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Natick official draws fire after attending DC riot

Citizens launch petition to ban town meeting member photographed at rally

Saraya Wintersmith, GBH News

When a mob laid siege to the U.S. Capitol, interrupting the congressional process to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral college win, Ben Jackson watched news coverage from his home in Natick, the pit of his stomach growing heavy.

Jackson, 45, a writer and political podcast producer, was not surprised at the prospect of Trump supporters lashing out over election results. The president had after all, he thought, failed to condemn white supremacist violence throughout his term and recently stoked anger with unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.

But when Jackson learned Natick Town Meeting member Suzanne E. Ianni took a bus to the site of the rampage and saw what allegedly appeared to be her face photographed among the rioters who breached the building’s security, he said his dread morphed into anger, fear and sadness.

He launched a petition calling for Ianni’s ouster along with any other town officials who may have participated in last week’s insurrection.

“I don’t want an elected member of my town government participating in a terrorist attack against our government,” said Jackson in an interview Monday.

“In my view, that is disqualifying,” he continued, pointing to the constitutional amendment that prohibits rebellion participants from holding federal office. “I don’t know that that applies to [local office] but the spirit of that should apply here in this town.”

Jackson’s petition, which has since been delivered to the town’s select board and police chief, garnered more than 500 signatures over two days.

Ianni, who serves as a director for the anti-LGBTQ group Super Happy Fun America, declined through a representative to be interviewed for this story.

The petition is a small example of the waves of anger rippling through local communities as neighbors identify those who may have taken part in the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

In addition to asking for Ianni’s removal, petitioners called for an investigation to identify other Natick residents that participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection to determine whether they should face legal consequences and if they need to quarantine because so many people were in close contact without masks.

“It’s really important to me that — in a time when our hospitals are overwhelmed, when our communities are overwhelmed, when so many businesses are failing, when so many people are out of work, when so many people are sick and dying — that we are following the appropriate protocols to make sure we’re keeping people safe,” Jackson said.

Town Moderator Frank Foss, who has served in his role for 14 years, said in an interview Monday evening there is no mechanism for removing Town Meeting members from office, but town leaders are exploring “all legal and practical aspects” of the situation, including precedents for a public official’s removal without explicit authority.

“In this case, [the town charter] doesn’t say anything about removal from office, so case law could then be something that the town might rely on,” Foss explained. “Our counsel is looking into that and that will be part of her recommendation to the selectmen and town meeting and to me and the clerk.”

Foss declined to share his personal views on whether Ianni should be removed, but said that anyone who broke the law should be charged, tried and given appropriate sentences, if convicted.

A statement from the Natick Town Republican Town Committee Monday night expressed similar condemnation of violent entry into the Capitol, but did not address Ianni by name.

Foss added that the town’s Select Board will likely release a statement later this week.

Saraya Wintersmith covers Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan for GBH News 89.7.