“Insurrection”: What’s in a Word?

 

The dictionary definitions of the word insurrection are pretty simple, and I’ll offer a few.

From Webster:

an act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government

From Cambridge:

an organized attempt by a group of people to defeat their government and take control of their country, usually by violence

From the OED (via Lexico):

A violent uprising against an authority or government.

The Cambridge definition is a little more narrow, in that it includes the word “organized” and suggests that the end goal must be to seize control of a country. While the other two definitions are more broad, I think Cambridge comes closer to capturing the sense of the word as most people understand it. Insurrection feels like something more serious than, say, mere civil disobedience, which would meet Webster’s definition, or BLM-style mostly peaceful protests, which were often not peaceful and so would easily meet the OED definition.

I can think of one clear and unambiguous instance of insurrection in the past year, and that is the uprising that called itself “CHAZ,” the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, in Seattle in the summer of 2020. That meets all the definitions of insurrection shown above: it was violent, it was a deliberate taking control of governmental authority, and it was organized.

I’m sure there were other such unambiguous insurrectionist events during that “summer of love,” as civil authorities neglected to enforce the law and would-be revolutionaries ran roughshod over urban America.

It is now, for some, a point of moral hygiene to describe the infamous Washington D.C. riot of January 6th as an “insurrection.” Our own @JosephStocks provides an example of this in his recent post, Goldberg: Not believing Jan. 6 was insurrection is participating in evil. In it, he takes Jonah to task for too-casually labeling a substantial fraction of Republicans (in fact, Americans) as participating in evil. That struck Joseph, and strikes me, as a bit over the top.

If we want to use “insurrection” in its simple and literal sense, then there was a lot of insurrection in 2020, probably hundreds of instances of it, mostly instigated by BLM, Antifa, and folks of that ilk. These acts of insurrection were routinely celebrated by members of Congress, and almost inevitably tolerated, even encouraged, by progressive local leaders. When the police are ordered to stand down so that the law can be broken with impunity, public spaces can be occupied with violence and the threat of violence, and radicals are left free to impose their will on the rest of us, that’s insurrection — insurrection with the complicity of elected officials.

And, by the simple definition of “an act or instance of revolting against civil authority,” January 6 was an insurrection: it was an insurrection the moment criminal trespass occurred.

But that isn’t what Jonah and others who attempt to claim the moral high ground are trying to convey when they call it “insurrection.” What they are trying to convey is, simply put, Trump is evil, and everyone who won’t confess that is evil as well. They’re trying to convey that by implying, in their flogging of the “insurrection” claim, the strong sense of that word: an organized attempt to overthrow the government.

And that’s just stupid.

What the protestors, trespassers, and rioters of January 6 were doing was trying to motivate Congress, through their loud and demanding presence, to use its Constitutional authority to legally delay the certification of an election so that the circumstances of that election could be thoroughly investigated. They were motivated by a belief that the election had been corrupted by widespread fraud and quite possibly stolen, and that the vote about to be certified was likely erroneous.

We can pick apart their views. It isn’t obvious (indeed, there’s ample reason to question the point) that Congress did in fact have authority to pause the count. It also isn’t entirely obvious that Congress did not have such authority, as legal scholars are divided on that point. I have no doubt, however, that many or most present on January 6 thought Congress had that authority.

It isn’t obvious that widespread cheating occurred, though there’s ample reason to suspect that it probably did, given the historic disorder surrounding the 2020 election. It certainly isn’t obvious that the election was stolen; nor is it certain that it was not.

What should be clear to any h0nest observer, however, is that the participants in the January 6 riot were not, as Jonah foolishly suggests in his podcasts, anti-American and anti-Constitution. Quite the contrary: they believed they were attempting to prevent an electoral coup, and understood their actions as supportive of both American democracy and the Constitution.

This is the idea that Jonah and the other of-course-it-was-insurrection sorts are trying to subvert: that people who identify with a politician these august pundits can’t stand were in fact acting in what they believed to be a patriotic fashion in support of both democracy and the Constitution. They want us to use the word because they want a confession from those who persist in defending normal, simplistic, middle-American conservatives that we were wrong all along.

Jonah and his ilk are attempting to recast an instance of overheated and misguided patriotism, and I think that’s what it was, as an effort to overthrow the government, which it certainly was not. They’re doing this in an effort to force a confession from people they have despised for their support of Trump since Trump was elected.

It was a riot, but not in any meaningful sense an insurrection. The individuals who participated should be treated like every other rioter who breaks the law. They should not be treated like traitors and political prisoners.

And people who earn their living with the written and spoken word, and who lay claim to a political wisdom the rest of us lack, should know better than to use words this way.

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  1. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    To me it looked more like a joyride than a serious attempt to attack the government. They had no plan to take over. If they had, maybe one of them would have brought a gun.

    • #1
  2. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Henry Racette: Jonah and his ilk are attempting to recast an instance of overheated and misguided patriotism, and I think that’s what it was, as an effort to overthrow the government, which it certainly was not. They’re doing this in an effort to force a confession from people they have despised for their support of Trump since Trump was elected.

    This is it in a nutshell. 

    And it is clear to me, it as not a mistake. It is what Jonah thinks of us. 

    • #2
  3. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    An insurrection sounds like a bad thing. Orange man is bad. Therefore, challenging the election which, if successful, would retain Orange man is an insurrection. The big lie must be repeated until it results in a Pavlovian response.

    • #3
  4. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    From Cambridge:

    an organized attempt by a group of people to defeat their government and take control of their country, usually by taking selfies on the Senate floor but can also involve sitting in Nancy Pelosi’s chair without the expressed written consent of the Speaker of the House

    • #4
  5. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    One of the things the NeverTrumpers love to tout is Bill Buckley’s supposed “purge” of the John Birch Society from the GOP.  Of course, Buckley didn’t purge anybody. In fact the only bonafide member of the Birchers who was elected to federal office was a Democrat – Representative Larry McDonald (GA – 07). He was removed from office by the Soviets because he was a passenger on KAL Flight 007 that was shot down by the Soviet Air Force near Sakhalin, USSR.

    But it’s their legend. At the height of its popularity, the JBS claimed to have 100,000 members in a voter base of 70M. Now, they think they are going to “purge” that many in total. It’s fantasy.

    The truth is that none of them want to do the hard work of regaining the confidence of the people they alienated in the first place. 

    • #5
  6. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    The trouble with giving the Capitol incursion an all-encapsulating name is that it really was composed of two groups.  Trump supporters who were gullibly led into the Capitol by agent provocateurs (and by police); and the provocateurs themselves who fought with police, broke windows, and even successfully ordered police around.

    Frankly, I prefer DonG’s “Undocumented Capitol Tourist Event”.

    • #6
  7. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    I still believe that it would have been dereliction of duty on Trump’s part had he not cried “foul” on the election. Many of the studiously incurious violated their oaths to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States by tossing aside the allegations without examination. The election that should have been investigated was accepted without question while those who questioned are being investigated.

    • #7
  8. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Wow, seems like this got promoted so fast I never saw it on the Member Feed!

    • #8
  9. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    `It wasn’t an insurrection. That said, what a bunch of fargin’ dopes. 

    • #9
  10. Tyrion Lannister Member
    Tyrion Lannister
    @TyrionLannister

    @henryracette thank you for putting to word in such a thoughtful and cogent way what many of us think about the riot.  I find your posts to be among the most level headed and full of common sense wisdom on this site.

    Thank you. 

    • #10
  11. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Tyrion Lannister (View Comment):

    @ henryracette thank you for putting to word in such a thoughtful and cogent way what many of us think about the riot. I find your posts to be among the most level headed and full of common sense wisdom on this site.

    Thank you.

    Thank YOU.

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    It wasn’t an insurrection. That said, what a bunch of fargin’ dopes.

    Yes, it wasn’t our (that is, conservatives’) finest hour.

    But we can acknowledge that while condemning the cynical misuse of the occasion to justify a ratcheting up of political power on the left. Above all, I think we have to oppose the relentless left/press myth-making machine, and not allow the opportunistic redefinition of history to occur right before our eyes.

    • #11
  12. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    in·sur·rec·tion

    1. Gathering of 400 people on more on public property watching a few loons spontaneously trash things.

    2. Possession of the belief that election irregularities and even cheating should not be investigated much less rectified.

    3.  Legal (starting 2022):  The crime of openly disagreeing with government-approved content in any context in any forum or media.

    • #12
  13. Roderic Reagan
    Roderic
    @rhfabian

    Don’t forget those deadly buffalo horns!  An insurrectionist weapon if there ever was one. 

    Jan 6 was organized to the extent that they all showed up at roughly the same time.  There were a few hot heads, but mostly it was people milling around.    The only people who died were protesters, two of them had heart attacks, one overdosed on meth or something, and one was shot in the neck by police.  

    • #13
  14. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    in·sur·rec·tion

    1. Gathering of 400 people on more on public property watching a few loons spontaneously trash things.

    2. Possession of the belief that election irregularities and even cheating should not be investigated much less rectified.

    3. Legal (starting 2022): The crime of openly disagreeing with government-approved content in any context in any forum or media.

    Yes, I know you’re right. I stubbornly persist in using an old, outdated dictionary (i.e., anything published before January 2021).

    Roderic (View Comment):

    Don’t forget those deadly buffalo horns! An insurrectionist weapon if there ever was one.

    Jan 6 was organized to the extent that they all showed up at roughly the same time. There were a few hot heads, but mostly it was people milling around. The only people who died were protesters, two of them had heart attacks, one overdosed on meth or something, and one was shot in the neck by police.

    Like most modern political terrorists, I would like my insurrection to be televised. I understand that there is quite a lot of video footage of the event. One can only wonder why that hasn’t been made available to the American people, so that we can see just how perilous was Democracy’s hold on that fateful day….

    • #14
  15. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    in·sur·rec·tion

    1. Gathering of 400 people on more on public property watching a few loons spontaneously trash things.

    2. Possession of the belief that election irregularities and even cheating should not be investigated much less rectified.

    3. Legal (starting 2022): The crime of openly disagreeing with government-approved content in any context in any forum or media.

    Yes, I know you’re right. I stubbornly persist in using an old, outdated dictionary (i.e., anything published before January 2021).

    Roderic (View Comment):

    Don’t forget those deadly buffalo horns! An insurrectionist weapon if there ever was one.

    Jan 6 was organized to the extent that they all showed up at roughly the same time. There were a few hot heads, but mostly it was people milling around. The only people who died were protesters, two of them had heart attacks, one overdosed on meth or something, and one was shot in the neck by police.

    Like most modern political terrorists, I would like my insurrection to be televised. I understand that there is quite a lot of video footage of the event. One can only wonder why that hasn’t been made available to the American people, so that we can see just how perilous was Democracy’s hold on that fateful day….

    What I really want to see is the video of AOC supposedly hiding under her desk.  In a completely different building…

    • #15
  16. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    Henry Racette: And people who earn their living with the written and spoken word, and who lay claim to a political wisdom the rest of us lack, should know better than to use words this way.

    Nah…I could only get into more trouble with that one. 

    • #16
  17. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Regarding Jonah and his podcast, here, I have a few more comments. I’ve now listened to the podcast, and I want to make it clear that Jonah didn’t insist that anyone call the events of January 6 an insurrection, per se. He has strong opinions, which he states as indisputable facts. Presumably his position as a self-styled part of the “remnant,” as one of the last honest men, entitles him to do that; in any case, he takes that liberty.

    He does a lot of telling us who is morally repugnant and who is not, a lot of denying that there could be any motives other than those dark motives he asserts for the things other people do. Then, in the process of describing what a horrible person Dick Morris (“a fundamentally repellent human being”) is, he accuses Morris of being “incapable of understanding how someone could do something for morally high-minded reasons or for reasons of conscience.”

    I found that ironic.

    For the record, I don’t find Jonah repugnant. I disagree with many of his confident declarations, including all of his casual imputations of my own motives and errors. I question his judgment. I think he’s a decent human being, but I also think he’s immature, and that most of what makes him almost unlistenable for me springs from that quality.

    My comments about him in the post above still stand: I think he is fundamentally wrong in his assessment of January 6; I suspect, though I don’t know for sure, that his judgment is clouded by a contempt he seems to make no effort to moderate or contain.

    • #17
  18. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Regarding Jonah and his podcast, here, I have a few more comments. I’ve now listened to the podcast, and I want to make it clear that Jonah didn’t insist that anyone call the events of January 6 an insurrection, per se. He has strong opinions, which he states as indisputable facts. Presumably his position as a self-styled part of the “remnant,” as one of the last honest men, entitles him to do that; in any case, he takes that liberty.

    He does a lot of telling us who is morally repugnant and who is not, a lot of denying that there could be any motives other than those dark motives he asserts for the things other people do. Then, in the process of describing what a horrible person Dick Morris (“a fundamentally repellent human being”) is, he accuses Morris of being “incapable of understanding how someone could do something for morally high-minded reasons or for reasons of conscience.”

    I found that ironic.

    For the record, I don’t find Jonah repugnant. I disagree with many of his confident declarations, including all of his casual imputations of my own motives and errors. I question his judgment. I think he’s a decent human being, but I also think he’s immature, and that most of what makes him almost unlistenable for me springs from that quality.

    My comments about him in the post above still stand: I think he is fundamentally wrong in his assessment of January 6; I suspect, though I don’t know for sure, that his judgment is clouded by a contempt he seems to make no effort to moderate or contain.

    Why not just use one of Jonah’s own favorite expressions?  He’s a crap-weasel.  :-)

    • #18
  19. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    kedavis (View Comment):
    Why not just use one of Jonah’s own favorite expressions?  He’s a crap-weasel.  :-)

    Because I’m an adult, KE.

    • #19
  20. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):
    Why not just use one of Jonah’s own favorite expressions? He’s a crap-weasel. :-)

    Because I’m an adult, KE.

    Oh, that’s right!  And Jonah isn’t.

    • #20
  21. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    It wasn’t an insurrection. That said, what a bunch of fargin’ dopes.

    Yes, it wasn’t our (that is, conservatives’) finest hour.

    But we can acknowledge that while condemning the cynical misuse of the occasion to justify a ratcheting up of political power on the left. Above all, I think we have to oppose the relentless left/press myth-making machine, and not allow the opportunistic redefinition of history to occur right before our eyes.

    Agreed. Although I’d quibble with “our.” What made these dopey LARPing chaos agents “conservatives”? 

    • #21
  22. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    It wasn’t an insurrection. That said, what a bunch of fargin’ dopes.

    Yes, it wasn’t our (that is, conservatives’) finest hour.

    But we can acknowledge that while condemning the cynical misuse of the occasion to justify a ratcheting up of political power on the left. Above all, I think we have to oppose the relentless left/press myth-making machine, and not allow the opportunistic redefinition of history to occur right before our eyes.

    Agreed. Although I’d quibble with “our.” What made these dopey LARPing chaos agents “conservatives”?

    Maybe I’m just being charitable.

    But, no. I suspect — though I don’t know — that there was quite a mix in the Capitol on that day, including a lot of people who intended to be harmless, were confused, or thought it was relatively innocent mischief. And I do assume that most people taking part in the overall protest/rally were conservative.

    But, again, I don’t really know.

    • #22
  23. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    that there was quite a mix in the Capitol on that day, including a lot of people who intended to be harmless, were confused, or thought it was relatively innocent mischief.

    Especially given the backdrop of the summer. Our entire country was just rocked with fiery riots touted as peaceful protests. The left has been marching and invading government property for decades and it apparently works to be heard. The entire congress was giving BLM platitudes on the weakest evidence.

    The success of our own protests in Virginia and Michigan over lockdowns and gun rights gave confidence.

    And the left has swamped and entered congressional chambers during protests, too.

    So given that background, the CONTEXT, it really should not be that surprising that conservatives finally decided they would try the same methods to be heard on election integrity. Only far less riot-like in the process.

    • #23
  24. Paul Dougherty Member
    Paul Dougherty
    @PaulDougherty

    A lot of words. It was an insurrection.

    • #24
  25. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Paul Dougherty (View Comment):

    A lot of words. It was an insurrection.

    Maybe you should take some time to read the words.

    • #25
  26. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Paul Dougherty (View Comment):

    A lot of words. It was an insurrection.

    My dictionary contains a lot of words. That doesn’t make it an insurrection.

    • #26
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