Culture Wars/Current Controversies

What Drove a West Virginia Democrat to Storm the Capitol on January 6?

By , , The Intercept

Four years after being elected to the Parkersburg City Council with help from progressives, Eric Barber was all in for Trump.

Eric Barber was elected as a Democrat to the Parkersburg City Council in West Virginia in 2016. Local progressives supported his campaign, and once in office, he sponsored a nondiscrimination ordinance that would extend additional protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Four years later, he was part of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. In December, Barber pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors stemming from that incident.

Barber’s evolution was the result of a series of political calculations he made to save his own career. It was also the outcome of a successful project by right-wing and Republican operatives to take over the political spaces once held by powerful Democratic labor unions, which crumbled under deindustrialization and lack of investment from national Democrats. Other Democrats in the state have similarly shifted right, though not to the same degree as Barber. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice was elected in 2016 as a Democrat. The next year, in an appearance beside President Donald Trump, Justice changed his party affiliation to Republican. Sen. Joe Manchin has always been a conservative Democrat, but with Democrats in control of the White House and Congress, his conservatism on environmental and economic issues comes with an increasing cost: blocking much of his party’s agenda.

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