Was January 6 riot a result of persuasive or propagandist initiative?

Both propaganda and persuasion focus upon the audience.

Lillian L. Beeson (2015) defines persuasion as “a form of communication that employs both verbal and nonverbal symbols that intend to influence receivers to voluntary change attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors to agree with those supported by the advocate of the message.” Therefore, persuasion would be an ethical initiative whose goal would profit to both speaker and receiver.

All that differentiate persuasion from propaganda, according to Jowett and O’donnell (2006), is a “deliberate, systemic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist” (Beeson, 19). Few Republican lawmakers and voters or simply president Donald Trump’s followers have been escaped of such a trap.

The word “voluntary” Beeson uses means that the receiver of a persuasive communication conserves their ability to question the content and purpose of the message and even choose to ignore it or obtain its amendment. She insists upon the deceptive, unethical and utopic character of propaganda, which leads people to embrace a cause that satisfies only the interest of a leader, an organization or a government.

However, persuasion can be a stage toward propaganda like the one the former president Donald Trump and allies have orchestrated in the wake of the 2020 American presidential election and driven to the Capitol Riot on February 6, 2021.

There is no doubt regarding President Donald Trump’s capacity of persuasion as he has demonstrated it since his candidacy in 2016. His January 6 speech near the White House in Washington was an example of his ability of indoctrination. His words, including “we will stop the steal” and gestures, through capturing and belonging strategy, would be incentive enough to galvanize the crowd.

The communication, taken in Devito’s sense, was complete in that all the contextual, social and psychological conditions were satisfied for the effectiveness of the message. The speech according to which the election had been stealing were already conquered Trump’s followers through social media with right-wing opinion leaders on the stick. Such a speech had been accompanied with commitment and actions to get it backed.  

President Trump would persuade people to act – a majority in the congress admits it through their vote although Republican lawmakers votes prevented him from been convicted – and the action was immediate and visible. However, his message about election being stolen has not achieved unanimity around him, in the White House and among his fellow Republicans, with, moreover, numerous unsuccessful lawsuits filed in order to obtain the victory.  In this case, he would lead his followers to believe and act under the effect of an untruth; he would deceive them to his own interest that is keep rule the country for four more years.  This would be propaganda.

Propaganda takes control of people’s mind; it changes their beliefs and knowledge of their environment related to the propagandist’s interest. To Beeson, propaganda endocrines people unlike in persuasion where a partnership is possible. “Propaganda has as its goals those similar to persuasion,” she acknowledges, “except that the objectives have been determined, a priori, or from the beginning (19).”

“The January 6th was a moment of persuasive messaging in which the ‘action was immediate and visible,’” a CUNY professor commented. “The ‘Stop the Steal’ rhetoric became a central message with many pleas and promises to reverse the Election results at any cost. The tragic results and loss of human lives encapsulated the dangers of persuasion and propaganda gone wrong in the service of one man’s ego over human beings and unity”. 

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