On the 6th of January, 2021, and in the United States, it appears that we were in the midst of an armed insurrection that reached beyond the Capitol steps during sessions, penetrating even to chambers... an action which may have been encouraged tacitly in tweets by a sitting lame-duck US president .

Shots were heard. The Senators were advised to hide under desks and wear gas masks..

That seems to be an attempted self-coup.

Definition of self-coup

A self-coup, or autocoup (from the Spanish autogolpe), is a form of putsch or coup d'état in which a nation's leader, despite having come to power through legal means, dissolves or renders powerless the national legislature and unlawfully assumes extraordinary powers not granted under normal circumstances.


A little background...

When German President Hindenburg died in 1933, Chancellor Hitler assumed the title of president, outlawed all other parties and became a dictator. He did this out of his long-declared personal sense of cultural victimization, and said he was ‘saving’ the country.

He was already in a position of power, but affected a type of take-over from within; this had become his avowed purpose after the failed putsch of 1923 and subsequent imprisonment for insurrection.

In 1991, President Serrano of Guatemala overthrew his own government in a move which was later termed Serranazo i.e. where azo indicates a blow (coup) or strike. I remember waking up early on May 25th to the sounds of APCs and tanks taking up position in the streets in front of my house...

In Latin-America, we call this type of political move an auto-golpe, similar to an auto-gol in football (soccer for Americans)

As far as I know, and with the possible exception of the turbulent times after US Civil War, there has never been any attempt at declaring martial law to counter a free and fair election in the United States.

It would seem to fly in the face of the face of American democracy...

Right now in the United States, citizens are wondering if there is a possible coup d’état occurring in the country.

…former national security adviser Michael Flynn had shared a petition that called for martial law. He then retweeted the same account which suggested that Trump should declare martial law. "I don't know who needs to hear this," the account said, "But calling for martial law is not a bad idea when there is an attempted coup against the president and this country happening right now."


Martial law to counter politically unacceptable election results is essentially a...

Self-coup or auto-coup

Most usages of the terms go to reports of politics in Latin America, and so seem to be calques.

Some political rags still call it a coup d’état and do not seem to use the other more descriptive terminology.

I have no doubt that most Americans recognize coup d’état...

...but is the concept behind auto-coup, or self-coup dealt with in American publications? Is it a recognizable term in US politics?

  • 6
    Not if you said it out loud. In fact, not even if you whispered it. Dec 6, 2020 at 19:32
  • 5
    How can you assess if a term, any term , is properly understood by average American? Evidence suggested by Google Books shows that the terms (self-coup and auto-coup) are uncommon in AmE, so we can assume average American is supposedly unfamiliar with them. Other than that you have to rest on anecdotal evidence.
    – user 66974
    Dec 6, 2020 at 20:08
  • 3
    I agree: the two terms auto-coup and self-coup are unknown in the US
    – GEdgar
    Dec 6, 2020 at 20:59
  • 5
    @Cascabel, the problem with the question is not that it's off topic, but that it has a simple answer, which is not really worth posting as an answer: neither term is commonly used in the United States, so there is no established way in which an average person there understands them. Any published occurrences of either of these terms in the United States are likely to be in the publications that are read by a small number of people people with highly specialised interests.
    – jsw29
    Dec 6, 2020 at 23:39
  • 4
    Sorry to break this to you, but the average American may not even know how their government is meant to work, much less how it doesn't work.
    – Conrado
    Dec 7, 2020 at 21:22

1 Answer 1


'Auto-coup', (or self-coup) is understood by journalists and scholars who have studied political events in ‘third-world’ countries

"Make no mistake: Trump is trying to pull off a Latin American-style ‘self-coup’"

-by Andres Oppenheimer Miami Herald

NB: Posted 1 hour after the events of 1/6/2021 in D.C. (not so coincidentally with the re-opening of this post…)

What happened Wednesday in Washington, D.C. — President Trump encouraging his mob of minions to take to the streets to overturn the results of an election he lost, before telling them to go home — is a classic example of a Latin American auto-golpe, or self-coup.

I have seen many auto-golpes in Latin America while writing about the region in recent decades, most recently in Bolivia, in 2019. Trump has been a disgrace to America, and to the world. Until now, coup attempts were a Latin American and African phenomenon. Now, thanks to Trump, they are part of America’s reality.

From MSNBC as reported by RawPolitics.com

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) is taking up the attempt to overthrow the 2020 election from the U.S. Senate while Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) plans to do it in the House. Yale historian and expert on authoritarianism, Timothy Snyder, explained on MSNBC Wednesday that it wouldn't be hyperbolic to call it an attempted coup d'etat.

"I think there is no problem at all calling this a coup or a self-coup or an attempted coup," Snyder explained. "The only thing which is a little bit different about this, historically speaking, is how much of it Mr. Trump broadcast in advance. He spent six or seven months before November telling us how he would try to throw the election after November, and he did basically all the things he said he was going to do. I mean, for people who think the military has to be involved, it's not for lack of trying."

by Zenep Zufecki The Atlantic

“In political science, the term coup refers to the illegitimate overthrow of a sitting government—usually through violence or the threat of violence. The technical term for attempting to stay in power illegitimately—such as after losing an election—is self-coup or autocoup, sometimes autogolpe.

IMOH...The complete text of the Atlantic article is an eye-opener for most Americans, and should be read in its entirety.

Wikipedia has a new entry under the Header of Self-Coup or Auto-Coup

Notable self-coups and attempts: United States: President Donald Trump (November 2020–January 2021) (failed)

  • 1
    It would be the ultimate irony if Trump needs to look for asylum in one of those "shithole" countries he despises to escape justice in the US... Jan 9, 2021 at 20:09

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