NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Tennessee Speaker of the House voiced his displeasure over the actions of three Democrats on the House floor during protests at the Tennessee State Capitol over gun control Thursday.
Speaker Cameron Sexton (R—Crossville) said during an interview on the Hallerin Hilton Hill show on NewsTalk 98.7 in Knoxville that the actions of his colleagues inside the State Capitol were like that of an “insurrection.”
“It was an insurrection, and even the media who’ve been covering it calls it was an insurrection,” Sexton said during the interview. “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.”
Thursday morning’s grassroots rally drew thousands of people to the State Capitol. The protest was held just three days after six lives were taken in The Covenant School shooting.
The protesters pleaded with lawmakers for gun control measures in the state. The large crowd inside the Capitol could be heard chanting, “Ban assault rifles.”
Outside the chamber doors, tense moments followed the rally. The outcry turned chaotic at times, especially as lawmakers came out of the chambers.
“Their real goal today was to try to be arrested and have pictures of them being walked out by Troopers in handcuffs,” Sexton said of the protesters.
Capitol security had to clear a path for lawmakers, pushing through the crowd of protesters who demanded to be heard. The crowd also consisted of students who walked out of school.
Sexton likened the protests to that of the riot at the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021. Nearly 1,000 people have been charged in the Capitol riot with federal crimes, with about half of them pleading guilty to riot-related charges and more than three dozen convicted at trial.
Dozens of police officers were injured in the Jan. 6, 2021 riot, and multiple deaths have been linked to the insurrection.
However, unlike Jan. 6, 2021, no injuries were reported following Thursday’s protests at the Tennessee State Capitol, and no arrests were made, according to the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office.
Sexton also mentioned taking action against three Democratic representatives who he said spoke out of order and “tried to take over the House floor.”
Sexton claimed the trio of Reps. Justin Jones (D—Nashville), Justin Pearson (D—Memphis) and Gloria Johnson (D—Knoxville) tried to “incite riots of violence.”
“The consequences, which we’ve never had this happen before, and I will mention that two of the members, Rep. Jones and Rep. Johnson have been very vocal about January 6th 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,” Sexton said.
He went on to say there will be repercussions for their actions ranging from removal from committees to censorship or expulsion from the General Assembly.
Sexton was joined in comparing events to the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection by other Republican leaders like Rep. William Lamberth (R—Portland), Jeremy Faison (R—Cosby), Johnny Garrett (R—Goodlettsville), Scott Cepicky (R—Culleoka), Monty Fritts (R—Kingston), who all took to Twitter to share comments and retweets from other media outlets about the protests from citizens and the Democrats alike.
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Additionally, the official Tennessee House Republicans Twitter account characterized the protests the “Tennessee Capitol Insurrection.” Multiple representatives also shared and retweeted accounts calling the protest by the Democrats a cast of “Left-wing protesters” and an “insane mob.”
Rep. Jason Zachary (R—Knoxville) called the moment Pearson, Jones and Johnson convened at the podium in the well of the House “foolishness” by “3 radical Democrats.”
“The House floor is no place for activist [sic],” he continued in the tweet.
Not all Republicans joined in the misleading characterization of the Thursday rally and protests, however. Faison at first said he may disagree with the protesters policies or opinions but respected their First Amendment rights to protest peacefully.
Later, he backtracked some, saying his original statement “didn’t age well.” But he came short of calling the events an insurrection, saying instead that “rules of decorum” should still be followed in order to allow all voices to be heard.
Members of the Democratic caucus immediately pointed out the misleading characterization, with Pearson and Jones themselves stating why they took to the House floor to speak out on gun violence.
“We took to the House floor demanding justice to end the support of the NRA, end the support of gun violence, & end support of these guns,” Pearson said in part on Twitter.
“There comes a time when you have to do something out of the ordinary,” Jones tweeted. “We occupied the House floor today after repeatedly being silenced from talking about the crisis of mass shootings. We could not go about business as usual as thousands were protesting outside demanding action.”
They were later joined by other Democrats calling for action, including Sen. Heidi Campbell (D—Nashville) and Reps. John Ray Clemmons and Vincent Dixie (both D—Nashville).
Dixie pointed out it was “Painfully obvious who politicize trauma [sic].”
Clemmons pushed back against the characterization of his fellow Democrats’ actions or the protests outside the Capitol as anything like an insurrection.
“Because I’ve been reading a lot of nonsense about what it was like yesterday in our State Capitol when the people visited ‘the people’s house,’ I thought I’d share what I personally witnessed before I walked on the House floor. Love y’all,” he tweeted along with a video of all the protesters inside the Capitol rotunda.
He later said, “You see people’s true character when they mischaracterize a gathering of parents and schoolchildren in our Capitol as an ‘insurrection’ and cowardly propose arming teachers and fortifying schools as solutions without acknowledging the real problem. Stay classy, fellas.”