HTOAG: A book in process...


How to Overthrow a Government

An historical and hypothetical survey of revolution, civil war, and sedition


This book was inspired by the words of Antonin Scalia; United States Supreme Court Justice from 1986 to present.


“[The government has the right to implement income taxes] but if it reaches a certain point, perhaps you should revolt.” – In response to a question by a law student, as to what can be done if taxes become too high. (University of Tennessee College of Law April 15, 2014 -



Merely inquiring about the contents of this book or having it in your possession may be illegal in many countries and could result in imprisonment or worse. While this book is not actually advocating the overthrow of any government, its contents may be considered subversive or inciting violence even though that is expressly not the intent of this book. Please inquire about, possess and read this book with extreme caution, even within “free” countries.



Neither this book nor its author is advocating the overthrow of any government. The book is merely an historical account of why and how government overthrow occurs.


This book will make extensive use of public domain references such as While some people find open-source references to be less than professional, the advantages of this approach will allow the user to easily verify sources and will allow for a sense of objectivity since an open-source reference is by nature susceptible to critique by multiple parties.



No matter how a government may be overthrown; the first question should be why a government should be overthrown. In the course of history many legitimate and bogus reasons have been given as to why a government was toppled.

Government Espionage

When one nation advocates the overthrow of another nation’s government terms like regime change are employed.  The designation of “regime” is supposed to convey that the target government isn’t really legitimate, since a “regime” is usually thought of as an authoritarian group that is somehow imposing itself against the will of those it is governing. The instigating nation may achieve the overthrow of the target nation by way of international pressure, funding or supplying arms to rebels, fomenting uprising such as revolution or civil war, direct assassination of the leadership, or even all-out war. Nations typically engage in this behavior in an effort to change the target government to be more favorable to the instigating nation. This favorability may simply be to decrease hostility or as an attempt to gain access to the target nation’s resources, transport lanes, or markets.


Another reason for why a government may be the target of overthrow is when the government no longer abides by the people’s wishes or by the rule of law such as a constitution. This kind of overthrow is usually called a revolution as it requires a revolt of a significant portion of the population.  Revolutionaries are often initially depicted as traitors, insurrectionists, rebels, seditionists, or even domestic terrorists. The uprising may be instigated by outside sources or completely domestic and may be at first relatively peaceful. Many governments in an attempt to put down opposition have actually caused the uprising to spread into an eventual full blown revolution.

Civil War

Much like a revolution, civil war is generally brought on due to discontent with the present government. One or more factions will begin to oppose the existing government and may even declare its independence from the host nation. The war may end with multiple new nations or with the overthrow of the former nation or with the complete defeat of the rebels.

Coup d’état

Perhaps the most historically common method of government upheaval is through a coup. A coup can be non-violent (“bloodless”) or violent in nature and usually is an internal overthrow of the existing government without actually dismantling the form of the government. A coup is typically carried out by a military leader and his or her followers. (See:'état )


Most countries have laws against sedition, which loosely defined is the advocacy of government overthrow through any means besides the so-called lawful method. The lawful method depends on the governmental system.  It could be through elections, hereditary succession, or some other process prescribed by the system.

The question becomes when is an act considered seditious? Does it even need to be action or can it be words and even thoughts that can be considered so dangerous that laws are enacted to forbid them.

Since the United States is often characterized as the most tolerant and free civilization when it comes to thought and speech, having this right outlined in the first amendment; we will start our survey with that country.


U.S. Anti-Sedition Laws

The two main anti-sedition laws within the United States are:

  • 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts – actually a set of 4 bills, in part passed to quell a potential mimicking of the French Revolution within the United States. -
  • 1940 Alien Registration Act (Smith Act) – its main purpose was to track non-citizens especially in light of the increased amount of espionage. However, the first provision of the act addresses sedition:


“[conviction of anyone who]...with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any such government, prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence, or attempts to do so; or...organizes or helps or attempts to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any such government by force or violence; or becomes or is a member of, or affiliates with, any such society, group, or assembly of persons, knowing the purposes thereof.

As you can see, even the U.S. has very stringent anti-sedition laws. The U.S. addressed the question of what is considered seditious by applying what is called the Bad Tendency principle, sometimes morphed into the phrase “clear and present danger”. This principle allows free speech to be restricted if it is ruled that the speech or expression has the sole purpose to incite or cause illegal activity.  Further, this potential activity must be a clear and present danger. (see:


Imminent Lawless Action

The Bad Tendency principle developed through court cases into the Imminent Lawless Action principle. Under this principle, as ambiguous as it remains; the speech or expression of a person must not only incite illegal actions but must be of imminent or have current or immediate effect. (see:


Two examples of things supposedly not covered by the first amendment is falsely yelling “fire” in a crowded theater or threatening to harm the president of the United States. While the first example might be defined as inciting clear and present danger, in that potential chaos from fleeing patrons may cause injury or death; the second example is actually a class D felony under the law. The law reads:

Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits for conveyance in the mail or for a delivery from any post office or by any letter carrier any letter, paper, writing, print, missive, or document containing any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States, the President-elect, the Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President of the United States, or the Vice President-elect, or knowingly and willfully otherwise makes any such threat against the President, President-elect, Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President, or Vice President-elect, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.


Penalties can be applied for threatening almost any public official, not just the president and in fact those penalties are more severe for threatening a Federal judge or law enforcement officer. It is important to keep this in mind as this prospect will be covered in more detail.



Even though the perpetrators of government overthrow need not justify why they are doing it, they often attempt to provide some sort of reasoning. Government overthrow in reality could be for no other reason to seize power to enjoy the benefits that come with power. However, even in the most totalitarian government the leaders will explain to the people why it is best that the leaders are in charge.


But first, there must be a reason the new leaders take power. Historically, even in peaceful leadership transitions such as by election the potential new leader will advocate he or she wants to lead because there is a need for “change”.

For example, during the 2008 United States Presidential campaign of Barack Obama he used the slogan: “Hope and Change”, or more accurately “Change we can believe in”.

The idea is to rouse the public to the sentiment that the former government or administration maintained a disliked status quo. It doesn’t matter if the status quo is statistically desirable. For example, during the eight years of the President George W. Bush’s administration, unemployment remained around 4-5% and fuel prices were $1-2 less than during Obama’s administration.  The reasons for the statistical inferior situation during Obama’s administration don’t change the fact that the “change” is in fact statistically detrimental. (See: )


Revolution, such as the American Revolution claims it had to take place to overthrow a tyrannical government. Tyranny as broadly defined is cruel oppression.  This definition requires us to consider what is meant by “cruel” and “oppression” as both of these terms are subjective. Were the American colonists really being cruelly oppressed?

In no way am I trying to downplay the justification for the American Revolution, however comparatively; the tax burden of 2014 in the United States is far greater on the average citizen than it was in the 1700s. There was no permanent income tax in the U.S. until 1913 with the passage of the 17th amendment. (See: ) Yet the comparatively miniscule tax burden in the 1700s culminated into the Boston Tea Party and full-fledged revolution while Americans are presently taxed literally even after death (inheritance tax) with not even a shrug.

The point is, the claim of tyranny may simply be a convenient rhetorical impetus just as the empty slogan of “hope and change”.

But what about when the justification for government overthrow seems to be more obvious such as in the government of Adolph Hitler? While modern day critics of various government leaders like to compare their targets to “Nazis” or Hitler, it is rarely accurate since these targets have not reached anywhere near the level of documented cruelty to fellow humans as had the Nazis and Hitler.

How cruel or oppressive must a government be before overthrow is justified? Is it enough that the government ignores its own laws? Does justification require that the government is actively killing its citizens? Is taxation without much or any representation enough to justify potential violent insurrection?


Despite what justification a revolutionary may think he or she has to overthrow a government, they will need to convey a perception of justification. What I mean is that there will need to be enough people supporting the cause for the cause to move forward.

There have historically been all sorts of people discontent with their government. Most of these people’s displeasure will result in nothing more than grumbling to family and friends but occasionally the person may act upon their feelings.

The perceptions of the person’s actions are what we are considering. Will the public see the actions as that of a lone madman? Will the public begin to sympathize with the revolutionary? At this point, the target government will make some attempt to portray the revolutionary in an unflattering light.  This portrayal is supposed to stifle the simmering revolution and quell copycats. If the portrayal is not enough to do this, the government may take more hostile actions against the revolutionary, including execution.  This action may actually feed the revolutionary fervor.

In contemporary examples; in 2014 a Nevada cattle rancher named Cliven Bundy, along with his armed supporters appeared to successfully stand against the U.S. government as the government attempted to impose actions against Bundy’s use of purported federal land. (See: ).  Bundy had popular support to the point that some people thought the issue might be a flashpoint for a second American revolution.

In contrast, later in 2014 a husband and wife who ironically attempted to attend the Bundy protest randomly killed two Las Vegas police officers and a citizen as they claimed to be initiating revolution. They even draped one of the dead officers in a Gadsden flag (“Don’t Tread On Me”).  This flag was often used by American revolutionaries before the formation of the United States and the creation of the modern stars and stripes flag. (See: )