Insurrection Defined

Watching the violence of January 6, 2021, I could not believe what I was witnessing in the United States of America.  As I watched and followed the news of this incident, some people called the act an insurrection and some people called it a peaceful protest with people taking a tour of the Capital building!

Well it was not peaceful and the crowd was not spontaneous in their efforts.  There was much rhetoric about “the steal” after the November 2020 election.  So the planning of the January 6th event began.

The Wall Street Journal published an opinion article that was titled Stop Calling Jan. 6 an ‘Insurrection’  behind their paywall but the beginning stated “That’s a legal term that denotes much more than a sporadically violent riot or disturbance.”1  What happened on January 6th was not “a sporadically violent riot” but a on-going movement to keep a president, that lost reelection, in place as the president.

I went looking for legal definition of insurrection and found many references to the term, but no real definitions. The Constitution of the United States in the 14th Amendment states:

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.2

The United State criminal code states:

§2383. Rebellion or insurrection

Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.3

Still these references do not define “insurrection” so I continued to look for a definition.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines insurrection as

The action of rising in arms or open resistance against established authority or governmental restraint; with plural, an instance of this, an armed rising, a revolt; an incipient or limited rebellion.4“Insurrection, N.” Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford UP, September 2023,

After digging into the effort like a lawyer5I am not a lawyer, I just argue like one., I found some cases that did define insurrection.  In the Pan American World Airways, Inc. v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 505 F.2d 989, 1017 (2d Cir. 1974) case, the court stated

“Insurrection” presents the key issue because “rebellion,” “revolution,” and “civil war” are progressive stages in the development of civil unrest, the most rudimentary form of which is “insurrection.” … The district court held that the word insurrection means “[1] a violent uprising by a group or movement [2] acting for the specific purpose of overthrowing the constituted government and seizing its powers.”6

With that legal definition, I think a competent lawyer could argue the January 6th “incident” was an insurrection.  I cannot wait to see what the Supreme Court of the United States thinks about this incident.