Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Engstrom, Craig


This project presents findings from an analysis of qualitative interviews by the J20 Defendants, who were arrested, detained, and charged for rioting Donald J. Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017. This project examines the identity management strategies and experiences of the J20 Defendants as individual members and as a larger collective, with specific focus on how their mental and emotional health impacts their perception of self. In addition, this project uses Fantasy Theme Analysis (FTA) to identify organizational norms and communicative practices within the J20 collective. Time and space impact collective interpretations, meanings, and values, which influence group consciousness (Bormann, 1985; Bormann, Cragan, & Shields, 1994). To understand the defendants’ symbolic world, I describe in Chapter 1 what happened on January 20, 2017. I explain, in chronological order, how the J20 Defendants were detained, their collective experience while in police custody, and the court proceedings.Attending Disrupt J20 was a collective experience, Weick (1979) explains that shared interpretations among members grant organizations the ability to exist beyond, or even without, physical or systematic structures. Chapter 2 defines the J20 Defendants as an organization through the Four Flows Models, a school of thought within Communicative Constitution of Organization (CCO). The J20 Defendants are anunusual organization due to forced membership; the prosecution labels their identities. However, they made sense of their forced membership by utilizing the four processes within the Four Flows Model: (1) membership negotiation, (2) self-structuring, (3) activity coordination, and (4) institutional positioning. This project also defines the J20 Defendants as a stigmatized organization through the theoretical concepts of event and core stigma, which are defined in Chapter 2. The defendants managed their stigma through various identity management strategies, which are highlighted in Chapter 4. Findings suggest the defendants did not value the viewpoint of mainstream society, which is why they attended the stigmatizing event Disrupt J20. However, they did value the opinions of other activists.Despite having similar beliefs and values, the defendants each navigated their stigma differently. Furthermore, the ways the defendants managed stigma did not align with strategies articulated in organizational communication literature. However, every interviewee made sense of their stigma based on their ability to maintain confidentially. This project notes three organizational obstacles: (1) managing the stress and anxiety of being a member, (2) communicating internally, (3) externally performing a clear collective identity. Through various forms of comradery, members were able to manage their stress and anxiety as J20 Defendants. Members were also viewed as autonomous agents in how active or inactive they wanted to be. Every defendant interviewed stepped away from the organizational core temporarily or permanently. Overall, I hope this project illuminates new information about stigmatized organizations that seek cultural and political change.




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