Insurrection! The Capitol Riot of January 6 2021: temporal development, political hyperbole, and the democracy/state conflation




Journal Title

Journal ISSN



Volume Title


Rowman and Littlefield


Book chapter

Peer reviewed


This chapter reviews the discursive framework within which a range of civic-minded US commentators presented the Capitol incursion. My particular concern is the depiction of the event as an insurrection, a pivotal claim against which the political and cultural significance of other prominent categories (America, democracy, security, etc.) was measured. The central question here is to what extent this very serious accusation was used in an attempt, not only to counter conspiratorial populism, but also to shore up the ‘foundational’ though problematic core of US values. There is evidence to suggest that these were presented - individually or as a whole - as the natural antithesis of demagoguery and violence. If this is the case, then the strategic creation of these opposites (Jeffries, 2014) prepares the ground for larger ‘strategies of legitimisation’ (Reyes, 2011) which, in turn, help refresh the ‘necessary political fictions’ Ezrahi (2012) that are used to promote the West’s mythical moral singularity. Studying ‘hegemonic’ language use constitutes, however, only one part of the equation. The evaluative utterances made by centrist politicians, security analysts, and orthodox media, can be compared with the actual legal procedures applied to those arrested for specific offences. The condemnation of the January 6 protestors as a consciously insurrectionary force appeared, in the end, to be more rhetorical than practical. The compromises associated with party politics - and a legal system that depends on plea-bargaining - meant that the more serious charge of seditious conspiracy, mooted initially as the instrument that might be used against the rioters en masse, was reserved for the prosecution of proto-fascist organisations like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. Investigating the use of the category insurrection to describe the events of January 6, is therefore central to any project that tries to map the contours of the US political imaginary, and the more routine adherence of the political class to the principles of realpolitik. The chapter begins by describing the scale of the violence, the contradictory ideological milieu from which it emerged, its relationship to the spread of Covid-19, and the role of media in framing the event. Analysis of the use of ‘insurrection’ includes a transcript from a CBSN news report of January 6 2021.



insurrection, populism, established media, plea bargaining, democracy, violence


Price, S. (2023) Insurrection! The Capitol Riot of January 6 2021: temporal development, political hyperbole, and the democracy/state conflation. In: Harbisher and Price, S. Coronavirus, Culture, Media and Protest. Rowman and Littlefield


Research Institute

Media Discourse Centre (MDC)