Why Do People Engage in Unlawful Political Protest? Examining the Role of Authoritarianism in Illegal Protest Behavior

Published date01 May 2022
Date01 May 2022
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2022, Vol. 50(3) 428440
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X211053221
Why Do People Engage in Unlawful Political
Protest? Examining the Role of
Authoritarianism in Illegal Protest Behavior
Isabel Inguanzo
, Araceli Mateos
, and Homero Gil de Z ´
Prior research on individual-level drivers of protest has primarily focused on legal protest. However, less is known about what
makes people engage in unlawful protest activities. Building upon previous literature on the collective action dilemma, so-
cialization on violent and high-risk social movements, and political psychology, we expect that illegal protest frequency varies at
different levels of authoritarianism. We explore the relationship between authoritarian values and illegal protest by analyzing a
two-wave panel survey data gathered in the US. The results of cross-sectional, lagged, and autoregressive ordinary leas t squares
(OLS) regression models show that when controlling for legal protest and other relevant variables in protest behavior,
authoritarianism predicts illegal protest following an inverted U-shaped relationship. In other words, average levels of au-
thoritarianism predict more frequent engagement in illegal protest, while this frequency decreases as approaching the pole s of
the authoritarianism scale.
Illegal protest, authoritarianism, unconventional participation, political values, protestors
On January 6
, 2021, thousands of Trump supporters from
different parts of the country attended a rally in Washington
DC where he asked them to march toward the US Capitol.
While most Trump protestors did just that, some of themwent
beyond the Capitol doors entering the building violently,
engaging in illegalprotest activities. During the lastfew years,
US society has witnessed increasing numbers of unauthorized
protests and how some initially legal protests turned violent,
such as Charlottesville clashes between protesters in 2017 or
the 2020 attackon the Minneapolis third precinct in the context
of a wider Black Lives Matter peaceful protest. However,
individuals who engage in unlawful behavior seem to be the
exception while politicians, the media, and scholars wonder
who these people are and what motivates them to engage in
illicit political activities. For example, during the second im-
peachment trial in 2021, House managers tried to answer this
question by showingevidence supporting the idea that most of
the illegal protestors of the Capitol Riot had previously en-
gaged in violentand unlawful acts; there aretheoretical reasons
to believe that this pattern of protest behavior also holds true
for other political groups (Della Porta, 2018). This leads us to
the following question: which antecedents predict illegal
protest engagement over time?
To answer this question, we rely on three different strains
of research: the collective action dilemma, socialization on
violent and high-risk social movements, and political
psychology. We argue that research on individual predictors
of illegal protest could benef‌it from closely connecting these
sets of literature since it helps understanding how in spe-
cif‌ically high-risk protests authoritarianism can inf‌luence the
rational calculus behind the collective action dilemma.
In doing so, we argue that illegal protest frequency varies
at different levels of authoritarianism. More specif‌ically, we
contend that authoritarianism predicts illegal protest partic-
ipation in a pattern that has not been explored so far: an
inverted U-shape relation. Perceived threats to social order
and established authorities can more often activate moderate
or mildly authoritarian people to carry out unlawful or un-
democratic acts to defend the social status quo (Barker et al.,
2021;Glas & Taylor, 2018;Hetherington & Suhay, 2011;
Department of Political Science and Administration, University of
Salamanca, Salamanca, Spain
Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, Pennsylvania State
University, State College, PA, USA;
Facultad de Comunicación y Letras, Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago,
Corresponding Author:
Isabel Inguanzo, ´
Area de Ciencia Pol´
ıtica y de la Administración, Facultad
de Derecho, Universidad de Salamanca, Campus Miguel de Unamuno S/N,
Salamanca, Castilla y Leon 37007, Spain.
Email: isabel_io@usal.es

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT