Whittier City council voted to “not censure” member Jessica Martinez, who attended Trump’s “Save America” Rally in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6, after online petition for her removal.
Councilmember Jessica Martinez has been under fire by locals for attending President Trump’s Jan. 6 “Save America” rally along with posting controversial tweets on Twitter involving claims of 2020 election fraud, false COVID-19 information, “racism” directed towards a member of Congress, and more. Whittier City council voted 3 – 2 to not censure Jessica Martinez despite local calls for her removal during the Jan. 12 city council meeting. Public comments called Martinez “racist” and a “terrorist” along with claims she is suspected of illegal involvement at the Capitol riot/sedition and that she denies the existence of COVID-19.
Fellow Whittier City Councilmember, Mayor Pro Tempore Henry Bouchot, called for Martinez to be “held accountable” in a Facebook post that documents Martinez’s involvement in a protest at the Capitol and her own Twitter posts displaying this. Alongside Bouchot’s action, over 6,800 people have signed a petition intiated by Zenaida Huerta and backed by Democrats For Justice to remove Martinez from the Whittier City Council and “urge Mayor Joe Vinatieri to censure Councilmember Jessica Martinez.”
According to legal advisors to the Council, the group does not have the power to remove Martinez from office but can censure her for the remaining term, which lasts four years. To censure a city council member would serve as an official statement of disapproval and would not suspend the rights of the member as an elected official, as would generally result from the violation of the law or City code.
The motion to censure Martinez at Tuesday’s council meeting ultimately failed, as Martinez (Rep.) made up one of the three votes — along with Mayor Joe Vinatieri (Rep.) and City Councilmember Kathy Warner (Rep.) — needed to pass her censorship. Though Councilmember Henry Bouchot (Dem.), who publicly called for Martinez’s punishment, was supported in the motion by fellow Councilmember Fernando Dutra (Rep.), it was not enough votes to pass the motion as the sole Democrat amongst four Republicans.
Partisanship was at the center of the discussion of Martinez’s controversy Tuesday night, as the position of city council member is meant to be nonpartisan. All city council members voiced their disappointment in Martinez despite refusing to formally display this sentiment as intended by the motion to censure Martinez. Councilmembers Dutra, Bouchot, and Vinatieri even called the discussion a “waste of time.” While Martinez argued that using social media to display her approval of Trump fell under the First Amendment right to free speech, all other city council members believed partisan politics should be kept private due to the nature of their election position.
Councilmember Warner quoted Executive Director of the 1st Amendment Coalition David Snyder, who wrote in the Whittier Daily News that “The First Amendment is broadly protective of speech, even if that speech is abhorrent to a majority of Americans. But, that right doesn’t protect people from criticism or some form of punishment. Just because people have the right to speak freely under the First Amendment does not mean they are insulated from any criticisms of that speech, or any political consequences for engaging in that speech.” Warner suggested that Martinez’s public political action distracted from her dedication to Whittier residents and suggested she limit her partisan support solely to “contributions and endorsements,” as she believes necessary from city council members.
The four official claims laid against Martinez during the motion for her censure were as follows: 1) Martinez’s tweets use an online platform for promoting conspiracy theories, 2) Martinez violated the L.A. county stay-at-home order, 3) Martinez took a partisan position relative to holding a nonpartisan position in office and 4) Martinez’s tweets, which support unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, could potentially incite violence.
Martinez responded to the four accusations after a 10-minute recess. On the count of using social media to spread conspiracy theories, Martinez argued that her far-right rhetoric — her most major claim being of a fraudulent 2020 presidential election — was “not baseless” but instead held “plenty of evidence” despite major courts finding otherwise. However, she claimed that courts were “unwilling to listen to” her alleged evidence. Martinez also was accused of promoting the arrest of journalists who reported that Trump pressured the Georgia Senator Raffenspurger to overturn the election results, which she acknowledged she did, though she said she “stands by” all her tweets.
In attending the ‘Save America,’ also known as the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally, Martinez did not legally violate the L.A. County stay-at-home order, which allows outdoor participation in a protest, though gathering in large groups is advised against. Since Martinez traveled outside L.A. to attend the rally in D.C., she is now required by the L.A. County stay-at-home order to quarantine for 10 days. Martinez also spoke highly of those who attended the ‘Save America’ rally, claiming they were like “neighbors” or “people you go to church with.” Bouchot later commented on the subject, “I find it really hard to believe that they were such wonderful people when among them were people wearing camp Auschwitz shirts, civil war [confederate army memorabilia], 1,621 shirts, people who carried zip ties, Molotov cocktails, and who erected a noose outside the state Capitol[.] I find it deplorable and reckless that you were within a thousand miles of that place.”
Martinez’s fourth charge was of discrediting the 2020 presidential election through social media use, which could possibly incite violence. Martinez argued that her social media following on Twitter was so small (450 followers as of Jan. 13) that she could not have incited violence through her tweets. “I am not responsible for those people that broke into Congress and committed those atrocious acts,” said Martinez.
She also repeatedly defended unsubstantiated claims that the election was fraudulent and further argued that her support for the ‘Save America’ rally was “advocating for free and fair elections” and protected the constitution, as required by her oath of office. “That was the only desire I had: to show up and say [to Congress] ‘Please, please hear our voices’ [ . . . ] That’s why that many people were there and it was a peaceful assembly. If that is un-American, if that is violating my oath of office, to see the Constitution upheld, then I am guilty.”
During her defense, Martinez also claimed that Councilmember Bouchot’s call for her censure through a public Facebook post led to death threats against her and her family, as well as a protest outside their home. Though Martinez demanded Bouchot apologize for these, which she believed resulted from his public post, Bouchot responded that she should instead apologize to the American people, the “Capitol police officers from rally that our own elected official attended,” and to the “members of Congress and staffers who had to hide in our temple of democracy.” Bouchot later stated, “I don’t think you deserve very much sympathy at all.”
Councilmember Fernando Dutra spoke out against Martinez during the meeting, stating that, although Martinez constitutionally had the right to protest and to freedom of speech when posting online, “By supporting the ‘Stop the Steal’ [rally] and continuing to provide social media words that were inciting violence, that was problematic,” said Dutra. “[City council is] a nonpartisan position, and by being a part of the ‘Stop the Steal’ [rally] that was unsubstantiated, I think [those were] two of the most problematic things for me.”
As all council members voiced their personal opinions on Martinez’s controversy and possible censure, Mayor Joe Vinatieri’s remarks were probably the most-awaited of the evening. Vinatieri argued that Martinez was within her rights in attending the D.C. rally and painted a hard line between Trump supporters who attended the “peaceful” rally and those who incited “violence” at the Capitol. During this time, Vinatieri mentioned that, in 2016, people “destroyed property” and would not call Trump their president. Vinatieri defended of Martinez, “Any effort to limit or censor [the freedom of speech] should be offensive to each and every one of us.” Vinatieri also claimed that censoring Martinez would inspire division in a seemingly centrist stance between Martinez’s far-right and Bouchot’s leftist ideologies.
Legal advisors for the Council found that, since the city council can not remove Martinez from office, Whittier voters hold that responsibility. Martinez’s term will end in 2024.
The Whittier City Council has no code of conduct and, specifically, no rules regarding social media usage as pointed out by Mayor Vinatieri to be a problem long-discussed. The city council referred to their oath of office to set a precedent for the actions expected of city council members. The Constitution of California prescribes that city council members state their allegiance to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic” when sworn into the council as an oath of office.
Councilmember Bouchot argued that Martinez violated her oath of office in supporting the insurrection attempt incited by President Trump, though Martinez claimed to condemn the insurrection though supported peacefully protesting to get Congress to overturn the election results. It is unclear whether city council members believed Martinez’s testimony that she was not present for the insurrection at the Capitol that originated from the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally. The vote to not censure Martinez supported Martinez’s ability to publicly promote claims of election fraud.
Martinez’s Twitter profile, @JessicaFor57th, documents her conservative views and includes hashtags #WethePeople #prolife #maga2020 #conservative #2ndamendment in her account’s biography. The video Martinez posted from the Capitol’s Trump rally on Jan. 6, which lacked audio though showed a large crowd gathered closely wearing Trump merchandise while not socially distanced, is what first brought her under fire from Whittier locals. She has responded to some locals’ responses; one of the more shocking included a tweet that scorned her for traveling during the pandemic, as pictured below.
In early December, Washington D.C. reached a record high number of Coronavirus cases, alongside national rises, before Martinez traveled there to attend the Trump rally on Jan. 6. Her claim that over-the-counter medication Ivermectin can prevent COVID-19 is unsubstantiated despite its clinical trials in animals, and the government has discouraged people from using it for coronavirus prevention. Martinez tweeted on Jan. 9 condemning the pro-Trump rioters’ violence at the Capitol and intended insurrection which read: “I want to make it clear. I strongly condemn the violence and insurrection that took place. It is totally wrong and those who did that should be held accountable for their actions. I was never at Capitol Hill on January 6.”
Despite Martinez’s condemnation of the insurrection, her likes and retweets tell a different story as to what she supports. Martinez retweeted a video of the pro-Trump rioters entering the Capitol while five guards in black uniforms labeled ‘police’ allowed the rioters to enter inside with a comment urging readers to “save their phony outrage.” She has liked tweets downplaying the severity of the insurrection attempt, falsely claiming that Antifa and Black Lives Matter protestors were responsible for the violence and damage caused by the pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. For photos of these tweets, please see “Examining the at-Question Tweets of Whittier City Council Member Jessica Martinez.”
Martinez will not undergo censure on the Whittier City Council, as approved by Mayor Joe Vinatieri, District Three Representative Kathy Warner, and District One Representative Martinez herself, though perhaps tension may follow with the two councilmembers who voted against Martinez, Mayor Pro Tem Bouchot and District Four Representative Fernando Dutra. As the censure would be a formal statement of disapproval for Martinez’s charges of promoting partisan ideals on social media, the Council has ultimately ruled that such conduct was inappropriate though within Martinez’s right.
Featured photo: Courtesy of Trevor Stamp/ Whittier Daily News.