On Thursday, President Donald Trump condemned Greater New York Black Lives Matter leader Hank Newsome in the strongest possible terms. Newsome had told Fox News’s Martha McCallum that the United States was “built on violence” and warned that if America “doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn down this system and replace it.”
“Black Lives Matter leader states, ‘If U.S. doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn down this system and replace it’. This is Treason, Sedition, Insurrection!” Trump tweeted.
Black Lives Matter leader states, “If U.S. doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn down this system and replace it”. This is Treason, Sedition, Insurrection!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 25, 2020
Article III of the U.S. Constitution defines “treason” as “levying War against [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” Advocating the wholesale arson of the American system, especially at a time when looting, vandalism, and arson have ravaged American cities, is arguably incitement toward a kind of civil war.
Trump often resorts to hyperbole in condemning his opponents, and it may be hyperbolic to interpret Newsome’s comments as “treason,” but even if this threat of violence falls short of treason, it is still a serious matter.
“You… have said that violence is sometimes necessary in these situations,” MacCallum said in the interview with Newsome. “What exactly is it that you hope to achieve through violence?”
“Wow, it’s interesting that you would pose that question like that, because this country is built upon violence. What was the American Revolution, what’s our diplomacy across the globe?” Newsome asked.
“We go in and we blow up countries and we replace their leaders with leaders who we like. So for any American to accuse us of being violent is extremely hypocritical,” the Black Lives Matter leader insisted.
Naturally, there is a tremendous difference between the violence in the American Revolution — when citizens revolted against taxation without representation, a key component of English liberty — and the violence in the George Floyd riots, which involves citizens who have representation and the right to vote looting innocent businesses, burning down buildings, and forcibly occupying police stations.
“I said, if this country doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn down this system and replace it. All right? And I could be speaking … figuratively. I could be speaking literally. It’s a matter of interpretation,” Newsome said.
Given recent events, Newsome’s rhetoric may constitute incitement to violence.
While Newsome’s rhetoric may not constitute treason or insurrection, the Seattle antifa and Black Lives Matter rioters in Seattle who seized city blocks to set up an “autonomous zone” arguably did.
This is a terrifying time in America, and President Trump has consistently called for law and order throughout, mobilizing the National Guard to protect Washington, D.C., encouraging local police to restore order, and laying down the law when it comes to vandals and those who topple statues. He may be overzealous in his declarations against the looters, arsonists, and rioters, but his advocacy for law and order is important in this dangerous time.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.