Grappling with governing: BYU students react to Capitol Hill chaos

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Editor’s note: Daily Universe reporters examined how Utah’s congressional delegation responded not only to the Capitol breach on Jan. 6 but the shift in the Republican Party over the last four years in a series of stories.

Jacquelyn Martin
With the Washington Monument in the background, people attend a rally in support of President Donald Trump on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Members of BYU’s political clubs are reacting to Wednesday’s invasion of the U.S. Capitol.

“I have always believed in the good in people and quite honestly I could not anticipate something like this happening so soon,” said Quincy Azimi-Tabrizi, VP of Outreach & Events for the BYU College Republicans. She added that the club condemns the rioters’ actions.

BYU College Republicans advertising chair Parker Stohlton said he didn’t think anyone would be crazy enough to actually storm the Capitol and was angry the president didn’t call in the National Guard.

Emily Anderson, an event planner for BYU’s Turning Point USA chapter, said she was shocked but not surprised at the Capitol protest. “The government corruption has gone on far too long, so it was bound to happen eventually.”

“Personally, I think a few antifa members instigated the storming of the building, and Trump supporters just thought ‘well, I guess this is what we’re doing,'” Anderson said. The FBI has found no proof antifa supporters were at the Capitol immediately after the Capitol riot, according to The Associated Press.

Sarah Koger, co-president of the BYU College Democrats, said she wasn’t surprised by the events, as Trump has been inciting and encouraging violence for the past four years. She also said his “unfounded narrative of election fraud and victimhood” contributed. “It’s time for Trump to ‘pay the piper’ and reckon with what will be his legacy of division, conspiracy, and sedition.”

Sedition?

Americans are clashing over whether Trump is guilty of sedition, with lawmakers calling for his removal from office. According to U.S. Code, seditious conspiracy occurs when at least two people conspire to overthrow the U.S. government or “delay the execution of any law of the United States.”

“Trump has committed an assault on our nation and our people,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a Jan. 7 tweet, accusing the president of inciting the Capitol Hill attack.

BYU College Democrats co-president Abigail Ryan also holds Trump accountable. “History writers have a moral obligation to stamp Trump’s name over what happened in the Capitol on Jan. 6.”

Stohlton said Trump should be removed from office as soon as possible. “What else will he do to hurt our country in the next couple of weeks? I don’t want to find out.”

Savanah Thomas, vice president of BYU’s Turning Point USA chapter, disagrees and said Trump should be separated from the rioters’ actions.

“Trump tweeted asking for a peaceful day but Twitter censored his tweets and barred his freedom of speech and his ability to speak with Americans on a platform that should be free for all,” she said. “He never has nor will he ever incite violence.”

Calling for protests is different than calling for violence, said Reagan Trapp, who is another of the chapter’s event planners.

The president tweeted a video Jan. 6 addressing protestors, which has since been removed from the platform. In the video, he claims the election was fraudulent but calls for peace and tells the people on Capitol Hill to respect law enforcement.

“Go home. We love you. You’re very special,” Trump said. His way of addressing violence drew criticism.

Gracia Lee is a BYU College Democrats officer. She said she felt the president did not denounce the protestors storming the Capitol.

“His futile attempt to tell them to go home was not nearly as strong as it should have been,” she said, adding that Trump repeatedly lying about the results of the election only fueled the rioters further.

Voter fraud conspiracy theories were another factor in encouraging the rioters and led people to take drastic action, Stohlton said.

“Trump fueled fire to several conspiracy theories. While some Republicans thought the conspiracy theories were harmless and nothing would come of them, those Republicans were wrong,” Stohlton said.

Voter fraud may be a conspiracy to some, but part of the GOP believes the election was mishandled.

The purpose of the march in D.C. was to ensure the validity and integrity of elections as the Founding Fathers designed, Thomas said. “Americans want answers and that’s all we’ve been asking for.”

She said protestors weren’t mad about the outcome of the election, but rather its handling, adding that rioting should not be condoned. Peaceful protests, however, are a good thing.

“The minute the process of free and fair elections is ignored is the minute the integrity and trust in the government vanish,” Thomas said. “It’s hard to trust the outcome of an election when there are a lot of things that happened on and leading up to Election Night that don’t make sense.”

Flashback to summer

The chaos that unfolded Jan. 6 has also reminded Americans of Black Lives Matter protests held last summer. A current argument is that police responded more harshly towards peaceful BLM protestors than those who stormed the Capitol.

“We have witnessed two systems of justice: one that let extremists storm the U.S. Capitol yesterday, and another that released tear gas on peaceful protestors last summer. It’s simply unacceptable,” Vice President-elect Kamala Harris tweeted.

Trapp pointed out that not all Black Lives Matter protestors were peaceful, specifically referring to the violence and looting in Chicago over the summer.

While she’s not condoning the violence in D.C., Trapp said people shouldn’t be hypocrites and say what one side does is different than the other. “If it’s violence, it’s wrong.”

Moving forward

“Hopefully this event will show both parties that it is time to unify the nation,” Azimi-Tabrizi said. “This riot demonstrated the consequences of using hate for one’s own political gain.”

Social media and news reports have been anything but unifying, Azimi-Tabrizi said, referring to statements like “if you’re a Republican unfollow me because I want nothing to do with a hateful person” and “police were to blame for the riot.”

“Not only are these statements narrow minded and ignore the variables at play, they only serve to make the situation worse,” she said.

Both parties can learn a lot from 2020 and the last few days, Thomas said, with one of these lessons being that rioting is not the answer and will never solve any issues.

Americans need to work together, she said. “Focusing on what divides us will only keep us divided.”

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