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Nicolais: Political violence went on trial. Our republic is under threat.

From the Jan. 6 insurrection to a congressional censure to killings in Kenosha, multiple high-profile cases were in the headlines last week

This year began with an attempted coup d’état and in its final months political violence has been on trial, no more so than over the past week. The outcomes will have existential effects on the future of our country.

I do not remember a single week in which so many court cases and congressional hearings ran concurrently. As news chyrons sped across the bottom of my television, the sheer agglomeration crystalized the peril for me.

Jacob Chansley — better known as the QAnon Shaman who stormed the U.S. Capitol shirtless but adorned with a horned fur hat and face paint — was sentenced to 41 months in prison for his part in the Jan. 6 insurrection. While nearly three and half years is a significant sentence, it still seems unconscionably short for a man at the forefront of a riot that cost several lives, threatened our elected leaders and left cracks in cradle of democracy.

Mario Nicolais

Is it that hard to believe self-proclaimed “patriots” would not see his prison sentence as a justifiable trade-off for attempting to install their preferred candidate?

Of course, while a federal judge handed down Chansley’s sentence, the Speaker of the U.S. House, a target of the mob he led, was busy running a censure vote against a member of Congress who felt no compunction against posting a video edited to display violence against a colleague. U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar racked up millions of views for the video that displayed him attacking both U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and President Joe Biden with a sword.

All but two Republicans felt Gosar’s post did not warrant censure. And, of course, those coming to his defense could not help but enflame passions. Colorado’s own U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert took to the well of House to defend him by lambasting U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar as the leader of a “Jihad Squad.”

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Apparently Boebert likes to mix her bloodlust rhetoric with a little casual racism.

For his part, Gosar followed the censure vote by retweeting the same video. Again. He obviously saw the whole scenario as a political victory. Playing to his base, punishment was not embarrassing but emboldening.

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Eclipsing Chansley, Gosar and Boebert, the trials of Kyle Rittenhouse and the three men who killed Ahmaud Arbery were rightfully at the heart of news coverage this past week. Travis McMichael claimed he chased Arbery in a truck and shot him three times only after Arbery grabbed the shotgun McMichael had pointed at him.

Not to be outdone in the vigilante self-defense strategy, Rittenhouse broke down into gasping sobs on the stand. He similarly claimed to fear for his life as he shot and killed two men and seriously wounded a third with an AR-15 style semiautomatic rifle. That performance earned him a not guilty verdict Friday afternoon.

The conjunction of these events highlights the precipice the country finds itself on. If each individual faces only minor negative repercussions, if any at all, for stoking such violence, it could easily become a point of reference for those considering similar action. 

For example, how long before the death threats voiced against elections officials turn into something even more serious and scary? What about anyone who shows up at polling locations next year claiming to safeguard them in the same manner Rittenhouse safeguarded Kenosha businesses? Or as McMichael safeguarded his community against alleged prowlers?

Clashes could end in blood spilled across the country.

To pull back from such outcomes requires strict, severe punishment for those engaged in such political violence. Something more than a slap on the wrist. Hopefully Arbery’s killers end up serving several multiples of the sentence imposed against Chansley. If they walk free like Rittenhouse, it will be a slap in the face of justice.

Political violence went on trial last week, and the outcome threatens to leave our republic in ruins.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


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