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Lawmakers Must Be Held Accountable for Violent Rhetoric

Words have consequences.

Hours before the January 6th insurrection, former President Donald Trump held a rally near the White House for hundreds of his supporters.

Attendees included members of the Proud Boys, far-right groups, and white supremacist organizations, many of whom use the open carrying of firearms as a form of harassment and intimidation.

Trump used his platform to lie and tell attendees that the presidential election was stolen and urged them to “show strength” against members of Congress who were voting to certify the election results. About 20 minutes after Trump concluded his chaotic speech, his supporters, a number of them armed, violently clashed with law enforcement and breached the outer perimeter of the Capitol building. 

As a gun violence prevention organization, Giffords encourages elected officials to pass laws that make our community safer. This work becomes infinitely hard if some of these elected officials are using language that incites violence. 

Elected officials wield incredible power, responsibility, and influence over the people that they represent. They can use their voices to fulfill their constitutional duty and safeguard American democracy. Or they can use their voices to divide the American people and incite mass violence.

Words have consequences, as our founder Gabrielle Giffords knows firsthand. In 2010, Gabby’s Tucson congressional office was vandalized after she voted in support of the Affordable Care Act. 

That same year, Sarah Palin’s PAC released a map that portrayed the crosshairs of a gunsight over Gabby’s congressional district and the districts of 20 other Democrats. A year later, Gabby and 18 others were shot at a constituent event in Tucson.

Violent words lead to violent actions. 

Inflammatory rhetoric helped create a world where people fueled by hate have made Americans fearful of public spaces. Schools, grocery stores, and even the United States Capitol have become sites of horrific violence. Language that incites violence or fans the flames of hate should not be left unchecked, especially when it comes from our elected officials. We must hold those urging violence to account.

Even in the aftermath of the insurrection, members of Congress continue to spout dangerous falsehoods. Recently elected Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene embraces a wide range of alarming conspiracy theories that many Democratic lawmakers, and a handful of Republicans, have condemned.

Lies and hate are toxic to democracy.

Greene falsely claimed that no plane crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, elevated the false and outrageous QAnon and Pizzagate conspiracy theories, and called the tragic mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School a “false flag” event—a faked incident used to justify taking away people’s guns. 

Not only has she embraced conspiracy theories that dispute the reality of gun violence, she has also expressed support for committing violence against Democratic lawmakers. In 2019, Greene liked a comment on a Facebook post that said  “a bullet to the head would be quicker” to remove Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi from office.

House Democrats pressured Republican leaders to reprimand Greene for her inflammatory statements, but House Republican leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy refused to take any action.

Lawmakers must be held accountable.

In response to the Republican leadership’s inaction, the House voted on Thursday 230 to 199, with the support of 11 Republican members, to remove Greene from the Education & Labor and Budget committees for her support of conspiracy theories and political violence.

Over the last four years, Republicans have increasingly allowed their party to become dominated by fringe groups whose ideas aren’t based in reality. Rather than call out falsehoods and impose consequences on members of the party who flouted norms, spread lies, and lifted up violence, leaders of the party have stood idly by and allowed the actions of their most extreme members to go unchecked. The events of January 6 are the inevitable conclusion when elected officials are not held to account. 

The House vote on Thursday sent an important message: elected officials who spread false narratives or incite violence will no longer do so without repercussions. As we continue to work to pass gun safety laws and fund lifesaving violence intervention programs, we call on our elected officials to stand up and speak out against those in power who divide, incite, and mislead others. Words and actions must have consequences, especially for those entrusted with the awesome responsibility of elected leadership.