Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman pledged Monday to open an investigation into six Republican representatives, including Reps. Susan Akland of St. Peter and Jeremy Munson of Lake Crystal, who attended a conservative rally Wednesday in St. Paul where protesters threatened some state leaders and judges.
“We’re investigating whether there were members of the Minnesota House of Representatives who advocated for, incited or supported acts of domestic terrorism,” Hortman said.
The rally, dubbed “Storm the Capitol,” was organized by the conservative group Hold the Line to voice concerns about potential election fraud in Minnesota. Attendees spoke of an incoming civil war and used similar language to the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol during a similar protest in Washington, D.C., that day.
Minnesota’s top officials uniformly condemned last week’s violence that arose as a result of the D.C. insurrection. Republican leaders also acknowledged President-elect Joe Biden won the election, but Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt stopped short of declaring there was no election fraud during the November presidential election.
President Donald Trump spread rumors, falsehoods and unsubstantiated claims about potential voter fraud in the months leading up to the 2020 election and ramped up his rhetoric in the weeks and months afterward. Congress is set to begin another impeachment hearing in the House as early as this week over Trump’s role in inciting the D.C insurrection.
While Republican leaders said they couldn’t condone Trump’s “bad behavior” in a press forum Monday, they compared the reaction toward the D.C. insurrection and the “Storm the Capitol” protest in St. Paul to the protests and riots that took place after Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd last summer.
“This goes both directions,” Gazelka said. “It concerns me on both sides when people take things to extremes.”
Gazelka and Daudt also compared the protesters’ inciteful speech to freshman DFL Rep. John Thompson, whose comments during a protest in front of Minneapolis Police Union President Bob Kroll’s House last August drew widespread condemnation from lawmakers across the political spectrum. Thompson, who accused Kroll of defending “killer cops” and used multiple expletives, later apologized for using inflammatory language.
Gov. Tim Walz rebuked Gazelka and Daudt for not clearly dispelling election fraud claims and for making a false equivalency between last week’s incendiary rally and last summer’s racial protests.
“The U.S. Capitol was stormed by people intent on killing the vice president, the speaker of the House and our other legislative leaders at the urging of the president of the United States,” Walz said.
He said the St. Paul protest, which shifted to the governor’s mansion before it ended, caused the State Patrol to evacuate Walz’s 14-year-old son Gus. It was the first time the patrol has had to evacuate someone from the mansion, according to Walz.
The governor called on Republicans to condemn Trump’s election claims in stronger terms.
“How do we find common ground when we have people who will not say the election was fair?” Walz said. “How do we find common ground when basic medical facts are disregarded? How do we find common ground when leadership continues to perpetrate these falsehoods?”
Daudt, in response, said he believes there was likely a small amount of election fraud but not enough to sway the presidential election. He called on Walz to to make more efforts to reach out to conservative protesters and help lawmakers pass election bills that would strengthen the state’s elections.
Earlier Monday, House DFL leadership called on Akland, Munson and other representatives who attended the “Storm the Capitol” rally to denounce the violence and threats stemming from the protests across the U.S. last week.
Akland, who drew controversy locally for comments she made about unmasked protesters, said Saturday she did not support the violent actions rioters took.
“In no uncertain terms, I abhor the violence and destruction and killing that took place in our nation’s capital,” she said.
Munson expressed similar sentiments Saturday.
“It’s not what that protest was organized for,” he said.
Rep. Paul Torkelson of Hanska, one of the House GOP leaders, said Saturday he didn’t attend the rally due to family commitments and likely wouldn’t have if he had been available. While he said the people at the rally had the right to express their grievances, he criticized organizers for turning protesters toward public officials’ homes.
“I think you cross a line when you visit a public official’s home,” Torkelson said. “It’s really bad. Serving in public is hard enough just on its own for each of us personally, but if you start dragging our families into it, you’re crossing a line.”