Legal expert: Here's how Trump 'hijacked' people into the Capitol insurrection
Capitol rioters (Photo by Joseph Prezioso for AFP)

James Sasso, a lawyer who helped investigate the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, explained how so many people were deceived and radicalized into attacking one of the greatest symbols of American democracy, in an interview published at VICE on Sunday.

"You’re concerned about the regular, everyday people who distrusted government so much they followed Trump and attacked," said reporter Todd Zwillich. "We have a long history of distrust in government in this county. But it doesn’t always result in a mob trying to stop the peaceful transfer of power, or the bombing of a federal building. So what’s different here?"

"You’re right, distrusting government isn’t new at all. But what’s changed that can make it worse?" said Sasso. "Clearly social media, the way algorithms amplify information, has warped and heightened distrust. If you lean conspiratorial, this model will keep pushing you further down a rabbit hole and eventually, you believe in QAnon. On top of that, income inequality is as bad or worse than in the Gilded Age. And there’s a lot of research that shows income inequality drives polarization and it drives people who feel left out to distrust what government is doing. Racial animus is layered on top of that, clearly. So there’s all these things happening at once to make people open to being hijacked by opportunistic politicians like Donald Trump."

Sasso made clear he wasn't excusing the rioters, or blaming the whole thing on the "economic anxiety" trope. "I don’t think we can afford to ignore people who do feel left out in that way," he said. "It’s just that the explanation for why they’re left out isn’t always as simple as 'blue collar worker in Ohio lost a job to globalization.' It’s also very likely a rich person in Georgia, who harbors racial animus for a long time and found an outlet.

Almost 1,000 people have been charged, convicted, or taken plea deals in connection with the Capitol attack as of this writing — with the offenses ranging from misdemeanor unlawful picketing and trespassing, to assaulting law enforcement officers, to seditious conspiracy charges for the higher-ups in the far-right Proud Boys and Oath Keepers groups.

Trump was impeached for a second time based on inciting the insurrection, on his way out of office. He is now facing a special counsel investigation into his role in the plot to overturn the 2020 election.