Home > Uncategorized > Memo to self

Memo to self

from Peter Radford

This is short:

I have been accused recently of mis-using the word “coup” when I discuss the events of January 6th.  Worse, I have been called ignorant.

Here is what the dictionary says:

Coup = a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.

Perhaps my critics would feel safer with “insurrection” which seems to be the preferred word in the media.

Here is what the dictionary says:

Insurrection = a violent uprising against an authority or government.

The subtlety of the difference between the two words seems to revolve around the first being seizure of power, whilst the second is an uprising against those in power.  Beyond that they are both a reference to violence and an attempt to unseat, or change government.  Presumably a failed coup implies that power was not wrested from the government despite the attempt.

Let’s review January 6th:

A large crowed assembled in Washington at the behest of the recent loser of an election

That loser had insisted since the election that it was unfair and that the exposure of the fraud would result in a victory, rather than a loss, for him.

Indeed, the loser of the election had been preparing the ground for this post-election position during the months leading up to the election.  He had routinely claimed that if he lost it could only be because of fraud.

The loser’s supporters were thus primed to suspect the election result, and were ready to reject it.  So some of them made plans to target specific opponents; they brought weaponry for the purpose; they carried out intelligence-gathering in order to find their way around the Capitol; and they cooperated in groups in order to amplify their strength.  They were intent on violence.

So, when the loser of the election issued a summons to his supporters in December, saying that they should assemble in Washington on January 6th and that the day would be “wild”, this supporters, or at least the more agitated of them, took the summons as a call to arms.

The significance of January 6th is clear: it is the day on which Congress assembled to accept, as a matter of pro-forma protocol, the election result.

But this year protocol was ignored.  The loser’s party, incited by the loser, and in order to show loyalty to him, also rejected the election result.  So instead of a pro-forma event, the assembly of Congress was a heated confrontation.  Calls were loud and insistent for members of Congress to vote against the election result.

This created the possibility, in the minds of the loser’s more ardent supporters, that the result might, indeed, be overturned.  A false belief was created.  It was false because the loser’s party does not have exclusive control of the process, and the winner’s party could enforce the election result.

Nonetheless the loser of the election encouraged and abetted his supporters in this false belief and staged the aforementioned rally on the day Congress met.

At the outset of the rally the loser and various of his notable confidantes excited and incited the crowd, not only in this belief, but in the thought that they could march on the Capitol where Congress was meeting and challenge the election result directly.

In particular, the loser of the election sought to identify the soon to be ex Vice President, whose role that day was to preside over the meeting of Congress, as a potential traitor to the loser’s cause if he failed to overturn the election result.  Other figures in Congress were also identified during  rally speeches as enemies — they were said to be perpetuating a fraud against the supporters of the loser of the election.

So the scene was set.  The loser of the election himself then urged the crowd to head to the Capitol and intercede in the proceedings. His intent was clear: he was urging his supporters to prevent the affirmation of the election result.  His words were specific.

A large and especially ardent section of the rally crowd took the loser of the election at his word and headed to the Capitol with the consequence that we now are well aware of.

Was this an attempted coup?

It was certainly an illegal attempt to seize power from the government.  And it was manifestly violent.  That the government being attacked was, in fact, led by the very person inciting the uprising and violence, does not diminish the effort.  It was a very specific and organized attempt to prevent the reins of power moving from one faction to another.  It was a violent attempt to prevent the orderly transition from one government to another.

So, yes, in my mind it was an attempted coup.  Call it an insurrection if you want.  If the nuanced differences satisfy you in some way, go ahead.

It was a coup.  It failed.

We need to account for it properly so that history can write the correct narrative.

And those who participated in the attempted sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from our government, must be punished.

This is not a moment to split hairs, nor to try to sugar coat reality.

There was coup attempt.  It failed.  Now let’s pick up the pieces and stop throwing silly epithets about rather than in getting on with the task of rebuilding.


  1. Econoclast
    January 18, 2021 at 5:47 pm

    Excellent. Failed coup, successful insurrection.

    Thanks for your frequent reference to the Loser in Chief as “the loser”. Never once using his name, you thus adhere to one of the highest rules of electoral politics: do not use your opponent’s name any more than absolutely necessary. You have not given him a platform.

    And, as one who has been involved in many demonstrations, I feel offended by the media’s use of “demonstrators” and “protestors” when referring to the insurrectionists. Words matter. Language, including nuances, matters. Insurrectionists are committing a crime by definition.

    This all said, the “reporting” of the last week or so has become tedious filler.

  2. P S BAKER
    January 18, 2021 at 7:36 pm

    If it was a coup, it was remarkably inept. Nobody seemed to be carrying firearms, surely a ‘must’ for any US coup. It was less violent than the average school shooting.

    It was more of a violent protest but their attention-span was shortened by multiple selfie opportunities.

    • Meta Capitalism
      January 18, 2021 at 10:28 pm

      Nobody seemed to be carrying firearms, surely a ‘must’ for any US coup. ~ BS Baker

      There were firearms. Concealed and open carry among militia. The FBI have a record of how many and by whom available for anyone who wants to cut through the BS.

  3. Meta Capitalism
    January 18, 2021 at 10:26 pm

    I prefer Beer Belly Putsch. Fat old men playing G.I. Joe Cosplay.

  4. Ikonoclast
    January 18, 2021 at 11:33 pm

    It was an insurrection and coup attempt. Yes, it was remarkably inept and run by people who are reality-challenged. Nonetheless, it still was an insurrection and coup attempt. To run a successful coup or a successful revolution (and those two definitions are a whole other discussion) one needs a lot of support and a lot of luck certainly. But one also needs a hard-nosed appreciation of coup processes, the amount of resistance to be expected and the high amounts of violence which will be required. Without being prepared to inflict and very likely absorb extreme levels of violence and heavy casualties, coup attempters are simply playing “let’s pretend”. Trump’s mobs like Trump himself were are are reality-challenged babes in the wood when it comes to coups and the ultra-violence necessary to execute them (pun intended).

    I am not in favor of violent coups. I am just pointing out that if you start one you better have the numbers, the weapons and be prepared to go all the way. I guess Trump’s supporters were not ready to die for “The Cause”: losers and cowards by their own standards.

    As this translation reminds us coups and violent revolutions are very bloody affairs.

    The second verse reminds the citizens to show some mercy to the misled minions but not to the tyrant leading them.

  5. A.J. Sutter
    January 19, 2021 at 12:25 pm

    Actually, the reason it’s not an (attempted) coup isn’t that it’s an insurrection, it’s that it was an attempted self-coup, a/k/a ‘autogolpe.’ (The Spanish term is often used, since this was frequent in Latin America, e.g. Chile, Uruguay and Venezuela).

    As you remark, a coup is “a sudden, [violent,] and illegal seizure of power from a government.” I put ‘violent’ in brackets, since while violence is often a feature of coups, it’s not a necessary one (cf. a “bloodless coup,” as in Brazil in 1930, Cuba in 1952, which brought Fulgencio Batista to power). The word ‘from’ is key here: before the coup, there’s an incumbent I in power, and after the coup someone else is in power, a usurper U (which can be an individual or a group) who took power away from I, where U ≠ I.

    In the present US case, the 45th President wasn’t just the “loser” — he was the incumbent, I. The goal of the January 6 action was to maintain him in power illegally. He was already in power, so he wasn’t seizing power from anyone. (Yes, he lost the election, but when a challenger wins the election that person doesn’t have any power until a couple of months afterwards — so the President-elect isn’t someone from whom power can be seized.)

    In such a case, U = I, which is why it’s called a self-coup, and also why the event is different from a (plain old) coup. Typically, the usurper in a self-coup has come to power democratically, and then seeks to seize power by setting aside all democratic procedures and ruling as an autocrat. What’s surprising about the January 6 event is that the incumbent waited so long before attempting it.

    The populist Getúlio Vargas of Brazil has the distinction of coming into power first via coup (1930), then serving as president pursuant to a constitution (1934-1937), then remaining in power via a self-coup (by failing to hold elections in 1937, despite the constitution’s not allowing him to succeed himself), and succeeding himself by self-coup (by failing to hold elections in 1943). He left power in 1945, only to return to it in 1951, and then committed suicide in office in 1954, under threat of a military coup. He’s regarded as the most important Brazilian politician of the 20th Century; with any luck, the 45th US President won’t have the analogous honor in the 21st.

    • Meta Capitalism
      January 19, 2021 at 3:28 pm

      Brilliant A.J.! Most certainly a keeper ;-) But I still like Beer Belly Putsch, it just has a funny ring, and while I don’t think this self-coup should be taken lightly, nevertheless the buffoons were truly a mob of fools.

    • Meta Capitalism
      January 19, 2021 at 3:59 pm

      I like to imagine Abraham asking God what he thought of Trump and God replying, “I see the end from the beginning; trust me, it doesn’t end well for this schmuck!”

  6. Ikonoclast
    January 19, 2021 at 10:46 pm

    A.J. Sutter’s reasoning is purely semantic and thus can be refuted purely semantically.

    “A self-coup, or autocoup (from the Spanish autogolpe), is a form of putsch or coup d’état in which a nation’s leader, despite having come to power through legal means, dissolves or renders powerless the national legislature and unlawfully assumes extraordinary powers not granted under normal circumstances.” – Wikipedia.

    A self-coup is a form of coup. Adjectives and nouns, gentlemen, adjectives and nouns. A blue flower is still a flower. A self coup is still a coup.


    * * *

    It can also be refuted more legalistically and according to the general theory of categories and taxonomies.

    To plagiarize Shakespeare, “A coup by any other name would smell as foul.” There are the objects and processes themselves and then there are our categories and taxonomies of them, expressed in words. It doesn’t matter what word, sound or sign, we use to name an individual object or process or category (father, Vater, padre). What does matter is consistency in categorization / taxonomy within the naming system and in category relations.

    The general convention in linguistic logic is that adjectives and adverbs (modifiers) do not obviate or counter the identity or category of the modified word. A tall father is still a father. To run slowly is still to run. We notice subversion of linguistic logic in literary expressions. “To part is such sweet sorrow.” However, subversion of linguistic logic in serious argumentation leads to a suspicion of disingenuous rhetorical intent. “I did not beat my wife, officer, I just slapped her around a little bit.” “Trump did not attempt a coup your honor, what he attempted was autocoup and it failed anyway.” “It was not a knife your honor, it was only a sharpened plastic shiv with four inches of blade. I don’t call that a knife.”

    A coup is a coup is a coup. “Attempted” and “auto” are modifiers. Intent matters at law as does the seriousness of the intent even if it fails. Attempted murder is a felony. Attempted coup must be a felony. I am not a lawyer so I don’t know how US law will approach this. Usually, when deaths occur due to an illegal or reckless act that attracts a charge of manslaughter. There was one clear murder during the coup-in-progress (of the securioty person bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher according to reports so far. Leaders and instigators bear a responsibility.

    Trump is guilty of leading an insurrection, an attempted coup and is also guilty of manslaughter by leadership association (conspiracy) with these acts. This might be trial-able under RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) and Terrorism Acts (which are latter are too draconian in my view but that’s another argument). Trump is an enemy of the people and a traitor in the light of the US Constitution. He should be stripped of any immunities and tried as a traitor. Arguments that it might divide the nation are spurious. It is already divided. History shows we cannot tolerate or appease fascists. Trump and his active, law-breaking associates and supporters are fascists.

    • Ikonoclast
      January 19, 2021 at 11:38 pm

      From DNYUZ online:

      “Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a history professor at New York University and the author of “Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present”, warns that keeping the president in office after the events that unfolded in the Capitol is too dangerous—not only for the next few days, but for the future of the country and its institutions.

      According to Ben-Ghiat, the Trump-supporting mob was only one of the elements that allowed the coup attempt. Members of Congress who rejected the results of the election and fabricated claims of irregularities enabled what happened, and crucially, law enforcement did too.

      In the attack, Ben-Ghiat, recognized the traits of an authoritarian coup, including law enforcement’s behavior, which she considers deliberate. The lack of action from Capitol Police, united with the lenient behavior by some officers (including the one infamously taking a selfie with a rioter), she says, is a common trait in coups, and adds up to collaboration—either active, or passive. “Non-action by law enforcement is a classic way to enable a violent takeover,” she says, citing Benito Mussolini’s March on Rome as only the most notable example.

      Although Capitol Police Chief Stephen Sund, who resigned, said the failure was one of mismanagement and defended his troops, many lawmakers have promised an investigation into the Capitol Police’s inaction. This is important, Ben-Ghiat says, because unless democratic institutions show no tolerance toward this behavior, it risks feeding an anti-democratic movement. The sense of impunity that moved the mobs to get into the Capitol—and, crucially, get out safely—could easily escalate and enable further insurrection, if those who are responsible for it don’t pay serious consequences.”

  7. A.J. Sutter
    January 20, 2021 at 2:10 am

    Apropos of whether a self-coup is a coup, the distinction is more than semantic.

    When there is danger of a coup in the strict sense (U≠I), the usurpers to guard against are persons who lack any legitimacy. On the contrary, in a self-coup (U=I), the usurper initially has some legitimacy, and therefore the danger may be more difficult to recognize. For example, the incumbent can cloak himself in the mantle of being a democratically elected leader throughout the planning phase of his autogolpe.

    In the present case, the reason why Republican leaders are able to continue to express support for the 45th President is they can invoke, albeit via convoluted and misleading reasoning, the idea of protecting the Constitution. Many of those who stormed the Capitol used similar reasoning and claims. While I admit I can’t sure such rhetoric was never invoked in the case of any coup strictu sensu, it would be prima facie much less plausible.

    Another piece of evidence in that regard is that coups strictu sensu are often followed by new constitutions, whereas in the case of self-coups the original constituion often stays in place.

    Notwithstanding references in this thread to the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch (like the events of 01/06, a failure), what actually brought the Nazis to power was a self-coup 10 years later. They succeeded after Hitler had been appointed German chancellor pusuant to the Weimar Constitution and Nazis had been elected to many seats in the Reichstag. The Ermächtunsgesetz (Enabling Act) of 1933 didn’t repeal or replace the Weimar Constitution, it invoked it. Although it permitted the regime to enact laws that deviated from the Constitution, actually most provisions — including the provisions guaranteeing freedom of religion (arts. 135-141) — remained in effect through the period of Nazi control. The lack of necessity to change the Constitution in order to effect a self-coup was also pointed out by Deputy Prime Minister Aso of Japan, in 2013.

    This isn’t a universal rule, just a tendency: after the election of Mohammed Morsi as President of Egypt, he did attempt to change the constitution; however, he was quickly deposed from power. Vargas of Brazil also proposed a new constitution very shortly after his self-coup in 1937 — though the speed with which he did so suggested that he had long been planning the self-coup itself.

    The situation in Hungary is intermediate: the 2011 Constitution was drafted in a process that had the outward appearance of involving all political parties, not just the ruling party Fidesz. But it illustrates how self-coups can cloak themselves in claims of legitimacy: despite anti-minority provisions, the institutionalization of the Fidesz ideology and the removal of checks and balances on the government (cemented in revisions in 2013), the constitution was claimed to be the “completion” of the country’s transition to democracy.

    The point is that there are significant political differences between a coup by external usurpers and a self-coup. One is practical, in that the latter is much more difficult to guard against. Another is moral: a self-coup is a betrayal by those in whom the electorate had placed their trust, and so is in a significant sense much worse than a regular coup. Instisting on calling the events of 01/06 an attempted “coup” instead of acknowledging it as an attempted self-coup actually minimizes the gravity and threat of what occurred.

    • Meta Capitalism
      January 20, 2021 at 3:22 am

      I find A.J.’s evidence compelling. I think it highlights why this self-coup is really more dangerous.

  8. A.J. Sutter
    January 20, 2021 at 2:16 am

    Sorry: Ermächtigungsgesetz.

  9. Ikonoclast
    January 20, 2021 at 3:27 am

    A.J. Sutter,

    A good argument. I now find myself swayed by your reasoning. I strongly agree with your last paragraph. Adjectives matter. In Australia, if I was told there was a snake in the grass I would want to know its color and patterning. Trump was certainly a snake in the grass and of the most poisonous kind.Too many people believed his “glozing lies”. [1]

    What has gone wrong with the education of the citizenry that has permitted such a brazen liar as Trump to prosper? What has gone wrong with media policy and ownership rules which has permitted certain media oligarchs to wield excess power and wage an anti-science, anti-reason and anti-democratic agenda and propaganda campaign? These are some of the hard questions Americans will have to ask themselves. If fundamental changes are not made, this can happen again and maybe more disastrously.

    1. Milton “Paradise Lost”.

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