Last Thursday, on the eve of the first anniversary of the June 6, 2021, events at the U.S. Capitol, Attorney General Merrick Garland delivered a speech in which he reviewed the status of the Justice Department’s continuing efforts to investigate what happened and prosecute those who may have committed criminal acts. It was a long speech and our interest was piqued if only because not once did he use the word “insurrection” to describe what happened. He called it a “riot” and “an assault on our democracy.” But not an “insurrection.”
This even though for months CNN, MSNBC, NPR and almost all newspapers and magazines matter-of-factly did use that term. And in a speech on the same day Garland spoke, President Biden went even further and described it as an “armed insurrection.”
So we drilled down on the definition of “insurrection” and found among the listed synonyms the words “rebellion,” “revolution,” and “revolt.” We also came across the recurring observation that the term is ordinarily used to describe “the organized use of violent force with the aim of replacing one government or political system with another.” We then learned from various news sources, including Reuters and the Washington Examiner, that the FBI had, in fact, not found any evidence of this.
It thus suggests to us that AG Garland’s choice of language was significant. The president and the mainstream media may be anxious to make maximum political hay out of the attack by painting an ominous picture of some vast Donald Trump-led conspiracy. But Garland, as the nation’s chief legal officer, had to be concerned that “insurrection” would work to deny those individuals charged with January 6 crimes the opportunity to get a fair trial based on what they actually did.
However, as we see it, the Attorney General also has a duty to go further and disabuse the public of any notion of a broad conspiracy so that no one will be victimized by the patent hyperbole that is driving the January 6 issue.