House J6 Committee's report details how the then-President's anti-Pence tweet was directed at, and likely to produce, 'imminent lawless action'...
The violence was no accident. It was not a peaceful protest that spun out of control. Instead, as Rep. Elizabeth Cheney (R-WY) observed, in explaining her Jan. 11, 2021 vote to impeach, a then "President of the United States summoned the mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame for this attack." It was, by the former President's deliberate design, a violent insurrection.
In its Executive Summary [PDF] released last week, the bipartisan House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol amplified its referral to the U.S. Department of Justice for potential prosecution of former President Donald J. Trump et al. under provisions of 18 U.S.C. §2383 - Rebellion or Insurrection, which expressly applies to anyone who "incites" an insurrection.
"A Federal Court", the Committee observed, "has already concluded that President Trump's statements during his Ellipse speech were "plausibly words of incitement not protected by the First Amendment."
Those "words", uttered by the then President on January 6, 2021 at what was billed as a "Stop the Steal Rally" at the Ellipse near the White House, included 22 occasions in which Trump urged his supporters to "fight". He told them: "We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore." Trump offered those words to an angry, armed mob gathered in D.C. that morning after his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, at the same rally, called for "trial by combat."
While not mentioned in the Committee report's Executive Summary, the video recordings of the rally reflect that, as the former President was speaking, the crowd chanted: "Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!"
Trump knew those he'd summoned to Washington D.C. on Jan. 6 were both armed and dangerous. According to Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to then Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and one of the J6 Committee's star witnesses, Trump became irate when "thousands would not pass through the magnetometers" at the rally site, which had been erected by the Secret Service for his protection. She testified that the former President said: "I don't F'ing care that they have weapons. They're not here to hurt me."
Given the totality of the evidence assembled by the Committee over the past 18 months, detailing Trump's multifaceted effort to overturn and steal the election from the American people in order to retain the Presidency, a prosecutor would be well positioned to argue that, when Trump directed thousands of angry and armed supporters to move to the Capitol, he was extolling them to essentially carry out a violent coup and that the words uttered at the Ellipse were, indeed, "incitement" within the meaning of the Insurrection statute.
Indeed, his reported irate antics in response to his Secret Service detail's refusal to permit him to accompany the mob at the Capitol, suggests that the former President saw his own role as that of an insurrectionist Commander in Chief --- someone who could direct the actions of an armed mob that included members of extremist militias clad in tactical gear.
As defined by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), however, speech is prohibited only where it is (1) "directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action", and (2) "likely to incite or produce such action." [Emphasis added.]
That definition provides room for Trump's legal counsel to argue the former President merely told the crowd to "go to the Capitol"; that it wasn't an incitement to "imminent" violence.
However, that plausible defense evaporated on Jan. 6, 2021 at 2:24 p.m. when Trump tweeted...
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