The Torah Injunction Against Incitement to Insurrection

Parasha Mishpatim: Exodus: 20

What is the first commandment? The forerunners of both the first and second commandments were offered in immediate succession in Chapter 19 of Exodus, verses 5 & 6.


ה  וְעַתָּה, אִם-שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם, אֶת-בְּרִיתִי–וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל-הָעַמִּים, כִּי-לִי כָּל-הָאָרֶץ.
5 Now therefore, if ye will hearken unto My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be Mine own treasure from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine;
ו  וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ-לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים, וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ:  אֵלֶּה, הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר תְּדַבֵּר, אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.6 and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.’

The precursor, which I wrote about last week concerning how God bore the Israelites “on eagle’s wings” to Him, meant that the Israelites were now God’s children. To remain God’s children, they had to keep God’s covenant, the God who is the
Canceluniversal ruler of all of humanity and of nature itself. The result: Israelites will become a holy nation, a kingdom of priests where every person, not just an elite few, can commune with God.  

The preliminary version of the first commandment instructs the Israelites to keep God’s covenant. Uphold the constitution of the people. Not just because it is the people’s constitution of their nation. Why? Because I am your God who brought you out of Egypt, who delivered you the people from bondage, who made you into an independent and free people who could rule themselves and not be ruled by a despot or a tyrant.

That demand to keep the covenant is translated into the first commandment in verse 2 of this week’s portion..

ב  אָנֹכִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים:  לֹא-יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים, עַל-פָּנָי.2 I am the LORD thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. (my bold)

Why must the Hebrews have only one God whereas, as the protagonist in The White Tiger asks, Christians have three and Hindus have six million? Because there can be only one truth, not many. That there are many perspectives does not mean there are many truths. There can, in the end, be only one fundamental reference point. That is the necessary a priori condition of being a free people, God’s people, a people only in bondage to God and to no human.

Hence the second commandment.

יט  לֹא תַעֲשׂוּן, אִתִּי:  אֱלֹהֵי כֶסֶף וֵאלֹהֵי זָהָב, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם.19 Ye shall not make with Me–gods of silver, or gods of gold, ye shall not make unto you.
  

The corollary of commandment one is its negative side – not to have idols of gold or silver.

The preamble of the American constitution reads:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Americans have taken full responsibility for the foundations of their covenant and laws. “We the people.” Why? Not because they were slaves in Egypt from which status they were freed (unlike Black Americans), but because they were born free and wanted to evolve “into a more perfect union.” Note the experience of being made free but of being born free. Not to become a nation of priests but to forge a more perfect union.

What does a more perfect union do? There are five basic functions.

  • Establishes justice;
  • Insures domestic tranquility;
  • Provides for common defence;
  • Promotes the general welfare;
  • Secures the blessings of liberty for the people and for posterity.

Those are the basic purposes of the Constitution. Article I of that Constitution vests legislative power in Congress. “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” The additional sections then spell out how that august body, consisting of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, is to be constituted. And what powers are to be assigned to it.

The next nine sections and 42 clauses set forth the manner of their selection, the powers and functions vested in each, and how the make-up can be changed over time. It is not until Article II that we are told about a president, who is eligible for the office and his or her functions and manner of selection. “Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:– I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” There are only three other sections and a total of only 13 clauses. The final one reads: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Insurrection against Congress is treason. Incitement to insurrection is treason. There is no greater crime that a president of the United States can commit. There is no greater crime that a citizen of the United States can commit. There were a plethora of individuals charged and most were convicted before during and after World War II for being traitors on behalf of Japan (Iva Togun D’Aquino or “Tokyo Rose” and Tomoya Kawakita) and Nazi Germany – Jane Anderson, Herbert John Burgman. Robert Henry Best, Douglas Chandler, Edward Leo Delaney, Walter Otto Froehling, Mildred Gillers, Hans Max Haupt, Friedrich Wilheim Kallenbach, Max Otto Koischwitz, Martin James Monti, Max Stephen and Kate Martha Wergin. There were more traitors charged with sedition with respect to betrayal to Nazi Germany than the total of those charged heretofore in the whole history of the United States. Some have speculated that this provided a glimpse into the underbelly of America and its proneness to be attracted to fascism.

John Michell and Philip Vigol were pardoned by George Washington, John Fries of the Fries rebellion was pardoned by John Adams. Aaron Burr was perhaps the most famous traitor in American history. Or perhaps the abolitionists, John Brown and Aaron Dwight Stevens, were. Then Mary Surratt was hung for being part of the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. During the turmoil of trade union formation in the United States, Walter Allen was convicted for participating in a miners’ strike. In other words, until the Nazi era, there had only been a handful of traitors and, of these, they were almost all pardoned or unjustly convicted of trying to make America a more perfect union. And during that whole history, not one was an occupant of high office, let alone a president.

In the excellent prosecution conducted by the Managers from the House of Representatives of Donald Trump’s impeachment, it is hard to imagine a better case for conviction. Yet conviction, requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate. It was unlikely to be attained in spite of the overwhelming evidence supporting conviction. The prosecution went back to the big lie that Trump began propagating before the election actually took place – namely, that he could only lose if there was fraud committed by the Democrats. The Big Lie simply got bigger and bigger. The prosecutors had to be economical in the evidence they offered so they could not go back into history to document that Donald Trump was a serial liar of gigantic proportions. They could not go into the ground of America, in the strain of fascism that runs through American history. Nor could they or did they document why, a very high percentage, though clearly a minority, bought into the lie.

Some were those who identified with violence as the means to select the “true and only” leader. These included the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters, all part of a militia anti-government network who had adopted Donald Trump as their hero and savior. Who are the Proud Boys whom Donald Trump asked to “stand back and by”?  Formed in 2016 when Trump was elected, they generally did stand back and stand by until Donald Trump in a written record of tweets called them to assemble in Washington before the White House on 6 January and then instructed them to march down Pennsylvania Avenue and prevent Congress for authorizing the votes of the Electoral College, the last step necessary for the peaceful transfer of power. As they had repeatedly threatened, they promised that they “would assassinate you,” that is, those who opposed Donald Trump as their leader. The leader who pledged allegiance to Trump was Gavin McInnes, a well-known militant anti-Semite, who was one of the leaders of the assault on Congress and has now been indicted.

The Oath Keepers declared that the Capitol riot was “a false flag,” and declared that the impeachment trial was designed to destroy the constitution. The election was a fraud and signaled the theft of America that Trump had described. The Oath Keepers were explicitly committed to using armed force in the assault on the Capitol and to follow the directions of Donald Trump. The FBI describes them as a “paramilitary organization,” a “large but loosely organized collection of militias.” The members believe that the federal government has been coopted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights.” Members of the group were indicted for their part in the violent attack on the Capitol.

The Three Percenters are organized in Canada as well as the United States. Like the other members of the alt-right radical network, they are also part of the militia movement, an anti-government group that believes in the use of force to reclaim “their” government.

But these and others are but a small part – the militant and extremist part – of the supporters of Donald Trump who assaulted the Capitol. There may have been three thousand or so involved in the attack, the majority of whom never entered the building. But there were many thousands more at the rally protesting along Pennsylvania Avenue against the election “that was stolen.” They were not part of the insurrection. Though were incited to protest, not engage in an insurrection, by an enormous lie. The issue for the prosecution was to prove that Donald Trump not only commanded the loyalty of the majority of peaceful demonstrators who bought into the conspiracy theory of an election fraud, but to link Donald Trump to the militant insurrectionists. In tracing Trump’s choice of words, his instructions, his response and inaction in the face of the insurrection, the connection was made clear and the evidence was overwhelming.

However, the more serious threat is not the militant relatively small minority, but the great majority of the protesters who were not militant and, behind them, the millions of Americans who bought into Trump’s lies about the election being stolen.

Of the non-violent supporters of Donald Trump, begin with the Evangelical Republican Alliance that, along with the libertarians who formed the backbone of the right of the Republican Party in partnership with old style economic and political conservatives.. All those groups were wedded to anti-government positions. Of these four groups, only the Evangelical Republican Alliance had a geographic regional base that ensured Republican control of red states. Donald Trump’s lies, his breach of conventions, his largely wayward foreign policy have all helped to alienate traditional conservative elites. Now, however, the resort to violence and an attempted insurrection has sewn doubts and even a split in the Evangelical Republican Alliance.

Regular white evangelical church-goers have been strong and loyal supporters of Trump, but the resort to violence to prevent a peaceful transition in power, even if the election had been a fraud, went beyond their limits of tolerance, at least for three-quarters of them. They conducted prayer protests along Pennsylvania Avenue and did not support the attack on the Capitol and the insurrection. Serious schisms have now been driven much deeper into this group’s unstinting support for Trump. It is this group towards whom the trial is directed. For more than Trump, it is the Republican Party that is on trial. It is the enablers who do not stand up to challenge the lies lest “the base” desert them. But the base is deserting because those Senators are being shown as coddlers of violence, as willing to engage in a cover-up on spurious interpretations of the constitution.

A show trial is not simply one that tries to convict innocent people. Show trials also target the guilty. The big difference is that the target audience is the public. An example was the Eichmann trial. A show trial is an educational tool. Second, that target includes former idolators who bought into a bill of goods of a false prophet and even made that false prophet into an idol. The ultimate point of the Trump second impeachment is not to convict Trump, but to shatter the evangelical alliance which supports the Trumpists, the majority of whom oppose the use of violence to determine the make-up of a government.

That is the fundamental flaw of the Constitution. The people may sell themselves out to idolatry and surrender to the leadership of a false prophet. A false promise speaks only for himself and claims to represent the people. A false prophet is driven by his personal ambitions not the security and well-being of the polity. (Jeremiah 134:13-15) The resort to violence crossed the line of their tolerance, at least, for most of them. Many will actually take the step of renouncing not only the resort to violence, but the enablers who refuse to convict Donald Trump on the most spurious of grounds.

Brad Christenson and Richard Flory in their 2017 book, The Rise of Network Christianity identified the independent network of charismatic Christians who seek a wholesale revolution of society. They have had ties to Donald Trump and instead of alt-right militia leaders, they are led by apostles. They provided the large number of peaceful protesters supporting Trump’s Great Lie and provide a religious Christian underpinning to what took place on 6 January. Some could be spotted in the mob carrying Christian signs – “Jesus Saves” and “In God [Trump] We Trust.” Some who breached the Senate floor kneeled and prayed. The group Jericho March largely just marched around the Capitol, but some joined the alt-right militants rooted in a militia rather than a Christian culture. The more the latter were detached from institutional Christianity and regular church attendance, the more prone they were to surrendering their commitment to prayer as the means of change in exchange for violent protest.

Why were orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews who were strong and committed supporters of Trump almost entirely absent from the Trump rally and the attack on the Capitol? I have no definitive answer. But I believe that, although they will remain eternally grateful for what Trump did for Israel, their education about false prophets who ask the people to hearken only to them and the call to make the people his, is a form of idolatry. Their regular attendance at weekly services, provided the ground for the withdrawal of their open support.

They wlll be followed by a large number of evangelical white Christians who will wake up after the violence to heed the warming of the Gospel of Matthew: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are hungry wolves.” (7:15). The objective of the prosecution of Donald Trump in the Senate is to convince the public that Donald Trump is a hungry wolf.

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