"The situation could get much, much worse — with more violence and more division that cannot be overcome," the Illinois lawmaker, who has broken with many in his party over the former president, wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post

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Rep. Adam Kinzinger
Rep. Adam Kinzinger
| Credit: KEVIN DIETSCH/POOL/AFP via Getty

Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger is urging his fellow GOP lawmakers to convict former President Donald Trump in his Senate impeachment trial, which began Tuesday.

"If the GOP doesn't take a stand, the chaos of the past few months, and the past four years, could quickly return. The future of our party and our country depends on confronting what happened — so it doesn't happen again," the Illinois lawmaker, a vocal Trump critic, wrote in a Monday op-ed for The Washington Post.

Kinzinger, 42, was one of 10 Republicans in the House of Representatives to vote in favor of Trump's impeachment last month — the most impeachment votes against a president by members of his own party.

It was the second time in less than 13 months that Trump had been impeached by the House, this time charged with inciting an insurrection in the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack.

At a rally earlier on Jan. 6, Trump had called on his supporters to "fight like hell" over his baseless claims of election fraud and march to the Capitol, where a joint session of Congress had gathered to ratify the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Trump later praised the rioters as "very special," and gave contradictory messages — telling his rally attendees to be peaceful and patriotic but also tweeting after the Capitol was stormed that "these are the things and events that happen ... Remember this day forever!"

"We're going to walk down to the Capitol, and we're going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women," Trump said, referring to how he hoped Congress would overturn the election results, asserting that "when you catch somebody in a fraud, you are allowed to go by very different rules."

He warned of a "group of people" trying to "illegally take over our country."

He went on: "You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong."

After marching to the building, the throngs of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol and overwhelmed law enforcement as they descended into mob violence, forcing the evacuations of lawmakers, including Vice President Mike Pence.

Five people died.

While Democrats reportedly investigated options to convene the Senate trial before Trump left office, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the trial could not begin until later.

Though a small group of House Republicans (including Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3. GOP member there) voted in favor of his impeachment, Trump's Senate conviction — after which he could be made ineligible to hold federal office — faces an uphill battle.

At least 17 Republican senators will have to vote with the Democratic majority to convict Trump, whose attorneys have both argued his speech did not constitute incitement and that the Constitution doesn't allow former presidents to be tried.

According to Kinzinger, however, convicting Trump is a "matter of accountability" rather than one of party politics. His removal, Kinzinger suggested in the op-ed, would help the party separate itself from the lies and conspiracy theories that have seeped from the former president into others in the GOP.

Donald Trump Visits Turnberry Golf Club
Donald Trump
| Credit: Ian MacNicol/Getty

"Impeachment offers a chance to say, 'Enough is enough.' It ought to force every American, regardless of party affiliation, to remember not only what happened on Jan. 6, but also the path that led there," Kinzinger wrote. "After all, the situation could get much, much worse — with more violence and more division that cannot be overcome. The further down this road we go, the closer we come to the end of America as we know it."

Last year, the Illinois lawmaker spoke to PEOPLE about his push against conspiracy theorists amid the 2020 election, which featured a handful of congressional candidates who had voiced support for QAnon.

One of those candidates, Georgia's Marjorie Taylor-Greene, was elected and has since come under fire for many of her beliefs and past behaviors.

"If you stick your toe into crazy, it could infect the whole body," Kinzinger previously told PEOPLE of Greene, who was more recently stripped of her House committee assignments.

Kinzinger has been increasingly vocal in his criticism of Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot, also telling the Post that he brought a gun to Congress that day out of fear the pro-Trump rally down the street from where Congress was meeting to certify Biden's win could turn violent.

When it did, he later told CNN, he barricaded himself in his office, ready to fight for his life: "I had the gun out, and was like, 'You know, it may come down to I have to defend myself,' " Kinzinger said. "We had no idea at all what was going on."

Explaining his vote in favor of impeachment, the representative told CNN's David Axelrod, "I did it knowing full well it could very well be terminal to my career."

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Like the other Republicans who voted to impeach, Kinzinger has faced backlash at home in Illinois' 16th Congressional District. The Post reported that at least one 2022 challenger has filed paperwork in hopes of unseating him, naming their campaign committee: "Impeach Adam Kinzinger 2022."

In his op-ed published Monday, Kinzinger wrote that he has also received support for his impeachment vote: "I've heard from tens of thousands of my constituents. Their reaction has been overwhelmingly supportive. Republicans of all backgrounds and outlooks have told me they appreciate my efforts to return the GOP to a foundation of principle, not personality."

Kinzinger continued by writing that he believes most Americans of all political stripes "reject the madness of the past four years."

But refusing to hold the president accountable by convicting him for his actions, he added, won't allow the party or the country to move forward.

"But we'll never move forward by ignoring what happened or refusing to hold accountable those responsible," Kinzinger wrote. "That will embolden the few who led us here and dishearten the many who know America is better than this. It will make it more likely that we see more anger, violence and chaos in the years ahead. The better path is to learn the lessons of the recent past. Convicting Donald Trump is necessary to save America from going further down a sad, dangerous road."