Social scientist on failed pro-Trump coup: 'People are mistaking ridiculous with not serious'

Social scientist on failed pro-Trump coup: 'People are mistaking ridiculous with not serious'
Image via Screengrab / Fox News.

If anyone is still asking if it's fair to classify Wednesday's attack at the Capitol as an attempted coup, the short answer is yes. But Atlantic magazine contributor Zeynep Tufekci, who has lived through four coups in Turkey, told NPR the public needs to focus less on how to classify what happened and start paying attention to just how close rioters came to achieving their goal.

President Donald Trump called for his supporters to march to the Capitol to block Congress from certifying President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory. "We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn't happen," he said at a Save America rally Wednesday in Washington D.C. "You don't concede when there's theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore, and that is what this is all about."

Trump incited a mob that stormed the legislature, where the election was being certified, Tufekci told NPR. "So that is absolutely some sort of coup attempt," she said. Tufekci said that moments of the insurrection Wednesday felt "intimately familiar" and that she's been describing Trump's actions since the election as attempts at a coup.

She said as an academic, she can appreciate Americans debating the best technical term to classify Trump's attempt to overthrow election results."You know there is some value in the precision there, but that shouldn't overshadow what was coming our way, as I was writing, what is being attempted" she said. "The president of the United States was attempting to steal the election by falsely asserting that he won it and trying to mobilize all the extralegal forces he could muster from his office to try to get them to overturn the election in his favor."

By Merriam-Webster's definition, a coup, short for coup d'état, is defined as "a sudden decisive exercise of force in politics especially: the violent overthrow or alteration of an existing government by a small group."

"I think people are mistaking ridiculous with not serious," Tufekci said. Protesters looked ridiculous, angry mobs of people punctuated with those wearing horns and flag capes, "but it's not unserious," Tufekci said. After the mob disrupted the certification process, the majority of the GOP caucus, 138 of 211 Republican representatives, voted to overthrow the results of the Pennsylvania election, "even the Pennsylvania representative who was just elected with those votes," Tufekci said.

"These are not normal hiccups of a transition," she added. "These are attempts to steal an election." Tufekci said there are a lot of ridiculous coup attempts around the world that fail "the first time or the second time, or the third time and then they succeed." GOP legislators voting to throw out legitimate votes even after an attempted coup, "that should scare us," Tufekci said.

Rioters crossed a line in storming the Capitol and so did 65% of Republican legislators who voted to throw out legitimate votes. "It's how we react to that line being crossed that will determine whether they'll try again," Tufekci said. "And there's no reason to assume the next time will be similarly ridiculous or incompetant because this time was very serious."

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