A Riot by Any Other Name

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January 7, 2021. Again, I’m watching CNN. Today is the morning after the Trump supporters’ riot at the national capitol, when they broke windows, swarmed inside, and tramped through the offices of US senators stealing papers and laptops. One of the protestors, a woman, was shot and killed, apparently by police.

CNN, a.k.a. the Clinton Channel, is putting an extreme spin on this. It is not just a protest or even a riot, but an insurrection, and attempted coup, an act of treason, a “terrorist attack on the United States Capitol.” I agree with CNN that the rioters were wrong, and that the police should have beaten them back with tear gas and sticks. CNN’s language, though, bothers me. Terrorism is the use of extreme violence — bombing, kidnapping and murder — to intimidate political rivals. Insurrection is a violent uprising against established authority. A coup d’état is an illegal seizure of power. Treason is betraying one’s country in time of war.

This wasn’t any of that. This is not part of a war or an attempt to overthrow the government. Overthrowing the government would require purpose and organization, including support of the military and much of the intelligentsia and the news media. The demonstrators had none of that. Even calling their action an insurrection is stretching the facts. Really it was a protest that degenerated into low-level violence. What made it alarming was where it was done — that it was at the Capitol at the moment when the Senate was meeting to ratify the results of the national election; and that President Trump had fomented it. It was fair to blame the riot on him and to call it an insult to the nation’s traditions and law. But it should have been obvious to the news people that disrupting the Senate for an hour or two was not going to do anything. It was certainly not going to overturn a national election and stop Joe Biden from being inaugurated as president on January 20.

This is not part of a war or an attempt to overthrow the government. Overthrowing the government would require purpose and organization.

Compare CNN’s language in the riot of January 6 — its mock shock, as if this was the Bolsheviks storming the Winter Palace — with its gentle language the previous summer during the George Floyd riots. Back then, rioters were torching businesses all across the country. In Minneapolis they burned down a police station. In my hometown, Seattle, they took over a police station and a six-block territory and declared it to be independent of the United States. During the month-long existence of the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,” four men in Seattle were shot and killed.

Did CNN label any of that as an insurrection? As treason? No; they repeatedly called it “mostly peaceful demonstrations,” emphasizing over and over the protesters’ heartfelt beliefs and admirable political purposes. CNN pooh-poohed the role of antifa, which was real (at least in Seattle), and never called the demonstrators “domestic terrorists” or “far-left.” Never.

As I listen to CNN, it is doing another thing. It is quoting politicians calling for Vice President Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove President Trump from office. By quoting many people saying this and few people opposing it, essentially CNN is campaigning for this to be done.

The people who demand the use of the 25th Amendment should call it up and read it. Like the process of impeachment, it is a clumsy mechanism. It allows the vice president (who was chosen by the president) to take power with the support of either a majority of the cabinet (whose members were chosen by the president) “or of such other body as Congress may by law provide.” Congress could have provided such a law in advance, but it never has, and to do it now would require the signature of Donald Trump, unless each house had a two-thirds majority to override his veto.

By quoting many people saying this and few people opposing it, essentially CNN is campaigning for the 25th Amendment to be invoked.

Then, after the vice president takes over, if the president objects, which Trump no doubt would, Congress would be called to vote. To stay in power, the vice president would need two-thirds majorities in both houses.

Imagine going through all that now, in the last two weeks of a president’s term. I did note that CNN interviewed John Bolton, former assistant to the president for national security. I am no fan of Bolton, but I did agree with him when he said that the 25th Amendment would open doors that would better be left closed and that the first thought should be, “Do no harm.”

CNN loves to fan the fire, at least when the flames threaten the people it doesn’t like. It’s an irresponsible way to run a news network.


  1. twv

    This seems reasonable. And the president’s culpability for it, even if you hold that he was using code words to offset his admonishment to be peaceful, is further undermined by the fact that the incursions past the barricades were occurring as he spoke.

  2. Scott Robinson

    Dear Bruce,

    Your subtitle, “And pots calling kettles” is a very good point. I remember when Maxine Waters gave her little speech at a rally were she said to the people at the rally that when they see members of Trump’s Cabinet at stores or restaurants, they should tell them, “You’re not welcome here.” That statement called to my mind “Bombingham,” Alabama which got it’s name not from the bombing of four, black girls studying bible at church, which is bad enough, but when black people moved into white neighborhoods, the people previously living there would bomb their houses because those black people weren’t welcome there. This example also calls to mind the reports about gentrification that CNN decries as a defacement of minority neighborhoods.
    Given the recent impeachment of Donald Trump as punishment for his rabble-rousing, how long do you think it will be before they punish Maxine Waters for her rabble-rousing. The only credit MSM, like CNN, deserves for their label of insurrection is the video of the protest I saw of people smashing windows when they “broke and entered” into the Capitol.

    No Justice, No Peace,

  3. Bob Straub

    Generally, I liked this article. My wife has been a big fan of CNN from the start of 2020 to present. I have watched a lot with her. I appreciate Ramsey’s opinion that CNN over-reacted a lot. But I read that pipe bombs were discovered at the RNC and DNC D.C. headquarters that day, and a cooler of Molotov cocktails was found in the Capitol, according the the chief of D.C. police. Zip-tie hand restraints were carried by several of the rioters. A scaffold was erected at the Capitol, and shouts from the crowd about getting Pence and Pelosi could easily be heard in videos. Shouldn’t this put the riot at least on the edge of terrorism?

    As far as campaigning for use of the 25th Amendment is concerned, does Ramsey have evidence that CNN’s sample of interviewees was not a representative sample of the rioting crowd? If it was representative, maybe CNN was only reporting and not campaigning.

    I will agree that the contrast with CNN’s reporting of the George Floyd riots is evidence of some bias at CNN.

  4. Walt Guyll

    Attempting to overthrow the government requires no particular purpose or organization. In this case, it only took months of the President and his fools ginning up anger in the rubes. Absent the campaign of lies, no invasion of Congress.

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