Followers of Donald trump, spurred on by the president himself, assaulted on January 6 the Capitol building and they interrupted the legislative process of certification of the electoral victory of Joe Biden. Four people have died, and several policemen have had to be hospitalized. The session of Congress resumed, but behind closed doors. Despite all the violence and commotion, what happened on January 6 was not a coup.
This Trumpist insurrection it was rather an episode of electoral violence, similar to the one that many fragile democracies constantly suffer.
What is a coup?
Although the concept of a coup does not have a single definition, the researchers who study them (like us) coincide in attributing to it a series of fundamental attributes known as “facts of a coup nature”.
Experts like Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne they define the coup as “an explicit attempt carried out by the military or by other elites belonging to the state apparatus to overthrow the powers of the state through unconstitutional methods.”
Basically three parameters are used to determine whether or not an insurrection is a coup d’état:
Are its perpetrators state actors, such as the military or insurgent leaders? Is the insurrection’s target the head of the government? Do the insurgents use illegal and unconstitutional methods to seize executive power?
Strikes and attempted strikes
An example of a successful coup took place on July 3, 2013 in Egypt, when General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi overthrew the country’s president, the very unpopular Mohamed Morsi. He, who was the first democratically elected president in the history of Egypt, had supported the process of drafting a new Constitution, a project that also ended Al Sisi. All this means that this action can be considered a coup d’état, since Al Sisi took power illegally and built a new rule of law on the ashes of the elected government.
Egyptian protesters celebrate the military coup that overthrew President Mohamed Morsi along with members of the Republican Guard of
Coups d’état are not always successful in overthrowing governments.
In 2016, members of the Turkish army tried to overthrow the country’s president and strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The military seized control of key areas in Ankara, the country’s capital, and Istanbul, including the Bosphorus Bridge and two airports. But the coup lacked good coordination and massive popular support, and it quickly failed when President Erdogan appealed to his supporters to confront the coup plotters. Today, Erdogan remains in power.
What happened in the United States Capitol?
The revolt in the Capitol building does not meet the three criteria described for a coup. The pro-Trump protesters targeted a branch of state power (Congress) and fought it illegally, that is, by breaking into the building and causing damage. With this, therefore, the second and third criteria would be met.
But as regards the first, the participants in the revolt were apparently civilians acting of their own free will, and not state actors. President Trump had spurred his supporters to demonstrate in front of the Capitol less than an hour before the crowd invaded the building. He insisted on the argument that the elections had been stolen from them and that “We will not accept it for another minute.” For months, both lies about alleged electoral fraud and unfounded conspiracy theories had been spread. This created the perception in the minds of many Trump supporters that the state was deceiving them.
However, it is not at all clear that the president’s intention in prodding his followers was for them to storm Congress. And indeed, when the violence got out of control, Trump lukewarmly asked them to go home. At the moment, it appears that the Washington riots were unleashed without the approval, help, or active leadership of any kind of state actor, such as members of the military, police, or fractious leaders of the Republican Party.
A Congressional employee keeps his hands up as a member of a Capitol Police SWAT team clears a room. However, the American political elites are very much to blame for what happened.
By spreading conspiracy theories about alleged electoral fraud, many Republican senators, including Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, created the conditions for the emergence of political violence in the country, and specifically the violence associated with electoral processes.
Researchers have shown that confrontational political rhetoric increases the risk of episodes of electoral violence. Elections are high-risk moments, since they represent the possibility of a transfer of political power. When the leaders of a state discredit democratic institutions and see them as battlefields of an underground power struggle, tight electoral processes can trigger outbreaks of political violence and violations of the rule of law.
So what happened?
The shocking events that occurred on January 6 they were episodes of political violence similar to those that too often occur in young and unstable democracies.
Elections in Bangladesh, for example, suffer endemic episodes of violation of the rule of law and political insurrections due to the fact that for years there has been violence by the government and equally violent reactions by the opposition. The 2015 and 2018 elections gave rise to scenes that were more reminiscent of war zones than democratic transitions.
In Cameroon, During the 2020 elections, groups of armed dissidents carried out numerous violent actions. They targeted both government headquarters and opposition leaders as well as innocent citizens who simply passed by. Their objective was to discredit electoral results, and they acted in response to sectarian violence and abuses of power perpetrated by the government.
Electoral violence in the United States has different motives and contexts than that suffered by Bangladesh and Cameroon. However, the actions themselves are similar. The United States has not suffered a coup, but the insurrection fueled by Trump is likely to plunge the country into a dynamic of political and social turmoil.
The original article is from ‘The Conversation’, has been published by Central Florida University and the University of Denver and written by Clayton Besaw and Matthew Frank