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The Importance of Proper Phrasing in Describing the DC Riot

By Allison G. S. Knox
Contributor, AMU Edge

The insurrection at the United States Capitol on January 6 shocked many American citizens to the core. Many Americans reported afterward that they never imagined this type of event ever happening within the United States Capitol building.

Former President George W. Bush made a statement, writing, “This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic — not our democratic republic.”

Those who participated in the Capitol insurrection might add that they were involved in it to show their discontent with the government and the certifying of the election results. But there has been no inarguable proof that the election had been rigged, as President Trump has said.

The riot at the Capitol Building was a revealing example of the discontent within the U.S. But when it comes to the January 6 insurrection, lawmakers should make it clear through the use of the correct words and phrases that what occurred during this event was simply unacceptable.

Describing what took place at the United States Capitol will be extremely important in the next few weeks and months. AP News reporter David Bauder notes that “words matter in describing the Capitol siege” but they also matter for another important reason. How we think about what happened at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 will have a direct impact on how we move forward after this disturbing incident.

Defining Terrorism

After the January 6 riot happened, terms like “domestic terrorism” were thrown around as Americans tried to make sense of what happened. Brandeis University politics professor and terrorism expert Jytte Klausen does not believe that the incident was an example of terrorism, but was instead sedition and should not be classified as a terrorist act.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) classifies terrorism in two categories: international and domestic. From there, the FBI website explains that international terrorism is “a violent, criminal act committed by individuals and or groups who are inspired by, or associated with, designated foreign terrorist organizations and nations.” According to the FBI, domestic terrorism includes “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial or environmental nature.”

Klausen also notes that the D.C. riot was not well-organized the way see that a terrorist attack is well-organized. She observes that it is important to understand that while such an incident is scary, it should not be classified as a conventional terrorist attack.

If we look at this incident in terms of phrasing and definitions, noting that the D.C. riot wasn’t a terrorist attack puts this incident into its proper context. Using the correct description of the D.C. riot also allows us to look at it from the lens of those people who were involved in the riot and believed they were arguing against a fair election.

Correct Phrasing Is Important

Considering what we understand about terrorism and politics, it is important to keep the January 6 incident within its proper context. The D.C. riot wasn’t an act of terrorism, but it certainly was an act that threatened the core of democracy.

Former Congressman Christopher Shays wrote in a September 2020 Stamford Advocate article that it would be disastrous if President Trump questioned the validity of the election — and he was right. Trump’s public questioning of the 2020 election results when it was clear that it was a fair election had been held was one of several factors that led to the riot.

Ultimately, it is important to keep the insurrection in context for what it was — particularly as we move forward from this incident. Having this riot occur, however, may very well provide the necessary impetus to shift the security of future election results and physical security methods in a more positive direction.

Allison G. S. Knox teaches in the fire science and emergency management departments at American Military University and American Public University. Focusing on emergency management and emergency medical services policy, she often writes and advocates about these issues. Allison serves as the At-Large Director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, Secretary & Chair of the TEMS Committee with the International Public Safety Association and as Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees with Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences. Prior to teaching, she worked for a Member of Congress in Washington, D.C. and in a Level One trauma center emergency department. Passionate about the policy issues surrounding emergency management and emergency medical services, Allison often researches, writes and advocates about these issues. Allison is an emergency medical technician and holds four master’s degrees.

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