OUR VIEW: A photo opportunity does not equal complicity

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The United States Capitol Building was laid under siege one week ago today in a riot that left five people dead and many Americans in shock.  

Not long after the riot, Mississippi Reps. Trent Kelly and Michael Guest found themselves in a bit of hot water. 

Prior to the Save America Rally in which President Donald Trump addressed a crowd of thousands at the National Mall, Kelly (who represents Lafayette County) and Guest met with members of the “Patriot Party of Mississippi,” spoke with them for maybe 15 minutes, took a picture with the group and then went back to the Cannon House office building in Washington, D.C. 

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The Patriot Party of Mississippi, which hosted a rally in Hernando this past Sunday, formed in December 2020 as a group of people who oppose the 2020 presidential election results and want to “take back our country from corrupt politicians.” Members of the group were in D.C. as part of “Operation Occupy the Capitol,” according to their Facebook page. However, the group denies participation in the siege of the Capitol building, and said they were only there to hear Trump speak. 

According to Guest’s office, the meeting was coordinated by Kelly’s staff. The staff member also told Mississippi Today that the meeting did not take place during an active protest, and that at the time it still appeared to be a normal day. Kelly has yet to make a public statement regarding the photo. 

That’s what we know about the encounter. 

However, upon publication of the photo, there were people who called for Kelly and Guest to resign over their alleged involvement with an attempted coup. Some even called for Kelly, a major general in the National Guard, to be dishonorably discharged from the military.  

While all are entitled to their opinion, and outrage over the riot at the Capitol is warranted, Kelly and Guest should not be publicly crucified over a photo opportunity.  

There is no way to know if Kelly or Guest was aware of the group’s intentions. Congress members meet with their constituents on a regular basis – and they’re supposed to, as elected officials. 

Whether or not we agree with those constituents does not determine Kelly and Guest’s right to meet with them.  

Of course, there were other elected officials (like one recently elected state representative from West Virginia) who actually participated in and live-streamed the siege of the Capitol. Those individuals should be stripped of their offices and criminally charged, without question. 

As more and more details about the riot emerge, the more apparent it becomes that we as Americans have greater concerns than whether congress members took pictures with constituents that fateful day. 

A hate-filled mob seemingly waltzed right into a building that housed the entire legislative branch of the American government. They did so with some people wielding firearms loaded with armor-piercing bullets, clubs, knives and homemade bombs, carrying zip ties and other restraints. They beat a capitol police officer to death with a fire hydrant, and kept beating his body. They tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed officers. They vandalized some of the most important rooms in our country’s history. Those on the receiving end of the riot were calling their loved ones and telling them goodbye, huddled in fear and uncertainty. 

Considering what we know now about the siege of the Capitol and those involved, it seems like a photo opportunity with two Mississippi Congressmen pales in comparison to the big picture.