What Does Insurrection or Sedition Mean? Definition of Words Used To Describe Capitol Riot

The rioting at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday has been described as both insurrection and sedition by politicians and media organizations—but what do these terms mean?

Supporters of President Donald Trump broke into the Capitol building and gained access to lawmakers' offices and the Senate chamber, leaving damage and destruction in their wake.

Rather than condemn the rioters' actions, Trump told them in a video that was later removed by Twitter: "We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it."

Trump also told them: "So go home, we love you and you're very special. You've seen what happens. You've seen the ways others are treated which are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home and go home in peace."

The chaos at the Capitol, which left four people dead, has been described by politicians and media organizations as "insurrection" and "sedition"—this is what they mean.

Insurrection definition

Insurrection is defined by the Oxford Languages dictionary as "a violent uprising against an authority or government."

Sedition definition

Sedition is defined by the Oxford Languages dictionary as "conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch."

Coup definition

The chaos yesterday has also been described as a failed coup. A coup is defined by the Oxford Languages dictionary as "a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government."

The riot has been described as a coup attempt by news outlets including The Washington Post and The Atlantic, while many political figures have described yesterday's events as insurrection and sedition.

President-elect Joe Biden used the words insurrection and sedition to describe the chaos at the Capitol during his speech on Wednesday. Biden said: "Let me be very clear: The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America. Do not represent who we are. What we're seeing is a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness.

"This is not dissent. It's disorder, it's chaos, it borders on sedition. And it must end now...

"To storm the Capitol, to smash windows, to occupy offices, the floor of the United States Senate, rummaging through desks... On the Capitol, on the House of Representatives, threatening the safety of duly elected officials... It's not protest, it's insurrection."

Let me be very clear: the scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not represent who we are. What we are seeing is a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness. This is not dissent, it's disorder. It borders on sedition, and it must end. Now.

— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) January 6, 2021

Former President George W. Bush released a statement on Wednesday evening that referred to the riot as insurrection. Bush said: "The violent assault on the Capitol—and disruption of a Constitutionally-mandated meeting of Congress—was undertaken by people whose passions have been inflamed by falsehoods and false hopes.

"Insurrection could do grave damage to our Nation and reputation. In the United States of America, it is the fundamental responsibility of every patriotic citizen to support the rule of law."

Republican and former presidential nominee Mitt Romney also described the Capitol riot as insurrection and said: "We gather today due to a selfish man's injured pride and the outrage of his supporters whom he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning.

"What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the president of the United States."

President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump greets the crowd at the "Stop The Steal" Rally on January 06, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Many politicians and media outlets are describing Wednesday's events as insurrection and sedition. Tasos Katopodis/Getty

Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said that Trump "cheered the insurrection" and called for his removal in a Twitter post on Thursday: "Trump's terrorists rolled into Capitol [with] guns, mace and zip-tie handcuffs. They planned to take hostages and likely perform executions, ala the Michigan statehouse plot.

"President Trump incited and cheered the insurrection. He should be immediately removed from office and prosecuted."

The editorial board of The Washington Post has called for Trump's immediate removal as they describe his behavior on Wednesday as sedition.

The statement from the outlet says that Trump's "refusal to accept his election defeat and his relentless incitement of his supporters led Wednesday to the unthinkable: an assault on the U.S. Capitol by a violent mob that overwhelmed police and drove Congress from its chambers as it was debating the counting of electoral votes.

"Responsibility for this act of sedition lies squarely with the president, who has shown that his continued tenure in office poses a grave threat to U.S. democracy."

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