Repeating History: McSally’s Treason Accusation Is Tried-And-True Political Tactic

(Photos courtesy U.S. House of Representatives)

By Stephanie Morse

TEMPE – Political opponents are increasingly trading accusations of treason in hopes of influencing voters, a history professor said Tuesday, and the tactic just might work.

Arizona State University history professor Peter Van Cleave commented the day after Republican Martha McSally flung the word at Kyrsten Sinema in their only debate in the race for a U.S. Senate seat. Sinema replied that McSally is “engaging in ridiculous attacks and smearing my campaign.”

“The term (treason) does speak to a broader culture we’re seeing of intense political partisanship,” he said. “It could have a direct impact on the electorate. It can sway people’s opinions and influence their vote.”

The Constitution defines treason as an act of war against the U.S. or conspiring with the country’s enemies against an ally. The crime is punishable by death.

“Because of the seriousness of treason, you rarely see it brought to bear in the United States,” Van Cleave said. “Even more serious acts in history that you think of that you may consider treason – those were brought as acts of conspiracy, not treason.”

But he said politicians use the word in a moral rather than legal sense.

“I do see this as more rhetoric and political positioning against an opponent,” Van Cleave said. “It’s another political descriptor of trying to frame your opponent in a specific light.”

McSally accused Simena of treason near the end of a debate Monday night on Arizona PBS, based on comments Simena made about the Taliban during a 2003 radio interview.

“CNN reported that in 2003, while she was on the radio, you said it was OK for Americans to join the Taliban to fight against us,” McSally said. “I want to ask right now whether you’re going to apologize to the veterans and me for saying it’s OK to commit treason?”

As Simena started to respond, McSally interrupted: “It’s treason.”

Sinema, a Democrat, said her Republican opponent took the 2003 comments out of context and called the treason claim ridiculous.

“The charge of treason,” Van Cleave said, “has a very particular purpose and the accusation is of a particular kind going back to Sinema’s actions during the Iraq war and opposition to the Iraq war. The charge is not what McSally is after, but the implication.”

Van Cleave said politicians using the term treason as political ammunition date back at least to George Washington, who tried to bludgeon those who criticized him.

“Even in early America, treason was used as a political weapon as much as it’s actually used as a grievance against the state,” he said.

“Treason” was rallying call during the 2016 election, when some Republicans accused Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton of treason for using her personal email server and mishandling classified emails.

More recently, many Democrats have accused President Donald Trump of treason for his response to an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The last time an American was charged with treason was in 1952, when Tomoya Kawakita, a dual Japanese and U.S. citizen, was found guilty of tormenting American POWs during World War II.

President Dwight Eisenhower reduced Kawakita’s punishment from death to life in prison.


  1. Y’know, I understand her poor beginnings. I have, myself, lived on both sides of the tracks. But, she is still wearing the mask she adopted in her youth to cover up her need.
    If you come from poverty, you learn early on how to act as if… to your peers from whom you want/need acceptance and approval and to impress. Kyrsten is still wearing that mask. And she’s good at it, too. She can morph herself into whatever her immediate audience expects her to be. But remember; it is STILL a masquerade.
    Yes, it has enabled her to speak to a variety of socioeconomic bases. However, her message still stems from the unfulfilled needs or her youth.

  2. Martha McSally is REALLY a war hero, and my wife and I voted for her and Lea, and proud to keep republican control for a better economy, and pro-life to stop baby body parts trafficking, gay marraige that we voted down, and bring us back to how God can bless this country, else we will get a foolish California-style girl Sinema, go broke, and have more Obama-wars.

  3. Red ant hill or the Black ant hill for which will you decide to sit upon – couldn’t ever vote for the black ant hill… so Red it will be – same thing happen in the presidential election. So be it – my ballot will be sent today. *(I do have reservation of mailing in a ballot that it will not arrive at it’s intended destination – the democrats came to my home to talk to me about being “R” so a simple screening of mail could divert my votes with ease to alternate end… I have zero faith in anything the fed is doing – the deep state is indeed an army against without reservation).


  5. In the case of the pink tutu Sinema it is true. She made many statements being anti Military, and anti American. Like many others who were racist because they disagreed with Pres. Obama on any issue.

  6. I rarely have anything good to say about the Star, but check out Tim Stellar’s satirical column today on the McSally-Sinema “debate.” LOL. And, sadly, too close to the truth. But there is a third choice: Go Green with Green!

    • @Albert: while in theory it’d be nice to vote for the green party candidate the harsh reality of the real world dictates that a vote squandered is a vote lost.
      I voted for Ross Perot in 92′ and Clinton won against G.H.W. Bush. Being a slow learner, in 96′ I again voted for Ross Perot and as a result Clinton served a second term and poor Bob Dole was reduced to pitching Viagra on TV.
      So why you exercise your right and waste your vote on the green candidate I’ll exercise my right to waste mine and vote not for McSilly but against Sinema.
      McSilly & Sinema are the classic poster children for why the 17th amendment should be repealed.

      The Oracle

    • Orrrrrr – A racist for supporting Joe Arpiao even as the latino pig at the the trough Mary Rose Wilcox sat at the head of the board of sups all the while in the pocket of chicano money laundering human/child trafficking activist groups La Raza and La Causa, doling out public money to “victims” …

      • Only white people can be racist, all others are victims, just ask any minority.
        Affirmative action is little more then reversed discrimination and is still discrimination, it’s just socially accepted by whites and exploited by non-whites.
        It’s rather humorous that while most places exploited Africans for slave labor, only America has such pronounced deep racial divisions, but then again only America has the Democratic party fanning the flames of hate.
        I routinely list my race as “OTHER” and insert “Euro-American” in the blank because listing it as white just seems to be less impressive in today’s wacko world, plus who doesn’t want to be a victim?

        The Oracle

        • My culture is less than one percent of the population in this Country, and you find racist in every culture, religion and even sex. I’ve ran into many of them in my life so far, and expect to see more. They have been around for as long as man kind has walked the earth so they are nothing new. As for you being “White” I don’t think so. Never met a white person. Even an albino I met had pink eyes. Your as human as I am just from a different culture, religion, or shade of skin which some think makes them different. The difference I’ve noticed is you find more promotion of racism in the media here than you do in other Countries esp.. from our elected officals.

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