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The ERLC, Donald Trump, and Inciting Insurrection

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Trumps words to supporters at capitol hill After the regrettable “storming of Capitol Hill” on January 8, 2021, and the subsequent condemnation of President Donald Trump for inciting insurrection claimed by social media platform, Twitter, the giant media platform permanently banned the president from his Twitter accounts.

In an article by Jason Thacker, who serves as chair of research in technology ethics and creative director at ERLC, a public arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote an article entitled, “Understanding Twitter suspensions and the need for consistent policies.” By design, Thacker speaks for the ERLC, that in turn, speaks (or represents) the 15 million (-+) Southern Baptists who make up the convention of churches.

While Thacker gets some things right in his article, he makes unsubstantiated claims in the article and makes it crystal clear what position the ERLC takes on Twitter’s decision and subsequent action in permanently banning the president from using Twitter.

To begin, Thacker confidently declares the “heinous attack” on the Capitol was “inspired by the president and his key supporters, following a rally on the National Mall.” This declaration comes in response to Twitter’s action to suspend the president thus indicating Thacker’s full support of Twitter’s decision to ban Trump. Thacker later charges, “a line was crossed when the president knowingly endangered members of the public as well as law enforcement and elected officials by inciting physical violence and destruction.”

Based upon his condemnation of President Trump as inciting insurrection, Thacker concludes Twitter did a regrettable but morally right act. “And though this was a significant action—the president’s speech is of great importance—it was not a violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech.”

In response, Thacker’s prima facie acceptance of Twitter’s decision to ban Trump from its platform assumes Twitter’s decision was based primarily in an effort to take the moral high ground and think first about what’s the good and right and moral decision to make for the American people. Twitter was allegedly concerned with the “compelling public interest” for the president’s voice on the one hand, with the president’s personal “stoking [of] violence and an attempted coup” on the other.

But the obvious question is, since when have we decided to take for granted that Twitter—or any other Big Tech mega-power corporation including Facebook, Amazon, and Apple—operates in the information distribution business based upon visibly detectable high moral standards? While it’s possible a company like Twitter could base their decisions on high moral authority to conclude what’s right and good and appropriate for the American people, it is highly unlikely. So unlikely, in fact, that it remains irrational to accept or assume a high moral ground without undeniable, tangible evidence to substantiate the claim (i.e., assumption).

Unfortunately for readers, Thacker offered no evidence for Twitter’s supposed track record of high morality—even average moral decency. Rather he apparently just carte blanche accepted Twitter’s decision.

What is more, Thacker not only assumed Twitter was morally right to ban Trump from its platform, but he also further assumed Trump was morally and socially (if not legally) guilty of intentionally inciting insurrection. Again, citing no evidence whatsoever for his conclusive claim, Thacker denounces the “heinous attack” on the Capitol as “inspired by the president.” Trump “stoked violence and an attempted coup,” claims Thacker, resulting in a “line [being] crossed when the president knowingly endangered members of the public as well as law enforcement and elected officials by inciting physical violence and destruction.”

Representing an entity funded by the Southern Baptist Convention, the charges Thacker makes against a sitting president can hardly be more serious. If Thacker is correct in his charges, not only should the president be impeached, but he ought also to be in jail right now. That is my view anyway.

Hence, given the severity of the public charges Thacker makes, one would think he would have provided convincing, undeniable evidence to support the extreme accusations he makes. But like Thacker prima facie assumed Twitter took the high moral ground by banning Trump from its platform, he tacitly assumes–without a sliver of evidence provided to substantiate his accusations against a sitting president–Trump publicly and intentionally inspired, stoked, and thus approved of physical violence, destruction of federal property, endangering members of congress, law enforcement, and the general public, ultimately leading to the deaths of from two to five people. All of this, Thacker assumes, is the reason Twitter rightfully banned Trump from the social media platform.

From my perspective, to make public criminal charges like these without also offering both credible evidences to substantiate the charges as well as reasonable interpretations of the evidences assembled—however brief the interpretations may necessarily be—constitutes the height of irresponsible decision and action. Indeed, it would have been morally superior to have remained silent rather than publish such a reckless public judgment on the issue.

One might reasonably ask, from what evidences did Thacker infer the assumption that Trump was guilty of inciting insurrection? Good question. But frankly, since Thacker offers no hints in his piece about why his supposed evidences supports his indictment of the president, one is left to an indecisive guess (I tried in vain to find a way to contact Thacker on the ERLC site in order to ask him).

However, given the language Thacker uses, it appears he could have just taken Twitter’s judgment about Trump as the basis of his assumption of  Trump’s guilt. Or, again given the harsh and definitive rhetoric condemning Trump for inspiring insurrection, Thacker could just as well taken prima facie the views promoted on any number of Mainstream Media News sites as verifiably true. We don’t know for sure how Thacker came to his assumed view that Trump is guilty of inspiring insurrection at the Capitol.

But what one may be confident in concluding is, given Trump’s speech just prior to the march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, and the subsequent breach into the congressional chambers, an affirmation of insurrection to his supporters cannot reasonably be inferred.

ABC News published a transcription of Trump’s entire speech. I encourage every concerned citizen to read his speech in full (it’s relatively long but it is worth the time to read it carefully and slowly). Searching through his speech, one will discover few references exist in relation to Trump’s encouragement to march down to Capitol Hill. References mostly expunged or ignored by virtually every media outlet. References that apparently Thacker ignored as well.

In the references Trump made about marching down to Capitol Hill, he said:

Now it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. And 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…And we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women and 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… (all italics mine).

As far as I can tell, those words sum up what President Trump spoke to the protestors. Read the speech for yourself and make your own conclusions.

The obvious question is, how does one infer from these words, as presumably Thacker did from other unknown sources, that the sitting president of the United States publicly and intentionally inspired, stoked, and approved of physical violence, destruction of federal property, endangering members of congress, law enforcement, and the general public, ultimately leading to the deaths of from two to five people?

It seems to me, by stripping Trump’s words from the expected sensationalism and intentional hype so characteristic of social and mainstream media, his speech becomes innocuous—perhaps even absurd—as evidence sustaining the extreme accusation of inciting insurrection.

Carefully consider his words again.

Trump indicated they were going to walk down to the Capitol to “cheer on” those brave congressional members who supported the claim of or official investigation into a rigged election in some states while claiming that they would probably not “be cheering so much for some of them.” So far, the nature of the actions Trump called for in the march to the Capitol was limited to either supportive speech or stone-cold silence. Cheering for one side and not cheering for the other. Do these words support inciting insurrection? Obviously not.

Trump also indicated in the quoted section of his speech above his understanding of the election process generally speaking as well as his oft-stated principle that the United States is a country based upon and sustained by the rule of law and order. Trump demands that the only electors to be counted are electors who are “lawfully slated,” a demand, by the way, that every American citizen should expect to be fulfilled.

Even so, while one may legitimately question whether Trump’s claim that some state electors were illegitimate and invalid, it seems nonsensical to conclude Trump was inciting insurrection in the same breath he explicitly invoked the rule of law as the very basis for rejecting electors! The only state electors to be counted were electors lawfully slated. Thus, do these words warrant the necessity of accusing Trump of inciting insurrection? Obviously not.

In his most vivid reference to marching on the Capitol, Trump says, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard” (italics mine). Notice Trump explicitly said the march was to be characterized by both peace and patriotism neither term of which can reasonably be spun by the most extreme critic to imply inciting insurrection.

In addition, as noted above, Trump limited the nature of the march and expression of the protest as supportive speech on one hand and stone-cold silence on the other. In the latter reference, Trump limited the nature of the march to peacefully and patriotically protesting to “make your voices heard.” It stands literarily absurd to contort Trump’s actual words into an apparently preconceived notion that he intentionally meant to incite riot, insurrection, and human endangerment. The language Trump used supports no such inference. 

Yet, Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission generally and Jason Thacker particularly publicly made a sitting president out to be nothing less than a criminal and a thug without citing a single source to substantiate the charge.

In my view, the irresponsibility remains so grave and serious, that unless the ERLC publicly provides sufficient proof to demonstrate their monstrous claims, every cooperating church in the Southern Baptist Convention ought to respond by withholding supporting funds to the ERLC until it provides sufficient warrant to justify its egregious public opinion, an opinion which, by its nature, represents the public view of the Southern Baptist Convention.        


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