On Tuesday, a federal grand jury indicted former Republican president – and current candidate – Donald Trump. Again. He has set a new low with criminal charges for attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
The indictment contains four charges against Trump and his six chief co-conspirators.
One (1) count of conspiracy to defraud the United States by the many methods used to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Two (2) counts related to obstructing the certification of the election results by Congress on Jan. 6, 2021 – one for obstructing the certification process and the other for conspiracy.
One (11) count of conspiracy to violate civil rights (voting rights) by attempting to overturn 2020 election results in several states including New Mexico. (This law was intended for use against white supremacists in the South who engaged in voter intimidation and suppression.)
Out of all the bad behavior we endured from Trump before, during, and after his presidency, the charges listed above are perhaps the most egregious and threatening to the future of democracy.
From indictment to constitutional crisis
The indictment begins by clearly laying out the facts: Donald Trump lost his bid for reelection in 2020. He knew he lost. Instead of participating in the peaceful transfer of power to the newly-elected president, Trump used the time between election day and the certification of the election on Jan. 6th, to spread lies about election fraud (despite zero credible evidence), and claim victory for himself. He abused the powers of the office of the President to spread this disinformation to MAGA Republicans, and far-right hate groups such as the Proud Boys, enraging them and enlisting their support to unlawfully hold on to power.
An attempted coup in the United States is so outrageous that Trump should spend the rest of his life in prison and never be allowed to threaten our nation’s democracy again. Even if he does get convicted and sentenced to prison for any length of time, he could still run for president and a Trump victory would send us into a constitutional crisis.
Unprecedented and terrifying possibilities include the court letting Trump out of prison to be President, and he could even pardon himself. The founding fathers, unfortunately, made no constitutional provision for dealing with leaders with zero integrity and zero shame. (More on this in a future post.)
Free speech is not an excuse to commit crimes
As this most recent indictment makes clear, he had a right to claim, even falsely, that there was fraud during the 2020 election. He was also able to pursue lawful ways of challenging the election results, which he did, until he realized the law wouldn’t work for him because he needed actual evidence that the election was stolen. There was, and is, none.
Despite the first amendment protecting even the free speech of liars, Trump went beyond the limits of that protection. He used his power as President to amplify lies about the 2020 election and mobilize co-conspirators to find illegal work-arounds to help him.
That’s when he crossed the line from free speech to a criminal and fraudulent conspiracy to overturn a lawful election. All illegal, fraudulent conspiracies require speech as well as actions. That means Donald Trump doesn’t get to use the first amendment to shield himself from the consequences of his crimes.
Yvette Herrell and other NM GOP bad actors’ roles in Trump’s fraudulent conspiracies
While a successful prosecution is vital to the future of American democracy, Trump’s crimes hit very close to home here in New Mexico
It’s unclear at this point why any New Mexican should believe or support the New Mexico Republican Party when some of their top elected officials supported these illegal activities. The NM GOP has been complicit in these crimes and continues to fail in reigning in their followers’ violent election denial rhetoric which fueled the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Trump, with his co-conspirators, sought to throw out the ballots of voters from several states including New Mexico. The orders came down from Trump’s camp to mobilize state Republicans to rig the electoral college vote by choosing their own unsanctioned electors loyal to Trump. Here in NM MAGA Republicans chose fake electors who fraudulently claimed authority to give Trump our state’s electoral college votes, despite his losing the NM popular vote by a wide margin.
Not a stranger to lying as a means to gain political control, and to deny people their basic human rights as a Tea Party guy, GOP state Chair Steve Pearce was willing to go along for the ride on the Trump Big Lie conspiracy express. In fact, NM’s two fake electors and the cosigners of their scheme (all NM GOP leaders and operatives) acted at Steve Pearce’s direction.
Former U.S. Representative Yvette Herrell was also part of the fraudulent conspiracy here in New Mexico. She violated her oath of office when she, only hours after the MAGA mob violently stormed the Capitol that threatened the lives of members of Congress and Capitol Police, still chose to vote to overturn a lawful presidential election by voting No to certification.
We’re not sure if she really believed the Big Lie, but given her deeply unserious pantyhose argument for fossil fuels, it doesn’t matter. She proved herself unfit for office by voting No and participating in the shared delusion. And yet, Herrell is running for NM second congressional district again in 2024.
Perhaps the most terrifying display of the rise of American fascism was the MAGA plan to mobilize violent far-right extremists to D.C. on certification day and attempt to take the Capitol by force to keep Trump in power.
In that MAGA crowd was the fringe, current, and the intended future of the Republican Party just waiting in the wings. Two prominent MAGA Republicans from New Mexico that made the trip were former Otero County Commissioner and sideshow grifter Couy Griffin and far right, “pick me” pollical striver John Block.
Shameless self-promotion gave us these images of Couy (above) crossing the barricades to create coup video content and Block (below) waving his big Trump flag from the grassy knoll.
In the end, Griffin got a slap on the wrist in federal court for his role in the Capitol Insurrection. Here at home in NM, this “cowboy for Trump” was the first (and up to now, only) elected official at any level to be booted from office for his role in the insurrection.
Meanwhile, Block, like so many others, faced no charges. His profile was raised enough to move to a Republican district (HD-51) and use a Trump-style campaign to get elected to the Roundhouse. Don’t worry he brought his cardboard Trump effigy along to Santa Fe, in case anyone was confused on his continued loyalties to the insurrectionist in chief.
The Big Lie disinformation grift
With the GOP in Otero County led by firmly far right ideologues, two election deniers, disgraced NMSU professor David and his wife Erin Clements found something of a home there. They gained a big following with their bogus claims about election fraud in an attempt to stall county election certification, yet another part of the conspiracy to overturn the election results. They were even successful in grifting taxpayer money to hold a sketchy election audit in Otero. In the end, no evidence of election fraud was found, not even by the company contracted by the county at Clements’ insistence. In the end, it’s all about voter suppression and personal gain. David Clements took his disinformation show on the road to other states during the midterms to spread election distrust among the MAGA base and collect speaking fees. Erin Clements spends her time shuttling her children to white nationalist rallies.
Political violence in New Mexico
With this example from the very top of the Republican party at all levels, it’s not surprising that political violence has found its way into our communities here in NM. Solomon Peña claimed to have been at the MAGA rally in D.C. on January 6, 2021 but his role is unknown. Then last winter after losing his bid for state representative, Peña, a true Trumpian, did not accept those results.. He modeled his actions after Trump by not conceding and with false claims the 2022 election was “stolen.”. Like Trump, he also chose violence. He conspired with several other men to terrorize and possibly kill elected officials, two state legislators and two county commissioners (2 of the 4 who certified the midterm election results of his loss)– all Democrats– by shooting at their homes. In one instance, the shooters fired into a child’s bedroom while she slept. For now, he’s behind bars awaiting trial in both state and federal court.
The worst that could happen
If Trump and his co-conspirators do not face real consequences for their assaults on our democracy, we risk total surrender to relentless disinformation, destruction of free and fair elections, and political violence – because perhaps next time they’ll succeed and our democracy will be truly lost.