In this file photo taken on January 6, 2021, Donald Trump harangues supporters on The Ellipse near the White House, encouraging a mob to march to the Capitol. Photo: AFP / Brendan Smialowski

One riot does not an insurrection make.

Nor does one word (in this case “fight”) transmute the street-wise lexicon of a New York hotel builder into a mesmerizing Robespierre (or Gandhi).

An insurrection has leaders who are maddened by theories of a new Utopia, a social vision they alone understand as if transmitted to them, by the gods, and about which they have been ranting, pistol, sword or literal bomb in hand, during the entirety of their public lives. Such leaders are not in power, they lust after power.  

They do not become leaders because they are clever enough to use a presidential primary system’s machinery to defeat 16 of the best political professionals their party can bring against them. 

Insurrectionist leaders do not have deep roots of enthusiastic support in the existing police and military forces. They are ice-cold ascetics, and certainly do not have red-hot personal histories with supermodels, or paneled penthouses with gold hardware, all financed with money to burn.  

An insurrectionist leader spends university years writing a thesis about the likes of Franz Fanon (a topic chosen by Michelle Obama), and certainly does not focus on building up the handful of millions (provided by his father) into a pile of millions. 

Donald Trump could marry the first of his three strikingly beautiful wives: They were not only showgirls, beauty queens and supermodels, but each provided him with children as well. Trump showed himself to be a life-long man of the belly, not a chaste, smelly writer nor a reader of revolutionary tracts.

A real insurrection has a history of many riots, a written-out charge-sheet of accusations against the powers-that-be, developed simultaneously in conjunction with a record of real blood, bullets, bombs and parades, typically financed in part by shadowy domestic and also international persons and nations acting as puppet-masters with their own sophisticated agendas.  

The instruction sheet spelled out to guide the soldiers of a real insurrection does not define “fight” as an encouragement to use the American political party system’s method of primary elections as the means to remove “the movement’s” “enemies” (as was the real use of that famous word “fight” in Trump’s January 6 speech at The Ellipse.

A real insurrection features many repeated episodes of great violence, bragged about and held up as preparatory to a total overthrow of the entirely of the existing order.

A real insurrection has an institutional infrastructure made up of news media, academics (smelly as above), blinking in the bright lights of the world outside the faculty club, but ready to distribute their wordy tracts and ready to give failing grades to football players bold enough to be non-political.  

To be serious, the true insurrection has strength in depth in the media, the universities and (dark and sinister) deep-pocketed financiers at home and abroad who value the time of division and chaos generated by activists, whether those rioters are looters or adherents to “the vision.”

Those nearly invisible players are making moves in the “great game” of competitive personal and/or national interest, their aims classically pragmatic, operating with highest sophistication, being far from Utopian.

By the way, no reader should think this author has any sympathy for the violent rioters who stormed the US Capitol. Those criminals should be arrested, tried and locked up. They have committed a great wrong. They have no excuse. They have no cause. They are gangsters and malefactors. The president would have been counted wise and brave had he gotten into his “Beast” limo, driven to the scene, and demanded that the rioters cease and desist.  

And so, the riot was not an insurrection. Alas. It is a lost opportunity.

Tom Velk is a libertarian-leaning American economist who writes and lives in Montreal, Canada. He has served as visiting professor at the Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve system, at the US Congress and as the chairman of the North American Studies program at McGill University and a professor in that university’s Economics Department.