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House Speaker Melissa Hortman
House Speaker Melissa Hortman said the First Amendment permits many forms of speech, including speech that is “false, misleading and hateful.” To cross the line into illegality, she said, speech must clear a high bar. (Image courtesy of House Information Services)

Bar Buzz: BCA finds no rally crimes

No one committed a crime during the recent “Storm the Capitol” rally that featured incendiary rhetoric from several speakers.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, had asked the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to investigate whether any participants in the Jan. 6 rally illegally encouraged an insurrection. She said in a press release Wednesday that the investigators found no one had.

“I appreciate the BCA’s quick review of this event,” the speaker said in the Jan. 20 news release.

Hortman, an attorney, said the First Amendment permits many forms of speech, including speech that is “false, misleading and hateful.” To cross the line into illegality, she said, speech must clear a high bar.

“The BCA concluded that bar was not met in this case,” her written statement said.

Some speakers at the Capitol rally urged a new American civil war and openly threatened the governor, as well as several state District Court judges. The GOP lawmakers do not appear to have been among the most vitriolic of speakers, however.

Still, Hortman said, inflammatory rhetoric carries consequences, even if it is not criminally prosecuted. “It creates an environment of fear and division, can cause harm to individuals targeted by such speech and it makes it more difficult for us to work together and solve problems,” she said.

During a Thursday press conference, Hortman was asked if the BCA’s findings undercut any potential basis for House ethics complaints against the six GOP lawmakers who took part.

She said she still has not seen a complete transcript of everything legislators said that day. But based on what she now knows, she doubts ethics charges are forthcoming.

“While I don’t agree with the speech that they exercised, they do have freedom of speech,” she said of elected officials who spoke at the rally. “They did not cross a line into criminal activity. I would be surprised if there were ethics charges forthcoming, based on what I know at this point.”

If ethics charges were to be filed, she said, they likely would come from other lawmakers. As speaker, she said, her job would be to preside over the disposition of a complaint, after it traveled through the House Ethics Committee.

“So, typically, if there were an ethics complaint, it would not be brought by me,” she said.

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About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

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