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Somerville appointee under scrutiny for attending Trump rally in D.C.

Jessica Turner is a supporter of President Trump, enough that she went to Washington last week for his “Stop the Steal” rally that ended with rioters storming the Capitol.

She’s also an appointee on a board in Somerville that oversees affordable housing funds.

Now the city is launching an investigation into Turner’s trip to Washington, with some residents — including City Council members — suggesting she could be stripped of her volunteer position.

It’s a move that speaks to the intense passions swirling in the wake of Wednesday’s violence, which left five dead and disrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s election to the presidency. It also raises questions about whether the events Wednesday could be held against people who simply attended.

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In a phone interview Saturday, Turner confirmed that she participated in the rally, but said she didn’t approach the Capitol building. And, she added, she didn’t agree with the people who overwhelmed security and broke in.

“That behavior is stupid,” Turner said. “And what they did was stupid.”

While the march was happening, Turner posted tweets with sometimes conflicting accounts.

At 3 p.m. she posted “We have breached the steps,” though later posted video of herself — found and shared by a different Twitter user — walking on a city street saying, “I’m safe. I’m fine. We didn’t go up to the steps because we’re smart.”

Turner has since deleted her Twitter account.

She said in the interview that she stayed away from the Capitol itself and that her post about breaching the steps was supposed to be accompanied by video she took of the crowd, from afar, which failed to upload.

“I wasn’t with the people who were marching toward the Capitol,” she said. “We stayed away from that.”

Regardless, her posts were seen back home in Somerville, where Turner — who is co-president of the residents association of the public housing complex where she lives — has long been active in city affairs, testifying at public meetings and being vocal on social media.

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By Saturday morning, a post highlighting Turner’s tweets from the march — and her appointed position on the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund — was making the rounds on Twitter. Dozens of people responded, including several members of the City Council.

“I will be looking into this ASAP,” wrote Council member Kristen Strezo.

“This is truly disturbing,” wrote Council member Will Mbah. “The administration must take swift action.”

Turner said she woke up Saturday morning to a knock on her door from Somerville police, who said they had come to conduct a “wellness check,” which can be requested by friends or family concerned about someone’s health.

Somerville police and city officials said Sunday they couldn’t confirm such a visit.

When they left, she saw the posts on Twitter.

Saturday evening, Mayor Joe Curtatone, whose office appointed Turner to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund board in 2019, said in an e-mail to the Globe that he was “duty-bound” to launch an investigation, and would do so immediately.

“Like so many, I am horrified by the actions of those who incited, participated in, and celebrated the deadly insurrection at the Capitol,” Curtatone said in an e-mail to the Globe Sunday. “Those involved must be held to account — and to uphold the values we seek to protect, we must do so fairly and justly.”

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A spokeswoman for Curtatone said there were no further updates on Sunday.

Experts in civil liberties were wary to weigh in on the case Sunday without more specific details.

A spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts said the group condemns the insurrection but that the First Amendment generally protects political speech — such as participating in a rally — that does not involve inciting, planning, or conspiring to commit unlawful activity.

Public officials and employees also are legally protected when speaking in their private capacity, unless their employer can show their activity undermines their ability to perform public duties.

So far, Turner faces no charges or formal discipline. She was not listed among people arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department or US Capitol Police in Washington and there were no records of charges filed against her in federal court in Washington, D.C., or the D.C. Superior Court. Massachusetts US Attorney Andrew Lelling has said he plans to prosecute Massachusetts residents who traveled to Washington, D.C., with plans to participate in violence, but would not confirm or deny any investigation into individuals.

To Turner, the episode highlights how people can be “demonized for their opinions” in a liberal city like Somerville.

A registered independent who described her personal politics as all over the map, Turner said she has long been an advocate for residents of her diverse public housing complex — which she asked not be named to protect her children’s privacy — helping people access legal aid and translation services. She said she has no intention of resigning her post on the housing board. She supports Trump and went to Washington because she was concerned about the integrity of the election.

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It’s fine to disagree about politics, she said, but no one should be persecuted for attending a political rally.

“We have people who claim to be fighting fascism but then you turn around and it’s like this dictatorship, where you can’t stray from what’s accepted,” she said. “It’s messed up.”



Tim Logan can be reached at timothy.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.