Three young children hold signs advocating for gun control legislation.

Republicans Are Calling Everything an Insurrection and They’re Doing It On Purpose

If I were a Republican, I would say that this is how my day is going so far:

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My cat woke me up this morning demanding food. It’s an insurrection! She is undermining my authority! Doesn’t she know that I am the owner and she is the pet? Then I went to the coffee shop, and they had the nerve to write “Jake” instead of “Jack” on my cappuccino! Another insurrection! Depriving me of my God-given name! After that, I went home and turned on the T.V. I saw this creepy ad made completely by A.I. Insurrection strikes again! The robots are taking over! Honestly, I’m struggling to find something that doesn’t count as an insurrection in this day and age!

Except for January 6th. According to Republicans, that totally wasn’t an insurrection.

Republicans have always had a loose definition of the term. And judging by their recent treatment of Montana representative Zooey Zephyr, I don’t think they’re gonna edit their mental dictionaries any time soon.

State Rep. Zephyr was recently silenced by her Republican colleagues and barred from speaking for the rest of the legislative term. Her crime? She told the conservative-dominated state legislature of Montana that they would have “blood on [their] hands” if certain bills banning gender-affirming care for minors were passed. Zephyr is trans herself, and like other transgender Americans, has become a victim of Republican anti-trans attacks. Her constituency has decided to come to her aid. Zephyr represents a liberal district in the otherwise conservative state, yet her treatment by Montana Republicans has left her 11,000 constituents without a voice.

So they made their voices heard.

A group of protestors marched into the gallery of the Montana legislative chamber chanting the phrase “let her speak” in order to support Zephyr. The lawmaker responded by raising her microphone high in the air to amplify their voices. It was a moment of defiance that led to the arrest of seven people. Republican lawmakers used that occurrence to further punish Zephyr, barring her not just from speaking but from appearing on the House floor for the rest of the legislative session.

They claimed this was justified because according to them, Zephyr’s actions during the protest signified a dark intention: to incite an insurrection.

I’m sure the irony is not lost you, dear reader.

In 2021, the former highest-ranking member of the Republican Party attempted to incite an insurrection in order to stop Congress from certifying the entirely legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election. That man was Donald Trump. His efforts to inspire his supporters to riot were successful. Thousands of irate conservatives swarmed into the Capitol building, making a mockery of the democracy it represents. Lethal threats were leveled against many in Congress, the former Vice President Mike Pence among them. The outraged crowd chanted “Hang Mike Pence,” a sentiment of which Donald Trump appeared to approve. As the day went on, those lethal threats came to fruition, albeit not against their intended target. A police officer named Brian D. Sicknick was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher and died the following day. Two other officers died by suicide days after the attack. One alleged rioter was shot and three others died from other circumstances during the riot. January 6, 2021 is a date that will live in infamy. A date when the very fabric of the country was nearly torn asunder by a group of people ignorant of the democratic ideals that the United States claims to represent.

And how did Republicans respond? Most downplayed the tragic outcome of the day, while others denied that the insurrection happened entirely. There is video evidence. There are lasting physical and mental injuries to survivors. There are bodies buried beneath the earth; bodies that would still be breathing had the events of that day not transpired. And yet Republicans are all too willing to forget, because forgetting serves their own political ends.

Yet Republicans allow for a collective jog in their memories when it suits them well. After three Democratic lawmakers in Tennessee held a protest for gun control on the floor of the state legislature, Republicans were quick to cry “insurrection” and “mutiny.” Like in the case of Zooey Zephyr, Republicans were equally quick to punish them. Two of the three lawmakers protesting that day were ousted from power by the conservative-controlled legislature, a disciplinary action that was met with a vehement response from Democrats across the country and the Biden administration itself. The two young Black lawmakers were recently reinstated to their positions, but many Republicans remain undeterred in their efforts to silence dissenters.

America has had a long and troubled history when it comes to civil rights, and those who wish to limit those rights often resort to mischaracterizing and morally discrediting the movements fighting for those rights. Conservatives were outraged by the “insurrections” led by Black and LGBTQ leaders in the early 1960s, and they are equally outraged now. During the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, Republicans were quick to call BLM protestors “rioters” and “looters” and claim that the movement was inciting mass instances of violence across the nation. Yet they celebrated Kyle Rittenhouse, the man who crossed state lines with a military-style rifle and shot three protestors because he was effectively acting on their behalf with his violent acts.

As Yotam Ophir, a University at Buffalo communications professor who focuses on misinformation, told HuffPost, Republicans’ use of the word “insurrection” is not only wrong, it is strategic. By repeating a politically charged term like “insurrection” over and over, it causes the word to lose all meaning. A specific term that is defined as a violent uprising against the government can now be used to use to define any protest, bloody and seditious or not. There were no lives lost when protestors demanded the Tennessee legislature to enact stricter gun control legislation. There were no lives lost when protestors demanded that the only transgender lawmaker in the Montana legislature be allowed to speak out in support of her community. There was also no intent in these instances to overthrow or act against the government, only to make their voices heard, as is our right.

Where lives are lost, as continue to be taken, is where Republican-dominated legislatures continue their efforts to legislate trans people out of existence, proudly exacerbating the already tragically high rate of suicide among trans youth and adults. Lives are lost when those same legislators continue to do nothing to quell the ever-rising tide of gun violence in America. And if people like Zooey Zephyr are not allowed to speak, more lives will be lost in days and years to come.

(featured image: Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

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Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.