Scott Tibbs

Making normal political speech a crime

By Scott Tibbs, January 27, 2021

Back in 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that incitement can only be punished if the speech in question "is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action." President Donald Trump's words on January 6, 2021, while reckless and irresponsible, do not meet that standard. If any non-celebrity private citizen had said the exact same things Trump did at that rally, he would not be charged with incitement, much less convicted of it.

You may not like what Trump said, which is fine. I agree with you. But every politician uses words like "fight" in political speeches on a daily basis. If you are going to prosecute Trump for his words on January 6, then you have just criminalized the speech of not only most of the political class, but tens of millions of everyday Americans who use those words on social media.

Trump explicitly told the crowd of supporters to "peacefully" march to the Capitol Building and make their voices heard. He did encourage the crowd to "fight," but in the context of primary challenges against members of Congress who did not agree with him. Trump's use of the word "fight" in this context follows a long tradition of politicians and political operatives urging supporters to "fight" in the context of winning elections and working to pass and implement policy they support.

So do Pelosi and other Democrats actually take "incitement" seriously? No, they do not. A few years ago, Congresswoman Maxine Waters urged people to gather a crowd and scream at members of the Trump Administration if they are seen in public. The fact that Nancy Pelosi rushed through the impeachment of Trump but never moved to expel Waters from the House of Representatives demonstrates that she is not serious and this is all about partisan politics and getting a final shot at Trump.

This is not and was never about incitement. This is about punishing Trump and ultimately about punishing Trump's supporters. That is why you see many Democrats openly tying anyone who voted for Trump to the riots and the violent crimes committed on January 6. This is about using the state to silence and punish free speech, and that is incredibly dangerous. This is not how leaders act in a constitutional republic. This is how tyrants act. If Biden actually believes his rhetoric about unifying the country, he would denounce this behavior, especially the rhetoric that targets all 74 million people who voted for Trump. Biden will not do that, because his call for unity is not and was never sincere. This is about dominance, not unity.

Opinion Archives

E-mail Scott

Scott's Links

About the Author