It is indisputable that President Donald Trump incited and encouraged his supporters to attend the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C., that led to the death of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.
When a public official in Utah organized a rally several years ago that led to criminal behavior and property damage, that official was convicted, fined and served time in jail. He was held financially liable for the property damage. Trump and his allies should be tried for third-degree murder and held financially liable for the damage done to the Capitol Building.
The president asked his followers to protest imagined fraud even though elected officials of both parties across every disputed jurisdiction certified President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. In the weeks after the election, recounts validated the results. Tens of lawsuits and legal maneuvers alleging voter fraud were denied or dismissed. In Pennsylvania, Republican Judge Matthew Brann ruled that Trump’s legal team presented “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations … unsupported by evidence.”
Even William Barr, who at the time was serving as Trump’s attorney general, declared that investigations by U.S. Attorneys and FBI agents “have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”
It is indisputable that Trump caused the rally in Washington on Jan 6. People can disagree about the intent of his words when he addressed that rally. But no one can dispute the facts. Trump told his followers to go to Capitol Hill, and they did. A riot ensued. People were injured. The Capitol Building was vandalized. A Capitol Police Officer was killed.
One definition of third-degree murder is “the unintentional killing of another through an eminently dangerous act.” Giving drugs to a person who later dies from using the drugs can be third degree murder. Trump was the pusher last week. Hundreds of his followers, high on politically charged rhetoric and flush with examples of recent pardons, unleashed a savage assault on their fellow citizens.
We don’t have to look far to find a clear precedent for holding public officials accountable for the legal and financial consequences of rallies resulting in criminal behavior.
In 2014, San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman used social media and other means to advertise a public rally and ATV ride. The event protested federal restrictions on motor vehicle use near sensitive cultural and archeological sites. At the rally, “Lyman appeared to get cold feet during his speech,” and “encouraged protestors to stay on legal trails.” Many ignored his last-minute show of virtue.
Lyman was found guilty of conspiracy and held responsible for the illegal consequences of the activity he organized. In 2015, a federal judge sentenced Lyman to 10 days in jail and probation for three years. He was fined $1,000 and ordered to pay $96,000 in damages.
It was no accident that Lyman was one of the people Trump pardoned last month.
Public officials must be accountable for their irresponsible behavior. It was right to punish the Utah County Commissioner who organized the Recapture Canyon ride. We should certainly punish a president and others whose words and actions caused the death of a policeman and extensive destruction of government property.
Stephen Tryon, Salt Lake City, is a retired soldier, former Senate fellow, businessman, author and was the Democratic candidate in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District in 2016.