I just read a transcript of Trump's January 6 speech.

It's mostly about election fraud and people that betrayed or supported him. This could cause people to become angry, but is hardly an incitement to commit violence.

There are a few places where he does talk to and about the crowd though, and while he does ask the crowd to march to the Capitol, what he says is: "marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard".

Where are people finding evidence of insurrection and incitement to violence in this speech?

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    – CDJB
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 16:27

11 Answers 11


The article of impeachment introduced by Democrats in the House on January 11th specifically mentions parts of President Trump's January 6th speech (emphasis mine):

Shortly before the Joint Session commenced, President Trump, addressed a crowd at the Ellipse in Washington, DC. There, he reiterated false claims that "we won this election, and we won it by a landslide". He also willfully made statements that, in context, encouraged - and foreseeably resulted in - lawless action at the Capitol, such as: "if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore". Thus incited by President Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed, in an attempt to, among other objectives, interfere with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts.

The wider context of this quote, and the transcript of Trump's speech in full, can be found here:

Our brightest days are before us, our greatest achievements still wait. I think one of our great achievements will be election security because nobody until I came along, had any idea how corrupt our elections were. And again, most people would stand there at 9:00 in the evening and say, “I want to thank you very much,” and they go off to some other life, but I said, “Something’s wrong here. Something’s really wrong. Can’t have happened.” And we fight. We fight like Hell and if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.

As far as the allegations by House Democrats of incitement of insurrection go, this extract from his speech seems to be the main focus, although the article of impeachment is not solely in response to his speech on Jan 6th, and also mentions his prior conduct such as his phone call with the Georgia Secretary of State on January 2nd.

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    A transcript is not the entire context of the event; it necessarily omits tone and emphasis. One also needs to consider how the event was promoted (to intimidate Congress to reject the election results), the make-up of the audience, and the other speakers who were on the platform with Trump. Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 16:14
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    @jeffronicus the linked transcript does include a video of the speech as well, but I see your point about the wider context in terms of the event itself.
    – CDJB
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 16:16
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    Preceding Trumps address was Giuliani's "trial by combat" remarks. Trial by combat (literally adjudication of a dispute by a duel or battle) and the suggestion that it would be an appropriate method to resolve a dispute in the public counting and announcement of the electoral college votes. In that context, Trump's urging the crowd to go to the Capitol forthwith can be viewed as encouragement to engage in adjudication of the disputed electoral votes by combat , battle. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/….
    – BobE
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 16:41
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    More context is that Trump called for the rally, named it "Stop the Steal", had it in Washington the morning before the certification, which he'd said needed to be stopped. Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 1:00
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    @OwenReynolds False. Others organized it. Long after it was organized, Trump started to support it and announced he would speak. Trump didn't initiate the rally at all.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 21:02

"Incitement" is not the same as "openly calling for". Impeachment uses the dictionary definition of Incitement, not the legal definition (which is a very high bar to meet - video). The applicable definition is as follows:

Incitement - the action of provoking unlawful behaviour or urging someone to behave unlawfully

Incitement - the act of encouraging someone to do or feel something unpleasant or violent

The claim is that (1) there was an unlawful and violent outcome, (2) which was provoked and/or encouraged by the President of the United States, and that (3) he should be impeached because those actions are ethically and morally reprehensible.

Let's get (1) and (3) out of the way so we can focus on (2). (1) is trivial to prove, and (3) is subject to personal ethics and morals - 57 US Senators representing about 202 million people voted to impeach, 43 US Senators representing about 125 million people voted to acquit. While a trend is visible it is far from unanimous. some people think these actions are befitting of a US President, others don't - it is what it is.

The Articles of Impeachment accuse the president of inciting violence against the Government of the United States, and they do not limit this to his actions on January 6th. The Articles do specifically claim, among other allegations, that on January 6th "He also made statements that, in context, encouraged — and foreseeably resulted in — lawless action at the Capitol". This allegation refers to a plural of statements and they provide one example: "if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore". The document isather short so I recommend reading it in its entirety.

Context does matter, so while Trump's inflammatory language like "if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore"* is certainly relevant, so are statements by other speakers preceding Trump, such as Giuliani's "trial by combat", and Mo Brooks' "today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass". Trump's actions outside of the speech also provide relevant context - the Articles specifically refer to the phone call and other actions that promoted false information about the election, and I myself find prior instructions by Trump asking extremist groups to "stand back and stand by" an important piece of context.

While the events unfolded, the president was aware. According to Wikipedia's timeline of the events, the president took the following actions between 2:11, when the Capitol was breached and 5:40 when the Capitol was cleared of rioters:

  • 2:38 p.m.: President Trump tweets, "Please support our Capitol Police and Law -Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!"
  • 3:13 p.m.: President Trump tweets, "I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!"
  • 4:17 p.m.: Trump tweets a video telling rioters that he loves them, that they're very special, and that they should go home, while repeating false claims that the election was stolen. This was one of three takes, with the "most palatable option" chosen by White House aides for distribution.

While one certainly could argue that Trump did call for the opposite of violence, let's recall Michael Cohen's testimony about Trump's habit to use mobster-like double speak (video). The President of the United States didn't ask his rioters to leave the Capitol, for more than 2 hours.

In summary, he provoked a violent situation, and chose to ignore his duty and opportunity to stop it immediately. As a predictable result of his actions, dozens of his political opponents could have lost their lives, and 5 people died. I think it's more than fair to call that inciting violence.


  • "These people are not going to take it any longer. They're not going to take it any longer...They came from all over our country. I just really want to see what they do."
  • "All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical Left Democrats, which is what they're doing, and stolen by the fake news media, that's what they've done and what they're doing. We will never give up."
  • "Our country has had enough. We will not take it any more. And that's what this [the Save America March] is all about."
  • "We're not going to let it happen. Not going to let it happen." (for context: 'it' is something that's scheduled to happen inside the Capitol, an hour from now)
  • "We're gathered...for one very very basic and simple reason: to save our democracy."
  • "We have someone in there who should not be in there and our country will be destroyed and we're not going to stand for that."
  • "We will not be intimidated into accepting the hoaxes and the lies that we've been forced to."
  • "These are the things you don't hear about. You don't hear about it from the people who want to deceive you and demoralize you and control you."
  • "The radical left knows exactly what they're doing. They're ruthless—and it's time somebody did something about it."
  • "When you catch someone in a fraud, you're allowed to go by {he pauses} very different rules."
  • "Our fight...is just getting started. We must 'Stop the Steal,' and then we must ensure that such outrageous election fraud never happens again."
  • "My fellow Americans, for our movement, for our children, and for our beloved country—and I say this despite all that's happened— the best is yet to come. So we're going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue...and we're going to the Capitol. And we're going to try and give our Republicans — the weak ones, because the strong ones don't need any of our help—the kind of pride and boldness that they need to TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY"
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    Very good points. A common rhetorical device that Trump uses is to combine an appropriate statement with arguments which clearly argue the opposite, allowing him to make his arguments while maintaining plausible deniability. You see this in his first statement to the rioters, where, he technically told them "to go home", but also argued that Democrats and Republicans who wouldn't overturn the election result had stolen the election and were "so bad and so evil" and said he "loved" the rioters.
    – divibisan
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 18:00
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    I'm reminded of Michael Cohn's testimony, (paraphrased) ' Trump may not actually say the words, but you know from the context exactly what he wants done.
    – BobE
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 18:26
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    But Trump DID openly call for violence. "Fight like Hell".
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 18:28
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    @jamesqf, no he didn't. Read what he said in context: he was talking about himself. And fighting doesn't necessarily mean violence. MLK fought for justice, but no one accused him of inciting violence. Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 18:35
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    'Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest' -same thing.
    – BobE
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 18:35

The Way a Mob Boss Orders a Hit

A mob boss doesn't need to say: "Tony, go murder that meddlesome shop owner Johnson. He never paid his protection money." Instead, he can make his desires clear with rhetoric: "Look at that fat, good-for-nothing Johnson, sitting over there in his deli all smug-like. He knows what is due us. Are we gonna just sit here and let him thumb his nose at us while we are doing the great work of protecting this neighborhood? He's practically stealing from us!!! How can he get away with that? Only a bunch of weaklings would allow this behavior to continue, but we're not weak, are we? We are strong! We need to show strength, and convince Johnson that now is the time to make good on his insurance premiums. We're going to walk right over to his store and demand justice."

Stop The Steal

The formal name for the Trump rally on Jan. 6 was "Save America". But the running campaign for the last 2 months has been "Stop the Steal". Trump spent months insisting that Pence or Republicans in Congress could overturn fraudulent election results to "stop the steal". After months of failed lawsuits, failed coercion of stubborn state officials, and nothing but thin promises from Congressional Republicans, the frustration of both Trump and his followers was palpable. Everyone recognized that January 6th was a day of significance. It was the line in the sand. The place to make a last stand. That's why Trump held a rally, not far from the Capitol, and allegedly asked Alex Jones to lead the crowd in a march to said Capitol, while Congress was performing the certification.

Trump supporters flew to DC from all over the country. They had a sense of what was at stake, because Trump had been building up pressure, culminating in this event. If Trump supporters were going to "Stop the Steal", this was basically their last chance to do so before Biden was officially confirmed as the President-elect. When you read the words on the page:

All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical left Democrats, which is what they’re doing and stolen by the fake news media. That’s what they’ve done and what they’re doing. We will never give up. We will never concede, it doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.

you are obviously not emotionally moved, or you wouldn't be posting this question. If, on the other hand, you had been consuming a steady diet of QAnon "drops" hinting that Jan. 6 was the day of "The Storm", when Trump would liberate Washington from the devil-worshiping pedophile Democrats, then all this talk about Trump's glorious future being "stolen" from you would whip up a righteous fury.


Although many conservatives in America are only vaguely aware of QAnon, this once-fringe conspiracy group is very strongly overrepresented among the most visible characters storming the Capitol. In this theory, Trump is a triumphant leader almost single-handedly destined to clean all the corruption from the Federal government in one fell swoop. But he can't do that if he's not the President. Thus, anyone in the QAnon movement knows "what must be done". Securing Trump's 2nd term at any cost is the order of the day. If that means zip-tying members of Congress until they agree to reject Biden electors, then so be it. If it means hanging VP Mike Pence from the gallery of the Senate, then these true Patriots are gonna git 'er done.

The point is that the ground work of insurrection was laid months before. And if you think Trump is unaware of QAnon, then you simply aren't paying attention. Trump did not need to say: "I want you to storm the Capitol and threaten or hang Congressmen and women until they crown me king." All that understanding had been established long before the rally. All the crowd needed was his blessing and a sign. He told them to march to the Capitol, which was suspiciously lightly defended. He whipped them up into a frenzy about how his Presidency, and their future of cultural dominance was being threatened and stolen by traitors working in that building. For the last 4 years, Trump supporters have been able to read between the lines and pick out the tunes Trump loves to play on his dog whistle. He basically said: "It's go time" and they took over from there.


But hey, you don't need to take my word for all that. If you want to know who was responsible for insurrection, we need look no further than the man himself:

President Trump and close ally House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke about the Capitol riots Monday, and during their heated conversation, the president kept repeating a conspiracy theory that antifa was responsible for the violence.


But the president also admitted to McCarthy that he is at least partially to blame for what transpired at the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday, the GOP leader recounted to fellow House Republicans during a conference call Monday.

However, this is not the most damning evidence of his culpability...not remotely close. If Trump really thought that Antifa staged an insurrection against his will, we would expect his first response to be to activate the DC National Guard, which he lied about doing in a public statement. However, we know that Mike Pence, along with Congressional leaders, authorized the DC National Guard to assist the Capitol Police. And why was that necessary? Was Trump not aware of events he had set in motion just hours before? Of course he was aware!! HE WAS WATCHING IT UNFOLD ON LIVE TV.

Numerous aides, including his own children, pressed him to call off the assault. But he didn't. Why? Because he could clearly see that "his people" were going to bat for him:

“He kept saying: ‘The vast majority of them are peaceful. What about the riots this summer? What about the other side? No one cared when they were rioting. My people are peaceful. My people aren’t thugs,’ ” the official said. “He didn’t want to condemn his people.”

Unfortunately, he wasn't that pleased with the crowd he saw on TV. It was not for their lack of zeal or dedication to the cause...it was because they looked "shabby", and he thought they reflected poorly on him.

But, this person said, he was turned off by what he considered the “low-class” spectacle of people in ragtag costumes rummaging through the Capitol.

Even so, in his two tweets to "restore order", he made sure to send out loves and kisses to his faithful followers:

"We have to have peace. So go home. We love you; you're very special."

These are not the words of a President condemning an insurrectionist attack on the very halls of Congress. They are the words of a leader well-pleased with the events of the day. This was the President confessing to motivating and instigating the incursion.


The speech: relevant as circumstantial evidence

How did Trump's speech call for insurrection and violence?

I don't think the speech alone is the problem here. For example, the article of impeachment references the phone call on January 2, and the repeated false accusations of election fraud as well.

That said, the article of impeachment should really be seen as an indictment, a charge that can be brought against the president. As I see it, the quotes pointed out by others are circumstantial evidence. According to Wikipedia:

Circumstantial evidence is evidence that relies on an inference to connect it to a conclusion of fact—such as a fingerprint at the scene of a crime. By contrast, direct evidence supports the truth of an assertion directly—i.e., without need for any additional evidence or inference.

On its own, circumstantial evidence allows for more than one explanation. Different pieces of circumstantial evidence may be required, so that each corroborates the conclusions drawn from the others. Together, they may more strongly support one particular inference over another. An explanation involving circumstantial evidence becomes more likely once alternative explanations have been ruled out.

The speech alone probably isn't enough to support the claim that the president incited insurrection. Combined with other evidence, it may be part of a body of evidence that does make it clearer. With such a body of evidence, the speech is important because it took place directly before the insurrection started and a lot of the people taking part in the insurrection were in attendance of the speech.

It's nearly all the usual rambling talk about election fraud and people that betrayed or supported him. This could cause people to become angry, but is hardly an incitement to commit violence.

And causing people to become angry, knowing that the actions making them angry (certifying the electoral votes) are happening in the US Capitol just a few blocks away might be enough to push those people from anger to violence. Under those circumstances, the speech may not be protected because it rises to the level of incitement of imminent lawless action:

The two legal prongs that constitute incitement of imminent lawless action are as follows:

Advocacy of force or criminal activity does not receive First Amendment protections if (1) the advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action, and (2) is likely to incite or produce such action.

These two points don't follow directly from the speech, but if one wanted to argue these criteria, the speech plays a central role. If there is a pattern of inciteful conduct, "the usual rambling talk about election fraud" as you put it, the speech is the final push before the insurrection.

Further investigating the president's role

As a practical matter, one might argue that this public evidence can be used to build a prima facie case leading to impeachment. The reasoning is that when a president is impeached, Congress has a case to investigate further (otherwise it could be argued that requests for evidence serve no "legitimate legislative purpose"). As an article on lawfareblog.com put it in 2019:

Several experts have argued that the House might have a stronger legal position in disputes with the executive branch over information and witness appearances if it were undertaking impeachment proceedings rather than investigations. Michael Conway, who served as counsel on the House judiciary committee during the Watergate investigation, has advanced a similar argument. In particular, he points to a staff memo written in April 1974, which argues that “the Supreme Court has contrasted the broad scope of the inquiry power of the House in impeachment proceedings with its more confined scope in legislative investigations. From the beginning of the Federal Government, presidents have stated that in an impeachment inquiry the Executive Branch could be required to produce papers that it might with‐hold in a legislative investigation.”

To really know what role the president played in the insurrection, there needs to be an investigation. What comments did he make in private? Whether such questions need answering is up to the US Congress, and impeachment and a subsequent investigation is a straightforward way to get there. As Senator Baker put it in the Watergate investigation:

What did the President know and when did he know it?

At least some people at the FBI knew, according to reporting by the Washington Post:

A day before rioters stormed Congress, an FBI office in Virginia issued an explicit internal warning that extremists were preparing to travel to Washington to commit violence and “war,” according to an internal document reviewed by The Washington Post that contradicts a senior official’s declaration the bureau had no intelligence indicating anyone at last week’s pro-Trump protest planned to do harm.

A situational information report approved for release the day before the U.S. Capitol riot painted a dire portrait of dangerous plans, including individuals sharing a map of the complex’s tunnels, and possible rally points for would-be conspirators to meet up in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and South Carolina and head in groups to Washington.

“As of 5 January 2021, FBI Norfolk received information indicating calls for violence in response to ‘unlawful lockdowns’ to begin on 6 January 2021 in Washington. D.C.,” the document says. “An online thread discussed specific calls for violence to include stating ‘Be ready to fight. Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood from their BLM and Pantifa slave soldiers being spilled. Get violent. Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die. NOTHING else will achieve this goal.”

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    I accepted this answer because it centered around the speech rather than around Trump, which is what I was asking about. Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 23:43
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JJJ
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 18:30
  • In particular, "The speech alone probably isn't enough to support the claim that the president incited insurrection. Combined with other evidence, it may be part of a body of evidence that does make it clearer." both confirmed my impression and explained why people might be saying what they are. Had it mentioned the possibility of dog whistles and the possible misinterpretation of the "fight" comment, it would have been even better. Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 18:59

The Washington Post's annotation of Trump's speech scrutinised some of the lines in his speech. They concluded that while there was "no overt calls for his supporters to actually enter the Capitol or resort to violent means", some allusions in his speech may have been perceived as controversial.

Trump’s culpability for the violence is the topic of much debate. But even many of his Republican allies have tied it to his long-running, baseless claims about a stolen election. And others have said Trump went too far in his fiery speech to protesters that preceded their storming of the Capitol.

Trump’s speech included no overt calls for his supporters to actually enter the Capitol or resort to violent means. But it included plenty of allusions to the idea that Congress accepting Joe Biden’s victory — an all-but-assured outcome at the time — was a result that simply couldn’t be countenanced and must be stopped. He urged his supporters to “fight” and “fight like hell” and lamented that they didn’t do so as hard as Democrats.

The speech must also be viewed in the context of a president who has often alluded to the idea that his supporters might one day get violent. And while he said those who would march to the Capitol after his speech should “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard,” his speech was also littered with allusions to the protesters having the power to stop what Congress was doing — and indeed, that he was counting on them to do so.

(emphasis mine)

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    The claim that "He urged his supporters to “fight” and “fight like hell”" isn't believable. In context, he was simply explaining why he fights so hard (and not in a physical sense). Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 16:50
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    Where is "a result that simply couldn’t be countenanced and must be stopped" taken from? It's not a direct quote from his speech. His position was that it would be stopped by Congress itself, with the support of the crowed. Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 16:53
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    @Ray Butterworth: The calls to "fight" certainly are believable, as demonstrated by the fact that a great many people did and do believe them. What's hard to understand is how some people can continue, in the face of mountains of evidence, to try to excuse Trump's behavior.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 18:27
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    @RayButterworth 'that "He urged his supporters to “fight” and “fight like hell”" isn't believable.' I don't understand why you feel so strongly this is not believable. The people in the protests certainly believed it, as evidenced by them doing it.
    – Jontia
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 19:58
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    @RayButterworth: I think you're limiting your interpretation of "incite" to only include "unambiguous literal instruction to commit violence". That would be far more than "incite", as other answers like this one argue. Context matters. Reading the mood of the crowd and getting them riled up, and knowing their natural inclinations, and then sending them in the direction of the Capitol adds up to more than just the face value of the words. I don't think it's likely that Trump expected a completely peaceful demonstration outside the Capitol. Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 5:56

For a different perspective, see how Trump's supporters interpreted the speech.

But now Trump’s more emphatic response, belated as it is, has been greeted with incredulity in some of the darker corners of the web. Users of the conspiracy-laden site 4Chan, as well as the more mainstream site Parler, were full of anger at Trump over his apparent climbdown.

The Guardian reported that one user called the move by Trump to distance himself from the mob a "punch in the gut."

"He says it’s going to be wild and when it gets wild he calls it a heinous attack and middle-fingers to his supporters he told to be there," posted another.

"I feel like puking," said another. "A stab in the back," opined one more.

Therefore, even if one can argue that Trump's speech did not explicitly call for insurrection and violence (itself a difficult argument, see the other answers), they were certainly interpreted by Trump's supporters as calling for insurrection and violence.

The highlighted text is especially illuminating.

Update: here's another source with quotes from Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol illustrating how they felt they were participating in a lawful activity sanctioned by the president:

[Jenna Ryan] insisted she and the other Trump supporters who flocked to DC and stormed the Capitol building in a bid to stop the Congress joint session to certify the election were simply obeying Trump's orders.

'Personally, I do not feel a sense of shame or guilt for my heart for what I was doing. I thought I was following my president, I thought I was following what we were called to do,' she said.

'He asked us to fly there, he asked us to be there. So I was doing what he asked us to do. So as far as in my heart of hearts, do I feel like a criminal? No. I am not the villain a lot of people make me out to be or think I am because I’m a Trump supporter,' she added.

Therefore Trump's supporters viewed their actions at the Capitol as legitimate because of what Trump said. If you call the events at the Capitol "insurrection and violence", then [for Trump's supporters at least] his speech also called for for insurrection and violence.

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    @divibisan I think everyone who would consider it knew what Trump wanted I think this is only in hindsight, otherwise someone who heard Trump's speech would probably already call the emergency hotline saying they're aware of a plot to attack the Capitol, etc. The same goes for Trump directly calling for insurrection & violence, law enforcement would act.
    – Allure
    Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 18:33
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    @divibisan Aligning my numbers with your points: 1) No, not really. "Protecting your country" is exactly what insurrectionists think they're doing, these included. 2) Trump's pool to draw from is about half the country, but I didn't say that before. The rally wasn't that big comparatively. 3) You can disagree, but leaning on a tautology as your reason is poor logic. 4) They rioted, sure. They very obviously were not making any war-like actions. They went aimlessly after gaining entry, and most of them weren't even armed. But we've been over this elsewhere ...
    – user2578
    Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 19:55
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    @frеdsbend 1) Then you do think they were fighting to overthrow the illegitimate government of the US. And where do you think they got the idea that the government is illegitimate? 2) Wow, you have a very poor opinion of the average Trump supporter, then. I would think most are loyal Americans, with only a tiny, crazy minority eager for violence, but apparently you disagree? 3) A tautology? We’re just disagreeing here. But I am very skeptical that you’ll find many people who would have supported violent revolt if Trump had said so explicitly, but thought he didn’t want them to.
    – divibisan
    Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 20:12
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    4) Fighting doesn’t mean “war-like actions”, whatever that means. They rioted to overthrow the (illegitimate) government and install Trump, who they believed to be the legitimately elected president. That’s not an assumption – it’s the explicit, stated goal. The fact that they were disorganized or had disagreements as to methods (some wanted to take hostages and hang Pence, while many/most others likely just wanted to intimidate Congress into overturning the election) is irrelevant.
    – divibisan
    Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 20:15
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    @Allure No, people have been saying that the “Stop the Steal” rhetoric was going to lead to violence for months. We also knew that the January 6th rally specifically was likely to lead to violence well ahead of time. The people I know in DC were all told by their employers not to leave their house or come into work that day because of the anticipated violence. The only thing that was surprising here was the lack of a police response.
    – divibisan
    Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 20:20

Trump's speech, tweets and pattern of communication can also be seen as an example of "dog whistle politics" - a message that is clearly or likely to be interpreted in a specific way by allies and those it is directed to, while seeming to be innocent or deniable to others.

If a president, with highly emotional followers,

  • spends months laying the groundwork claiming that he and his followers:
    • have been cheated,
    • had a rightful election stolen by fraud,
    • that legal challenges failed because of conspiracy in the court system, not because they were poorly founded, and that
    • the other party are rightfully demonized as part of a conspiracy that has been played against his followers for a long time, and also
  • refuses to condemn extremist followers and indeed proclaims their own slogan on national media,
  • declines to affirm that a transition of power will be allowed to occur or accepted peacefully, and
  • states or implies that those he accuses as responsible can or should pay,

and also knows that he and his closest allies state, or have previously stated, at rallies on the same issue(s) that:

  • supporters should "fight like hell" to "take back our country" (Donald Trump)
  • "we're coming for you" (to perceived opponents) and that this is "total war" (Trump Jr.), and
  • this is "trial by combat" (Giuliani)
  • as a result, serious widespread discussion of violence towards legislature members (generally or specific individuals) is already noticed across social media and escalated for attention by the FBI and others,

then suggests to his fans, followers and extremist supporters, that:

  • they should not take this,
  • that it is righteous to take action,
  • the action will (or is necessary to) "save America",
  • that there will be major consequences to his opponents, consequences which they were warned of but chose to ignore,
  • that those responsible should pay,
  • that his followers are not rebelling but taking back what was theirs and stolen, and
  • that a protest should occur,

then it may be taken easily enough as a firm suggestion or a not-too-subtle hint that he is not actually averse to violent protest, because it is justified and right, and regains what was stolen, even though it is understood that he cannot publicly say some things.

Afterwards the dog whistler can easily shrug and say "but I didn't say to be violent ....."


If nothing else, Trump's subsequent behaviour is enough of an indication of what he intended.

During the riots he said and did nothing to stop them, and seemingly refused to take even basic expected actions to secure the safety of the legislators at the Capitol. His only statements, long after he could have taken actions included telling the terrorists "You are special and we love you", very different from what he said about other protestors (He called Black Lives Matter protestors "thugs," "terrorists" and "anarchists.", without them having to invade a government building).

Since then he has had many chances to make a clear statement that he did not intend his supporters to take these actions. He did so only in a very brief statement and more than a week after the incident and following much criticism from both parties.


Context is important, but if you limit the scope to just this speech it probably does not rise to the level of calling for insurrection and violence, or "inciting a riot".

Back in 2016 Trump was accused of inciting a riot at one of his campaign rallies. Some protesters also attended the rally and interrupted several times. Trump then told the crowd to remove the protesters, which they did rather forcefully, punching one of them. The protesters sued Trump for inciting a riot, but the case was dismissed.

Now obviously this case and the scale of the resulting action is very different, however the reason the 2016 case was dismissed may still be relevant. Essentially after telling the crowd to remove the protesters several times he added "Don't hurt them", and this specific phrase was seemingly enough to signal that he was discouraging violence. Similarly in the Jan 6 2021 speech Trump talked about protesting "peacefully and patriotically". This may be enough to claim that he was discouraging any of the violence that was later seen.

This would be the likely legal argument defending the speech, however Trump is now being impeached over his role in this and impeachment is not a legal process, so it will be up to Congress to make their own minds up when voting on conviction. The specific articles of impeachment do not just focus on this speech alone as evidence of Trump's incitement of the riots at the Capitol, they try to show a pattern of behaviour culminating in this speech. Therefore it would be disingenuous to focus on specific word choices in one speech and ignore the months of prior behaviour.

  • 2
    Was this the rally where he said "Don't hurt them" and then said "I say that for the cameras."? Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 21:14
  • 4
    @DJClayworth You're absolutely right, around the 27 minute mark in the video in the link. He's says that he says "don't hurt them" for the press, because they'll always spin what he says in a negative way. As usual, it's clear what he meant but could be argued to mean something else
    – ewanc
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 10:57
  • 2
    Yes, it's very clear what he meant. When someone says that they are saying something "for the cameras" it means they are saying it to be seen to be saying it, which implies they actually want something else. Someone who genuinely doesn't want them hurt just says "don't hurt them". Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 14:01
  • 1
    the point is that the people at the rally have been to or watched dozens and dozens of trump rallies where he repeatedly used violent language like when he praises cops abusing people they have arrested, praises people who assault reporters, and look at all the violent activity at the rallies against reporters that many many reporters has described, Corey Lewandowski going after reporters, and then look how many reporters were attacked at the capitol.... the single speech alone does not exist by itself. its in the context of 5 years of incidents. do a web search for trump rally violence.
    – don bright
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 18:02
  • 2
    and Trump is at the head of the best intel agencies in the world. he knows, or should have known, that amongst the militias and paramilitary groups that were coming to the capitol, are people with criminal records for previous violent behavior. you cant go on for 20 minutes caling for revolution then say "be peaceful" in a single sentence to a crowd of violent criminals and expect the general public to consider your speech peaceful.
    – don bright
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 18:07

While the speech itself is certainly full of material that expresses Trump's anger about the election, it hardly ever directly addresses the crowd. There are a few places where he does talk to and about the crowd though.

One is near the beginning:

Now it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. After this, we’re going to walk down and I’ll be there with you. We’re going to walk down. We’re going to walk down any one you want, but I think right here. We’re going walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators, and congressmen and women. We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.

We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated, lawfully slated. I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard. Today we will see whether Republicans stand strong for integrity of our elections, but whether or not they stand strong for our country, our country.

And his speech ends with:

So we’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give … The Democrats are hopeless. They’re never voting for anything, not even one vote. But we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.

So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. I want to thank you all. God bless you and God bless America. Thank you all for being here, this is incredible. Thank you very much. Thank you.

Yes, he does ask the crowd to march to the Capitol, but what he says is: "marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard".

I can't interpret this as anything other than asking the crowd to give a visible show of support for those Republican congressmen that want to vote against the election results, but perhaps don't yet have the courage to do it.

I can easily believe that Trump truly thought that with a visible enough show of support those fence-sitting Republicans would gain enough nerve to cast their votes correctly. So any violence would only defeat his stated goal.

So no, in terms of explicit messages to the crowd, the speech itself doesn't contain any explicit call for violence or other illegal activity.

Some parts of the speech have been interpreted differently though.

… most people would stand there at 9:00 in the evening and say, "I want to thank you very much," and they go off to some other life, but I said, "Something’s wrong here. Something’s really wrong. Can’t have happened." And we fight. We fight like Hell and if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.

Trump says this near the end of the speech. His "if you don’t fight like Hell" appears to be telling people to fight, but such an interpretation ignores the context.

He is talking about himself mostly (no surprise), and how even when it looks like he's lost, he doesn't simply accept defeat. He knows he should have won, so he knows that something wrong happened, so he fights it. But this fight is a legal fight, not a physical one.

Trump is far from articulate. Had he used a literate speechwriter, or even allowed his speech to be edited, his use of "you" in this statement would have been much better rendered as "one", making it much more obvious that he is stating a general principle and not giving an order. He is not saying "you the audience" here, but "you the ideal person".

We (Trump and his team) fight (the legal battle) like Hell, because if one doesn’t fight like Hell, we’re not going to have a country anymore

Trump is narcissic enough that one can easily believe that he really does think it was impossible for him to lose.

And Trump is delusional enough that one can easily believe that he really does think that those Republicans that also know there was fraud, but don't yet have the courage to publicly state it, will be motivated by the large show of support, and motivated enough that they will actually vote in his favour.

So again, no, the speech itself still doesn't contain any explicit call for violence or other illegal activity.

One must also remember that words can convey far more than what they literally say.

  • It's possible that there were "dog whistle" phrases unknown to anyone not in the crowd.
  • It's possible that emphasis on certain words and phrases sent subliminal messages to the crowd.

It's possible, but there hasn't been much supporting evidence of this.

Given a choice between Trump being:

  • smart enough to write a speech containing secret messages that no one has been able to detect.
  • delusional enough to believe the crowd could actually sway the legal process in Congress.

I'd say that most people would choose the latter.

By itself, the speech doesn't call for insurrection and violence.

However, the speech did:

  • make the crowd very emotional and angry.
  • send them to the Capitol.
  • make them expect that something would happen.

And, when the effects of the inflammatory speeches of other Trump supporting politicians are taken into account, the speech did incite insurrection and violence, even if that isn't what Trump had intended.

And Trump's subsequent actions certainly don't indicate that he was disappointed with the riot that ensued, but again, that could simply because he interpreted it as a show of how much everyone loves him, which is surely more important to him than property damage and a few deaths.


The key element of the insurrection was the "stop the steal" campaign's claim that the election was stolen.

An objective way to verify the truth of this claim is the fact that every poll of Trump's approval rating showed an election losing majority of "likely registered voters" consistently disapproved of Trump's performance throughout his entire term of office.

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If these polls were inaccurate then Trump supporters would have performed their own scientific poll to prove their inaccuracy. That no such scientific poll was ever published means that Trump supporters never attempted to refute the accuracy of these polls or their attempt failed.

Another key way to verify that the election was not stolen by election fraud is that lack of any actual evidence of election fraud. If there was massive election fraud sufficient to overturn the election then published PDF copies of affidavits proving this election fraud would be everywhere to be found.

Trump's words: "if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore" incited the insurrection within the context that he only lost because of cheating.

It was this key context that transformed criminal insurrectionists into Boston tea party patriots in the minds of the insurrectionists. The Joseph Goebbels "Big Lie" that the only reason Trump lost was because of election fraud built the bomb. Trump's January 6th words lit the fuse to that bomb.


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