IN THE WEE HOURS of November 5, 1605, a Yorkish mercenary named Guy Fawkes was busted in a basement beneath the House of Lords with enough explosives to blow the place to smithereens. That was, indeed, the plan. He and his co-conspirators intended to detonate the explosives during the State Opening of Parliament later that day, with the aim of killing King James I and everyone else inside.
For this obvious treason, Fawkes was arrested, put to the torture, convicted, and sentenced to death. Only a tumble from the gallows on the day of his execution, in which he broke his neck, saved him from being hanged, drawn, and quartered—a fate that befell the co-conspirators he betrayed while on the rack.
Guy Fawkes was not pardoned so he could start his own pro-blowing-up-Parliament podcast, on which he championed further attempts at regicide.
That same crazy year, Russia was in the midst of the so-called Time of Troubles, a period of famine, economic hardship, and political unrest that began with the 1598 death of Ivan the Terrible. In June of 1605, Dmitri Ivanovich, the only living son of Ivan, and thus the presumed heir, arrived from exile in Uglich to claim the throne. Only, as it turned out, he wasn’t really Ivan’s son. He was just some dude from Poland, a total imposter, whom the desperate boyars installed on the throne anyway.
Once the truth of the fraud was found out, the fleeing False Dmitri jumped out a window, fracturing his leg, and escaped to a bathhouse, where he was dragged out into the street and killed. His remains were put in a canon and fired in the general direction of Krakow.
False Dmitri did not survive to disseminate further disinformation about his birth on a YouTube channel, where a maker of pillows insisted that he would again become tsar at some constantly changing future date.
Two years before Guy Fawkes, Sir Walter Raleigh was arrested in another, less dramatic attempt to overthrow James I (who was, to be fair, a shitty king). As the governor of Jersey (!), his role in the alleged plot was to channel money from Spain to the insurrectionists. Raleigh was tried, convicted, imprisoned for 13 years in the Tower of London, and eventually beheaded.
Sir Walter Raleigh was not set free to collect donations to his legal defense on his GoFundMe and rail against the Deep State.
These are the first three examples of high treason that sprung to my mind, but I could go on for many pages about the fate of history’s failed insurrectionists. It almost always ends the same way: they die. Maybe they are killed trying to escape, maybe they are executed; in the end, they don’t live to fight another day. Which is the point.
Capital punishment wasn’t meted out because older societies were inherently crueler. There was a good reason, which is: Execution prevents further treason. The surest way to stop Guy Fawkes from trying again to blow up the House of Lords is to blow up Guy Fawkes. This isn’t hard to grasp.
As I’ve said many times, January 6 was the worst attack on our democracy since Booth shot Lincoln. While Booth acted alone at Ford’s Theater, he was part of a larger plot to overthrow the government. One of his conspirators attacked, but failed to kill, William Seward, the Secretary of State. Another lost his nerve, opting against assassinating Andrew Johnson, the Vice President. Others gave material aid to the plotters. Do you know what happened to these traitors, the so-called Lincoln conspirators? Booth was hunted down and killed by a U.S. marshal. His mates were arrested, convicted, and hanged.
I’m not saying we should get medieval on our current crop of traitors. It’s probably not wise to grant the government the power to execute people, even evil people, even the worst of the worst. But that doesn’t mean we should let bygones be bygones and chalk armed insurrection up to foolish indiscretion or mass MAGA hysteria. Violent attempts to overthrow the government should not be treated like jaywalking or smoking joints at the Barry Manilow concert in Central Park. When it comes to treason, I’d rather we err on the side of Hammurabi.
In addition to Trump himself, there are four powerful and dangerous men involved with the Big Lie: Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, and Erik Prince. All four have run afoul of the law. Three have been indicted, two convicted—and three pardoned, corruptly, by the outgoing Former Guy. They are all clearly bad guys. And yet they remain free to ply their seditious trade, which mostly involves poisoning American minds with disinformation and propaganda cooked up by foreign intelligence services.
The researcher of QAnon James Stewartson gave a succinct explanation to Heidi Cuda of the Byline Times on how these four men fit together: “Mike Flynn is the psyops guy and the general. . . Roger Stone spreads the propaganda on various media outlets, along with Steve Bannon who brings the billionaires and runs enormous targeting and propaganda operations. Erik Prince trains everybody and executes specific targeting operations from training centres in Wyoming, North Carolina, and Virginia. He trains physical troopers, but he also trains psychological terrorists.”
The disgraced general and felon Mike Flynn, convicted as part of the Mueller investigation only to be pardoned before sentencing, has been an outspoken proponent of the narrative that Trump won the election and will be reinstated as president. On January 5, he gave an interview with the seditious conspiracy theorist and rabble-rouser Alex Jones in which he said four more years of Trump was a “certainty.” He riled up the bellicose crowd in Washington later that day, in advance of the besieging of the Capitol. It does not appear that he’s ever going to stop, until he’s behind bars or Trump is back in the White House.
Convicted felon Roger Stone was also in Washington at that time, surrounded by the Proud Boys he hires as bodyguards. At a “Stop the Steal” rally on January 5—the phrase was his coinage; he first used it in 2016—he addressed the MAGA masses, saying Biden’s victory was “nothing less than the heist of the 2020 election,” and insisting that “we will win this fight or America will step off into a thousand years of darkness. We dare not fail. I will be with you tomorrow shoulder to shoulder.” Whether or not Stone winds up being charged as part of the January 6 conspiracy—he was not there “shoulder to shoulder” with anyone, the sniveling coward—he clearly contributed to it. And he, too, shows no signs of reforming. He’s going to continue behaving like this until he’s stopped. This is the same guy who, when the federal judge told him to not talk about his case on social media, posted a photo of her in a sniper’s crosshairs.
Erik Prince is another obvious, dangerous traitor. The former head of Blackwater and real-life Bond villain almost certainly perjured himself in his Mueller questioning. He’s also done things of questionable legality in Libya and in China. His former business associate turned apostate Gregg Smith has been shouting from the rooftops about Prince’s shady deeds, literally for years. “I spent 20 years with Erik Prince,” Smith wrote last week, in a since-deleted tweet. “I attended weddings, funerals, travelled the world, ate [hundreds] of meals with him and planned business operations on [four] continents. I know his network and what he is capable of. You only imagine, and you are way underestimating.” That sounds ominous, and yet the federal government seems just as uninterested in prosecuting Prince as it was in prosecuting Jeffrey Epstein—once again prioritizing secrecy over protecting Americans. Prince, too, will not stop until law enforcement steps in.
And Steve Bannon, one of the architects of the Trump insurgency, last year called for Dr. Anthony Fauci to be beheaded, and his head displayed on a pike as “a warning.” (Note: the heads of Guy Fawkes and his conspirators were indeed displayed on pikes after their deaths). I am not advocating that fate for Bannon—the less I see of his hideous face, the better—but I don’t understand how the executive branch of the federal government, whose primary function is to provide for the common defense, has not detained this clear and present danger, who appears to be in bed with Chinese intelligence. At the very least, his “War Room” podcast should be de-platformed. The First Amendment does not allow for open treason. And yet Bannon seems to be in the media constantly, with no signs of stopping.
Bannon, Flynn, Stone, Prince—these men are our Guy Fawkeses. Walter Raleigh taking money from Spain in 1603 is analogous to Flynn taking money from Russia or Prince taking money from China now. And Donald Trump is the falsest of all the False Dmitris (yes, there were somehow more than one). These are dangerous, dangerous individuals, legitimate threats to the American way of life, who working together may yet bring about the end of our republic. Why is the government not treating them as such? It’s like a lion, a tiger, a bear, and a crocodile escaped into a local elementary school, and the principal is like, “Whatever, man, ferocious wild animals have rights, too.” Why are we not doing everything in our power to counter the threat?
Because there are things we might try. In the case of Flynn, the solution, which I’m hardly the first to suggest, is simple: recall him to active duty and court-martial him. Or: recall him to active duty, post him to some remote outpost, order him to shut the fuck up—and when he opens his yap, then court-martial him.
With regards to Erik Prince, indict the fucker. He appears to have lied in his testimony to Mueller. Indict him! Gregg Smith has been patiently laying out Prince’s crimes for years, to anyone who will listen. Indict him! I don’t give a shit what his value is to the Intelligence Community. Indict him!
Most importantly, with Flynn, Stone, and Bannon, contest the pardons. As I understand it, there is not much legal precedent concerning presidential pardons, because the Constitution seems unequivocal on the matter—and also because previous presidents exercising the power have not been crooks doling out favors to their accomplices. But nothing is absolute. I mean, if some mobster gave Trump a briefcase of cash in exchange for a pardon, that would be illegal, right? Surely we can all agree on that? How are these bullshit pardons—in which the Former Guy materially benefits by not having to worry about his underlings squealing on him—any different?
It may be that there’s nothing to be done, that the power of the pardon is indeed ironclad. But shouldn’t we at least fucking try? Of course! It’s our civic duty to try, if only, as the former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner points out, to prevent it from happening again, when an even more corrupt president pulls the same shit:
Seriously: what’s stopping the Justice Department from pursuing this path? A fucking memo? The lack of imagination at the DOJ is exceeded only by the lack of will. By issuing corrupt pardons to his cronies Stone, Flynn, and Bannon, Donald Trump took a giant dump, Armand style, on the entire idea of the rule of law.
But Merrick Garland doesn’t seem to give a shit. He’s more concerned with his department representing Trump in the defamation case filed against the Former Guy by the woman he raped, because he reckons that that makes him appear nonpartisan. “The job of the Justice Department and making decisions of law is not to back any administration, previous or present,” the tone-deaf AG said at the time. “Our job is to represent the American people. And our job in doing so is to ensure adherence to the rule of law, which is a fundamental requirement of a democracy, or a republic or a representative democracy.” Those words would resonate much more powerfully if he were contesting a corrupt president’s unlawful pardons, rather than explaining why he’s defending that same corrupt president in a lawsuit brought by the victim of Trump’s violent crime.
Four hundred sixteen years later, Guy Fawkes remains the object of scorn in Great Britain. The 1605 Day of Thanksgiving for the failure of the Gunpowder Treason Plot survives to the present day, with bonfires and fireworks displays. This is as it should be. Traitors should be vilified, even in death—which is why those Robert E. Lee statues should all come down.
Historically, all governments, from ancient monarchies to modern republics, have treated traitors harshly. Why do we coddle ours?
Photo credit: Top and bottom: Rendering of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators and their fate by the Dutch illustrator Crispijn van de Passe the Elder, 1606.