When Donald Trump tweets variations of “I’ll see you in the streets,” he is not inviting a normal display of support or opposition to some policy. He is inciting challenge to the legitimate function of democratic government. What he is doing may well be sedition, or something very close to it.
Sedition is a serious crime, not to be confused with getting a parking ticket, or being cited for littering. When he gets off the phone, even Trump should understand. Sedition is described as “overt conduct, such as speech and organization against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent toward, or rebellion against, established authority.”
For some, the sedition statute is an abomination, denying the right of free speech. But it is the law and people have been indicted and convicted in the past several decades without constitutional challenge. The law is there.
Lame-duck presidents are not exempt, and none in the past have been indicted for unwarranted behavior during their inevitable painful passage from “lame duck” to “former.” They lament, mostly in private, but none, in almost 250 years, has cried “fraud” or denied certified results in public. However fatuous, baseless, or absurd, claims of fraud today are not sedition, but encouraging gangs, likely and proudly armed, to protest the results in the streets of Washington may well be. If little old conservative ladies show up there to cheer a counter inauguration ceremony, hailing their deposed chief, it is an acceptable bit of nonsense and theater, but It is also sacrosanct moment of free speech in action. No one should object to that.
But what we are already witnessing is different. At the core of the protesters largely drawn to the streets by Trump’s exhortation, will be the Proud Boys. Their garish uniforms cover bodies filled with hate, ignorance, and sedition. They are in an undisguised rebellion against established authority in our country. They were there before Donald Trump, but he has provided them an opioid that blocks not pain, but reason and restraint.
When soon-to-be former President Trump tweets “See you in the streets” he is unambiguously speaking to Proud Boys. He is not talking to Boy Scouts. Proud Boys are described as “ a far-right, neo-fascist and male only political organization that promotes and engages in political violence in the United States.”
On Jan. 20, when Joe Biden is sworn in as president, we are now likely to see a mock inauguration of a mock president. TV coverage will inevitably be extensive here and abroad and the Proud Boys will deem the day a great success for them. And it will have been.
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We might ignore them, if that were its and Trump’s last hurrah. But it won’t be. Publicity is a steroid for their seditious behavior, and they will see it as proof that they are right.
If Donald Trump uses some of the $200 million he and allies have collected to underwrite their rallies, recruitment, propaganda, he will have fed a fringe group into something larger, stronger, and widespread.
If he leads it into anti-democratic behavior, threatening our peaceful society, it can only be described as sedition.
Norman Sherman of Coralville has worked extensively in politics, including as Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s press secretary, and authored a memoir “From Nowhere to Somewhere.”