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SALT LAKE CITY — A violent mob attacked the U.S. Capitol a year ago last month, and nearly a quarter of Utahns say there are times when violence against the government is justified.
And 10% of Utah voters say they support the actions of those who broke into the Capitol as Congress attempted to certify the 2020 presidential election on Jan. 6, 2021.
But the overwhelming majority of Utahns — 82% — say they do not support the actions of those who stormed the Capitol and 62% say violence against the government is never justified.
The poll also found Utahns are divided over how much responsibility former President Donald Trump bears for the Capitol riot that resulted in five deaths and disrupted the peaceful transfer of power.
Evidence from the survey shows that overwhelming numbers of Utahns reject the idea that Jan. 6 was an acceptable form of political protest, said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.
"When more than 8 in 10 voters agree about an issue, it is clear that this view is widespread and includes Utahns across the political spectrum. This sweeping opposition is all the more notable because a much larger number of Utahns can imagine some situations in which violence against the government might be justified," he said in an email.
"In other words, even many Utahns who are open to the possibility of violent opposition to the government reject what happened on Jan. 6. At the same time, the fact that nearly one-quarter of Utahns can imagine supporting a violent attack on the government may itself be some cause for concern in a nation that is committed to the rule of law and to the peaceful transfer of power."
Former Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz said violence against the government is never justified.
"You take action at the ballot box. You can protest and you can yell and you can scream but violence steps over the line and should never be acceptable in a civilized society. I'd like to think in Utah we've got this figured out a bit better than other parts of the country," he said.
Chaffetz, now a Fox News contributor, said of the survey results that it sounds like the general public has it just about right.
"I'm actually fairly encouraged that people sort it out through the course of time but violence is not the solution," he said. "Peaceful assembly is what's guaranteed in the Constitution. If people violated the law, they should be prosecuted."
The Deseret News/Hinckley poll results on whether violence against the government is ever justified were similar to those of a recent national survey.
"Most Utahns say it's never justified and it's completely in line with national polling," said Jason Perry, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. "Of course you would expect that most people would say no, it's never justified."
In a poll of 22,961 people across the country conducted by the COVID States Project, nearly 1 in 4 respondents said use of violence against the government was "definitely" or "probably" justifiable. It also found 1 in 10 Americans believe use of violence against the government is justified "right now."
"You know, we begin with the American Revolution against an illegitimate government until we are, in a sense, taught from grade school that it is, at some points in history, justifiable to engage in violent protest," David Lazer, the project's co-director told NPR.
Perry said he suspects the 23% of Utahns who said there are times when violence is justified were thinking of a scenario in their minds as they answered the question. And of the 10% of respondents who support the actions of those who broke into the Capitol, he said, "It does show that this issue remains a source of contention in this state and some are still making up their minds about it."
But, Perry said, the number of Utahns who oppose the Capitol violence and violence against the government is huge across the political spectrum.
In the Deseret News/Hinckley Institute survey, Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters weren't far apart regarding violence against the government, with about one-fifth in each group saying there are times when it is justified. The poll found 72% of Democrats say it is never justified, along with 60% of Republicans and 61% of independents.
Regarding the Capitol rioters, 77% of Republicans, 89% of Democrats and 88% of independents oppose their actions, according to the poll.
Men, Utahns ages 25-40, and those who described themselves as "very conservative" are more likely than women, older residents, moderates and liberals to say violence against the government is justified.
Dan Jones & Associates conducted the poll of 815 registered Utah voters Jan. 20-28. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.43 percentage points.
Eight Utahns are among the nearly 700 people charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6 riot, including one who told authorities he was there as a journalist but egged on the crowd, and another who police say sent texts from inside the building saying, "We stormed the Capitol!" as members of Congress sought cover.
At a rally in Texas last week, Trump said he would consider granting pardons to the rioters.
"If I run and I win, we will treat those people from Jan. 6 fairly," he said. "And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons, because they are being treated so unfairly."
Politico reported Wednesday that Trump seriously considered issuing a blanket pardon for all participants in the Jan. 6 riot in the final days of his presidency.
The poll found 37% of Utahns believe Trump bears a "great deal" of responsibility for the attack, while 14% say he bears a "good amount." It also shows 23% believe he bears no responsibility for what happened, while 19% say "not very much."
Some of the responses to that question are likely tied to partisan attachments, given what a politically polarizing figure Trump is, Karpowitz said.
"Nonetheless, even in a very red state like Utah, a majority of registered voters believe that the former president bears significant responsibility for a violent attack on Congress on the day it was meeting to fulfill a constitutional duty," he said.
An important question going forward is how that sentiment will affect Utahns' willingness to return Trump to the White House if he were to run again in 2024.
Trump is still the most powerful figure in the Republican Party and the odds-on favorite to be the next GOP nominee, but the poll numbers indicate that many voters have concerns about his actions, Karpowitz said.
"Will beliefs about his culpability affect their willingness to support him, either during a Republican primary or in the general election? Or will voters in Utah and elsewhere be willing to set aside what happened in the aftermath of the 2020 election?"
Utahns are sharply divided along party lines on the question of how much Trump is to blame for the Capitol incursion, with 81% of Democrats saying he bears a great deal of responsibility compared to 20% of Republicans. Only 1% of Democrats say Trump has no blame, compared to 36% of Republicans, according to the poll.
Chaffetz said it's a stretch to suggest that Jan. 6 was all about Trump and that the former president made the Capitol protesters do what they did.
"I think that's fantasyland from those who are the president's biggest adversaries," he said.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, directly blamed Trump for the Capitol incursion, saying "you can either be a fire extinguisher or a flamethrower. And President Trump has been a flamethrower." Romney voted to certify the election results and joined six other Republicans in voting to convict Trump of inciting an insurrection.
But Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said a lot of people should have conducted themselves differently that day.
"President Trump didn't commit any criminal acts that I'm aware of," Lee recently said in an interview. "The people who broke the law are the ones who are to blame, those who committed violent acts and broke into the Capitol are to blame."