More than 500 Natick residents have signed a petition demanding the ouster of a Town Meeting member who organized buses of conservative activists to Washington, D.C., last week and entered the US Capitol with a violent mob, but town officials said Wednesday evening that they had no power to remove her.
Town Meeting member Suzanne Ianni provoked controversy in town and online after she was photographed inside the Capitol and marching through the streets alongside far-right-wing activists.
But Natick has no mechanism for forcing out Town Meeting members, Select Board chairman Jonathan Freedman said.
“Town Meeting members are not town employees, nor are they town officers,” Freedman said during the board’s online meeting Wednesday night. “Neither the Select Board, the moderator, the town clerk, nor the town administration have any authority over a Town Meeting member, nor could they take any action regarding the tenure of any Town Meeting member.”
He said provisions in Natick’s home rule charter for the removal of elected officials “specifically exclude Town Meeting members.”
Freedman did not identify Ianni during the Select Board meeting, and he asked other board members and the public not to single out any individual by name. But he and two other town officials said earlier Wednesday that the Select Board would address the insurrection in Washington because they had received many e-mails and phone calls about Ianni’s participation.
Ianni declined to comment on the controversy via text message Wednesday night. She is a Town Meeting member from Precinct 3, with a term that is set to expire in March 2022, Town Moderator Frank Foss said in an e-mail.
She told the MetroWest Daily News last week that she and others who demonstrated in support of President Trump in Washington “were expressing our First Amendment rights to protest an illegal election.” She added that “too many people were arrested wrongly for a peaceful protest after being waved in by Capitol police.”
Ben Jackson, a Natick resident of almost 20 years, said he organized a petition open only to town residents and submitted it Monday with 538 signatures calling for Ianni’s ouster.
“You can’t be both part of government and trying to overthrow the government at the same time,” he said. “They’re mutually exclusive.”
Jackson said he was concerned that Ianni had traveled across state lines unmasked and returned to Natick, potentially endangering other residents.
“It really makes me angry. I have a disabled daughter with severe respiratory issues, and this endangers her life,” he said. “And there are people all through the town that have similar issues.”
He said he understands that the Select Board isn’t able to remove Ianni, but he wants to see it do more to address public health concerns.
The Select Board unanimously voted during Wednesday’s meeting to adopt two separate statements denouncing the violence and the public health hazards associated with the largely unmasked crowd that stormed the Capitol.
The panel said the “unlawful actions of last week … were an attempt to thwart the will of the American people, as expressed in a legally conducted election. It was an attack on democracy itself, and we strongly condemn it.”
A local conservative website that posted information about chartered buses from New England to Washington, D.C., for the Jan. 6 rally supporting Trump listed Ianni as the coordinator for buses leaving from Newton.
On one of those buses, Ianni was interviewed by Yahoo News, which identified her as an official with Super Happy Fun America. The far-right-wing organization hosted a so-called straight pride parade in Boston in 2019 and a rally outside the State House last summer in support of law enforcement and critical of Black Lives Matter protests. Both events drew white supremacists.
“We’re not going to roll over and let this go. There’s no way,” Ianni told Yahoo News. “We will fight tooth and nail. This isn’t over just if Biden gets inaugurated, if that happens. We’ll never stop fighting. And Trump will be our president for the next four years, no matter who they inaugurate.”
News photographs show Ianni marching without a face mask through the streets of Washington and walking with a crowd through the Capitol, her right fist raised.
Ianni also appears in a photo that was apparently taken on a charter bus and posted to the Super Happy Fun America Twitter account. They are among a group giving thumbs-ups to the camera, standing close together and smiling, with no facial coverings.
“Bus 1 of 11 coming to Washington DC. See you there!” the tweet reads.