Flung out at cross-currents, the word “coup” often has been abused in recent years, as the fact-checking site Politifact concluded of many of its uses, by left and right.
But, after Wednesday’s invasion of the United States capitol, it said this: “A good case can be made that the storming of the Capitol qualifies as a coup. It’s especially so because the rioters entered at precisely the moment when the incumbent’s loss was to be formally sealed, and they succeeded in stopping the count. The storming of the Capitol also would seem to qualify as sedition, which is the use of ‘force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States’ or the authority of the U.S. government.”
Much of what we’ve seen in recent years by way of protest activity has been legitimate political speech within our system. Violence has happened but it’s been uncommon, and people mostly have used the events to speak out for or against something - the kind of opinion speech the first amendment most specifically is there to protect.
The Wednesday storming, break-in and vandalizing of the Capitol prompted by a president desperate to cling to his office, was something else. It was an attack on our government, but not only that: It is an attack on the United States, and on us. Work being done on our behalf - choosing our next president - was stopped, and the leaders of our country were forced on the run and into hiding.
Many of these thugs like to call themselves “patriots,” but that’s the sickest of jokes. They are not defending our nation: They are attacking it and us.
Keep that in mind as attention in Idaho turns, as it does every year about this time, to the Idaho Statehouse, and the arrival of the 2021 legislature.
If many Idahoans watching with unease-to-horror the Wednesday break-in at the nation’s house felt a twinge of recognition, that may be because not long ago - to be exact, on August 24 of last year - a smaller but in many respects similar group likewise smashed through doors and windows and defied law enforcement security, attempting to intimidate our elected officials, during a special legislative session at the Idaho Statehouse. The photo images looked similar.
As in Washington, the domestic terrorists wound up being treated with relative kid gloves, with few arrests and little official pushback. Why, we can only guess, without the ability to read minds; but none of the explanations are good.
Based on the exhibited behavior so far by the insurrectionists, we can conclude a few things.
In Boise, the riot wasn’t about the presidential election (its overt subject was the state’s pandemic requirements), but the crowd was strikingly similar: Look at pictures of the mobs at Boise and at Washington and you’d not easily tell the difference. The overlap with MAGA and conspiracy theory and militia and Q-Anon enthusiasm was obvious in both places.
And something else: A complete lack of regard, really a shocking contempt, for their fellow citizens. Both mob actions were fueled by a mix of full fury and recreational fun; it was an emotional carnival for the rioters. (Look closely at the pictures of the mob leaders in both places.) At our expense, they got a high they’re not going to want to abandon now.
The Idaho State Police, which takes the lead in protecting the Idaho Statehouse, is not ignorant of any of this. The agency several days ago released a statement setting out reasonable standards (under the circumstances) for access and proper behavior around the Idaho Statehouse.
But their planning will have to go (maybe it already has, internally) much further than the public statement suggests. Likely during this session, and possibly on repeated occasions, defenders of the Statehouse - and the state - may be confronted with a mob hopped up on high emotion, a complete inability to act rationally, a disregard of rules major and minor and a willingness to become violent. They cannot be reasoned with. They are dangerous to peaceful Idahoans: Some of last summer’s Statehouse invaders packed high-powered firearms. Under these conditions, with a mob like that, people can be hurt or killed, as some were in Washington.
The hopeful view, in the days after the U.S. Capital insurrection, was that it may have let some of the hot air out of the balloon. We can hope that will be the case. But we’d better not count on it.