Commentary by Dr. Patrick Welle

Editor’s Note: This commentary is in response to the commentary “I went to Washington and this is what I saw” published on Page A4 of the Jan. 9 edition of the Pioneer.  (Link to Dr. Welle’s Commentary in the Bemidji Pioneer)

Recently the Pioneer accepted a commentary from Michelle Thooft who attended Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” disaster and witnessed the mob attack on our nation’s capital. I question the Pioneer’s decision to run this in a format that blurs the lines between the roles of reporting an event, submitting an opinion piece and giving a sympathetic voice to conspiratorial grievances that underlie the horrific crimes that occurred.

These are difficult times. Social media platforms have been forced to suspend Trump’s accounts. As private companies they are not dominated by free speech principles but rather must limit their potential legal liability if they continue to allow Trump to spread lies and incite violence.

In light of this and the dire events involved, it seems the Pioneer should have done better in accompanying Ms. Thooft’s commentary with a disclaimer. Fact checking was in order because of the conspiracy theories alluded to, but the format makes it unclear if the author is among those who have succumbed to these falsehoods. It also must be noted that her commentary downplays COVID-19 during the deadliest week in our country thus far.

I applaud Pioneer reporter Matthew Liedke for his counterbalancing column, which ran on the same page on Jan. 9, on the importance of overcoming misinformation, but the gravity of the current situation demands more.

Ms. Thooft admits to being in the crowd on the Capitol grounds and her commentary affirms the views of those in the murderous mob. She describes her motivation as seeking the truth. If thousands of people were there for legitimate purposes, how did they not pick up on the flashing warning signs that this would likely turn into violent insurrection?

An important lesson for today is that we all need to heighten our sensitivities to how mob situations can provoke people to do horrible things spurred by the sense of anonymity. Ms. Thooft objects to being lumped in with racists and terrorists despite her poor judgment in joining the mob.

Over the decades Trump’s actions and statements have revealed his vile beliefs on race. Weren’t his comments on the Charlottesville riot offensive enough to trigger alarms for anyone opposed to white supremacy?

To be credible in “seeking truth” one must heed the warnings and leave a crowd peppered with Confederate flags and Nazi slogans. As someone committed to progress on racial justice, I am sickened by the display of the Confederate flag that occurred inside our Capitol as a result of the insurrection.

Ms. Thooft writes of a different reason for being sickened. It bothers her that unbiased skeptics of Trump’s claims of a stolen election, including Republican-appointed judges, have demanded evidence when asked to reject vote counts certified by the states.

In our current political climate, unscrupulous power mongers like Trump and Rudy Giuliani can mislead people in public statements while a dangerous portion of Americans don’t bother to ask why, if they have a case, aren’t they providing evidence in court? The painfully obvious answer is that it is a crime to lie in court.

AMERICANS OF GOOD WILL NEED TO WAKE UP! Our country was perilously close to the public execution of Vice President Mike Pence and other elected officials by the mob at the Capitol. Trump has radicalized millions of Americans through his skillful lying and tapping into grievance and resentment.

Part of the great tragedy our country is suffering is that gullible people cannot or will not engage in critical thinking about the lies they are being told. At this critical juncture, responsible citizens have ample evidence to recognize Trump as a danger to our democracy. It becomes increasingly dire in proportion to Trump’s growing desperation as he loses power.

Elected officials of both parties have attested to how counties across the country provided the building blocks of a fair and accurate election structured on the vote counts in individual states.

People who are open to evidence know that it is actually Trump who tried unsuccessfully to cheat. The public record of his election wrongdoing includes the Ukraine scandal, trying to conspire with Georgia’s Secretary of State to “find 11,780 votes” and bullying Georgia Republicans to fabricate fraud claims.

Given the historic assault that our democracy has suffered, citizens of good will need to recommit to the principles in our founding documents, especially the Constitution. It sets the foundation for elections with integrity.

For posterity, we need to condemn Trump’s attempts to supplant these crucial processes of self-governance with anarchy. He has failed to uphold his oath to defend the Constitution, so we need to give the proposal for impeachment the historic context it deserves. Why retain the impeachment clause in the U.S. Constitution if we fail to document for history that Trump’s incitement of insurrection is one of the highest crimes imaginable?

Patrick Welle, Bemidji, is an emeritus professor of economics and environmental studies at Bemidji State University.