Weaponizing language to destroy political opponents
By Bill Connor
The significance of words to further political aims cannot be overstated. During the Communist regimes of the 20th century, like the USSR or Maoist China, those opposed to the authoritarian policies were called “dissidents” to free nations, with a positive connotation. Correspondingly, within Communist regimes dissidents were called counterrevolutionaries or “enemies of the state” with wholly negative connotations. In the 1930s, communists in Europe took on the label of antifascist (Antifa) to counter negative perceptions of communism during Stalin’s ruthlessness collectivization. As the intent of this labeling is to win information warfare and defeat opponents, it becomes the weaponization of language. In recent months, the political left in America has increasingly used weaponization of language to destroy the political right, particularly in the aftermath of Jan. 6.
Before I go further, let’s be clear: The lawlessness at the Capitol was inexcusable, and those who broke the law deserve to be prosecuted. From Jan. 6 on, virtually all conservatives have made those same points and denounced the violence. America is in agreement that what happened was wrong and should never happen again. The issue since Jan. 6, however, has been more with the words used by the left to describe what happened and stigmatize tens of millions. The left has been purposeful with language weaponization to stigmatize all conservatives in a way we have never seen. Let me explain.
To begin with, it’s important to accurately describe what happened on Jan. 6 without political hyperbole or exaggeration. Though Democrats and mainstream media immediately began to call Jan. 6 an “armed insurrection” (within days, CNN put together the documentary entitled “Trump Insurrection” and Democrats began to call those even loosely involved “insurgents”), that just wasn’t true. Webster’s Dictionary definition of insurrection (without the modifier of “armed”) is “an act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government.” An “armed” insurrection is the more violent version involving the use of lethal weapons to overthrow the established government through violence and death. The connotation of “insurrection” to most Americans is of an existential and lethal attempt to bring down the government. As Sen. Ron Johnson said in disputing the exaggerated labeling, to overwhelming criticism from Democrats and the mainstream media: “This didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me. When you hear the word ‘armed,’ don’t you think of firearms? Here’s the questions I would have liked to ask: How many firearms were confiscated? How many shots were fired?”
The publicized death count was another argument used to defend the label “insurrection,” so it must be scrutinized with no attempt to demean the service of Officer Brian Sicknick. We know that Trump supporter and alleged “insurgent” Ashley Babbitt was shot and killed while unarmed by a Capitol city police officer as she was coming through a window. She was likely the only person shot and likely the only person we know was killed by another, as I will explain. We know that two of the other deaths of Trump supporters were caused by stroke and heart attack; the deaths happened outside the Capitol and were related to health issues, not violence. One Trump supporter died in what appears to be a crowd-trampling incident, though that is unclear at this point.
This brings us to Officer Brian Sicknick, who should be commended for his service as a law enforcement officer, and who was the one death alleged to be caused by those rioting. What happened with the narrative and reporting of Officer Sicknick’s death, however, was horrible and biased reporting in a number of ways. On Jan. 7, CNN reported Sicknick’s death connected to the riots. On Jan. 8, the New York Times published a story claiming pro-Trump supporters overpowered Officer Sicknick and struck him on the head with a fire extinguisher, causing his death. That same day, Nancy Pelosi began the use of “insurrection” in this statement: “the violent and deadly act of insurrection targeting the Capitol … The perpetrators of Officer Sicknick’s death must be brought to justice.”
It turned out that the Democrat and media narrative of Sicknick’s death, the death that justified the term “armed insurrection,” turned out to be wrong by accounts of family and medical reports. As reported by the Daily Mail, “the very day that the New York Times (Jan. 8) account ran, Sicknick’s own brother, Ken, spoke with ProPublica and said that his brother had been in good spirits and had texted him after returning to the department. He said, ‘He texted me last night and said, “I got pepper-sprayed twice,” and he was in good shape.’” Sicknick’s father said this about his son’s death: “He had a blood clot on his brain and had a stroke … operating was not an option.’” In mid-February, the New York Times quietly retracted its story about Sicknick being killed by being overpowered and struck on the head. They admitted the cause of death was not what was initially reported and was unclear. The murder investigation has yielded no arrests, despite the ubiquitous video of everything at the Capitol. Regardless, the term “armed insurrection” has stuck.
In addition to weaponizing and normalizing the words “armed insurrection” and “insurgent” to stigmatize Trump supporters and conservatives, Democrats began to label those involved with the Jan. 6 riot “white supremacists.” Likely, some white supremacists were involved, but we have also learned that at least some minority BLM/Antifa supporters were involved. For example, Kyle Cheney of Politico discovered through court records that activist and self-described journalist John Sullivan (he says he is not with Antifa, and BLM has disavowed association) had been paid $35,000 apiece from CNN and NBC for his video footage from the riot. The court records are from Sullivan’s arrest for being part of the riot. Videos showed nonwhite John Sullivan with a bullhorn yelling for people to invade the Capitol and yelling “Burn this sh*t down.” He was at the critical breach points, and at the shooting of Ashli Babbitt. The investigations are ongoing, but the weaponization of the term “white supremacist” has been normalized.
To show how pervasive the label has become, attorney general nominee Merrick Garland said the following during his confirmation hearings: “If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution the white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.” This use of “white supremacists” as an undisputed factual assertion is shocking for a potential future AG. For one, potential jurors hear this assertion and will be tainted by the belief that all who were involved were white supremacists. Second, this tends of stigmatize all Trump supporters as white supremacists. Clearly, the misguided aim of the rioters was to delay the electoral certification to help Donald Trump. The assumption of white supremacy exists only to connect all Trump supporters to that label.
In describing the Jan. 6 event with weaponized language, Democrats have garnered perceived justification to militarize Washington, D.C., for the foreseeable future. At a recent CNN Town Hall, Joe Biden showed further consequences of the weaponized language when he alleged military and law enforcement were “fueling the growth of white supremacy.” Biden’s new defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, is conducting a military-wide stand-down to root out this alleged massive threat, which is now connected to Trump support.
The weaponization of language is wrong and must stop before the nation is ripped apart from within. We have seen the history of the use of such language, and it’s not something we want. It will only stop when all Americans recognize the danger and demand it not be tolerated. It is not who we are — or what we want to become.
Bill Connor is a 1990 Citadel graduate, 30-year Army infantry colonel and combat veteran. He is a writer and attorney and lives in the Charleston area.