Written by Dead Obeidallah
We all wanted the judge in Colorado to disqualify Donald Trump from the ballot for engaging in an insurrection in violation of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. Unfortunately, the judge refused to do so, instead engaging in a strained and questionable reading of the specific language of Section 3 finding it did not apply to the President. (I’ll touch on this issue more below.) But still the judge’s ruling concerning Trump and Jan 6 is not only helpful—it’s deeply alarming.
What Colorado District Judge Sarah Wallace did rule—after a three week trial–was that Donald Trump “engaged in an insurrection” on January 6, 2021 as defined by Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. Judge Wallace—in her 102 page ruling—found that an “insurrection” at the time of ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment was understood to refer to any public use of force or threat of force by a group of people to hinder or prevent the execution of law.” The judge concluded that based on the evidence the “events on and around January 6, 2021, easily satisfy this definition of “insurrection.”
Judge Wallace then found Trump had in “engaged” in this insurrection “through incitement” of the crowd on Jan 6th in his speech at the Ellipse. In support of this, the judge gave examples such as Trump telling his supporters shortly before the Jan 6 attack to “fight” 20 times and imploring the angry crowd to action with lines like, “You will have an illegitimate president…we can’t let that happen.” In sum, the judge noted, “Such incendiary rhetoric, issued by a speaker who routinely embraced political violence and had inflamed the anger of his supporters leading up to the certification, was likely to incite imminent lawlessness and disorder.”
Despite this, Judge Wallace refused to disqualify Trump from the ballot, writing that “for whatever reason the drafters of Section Three did not intend to include a person who had only taken the Presidential Oath.” However, the idea that the Framers of the 14th Amendment only sought to disqualify from the ballot members of Congress but not a president who engaged in an insurrection flies in the face of common sense. In fact, Judge J. Michael Luttig and Laurence Tribe stated as much on MSNBC this weekend noting they believed the decision was “incorrect as a matter of constitutional law.” Thankfully, the attorneys’ for the plaintiffs have vowed to appeal this part of the ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court.
But putting aside that legal issue, we must all heed the warnings of Judge Wallace about how dangerous Trump is. As the judge wrote, “Trump has consistently endorsed violence and intimidation as not only legitimate means of political expression, but as necessary, even virtuous.” She added alarmingly, “Further, the Court has found that Trump was aware that his supporters were willing to engage in political violence and that they would respond to his calls for them to do so.”
The Judge is 100% correct. Trump has a long documented history of embracing violent rhetoric that has led his supporters to threaten or commit acts of violence ranging from his 2016 presidential campaign through today.
And just as worrisome, Trump has defended those who have committed some of these violent acts. For example, Trump has repeatedly slammed the “unfair” prosecution of his supporters who waged the Jan 6 insurrection to prevent Congress from certifying President Biden’s victory and vowed to pardon a “large portion of them.” Trump’s promise to pardon those who engaged in this attack could be seen as a message to his supporters that if they engage in future violence in his name to help him win in 2024, he will pardon them if elected President.
All of this is why Trump’s recent ratcheting up of dehumanizing rhetoric directed at those who oppose him is truly dangerous. Some of the most jarring comments include Trump at the March gathering of conservative activists at the CPAC convention when he told the audience, “for those who have been wronged and betrayed: I am your retribution.” Later in that speech, Trump listed his political enemies from Republicans who are not supportive of him (“RINO’s”) to “globalists” to Democrats. He then vowed if he wins, “we will liberate America from these villains and scoundrels once and for all.”
“Retribution” and “liberating” the nation from political opponents is not something heard before in America politics—let alone from the person leading the 2024 field for the GOP presidential nomination.
In recent weeks, Trump has become even more unhinged, irresponsibly telling his supporters that those who oppose him are “vermin” who “lie and steal and cheat on elections.” In that same speech he added that “the threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous and grave than the threat from within.”
In other words, Trump is conditioning–or even arguably radicalizing–his supporters to believe that those who oppose Trump are “vermin” who must be “liberated” from our nation. This explains why experts on autocrats and dictators like historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat are warning us that Trump is now employing language “used effectively by Hitler and Mussolini to dehumanize people and encourage their followers to engage in violence.”
Judge Wallace found that Trump engaged in a violent insurrection on Jan 6, 2021, to remain in power. Today’s Trump is even more desperate given he understands that the most effective way to remain out of prison given he’s facing 91 felony charges in four jurisdictions is to win in 2024. This combination is more than combustible—it very well could be the recipe for how our democratic Republic ends.