There was no call for lawless action by Trump. Instead, there was a call for a protest at the Capitol. Moreover, violence was not imminent; the vast majority of the tens of thousands of protesters present were not violent before the march, and most did not riot inside the Capitol. Like many violent protests we have witnessed over the last four years, including Trump’s 2017 inauguration, the criminal conduct was carried out by a smaller group of instigators. Capitol police knew of the planned march but declined an offer of National Guard personnel because they did not view violence as likely.
Thus, Congress is about to seek the impeachment of a president for a speech that is protected under the First Amendment. It would create precedent for the impeachment of any president who can be blamed for the violent acts of others after the use of reckless or inflammatory language.
What is even more unnerving are the few cases that would support this type of action. The most obvious is the 1918 prosecution of socialist Eugene Debs, who spoke passionately against the draft in World War I and led figures like President Wilson to declare him a “traitor to his country.” Debs was arrested and charged with sedition, the new favorite term of today’s Democratic leaders to denounce Trump and Republican members who challenged the Biden victory.