Folks, the coup attempt to overthrow our democracy on January 6th by Trump traitors is not over! Not by a long shot.

The battle is now being waged in the words we use to describe what happened, and will determine what happens next. For those in the climate movement that are focused on Biden’s environmental appointments or other climate news, if we relax now, few of the things we want to accomplish will happen. We must choose the words we use carefully and brutally. Here’s why.

After the Black Lives Matter protests I posted The Language of the Moment in the Streets Will Cause Us to Succeed or Fail. In it I pointed out that language after a major crisis shapes the narrative for what follows. Contrast the phrase “I Can’t Breathe” with “Defund the Police.” The second phrase almost lost the election for justice democrats. The same will be true with January 6th. The words we choose are important and must be used quickly, consistently and as widely as possible. The Trump far right and white supremacists are already winning. Simply by virtue of staging the event and claiming to be the victims.

Ask yourself, were these events “First Amendment Protests” as some in the Pentagon would have you believe, or were they an Attempt to Overthrow Our Democracy? Were these people American Patriots or were they Domestic Armed Terrorists attacking our country? Was this just a protest or a coup attempt?

There are so many reasons why this attack was horrific. But reasons don’t move people’s hearts or minds. The right words do. After the event, words are the weapons that these far right white supremacists and terrorists will use to excuse their behavior.

If you are like me, you are a little tired and a little relieved that it’s over. You may be disengaging. Crisis fatigue is setting in. The election, the pandemic, the quarantines, the recession, now the failed coup attempt. You may even want to excuse the behavior of the protestors a little. They were just a mob. Things got out of hand. They were just (proud) boys. Please don’t let your guard down. It’s not over.

The Left has a fatal flaw in wanting everything to be all Kumbaya. For example, Love Trumps Hate. There will be a whitewashing of this attempted coup by the right wing. There are two primary linguistic frames/traps they are setting.

The first is that we must have “unity and healing.” This sounds reasonable, but our response must be “No unity without accountability and justice!”

The second trap is minimization or framing of what happened as not too important. We will hear the phrase, “Move On.” For example, 1) There are only x days left in Trump’s term, 2) Biden needs to build bridges, 3) There’s no way congress will impeach or the cabinet will invoke the 25th so why bother? Our response must be “We can’t, won’t and shouldn’t move on.” We will also hear a false equivalency against Black Lives Matters protests. We also can’t afford to be wishy washy or forgive and forget, even though we are tired and the list of excuses is growing. Let’s look at what actually happened.

A preplanned coup attempt by a group of armed right wing white supremacists attacked our country and tried to prevent our congress from certifying the election. This effort was incited and created by Trump, a sitting president who has spread lies and propaganda against the will of the people in a legitimate election. Five people were killed, including one police officer who was murdered. Pipe bombs were planted. Our senators and representatives were forced to flee. The capitol building was trashed and vandalized as was our worldwide image and credibility. Critical national guard troops were withheld. Capital police failed to use force to prevent this. Trump applauded these efforts.

What if they had succeeded? What if senators and representatives had been taken hostage or killed? What if the Capitol had been burned? What if this spreads to statehouses? We’ve already seen an attempt to kidnap the governor of Michigan.

The point is that this was an attack on our country, our homeland, and democracy. These were terrorists. This was a coup attempt. Those who planned and took place in it, including Trump must be held accountable. Because when we don’t hold them accountable it just moves a subtle incremental bar lower for what is acceptable. It permits further chaos.

If we are to successfully message this moment there are several steps we must take. They are:

  1. Clearly name and define the January 6th attack
  2. Characterize the perpetrators, Trump, and the enablers.
  3. Provide praise for those who act courageously and join in condemning the act
  4. Point out the racial disparity and injustice of the police response
  5. Voice our vision, demands and a call to action people can take

So when we use language to describe what happened it should be stark and clear. We have a tendency to want to soft-pedal what happened and talk it down, hoping for reconciliation. Here’s a guide to the words we use.

Replace Embrace Why
1. Name the Event
First Amendment Protest
Attack Words like protest legitimize the actions.
Riot Planned Attack Adding the word planned eliminates the
idea that this was just spontaneous
Insurrection Attack Against Our Country,
Attempted Coup
Insurrection like the word revolution
can be associated with overcoming injustice.
2. Characterize Perpetrators
Protestor Right-Wing Militants
Terrorist, White Supremacist
Protestor legitimizes the action
Mob Violent Terrorists Mob absolves those involved from responsibility
Patriots Right-Wing Militants
Domestic Terrorists
Enemies of America
Don’t make me throw up.
Pro-Trump or
Trump Supporter
Trump Incited Supporters
Cowardly Enablers
Soon we will eliminate the word Trump
from our vocabulary. It’s important to call
out those that lied about the election.
Seditionists Far Right Terrorists
White Supremacists
No one knows what a seditionist is.
3. What’s at Stake
The Election Free and Fair Elections
Our Country, Our Homeland,
Our Constitution, Our Democracy
Use the words free and fair to describe
the election. But the remember the reason
we have elections is to preserve our democracy
for all, no exceptions.
The Capitol Our Country, Our Homeland,
Our Constitution, Our Democracy
The capitol is a building. Sure it’s a symbol.
But it’s abstract. How can we connect the action
to how it affects people?
Rule-of-Law Rule of Law, Our Democracy,
Security, Security for Our Children,
We can’t have democracy without rule-of-law.
This provides security.
4. Why
Stolen Election Lies and propaganda in order to
steal the constitutional, fair and
legitimate votes (or will) of all Americans.
It’s important to identify why those in power
tried to attempt this. The main reason is to
overturn the constitution and remain in power.
Also to hide their failed programs.
5. Adjectives and Other Words
Just Justice Just is a qualifier. It is used to make something
seems OK. It was just a nuclear bomb. We
want justice

So how do we use these words. Here’s an example. Remember that direct language is best. Avoid the adverb not, and remember when you fight a frame you entrench it. For example, rather than say, “These were NOT protestors,” use direct language such as, “These were domestic terrorists.”

Values Sandwich on the coup attempt and attack on our democracy.

When an armed group of white supremacists tries to overturn the results of our American elections and violently attacks our country to overthrow our democracy, all Americans are affected. Regardless of the color of our skin, where we live, or the size of our bank accounts, we must stand together to defend democracy, our security, and our way of life for ourselves and our children.

 For too long we have been fed misinformation and lies by the president and his enablers in order to overturn the results of our democratic elections and the rule of law. He does this for no other reason than to cling to power and hide his failures.

 Security comes from rule of law. We believe that security is achieved by following the rule-of-law and holding the president, his enablers and those terrorists accountable for these deadly and abhorrent attacks.

 Now is the time for all Americans to stand up for each other, the rule-of-law, our democracy and security. Call your senators and representatives today and tell them that the president must be impeached and never be allowed to hold office in America again.

Here’s another version as provided by Anat Shenker-Osorio*:

January 6th, was an attack on our country by right wing militants directed by a president and complicit Republicans who refuse to honor the will of the people.

 This is what traitors look like: Confederate flags in our Congress, while some who swore to serve and protect us and others who pledged to govern in our name enabled these armed terrorists .

 All the while, we’ve seen police target, detain, and kill Black people and violently repress those protesting equal justice, while a handful of politicians empower them, hoping to divide and distract us from their failures.

 Every elected official who incited these attacks and whose lies fueled these flames, must be removed from office or resign. Never again can we allow any elected leader to marshal forces to attack our democracy.

 With the courage of our convictions, we can hold these traitors to account to truly make this a country where our leaders reflect the very best kind of American, and where liberty and justice is for all, no exceptions.

 Thanks for reading this. Please pass it on and let me know if you need help with your messaging.

*ASO reference.


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*ASO reference