“Insurrections Everywhere!” Prepare for GOP Lawmakers to Throw That Word Around A Lot More
Why the “Tennessee Three” disruption in the state assembly is nothing like the actual insurrection attempt on January 6.
Originally published at The Scorecard.
We knew it would happen.
As soon as protestors became the slightest bit disruptive at any GOP-controlled state capitol, Republican lawmakers would inevitably try to paint it as an “insurrection” in an attempt to build a narrative that “both sides” are just as violent and anti-democratic and that Democrats would engage in their own “January 6th.”
That’s exactly what happened after protestors, including hundreds of students, came to the Tennessee State Capitol on March 30 to demand gun control legislation. Three members of the state House of Representatives — Reps. Justin Jones (D-Nashville), Justin Pearson (D-Memphis), and Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) — also defied the rules of order and took to the well to echo the demands of protestors outside.
They used a megaphone, held up signs, chanted slogans like “No Action, No Peace,” and wore anti-AR15 lapel pins. The horror!
Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) claimed the events were “maybe worse” than what happened on January 6:
“Two of the members, Representative Jones and Representative Johnson, have been very vocal about January 6 in Washington D.C., about what that was, and what they did today was equivalent, at least equivalent, maybe worse depending on how you look at it, of doing an insurrection in the capitol.”
In another local media interview, Speaker Sexton said:
“It was an insurrection, and even the media who’ve been covering it calls it was an insurrection. They were trying to incite people, they incited people in the balcony to be disorderly and disruptive to shut us down and try to make us adjourn, which I refused to adjourn. We finished the people’s work.”
Of course, no non-right-wing media outlet called it an insurrection. Sure, several conservative pundits and MAGA types on Twitter jumped on a video of police guarding and clearing a path for members using the restroom to point to an “insurrection.” Even the alt-right controlled Libertarian Party got in on the action and tried to portray it as such:
It’s an obviously dumb and overtly political “gotcha” talking point. But let’s compare the Tennessee capitol protests and January 6. During the March 30th protests:
No protestors broke into the Capitol
No property was damaged, no doors or windows were smashed
No one was injured
No one was arrested
Everyone went through security managed by the Tennessee Highway Patrol
The officers had to pull some protestors back from a door to create a pathway for a lawmaker to return to the chamber after using the restroom (the “shocking” video referenced above). That person was let go and allowed to rejoin the protest.
No demonstrators attempted to access the chamber floor.
When Speaker Sexton ordered security to clear the galleries overlooking the chamber, the protestors left willingly.
Legislative business was halted for about an hour, sure. And some could argue that this disrupted the democratic process. But a brief interruption of legislative business and what happened on January 6th are not comparable. The Tennessee legislature wasn’t trying to certify election results, and neither the demonstrators nor the disruptive members were attempting to overturn an election.
That’s the crucial difference here. And it’s what GOP lawmakers would like us to forget by so easily throwing around the term “insurrection” to describe any disruptive protest, especially ones led by Left-leaning activists. They also want to downplay the actual insurrection attempt that occurred on January 6, since it was encouraged by the de facto leader of their party. They will also use this faux outrage to curb legitimate, First Amendment-protected protests.
The day before the Tennessee protests, trans rights demonstrators surrounded the Kentucky State Capitol as GOP lawmakers voted to override the Governor’s veto of a bill that would restrict trans health care for youth. About 19 activists were arrested for trespassing. Arrests at protests happen fairly frequently, but conservative activists attempted to paint these disorderly protests as an “insurrection.”
Look how violent these people are:
Totally the same:
Meanwhile back in Tennessee, GOP lawmakers relied on their feigned pearl clutching about “democracy” and the “rule of law” and attempted to expel the three representatives who broke House rules of decorum. They successfully expelled Reps. Jones and Pearson (who just so happened to be young men of color) while Rep. Johnson (a white woman) narrowly escaped expulsion. How on the nose for Southern Republican legislators.
It almost reached the level of parody to watch Tennessee Republicans, one after the other, stand there and claim that their colleagues threatened to undermine democratic norms by breaking House decorum and speaking without being recognized. Did they violate House rules? Yes. Could they have been censured or stripped from committee assignments in response? Sure. But expulsion? Come on.
What makes this almost laughable is the elephant in the room: the former president of their party actually incited violence and led a mob that actually threatened to undermine democracy and the rule of law by disrupting the certification of election results. How many GOP lawmakers in Tennessee condemned Trump for inciting violence? And if Trump wins the 2024 nomination, it's likely that most of these representatives will once again align themselves with him.
Political hypocrisy is not surprising, but when members of a political party fail to condemn one of the most violent attempts in recent history to undermine the rule of law, it's worth pointing out how hollow their concerns truly are about that principle.
Justin Hayes is a communications professional and a resident of Nashville, TN.