful sources of motivation in politics and turning people out to vote.”

Among the crowd in DC on January 6 were people from Washington state, including a Seattle man, a Puyallup man, an Auburn-area Proud Boy, and multiple Seattle police officers (two of which were fired).

RELATED: Extremist groups 'popping up left and right' in NW

And long before the insurrection in DC, Washington state Representative Matt Shea engaged in activities that led to investigations and allegations of domestic terrorism. The investigation reported stated that Shea had a record of intimidation tactics against political opponents, and condoned such tactics against activists, government officials, and Muslims. Read more about that investigation here.

More recently, three Republican state lawmakers used tax dollars to attend a conference promoting "the big lie" of the 2020 election.

The Seattle Times obtained public records detailing more than $4,000 in reimbursements paid to Representatives Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls, Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, and Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, all who have falsely claimed the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

RELATED: They believe in Trump's 'Big Lie.' Here's why it's been so hard to dispel

While a mob was storming the U.S. capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington state, pro-Trump protesters — including some who were armed — broke through a gate at the Washington state governor’s residence. The crowd swarmed the front lawn and made its way to the entrance of the red brick mansion where our state governors stay while on the job.

Gov. Jay Inslee and his wife were home at the time and had to be taken to a safe location, according to the governor’s office.

These attacks are among the most extreme examples of how hyper-partisan politics are affecting American democratic institutions.

That adds up to a need for voters to become more engaged in civil action, Parker argues. Even if they don’t like certain candidates, he encourages voters to get active.

“Our democracy is at stake,” he said.

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