Trump’s ‘Liberate Michigan!’ Tweets Incite Insurrection. That’s Illegal.Roundup
tags: Donald Trump, COVID-19, Federalism
Mary McCord is legal director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and a visiting professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. She was acting U.S. assistant attorney general for national security from 2016 to 2017.
President Trump incited insurrection Friday against the duly elected governors of the states of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia. Just a day after issuing guidance for re-opening America that clearly deferred decision-making to state officials — as it must under our Constitutional order — the president undercut his own guidance by calling for criminal acts against the governors for not opening fast enough.
Trump tweeted, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” followed immediately by “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and then “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” This follows Wednesday’s demonstration in Michigan, in which armed protestors surrounded the state capitol building in Lansing chanting “Lock her up!” in reference to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and “We will not comply,” in reference to her extension of the state’s coronavirus-related stay-at-home order. Much smaller and less-armed groups had on Thursday protested on the state capitol grounds in Richmond, Va., and outside the governor’s mansion in St. Paul, Minn.
“Liberate” — particularly when it’s declared by the chief executive of our republic — isn’t some sort of cheeky throwaway. Its definition is “to set at liberty,” specifically “to free (something, such as a country) from domination by a foreign power.” We historically associate it with the armed defeat of hostile forces during war, such as the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control during World War II. Just over a year ago, Trump himself announced that “the United States has liberated all ISIS-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq.”
In that context, it’s not at all unreasonable to consider Trump’s tweets about “liberation” as at least tacit encouragement to citizens to take up arms against duly elected state officials of the party opposite his own, in response to sometimes unpopular but legally issued stay-at-home orders. This is especially so given the president’s reference to the Second Amendment being “under siege” in Virginia, where Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam just signed into law a number of gun-safety bills passed during the most recent session of the state general assembly — bills that prompted protests by Second Amendment absolutists at the state capitol in January, leading Northam to declare a state of emergency and temporarily ban firearms from the capitol grounds due to the threat of violence.
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