Inciting Insurrection

Alan Zendell, April 19, 2020


In a well-ordered universe, a U. S. President inciting insurrection would be grounds for removal under the twenty-fifth amendment. Anyone else who posted those tweets would be guilty of both federal and state felonies.

The internet has blown up with shock and horror over them, but sometimes understatement speaks loudest. The response I liked best was my son’s: “I’m no virologist, but encouraging civil unrest during a pandemic seems ill-advised.” Unless, of course, you look at it from the point of view of a mentally disturbed narcissist desperate to cling to power.

In obvious knee-jerk responses by Trump’s base, second amendment protests erupted all over the country. They were mostly in states with Democratic governors, but there was one in Annapolis, home of Republican Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. Hogan, who also serves as the Chair of the National Governor’s Association has consistently ignored or refuted the Trump administration’s misguided approach to managing the spread of the virus.

The Second Amendment tweets are a clear signal that Trump has pulled out all the stops in a re-election campaign dealing with approval ratings in the low forties and a clear message sent by two-thirds of the electorate that Americans are unhappy with his response to the pandemic. It’s classic Trump, creating confusion and chaos to divert attention from his leadership failures as president.

But it’s worse than that. Many fear that he might react to losing the next election by calling right-wing extremists to arms and refusing to leave office. Several of his actions as president have been reckless, but now he’s willing to risk elevating the divisiveness he has cultivated into full blown insurrection.

The Louisville Courier Journal reported that soon after Trump’s tweets hit the internet, death threats against Kentucky’s Democratic Governor Andy Beshear by gun rights activists began appearing on Facebook, asserting that: “…the Constitution protects us and gives us the authority to eliminate him by any means necessary via the Second Amendment.” Even in deeply red Kentucky, there was immediate bipartisan condemnation of these threats by state lawmakers, although Mitch McConnell, the leading Republican in the state hasn’t seen fit to comment. There’s no way to spin this. The Facebook posts encourage the assassination of a duly elected governor, with an indisputable connection to the president’s tweets.

As despicable as using the Second Amendment to stir up his base is, it’s not only disruptive to states’ efforts to limit the spread of the pandemic, it’s a dangerous misinterpretation of the Amendment. The notion that the Second Amendment was intended to allow citizens to take up arms against governors and other state officials is absurd. The Second Amendment empowered states to raise militias comprised of armed citizens because the Founders feared attempts by the federal government to exercise power over the states not granted to it by the Constitution. Period.

Boston College historian Heather Cox Richardson, who authors a very-worth-reading daily newsletter ( makes a convincing case that stirring up gun rights advocates is simply part of a joint campaign by Trump and the aforementioned Mitch McConnell to retain power after 2020. She notes, for example that three Fox News hosts (Tucker Carlson, Jeanine Pirro, and Laura Ingraham) all cheered on the protests against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. It’s no coincidence that Trump won Michigan by a whisker in 2016, and he can’t win in 2020 without that state in his column.

Richardson also reported that four of the top five donors to Senator McConnell are Fox News Executives. She sees all of this as part of a decades long attempt by right wing Republicans to suppress liberals, with Fox News as a major collaborator and enabler. Anyone who doubts that should have a look at the Showtime series, The Loudest Voice. It’s chilling to watch Russell Crowe portray Roger Ailes, the prime mover behind both Fox News and Trumpism.

Professor Richardson is too responsible an academic to wonder what else Trump might be willing to do to stay in office, but I’m under no such inhibition. I believe Trump is more than willing to have armed conflict erupt in the battleground states, dangerous as that is. What better scenario than to be able to point to open insurrection for the declaration of martial law?

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose autocratic style has been praised by Trump, may have given us a window into our own future on Friday, when he said his country’s national elections might have to be postponed because of COVID-19. As Fall approaches, if Trump’s numbers continue to slide, don’t be surprised if he tries the same thing. It would trigger a constitutional crisis, but that wouldn’t stop him. The good news is that with John Roberts as Chief Justice, Trump will lose that fight.




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