Censure Mo Brooks?

On January 6, President Trump wasn’t the only elected official rallying the masses of his supporters in front of the White House. Republican Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama was there also, encouraging the crowd to “fight” for the President and calling for a refusal to certify the election. Apparently due to his choice of words, two Democratic members of Congress yesterday drafted a resolution to censure Brooks. Given all of the attention being paid to the impending impeachment vote, I’m not sure how much steam this effort has in it, but I’m confident the Democrats would love to see it happen. One of the two sponsors of this plan is someone whose name is likely familiar to regular readers, being former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida. The other is Congressman Tom Malinowski of New Jersey. (Associated Press)

Two House Democrats have proposed that Congress censure U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, arguing that his remarks at a rally of President Donald Trump’s supporters incited the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol last week.

Brooks said Tuesday that his critics are misrepresenting his remarks, which were intended as a pep talk for the next election cycle. He added that, “I will never apologize for fighting to win our causes at the ballot box.”

Brooks has come under fire for comments at the rally in which he told the crowd that he wanted them to take a message back home and “along the way stop at the Capitol.” “Today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” Brooks said at the Save America rally on Wednesday that preceded the riot at the U.S. Capitol. He was wearing a hat that said, “Fire Pelosi.”

I find myself to be of two minds about this. I hadn’t actually watched Brooks’ speech on the day of the riots, though I did see a few clips on social media. At first glance, I found the accusations against Brooks to be overblown, similar to my interpretation of the speech the President gave. Both men implored the crowd to “fight” for the president. But that is an example of terminology that is as old as American politics itself. You don’t have to search very far to find examples from nearly everyone who has ever stood for election.

Nancy Pelosi has excerpts from one of her own interviews from last year right on the Speaker’s website where she talks about the need to “fight for our healthcare workers.” There’s an entire movement pushing for a higher minimum wage that’s endorsed by nearly every Democrat in Congress called the “Fight for Fifteen.” Never once have I heard anyone suggest that Democrats were seriously asking their supporters to go beat up anyone who criticizes the medical profession or set fire to their local McDonald’s paying people the minimum wage.

It was also noted that Brooks wore a hat that read “Fire Pelosi.” But, again, that’s probably a view shared by nearly every Republican on the Hill. It doesn’t mean he’s urging anyone to attack her.

Digging further into the details of Brooks’ speech, however, I’ll admit that he did go a bit further, using language that could – possibly – be construed as a literal incitement to violence. He declared that January 6th was the day that “American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.” Yes, the phrase “kicking ass” is also frequently used metaphorically without someone literally getting into a fistfight, but it’s sometimes taken literally.

An even more incendiary comment would be an instance of Brooks asking if supporters would be “willing to sacrifice their blood, sweat, tears, livelihoods and even their lives?” The problem is, that was an accusation from Democratic Congressman Chris England, but I haven’t been able to find a recording of him saying it. If so, however, talk of sacrificing your life would certainly be interpreted as a reference to physical fighting or war.

In the end, there was plenty to criticize in Brooks’ speech, not least of which was his continued insistence that the national election was fraudulent when Republicans failed to produce a convincing argument for the theory in any court, including some overseen by judges appointed by Donald Trump. That’s something Ed Morrissey brought up earlier today.

Despite all of this, I can’t help but keep coming back to what I see as the most fundamental question in terms of the entire “incitement” issue, whether you’re talking about Donald Trump or Mo Brooks. Who is responsible for the decision by hundreds of people to break down the barriers at the Capitol building, bust out the windows, and run roughshod through the premises? Neither Pence nor Trump held a gun to their heads and forced them past the lines of the CHP. Also, there were thousands of other Trump supporters there on January 6th who elected to remain out in the streets, wave flags and cheer. Those people were literally engaged in a peaceful protest and somehow managed to not be “incited” by the speakers to acts of violence and destruction.

Conservatives traditionally speak convincingly about personal responsibility. Even if these people still sincerely believe that massive amounts of voter fraud took place in multiple states, such things have to be resolved in the courts. That plan was attempted, but it failed. Resorting to rioting is not the next natural step in the chain of events. It’s criminal activity and it carries consequences.