Videos

Scholar-to-Scholar Talk: Nancy MacLean, “The Pre-History—and Likely Sequels—of the Insurrection at the U.S. Capitol”

March 2, 2022

The attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, was the most violent assault on democracy in modern American history. It has since become clear that then-President Trump and a group of his closest advisors incited the attack on Congress to abet a coup that would overrule the voters’ choice. The House select committee charged with investigating these events has identified three rings of activity: a large, less complicit, outer circle of avid supporters who believed the Big Lie, a smaller number of resolute white-power radicals, and a suited inner circle that strategized to overthrow the election, exploiting federalism to achieve its ends.

Nancy MacLean (NHC Fellow, 2008–09; 2021–22) will explain how each of these three elements is the product of decades of intentional cultivation. What we are seeing in the United States today is the coming together of a network of far-right corporate donors determined to remake the world, a major political party their grantees have radicalized beyond recognition, and vigilantism in multiple arenas being spurred by highly profitable media outlets. If we don’t reckon with the deep historical roots of what happened this time last year, she concludes, those events could be a pilot for and prologue to a far worse outcome in the future.


Nancy MacLean Nancy MacLean is an award-winning historian of the U.S. in the twentieth century. Her most recent book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Current Interest, the Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Award, and the Lillian Smith Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award in Nonfiction. Booklist called it “perhaps the best explanation to date of the roots of the political divide that threatens to irrevocably alter American government.”

MacLean is the author of four other books, including Freedom is Not Enough: The Opening of the American Workplace (2006) and Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan (1994). Her articles and review essays have appeared in American Quarterly, The Boston Review, Feminist Studies, Gender & History, In These Times, International Labor and Working Class History, Labor, Labor History, Journal of American History, Journal of Women’s History, Law and History Review, The Nation, the OAH Magazine of History, and many edited collections.

MacLean’s scholarship has received more than a dozen prizes and awards and been supported by fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center, the Russell Sage Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowships Foundation. In 2010, she was elected a fellow of the Society of American Historians, which recognizes literary distinction in the writing of history and biography.

U.S. Capitol photo by Brett Davis