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Poll: 1 in 4 Americans say violence against the government is sometimes OK

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Is it ever justifiable to engage in violent protests against the government? Nearly a quarter of Americans responded yes to that question in a survey conducted by The COVID States Project. Here's NPR's Matthew Schwartz.

MATTHEW SCHWARTZ, BYLINE: The COVID States Project has, for almost two years, asked Americans about things like N95 masks and vaccine mandates. But during the last two months, 23,000 people across the country were asked whether violent protest is ever justifiable. Nearly 1 in 4 said violence was either definitely or probably justifiable against the government. A similar percentage of liberals and conservatives agree on this point. Not surprising, says COVID States Project co-director David Lazer; think about how American history is taught.

DAVID LAZER: 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.

SCHWARTZ: A more striking finding from that same poll? One in 10 Americans say violence is justified right now. And among Republican men, it's nearly 1 in 5.

RACHEL KLEINFELD: Unfortunately, these survey findings are not at all surprising.

SCHWARTZ: Rachel Kleinfeld, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says the findings are consistent with other recent surveys. In December, The Washington Post and University of Maryland together asked a similar question. They found 1 in 3 Americans think violence against the government is sometimes justified. Kleinfeld, who was not involved in either study, says the results reflect more than just philosophizing.

KLEINFELD: It's moved from the sphere of chest-thumping into the sphere of reality. And it's affecting election workers, volunteer poll workers, school boards - you know, really, the kind of warp and weft of our democratic system.

SCHWARTZ: The government needs to hold citizens to account, says Kleinfeld - not just those who would storm the Capitol but anyone who threatens the workers that keep our democracy running.

Matthew Schwartz, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROCKET MINER'S "CAPTURES (THIS DAY)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Matthew S. Schwartz is a reporter with NPR's news desk. Before coming to NPR, Schwartz worked as a reporter for Washington, DC, member station WAMU, where he won the national Edward R. Murrow award for feature reporting in large market radio. Previously, Schwartz worked as a technology reporter covering the intricacies of Internet regulation. In a past life, Schwartz was a Washington telecom lawyer. He got his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and his B.A. from the University of Michigan ("Go Blue!").