“It’s funny. All you have to do is say something nobody understands and they’ll do practically anything you want them to.” J.D. Salinger
The media coverage of the recent memorialization of the January 6th riots at the Capitol provided a lot of commentary, much of which was a very confused collection of terms and interpretations. The main issue that I found was the lack of differentiation between a riot and an insurrection. Regardless of the political partisanship of the various commentators, all seemed to have one thing in common, and that was to say things nobody could understand in order to get their particular group to believe whatever that was; amazingly, and sadly tragic, that really does seem to work.
A look at American history and simple word definitions can help clear up some of that gibberish, together with listening to what was said on the day this horrible event occurred. Let’s start with what President Trump said to the crowd at the rally that led to the violence. Now keep in mind that his supporters have used such ridiculous descriptions of what followed his speech as an “unscheduled tour” or a “peaceful protest”; we shouldn’t dismiss such obviously absurd statements without understanding similar stuff from those that criticize Trump and his followers deeming that riot as an insurrection, an attack on democracy, or an existential threat to our constitution; none of these factually or accurately define this event.
Trump’s speech was inciting to riot, a fact that your ears could tell you just listening to it. The fact that he called upon the crowd to go to the Capitol to prevent the constitutional process of electoral confirmation is clearly an attempt to cause a riot by urging other people to commit acts of violence; the results showed he was successful as regards the riot, unsuccessful in preventing the electoral confirmation. The question arises as to whether or not his actions also constituted sedition, and even further, insurrection.
An element involving both sedition and insurrection is conspiracy. It is obvious given the recent Congressional committee’s subpoenas that they are looking for evidence of conspiracy; while many documents have been obtained, such evidence has so far eluded them. Those that they have subpoenaed for testimony have either refused or agreed to do so but only under the protection of executive privilege. This later condition has been challenged as only applying to the President, but countered with the argument that it would be impossible for it not to extend to those that the President confides in or there would be no point in it; resolution to be determined, likely in time by the Supreme Court.
According to the statutory definition of sedition “It is a crime for two or more people within the jurisdiction of the United States to take, seize, or possess by force any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof.” There’s that conspiracy thing that the committee would so want to have proof of. What becomes a little vague then is when does sedition become an insurrection, or is there a difference at all? Apparently there’s no hard and fast rule for that; we can consider both Shay’s Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion, both of which were technically insurrections, or if you wish “rebellions”, and both of which actually achieved their goals against debtor prosecutions and taxes, leading to the constitutional convention due to the former, and the founding of the original Republican Party with the later.
Then of course we have the ultimate insurrection of American history which we call the Civil War. As this blog has discussed before, technically and as recorded during the Convention, the Constitution by design has no prohibition against secession. What we know is that contrary to Lincoln’s actual statements regarding slavery, the Confederate States seceded on the premise that he would end it. If they simply stopped at that point, Lincoln would have been left with no legal basis for war against secession; however, in declaring themselves a sovereign nation, the Confederacy committed an act of war by attacking Fort Sumter.
From its inception, insurrection is an integral part of American history and its political DNA. However, in all three of the above examples we have the element of “conspiracy” in that two or more people planned and executed an organized armed rebellion against established governments to achieve a specific goal. So in addition to conspiracy, we find a plan to organize and execute armed rebellion. In the case of January 6th, should evidence be found that further to sedition, we have an organized armed rebellion, the goal was already stated at the rally where Trump incited the riot, i.e. prevent the Congressional confirmation of the electoral process.
Now if we look at all the video footage of that day, we can’t say that we see anything approaching a planned and organized armed rebellion. What we have is a bunch of crazed rioters breaking windows and doors, trespassing, vandalizing, assaulting guards, and in general acting moronically at the behest of a narcissistic loser. Since then, we have various reports of his family, friends and staff urging him to ask his crazed followers to desist, which he only did some three hours later, and at no time called in help for the police and guards to remove the rioters.
While we to this day still have to wait to see if any evidence can be found that supports sedition and insurrection, the House elected on January 13, 2021 Articles of Impeachment, charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection”. That’s a very confusing charge, something akin to the cart before the horse. Predictably given the lack of votes in the Senate, there was no conviction on that charge; however, putting aside the obvious partisan outcome, the charge actually provided cover for acquittal. I am left wondering why he was not charged for inciting to riot, which alone would constitute a felony charge and, by his own words, evidence of guilt and eliminate him from ever running for elected office again. Why such a repeated bungling like Trump’s first impeachment when in fact the House is mostly composed of representatives who are lawyers is confusing.
What the country really needs is to close the book on Trump, but apparently neither political party has an interest in that. The GOP shamefully continues his leadership while the Democrats bungle their attempts to convict him. It almost seems like both parties find him a useful foil to use in the upcoming mid-term elections; this will not serve the interests of the Republic, its constitution and the liberty of the people, but only the power lust of our two major political parties. Is that confusing? Yes, it is, but then again you’re only confused if you’re paying attention.