Are we witnessing an attempted coup in Washington during the unprecedented assault on the Capitol?

After the assault on the Capitol, which did not prevent the official proclamation of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the new president and vice president of the United States, respectively, the Democrats denounced an attempted “coup”, a view that was also shared by the Republicans (for example , Illinois Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger).

“What we are witnessing is a coup attempt directly instigated by the criminal in the White House. It will fail,” Democrat William Pascrell tweeted.

Atlantic magazine and Rebecca Solnit, a writer and columnist for The Guardian, also called him that.

“Trump repeatedly and blatantly lied, basically ordering his supporters to mount a riot, and they did what they were asked to do. This attack on our Capitol will not be tolerated, and those involved will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” he tweeted. outgoing Vice President Mike Pence “You could start with your boss,” says the US magazine.

“The conversation about what has happened in recent months has often played with false duality: a successful coup, in which elections are stolen, or a failed coup; but there is something insidious in between: the delegitimization of the democratic process and the incoming administration. In this in-between state, Trump supporters continue to consider themselves and their leader above the law, thinking they have the right to enforce it however they see fit, based on the facts they like best. building a separate reality, and they seem to want a shadow government to undermine the legitimate one. Today we saw this in action, “writes Solnit.

Even veteran Republican Mitt Romney blamed President Donald Trump in no uncertain terms.

But there are those who do not agree with the term “coup”, or “self-coup”

The most widely accepted definition of a coup implies that those who control the use of repression and violence rebel against the established power., as we already explained in Euronews about what happened in Bolivia in November 2019.

However, experts agree that there is no single definition of a coup, preferring to focus on a few key attributes.

Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne, among the most authoritative on the subject, define the coup as a “flagrant attempt by the military or other elites within the state apparatus to overthrow the head of state by unconstitutional means.”

Essentially, there are three parameters that are used to determine whether an insurgency is a coup:

1) Are the perpetrators agents of the State, for example military officials or government officials?

2) Is the target of the insurgency the chief executive?

3) Are the conspirators using illegal and unconstitutional methods to seize executive power?

Point # 1 disagrees with the definition of a coup by Naunihal Singh, an academic interviewed by Foreign Policy.

Neither the army nor the intelligence services were involved, and this is a key point, says Singh. This is about the street violence that Trump incited.

“A group of ragged, poorly organized protesters who were treated with silk gloves, a treatment not reserved for peaceful protesters in Portland, Washington, and across the country last summer (during the Black Lives Matter protests),” he says.

So what can we call what happened on Capitol Hill?

The Capitol riot does not meet the three criteria of the definition of a coup.

The rioters attacked a branch of the executive branch – Congress – and did so illegally, through the invasion and destruction of property. But in terms of the first parameter, the protesters appeared to be civilians doing what they did of their own free will – certainly not state actors.

President Trump certainly incited his supporters to march toward the Capitol building less than an hour earlier, insisting the election was rigged. Months of spreading unsubstantiated lies about the election, and conspiracy theories, have helped create a perception of institutional malfeasance in the minds of many Trump supporters.

However, it is not clear if the president really intended to mount an attack on Congress, or if it was an indirect effect of his words, and at the end of the day he told them to go home in peace (although reiterating the accusations fraud).

For now, it appears that the Washington, DC riots occurred without the approval, assistance, or active leadership of government actors, such as the military, police, or Republican Party officials.

America’s political elites are by no means faultless

By spreading conspiracy theories about voter fraud, numerous Republican senators, including Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, have created the conditions for the violence to spread.

Scholars have no doubt that extremist political rhetoric fuels the risk of violence.

Elections are a time of transfer of political power, and when public officials themselves discredit democratic institutions, what happened on Capitol Hill can happen.

In Bangladesh, for example, elections are permanently characterized by violence and insurgency: those of 2015 and 2018 were more war zones than democratic transitions.

In Cameroon, armed dissidents perpetrated acts of violence in the last elections, in 2020, against government buildings, opposition figures and innocent bystanders. Their goal was to delegitimize the vote in response to sectarian violence and government repression.

Electoral violence in the United States differs in cause and context from that observed in Bangladesh and Cameroon, but there are some similarities, writes AP.

Singh, from Foreign Policy, prefers to speak of “sedition” and says that it is important not to speak of a coup since “we want the right people to be identified as responsible.”

In this case, the president, the party leaders and the street thugs must be singled out. This accountability does not click if we start talking about a coup; It would give free rein to all Republican politicians who have supported what Trump says. “

President-elect Joe Biden called it “an insurgency.”

There has been no coup in the United States, but the “insurgency” promoted by Trump runs the risk of derailing the country down a political and social path that is sure to be turbulent.

Meanwhile, Vice President Pence openly sided with his “boss,” Trump, handing the victory to Democrat Biden. Trump reacted to the Congressional proclamation saying it will ensure an orderly transition of power.

Recent examples of blows and attempted blows

One successful coup was the one that occurred in Egypt on July 3, 2013, when Army Chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi forcibly removed President Mohamed Morsi.

Morsi, the first democratically elected leader in Egypt, had recently overseen the writing of a new constitution. Al-Sisi also suspended this democratic process.

But coups d’état do not always succeed in overthrowing the government as the conspirators propose.

In 2016, members of the Turkish army tried to remove President Reçep Erdogan from power. Soldiers seized key areas of Ankara, the capital, and Istanbul, including the Bosphorus Bridge and two airports. But the coup lacked wide coordination and support, and it quickly failed.