Following the expulsions of two of the three Tennessee Democratic legislators who participated in a protest for stronger gun control in the state capital, right-wing media have celebrated the Tennessee House Republicans’ move despite the anti-democratic precedent it sets.
The combination of the deadly mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, which took the lives of six people and Tennessee’s GOP-controlled state legislature’s continued steps to loosen gun restrictions, led to protests at the capitol building in Nashville last week. Democratic Reps. Justin Jones, Justin Pearson, and Gloria Johnson joined a crowd of protestors, including students and parents, in urging the legislature to push for new controls and even led the crowd in chants while using a megaphone.
Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton then supported calls for the legislators’ expulsion, telling Nashville’s NewsChannel5 that they broke “every rule that we almost have — props, how they act, decorum, not being recognized, taking over the assembly, causing us to have to shut down to take a recess because of their actions.” Sexton and other Tennessee GOP members have also likened the protests to the January 6 insurrection which, unlike the lawmakers’ protest, resulted in nearly 1,000 people arrested, dozens of police officers injured, and multiple deaths. The Nashville protest remained peaceful, with the Tennessee Highway Patrol reporting no arrests or injuries. Jones and Pearson were expelled from their elected offices in the House in spite of the peaceful nature of their protest, while Johnson was spared by just a single vote. The expulsions were met with criticism from mainstream media, with The Associated Press calling it “an extraordinary act of political retaliation” and The Guardian saying Tennessee House Republicans used the measure as “a weapon against political opponents.”
The two expelled lawmakers, who are both Black, are now removed from their positions while Johnson, who is white, has been narrowly permitted to keep her seat. This voting discrepancy has led to public outcry of overt racism, with Johnson even stating that the outcome “might have to do with the color of our skin.” Jones told NPR’s Morning Edition that Sexton “trafficked in racial rhetoric and racism.” Republican leadership has denied claims that race was a factor, with Majority Leader William Lamberth claiming that “members literally didn’t look at the ethnicity of the members up for expulsion.” Right-wing media have followed suit in pushing both the January 6 comparison and the denial that race was a deciding factor, all while defending Republican Tennessee lawmakers for their anti-democratic action.
Right-wing media draw comparisons between the gun protest on the Tennessee House floor and the January 6 insurrection:
- On the April 7 edition of Fox and Friends, co-host Will Cain attempted to draw a parallel between people labeling January 6 as “undemocratic” due to people “riot[ing] and storm[ing]” the Capitol and President Joe Biden refusing to label people in Tennessee storming the Capitol to interrupt a “democratic process” undemocratic. Cain did not note the context of the Tennessee protest in his rant.
- In an April 6 article from the Washington Examiner titled “The fallout from Tennessee's mini-Jan. 6,” the outlet’s chief political correspondent Byron York said the gun protests should be called “a small-scale variation on Jan. 6” and asked to “imagine if, on Jan. 6, three members of the House had actually joined the protesters, bringing a bullhorn to commandeer the House floor, working in tandem with protesters in the House gallery.” York did not mention the ways that some members of the GOP had been central in planning the January 6 insurrection.
- Newsmax anchor Greta Van Susteren compared January 6 to what had happened on the Tennessee House floor, tweeting, “As I think about Jan 6, Tennessee legislature, Wisconsin legislature 2011, Michigan statehouse 2020 etc….why is that some people would rather act like brutes attempting to force change than inspirational, smart and showing skills of leadership?”
Right-wing media defend the expulsion of the Tennessee House members, at times denying that racism was a factor or that it wasn’t a fair process:
- Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh tweeted on April 6, “The Tennessee Republican Party is a model for the nation. They have been absolutely brilliant lately. Fighting fire with fire. Not backing down. Tremendous work.”
- Walsh also tweeted that same day: “Can’t say enough about the Republican legislators in Tennessee today who had the courage and wherewithal to hold Democrats accountable for a change and force them to abide by the same rules as everyone else. Extremely rare that Republicans display this kind of toughness.”
- In an April 7 Fox and Friends interview with Sexton, Cain questioned him on Johnson’s claim that she wasn’t expelled because she was white when she had also previously admitted to having not “yell[ed]” during the protest. Sexton argued that Johnson was “trying to put political racism in this” and that all three members were “given due process.”
- On the April 7 episode of Fox News’ Outnumbered, Fox News contributor Tomi Lahren said the event “has nothing to do with race” and that the protest is an example of Democrats thinking they “can do whatever they want” while they “get to run roughshod over this country.”
- The Federalist defended the expulsion of the two Tennessee members, writing, “Despite Sexton’s repeated warnings that the inciters could face consequences for their role in the commotion, the Democrats showed no remorse for their actions.” The piece also argued that the members “bragged” about their participation in the protests