On the afternoon of January 6, a group of supporters of US President Trump forcibly broke into the U.S. Capitol, overwhelmed police, smashed windows, forced lawmakers to hide, occupied the floors of the House, Senate and congressional offices, and damaged the Capitol and delayed the vote to Certify the victory of President-elect Joe Biden.
What do you call this rude, dangerous and undemocratic move?
Biden settled down with a “riot or insurrection” in his televised response to the violence. Other commentators have called it a coup, or with inflammatory legal labels. Some newsrooms, such as CBS, told reporters that they could call those who attacked the Capitol a “protest,” while others rejected the label. The Washington Post said a “mob” “while NPR a ”pro-Trump extremist.”
The truth is, it’s hard to get a neat label on it.
Is this a coup?
The short answer is: probably not, if only because it’s too confusing and meaningless, it can’t meet the requirements.
The term coup is defined in the dictionary as “a sudden and decisive use of force politically, with a small group of people violently overthrowing the existing government.””
Some argue that it must involve the military. This would exclude the events of January 6 from the category of ”coup d’état”.
The violence, while instigated by Trump and his allies and organized by supporters on right-wing social media platforms, remains disorderly and unorganized. There is no evidence that this was orchestrated by the president, who is not known for his careful planning. At the behest of Vice President Mike Pence, the military did eventually step in to clear the intruders.
Joshua Tucker, a professor of political science at New York University, agrees, arguing that coup plotters are trying to seize power for themselves or their leaders in a very direct way. Certification that only delays election results may not meet this standard. “This is the rioters who aim to undermine the quality of American democracy.”
“I didn’t argue with the others and say ‘this is a coup’ because I knew what they meant,” Stokes said.”
But, as George Orwell famously pointed out in his paper politics and English, our words can shape our thoughts, our politics, and our actions. If we apply misleading labels to events, it can be difficult to figure out how to respond.
“When these people are called protesters, it gives this veneer a legitimate form of participation in the democratic process, ” Tucker said.
Building an armed standoff with Capitol Police and forcing the government to go into hiding is not like that, Tucker said.