What do you see when you look at the faces of Reps. Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens? No matter how you parse their recent actions, both have become Utah's own symbols of the vicious Jan. 6 attack on the sanctity of America.
Fudging on the truth, whether intentional or simply irresponsible, is not something new to either (Stewart and Owens have never been centered in the world of facts), but the attack on the U.S. Capitol put their constitutional disloyalty into a frightening perspective. We elected them for doing the right thing for Utah and the country. But they didn't.
Instead, they became pawns in Trump's wicked push to defeat the most essential tenet of our political system. The power of the vote is democracy's defining difference. That particularity separates our system from the autocracies and dictatorships that define so much of our world.
But Owens and Stewart both declined their patriotic responsibility. While neither of them had "Proud Boys" or swastikas tattooed on their forearms—or flew the Confederate flag in the Capitol rotunda—Owens and Stewart aided and abetted the hate groups and rabid Trump supporters who were so well represented. In essence, Owens and Stewart gave encouragement to those who breached the barriers; stormed broken doors and windows; desecrated the legislative chambers; destroyed centuries-old furnishings; urinated and defecated upon the floors; and hurt, maimed or killed those who blindly followed their lead.
The treasonous behavior of Owens and Stewart cannot, must not, go unpunished. Though sworn to service in the common good of the American people, they refused to support the Constitution and the immutable choice of the voters. When they voted to overturn the election results, they could hardly claim ignorance. Multiple reviews and court decisions had put those elections beyond any suspicions or impropriety. They had no palatable excuses.
Even worse, they now have the blood of fellow Americans on their hands. Oh, yes, they can vigorously protest—that they were not there during the violent insurrection at the Capitol—but that doesn't give them a pass on culpability. The legal doctrine of complicity allows them no escape. Prisons are filled with those who didn't personally pull the trigger but were responsible for the crimes others perpetrated.
Convictions on the basis of complicity have actually been hard for me to embrace—particularly for younger people whose consciences haven't yet fully developed. I've felt compassion for those guilty by association, for simply being there when a crime was committed. But the law sees it differently.
We cannot overlook the fact that Owens and Stewart were active participants in the destruction of our democracy and even helped to cause collateral damage—the deaths of at least five people. Their failure to act morally assisted the mob at the Capitol.
Owens, with his dumb-ass conspiracy theories, and Stewart, a decorated Air Force officer, both knew better, but they effectively tried to destabilize our democratic process. Of course, they can claim that Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz were the big boys who led them astray. But, in the end, they must take sole responsibility for their support and contribution to America's first, violent, attempted presidential coup. It was the greatest assault on our government since the Civil War.
While Owens and Stewart may wish for some way to hide their corrupt and perverse support of anarchy, there is really no escape. Failing to show any moral backbone or principles, they have cemented their own infamy in the annals of Utah history.
Now the question is: Will Utahns demand that their elected representatives support the Constitution, or will they—as they have so many times in the past—simply overlook this outrage as a boys-will-be-boys error in judgement? The answer should be clear: Utah cannot tolerate legislators who fail their most sacred responsibility.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney gave a speech that ended with these words. "The best way we can show respect for the voters who were upset is by telling them the truth. That's the burden; that's the duty of leadership." Owens and Stewart had access to better sources of truth than most Americans, yet they chose to spread inflammatory, dangerous lies instead.
If there was ever a time to act decisively, it is now, and these two Trump clones must be removed from office. They have failed to protect the future of our nation and bring shame to our state.
Now, it's time for Utah citizens to call a spade a spade. Americans voted on a new president, and that result is final, even though both Owens and Stewart hoped to invalidate the election results. We should give them the axe and never look back.
Recall Burgess Owens and Chris Stewart. They are unworthy to serve.
The author is a retired businessman, novelist, columnist and former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and the beloved ashes of their mongrel dog.