Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash While violent and shocking, what happened on January 6th wasn’t a coup.
This Trumpist uprising was electoral violence, much like the electoral violence that plagues many fragile democracies.
What is a coup?
While coups do not have a single definition, researchers who study them – like us – agree on the key features of what is known as the “coup event”.
Putschists Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne define a coup as “an obvious attempt by the military or other elites within the state apparatus to remove the sitting head of state by unconstitutional means”.
Essentially, three parameters are used to judge whether a riot is a coup event:
1) Are the perpetrators agents of the state, such as military officials or rogue government officials?
2) Is the target of the uprising the director general of the government?
3) Do the conspirators use illegal and unconstitutional methods to seize executive power?
Coups and coups attempts
A successful coup took place in Egypt on July 3, 2013, when army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi forcibly removed the country’s unpopular president, Mohamed Morsi. Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, recently oversaw the drafting of a new constitution. Al-Sisi also suspended that. This is considered a coup as al-Sisi illegally seized power and introduced his own rule of law into the ashes of the elected government.
Coups do not always succeed in overthrowing the government.
In 2016, members of the Turkish military tried to remove Turkey’s strong president, Reçep Erdogan, from power. Soldiers occupied key areas in Ankara, the capital and Istanbul, including the Bosphorus Bridge and two airports. However, the coup lacked coordination and broad support, and it quickly failed after President Erdogan urged his supporters to face the conspirators. Erdogan remains in power today.
What happened in the US Capitol?
The Capitol Rebellion does not meet all three of the criteria for a coup.
Trump’s insurgent supporters turned against a branch of executive power – Congress – illegally through trespassing and property destruction. Check categories 2 and 3.
For Category 1, the rioters appeared to be civilians operating at their own request, not state actors. President Trump instigated his supporters to march onto the Capitol less than an hour before the crowd marched into the grounds. He insisted that the elections had been stolen and said, “We won’t take it anymore.” This comes after months of spreading unsubstantiated election lies and conspiracies that have led many Trump supporters to perceive government misconduct.
Whether the president’s motivation to incite the anger of his supporters was to attack Congress is not clear, and he told them lukewarmly to go home as the violence escalated. Currently, the Washington, DC uprising appears to have taken place without the consent, help or active leadership of government actors such as the military, police, or sympathetic GOP officials.
American political elites, however, are hardly blameless.
By spreading conspiracy theories about electoral fraud, many Republican senators, including Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, created the conditions for political violence in the United States, and especially for election-related violence.
Scientists have documented that controversial political rhetoric increases the risk of election-related violence. Elections are at stake; They represent a transfer of political power. When government officials degrade and discredit democratic institutions while a simmering political conflict rages on, controversial elections can spark political violence and mob rule.
So what happened
The shocking events of January 6th were political violence that too often brings elections to fail in young or unstable democracies.
The elections in Bangladesh suffered from years of mob violence and political uprisings due to years of government violence and anger from the opposition. The 2015 and 2018 elections looked more like war zones than democratic transitions.
In Cameroon, armed dissidents committed violence against government buildings, opposition members and innocent bystanders in the 2020 elections. Their goal was to delegitimize the vote as a reaction to sectarian violence and transgressions of government.
US electoral violence is different in cause and context from that in Bangladesh and Cameroon, but the action was similar. The US didn’t have a coup, but this Trump-encouraged uprising is likely to put the country on a politically and socially turbulent path.
Clayton Besaw, Research Affiliate and Senior Analyst, University of Central Florida and Matthew Frank, Masters Student, International Security, University of Denver
This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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