Democrats in Washington have impeached President Trump over his supposed incitement to violence at the Capitol last week. Dan O’Donnell uses their own standard to call for the immediate resignations of Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes
January 15, 2021
Guest perspective by Dan O’Donnell
On Wednesday, just a week before he leaves office, President Trump was impeached by a Democrat-controlled House hellbent on criminalizing protected political speech. In a single Article of Impeachment, Democrats charged the President with inciting a crowd that had gathered on the National Mall to storm the U.S. Capitol.
At no point in his speech, however, did President Trump call for any such thing and even urged an orderly walk to the Capitol.
“I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard,” he said.
Under the standard for incitement laid out in the Supreme Court’s 1969 decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio, speech is protected under the First Amendment unless it is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and “likely to incite or produce such action.”
Calling for a crowd to “peacefully and patriotically make [its] voices heard” at a location for which the group had a permit to demonstrate clearly does not rise to this level, yet House Democrats impeached anyway.
Given this remarkably loose definition of incitement, it is clear that Democrats here in Wisconsin will support a call for the immediate resignations of both Governor Tony Evers and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes over their incitement of this summer’s riots in Kenosha.
Just five hours after a Kenosha Police officer shot Jacob Blake, a sexual assault suspect who was armed with a knife and trying to kidnap his children by stealing his girlfriend’s rental van, video of the incident had circulated to the point that an angry mob had descended on Kenosha.
“Do what you want,” read a flyer that was widely disseminated on Facebook (yet strangely led to no movement to kill Facebook as Parler was killed this weekend). “F*** s*** up. No bad protesters. No good cops. F*** Kenosha PD. F*** Madison PD. F*** Milwaukee PD. F*** Chicago PD.”
The flyer instructed the mob to meet in Kenosha and Madison at exactly 10:30 pm to begin, well, f***ing s*** up. There was no ambiguity about this call; it was for violence. Law enforcement took it very seriously, and closed all freeway exits to Kenosha to keep out-of-town rioters away.
It didn’t work. Kenosha was a powder keg ready to explode, and Governor Evers helped light the match. At exactly 10:35—five minutes after the rioters were told to gather in Kenosha—he tweeted a staggeringly ill-informed, incendiary statement that all but justified the destruction that would inevitably follow.
“Tonight, Jacob Blake was shot in the back multiple times, in broad daylight, in Kenosha, Wisconsin,” he said. “While we do not have all of the details yet, what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country.”
Evers admitted that he didn’t know the facts of the case, but he judged the officer guilty anyway—giving the green light for the righteous anger that had led to burned cities across the nation for months after the death of George Floyd.
Evers knew, or reasonably should have known, that just three months after Floyd’s death the shooting of a black man would be likely to lead to similar violence to that in Minneapolis and across the country, but instead of calling for calm, he almost literally fanned the flames as Kenosha started to burn.
Never before in his time in office had Evers issued a statement so late, so why did he refer to the “merciless” shooting of black men at the exact moment that he knew or reasonably should have known rioters were gathered with the intent of destroying a city?
“We stand with all those who have and continue to demand justice, equity, and accountability for Black lives in our country,” he continued, and at the exact moment he hit send, rioters demanded justice by looting businesses and burning a car dealership to the ground.
The next day, while Kenosha lay in smoldering ruins and rioters pledged to return that night, Evers still refused to urge for calm and peaceful protests. The closest he came was to “wear your mask and keep social distance as best you can.”
He didn’t seem to care if Kenosha burned again, but he was not about to let a rioter catch COVID-19 if he could help it!
During a disastrous, inflammatory news conference, Evers allowed Lieutenant Governor Barnes to all but urge further destruction.
“This was not an accident,” Barnes said. “This wasn’t bad police work. This felt like some sort of vendetta being taken out on a member of our community. The officer’s deadly actions attempted to take a person’s life in broad daylight.”
Barnes, too, admitted that he did not know any of the relevant facts of the Blake shooting, but he provocatively (and, it turns out, completely ignorantly) characterized it as a “vendetta being taken out on a member of our community.”
Law enforcement agencies from across the state immediately recognized the potential for this sort of rhetoric to incite further violence and sent a letter to both Evers and Barnes to urge them to keep quiet before they provoke further mayhem.
“A continued pattern of statements and press releases based on opinion and unsubstantiated claims puts people’s lives at risk. These are not peaceful protests. There have already been two deaths and many injuries,” the letter read. “Continued remarks like those already made by each of you have also put the lives of Law Enforcement Officers, National Guardsmen and the public at risk.”
Law enforcement recognized then what all of us must recognize now: Evers and Barnes were openly inciting violence. And now they must pay for it just as Trump is paying for his supposed incitement. If Trump is impeached even after he urged peaceful demonstration, then certainly a recall effort against both Evers and Barnes isn’t just justified; it’s necessary.
After all, House Democrats have shown the country this week that incendiary speech that leads to violence cannot and will not be tolerated, and now Wisconsin Democrats have a duty to follow this same standard and call for both Evers’ and Barnes’ immediate resignations for inciting days of widespread violence and destruction in Kenosha.
If Barnes and Evers do not resign, then it must be assumed that Democrats will join in a recall effort against them. After all, this is the standard for incitement that they support now, isn’t it?