How Tennessee leaders responded to uprising at U.S. Capitol

By: , and - January 6, 2021 3:45 pm

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: A pro-Trump mob breaks into the U.S. Capitol on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Members of Tennessee’s Congressional delegation called for peace following insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday during a Senate debate about whether to certify the presidential election results.

Congress members and their staff reported being safe following a dramatic scene in which armed protesters stormed the Senate chambers, overrunning the Capitol police following a rally led by President Donald Trump.

Tennessee’s Republican Senators, Sen. Marsha Blackburn and newly elected Sen. Bill Hagerty, are at the center of the protests, since they are two of about a dozen members who supported an objection to certifying the results. The procedural objection to President-elect Joe Biden’s election is certain to fail.

“To the protestors that have breached the Capitol building: you are disrupting the democratic process,” Blackburn said in a tweet. “You should be ashamed of yourself. This is violence. This is a crime. It must stop.”

Hagerty similarly called for an end to the violence.

U.S. Capitol police officers point their guns at a door that was vandalized in the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
U.S. Capitol police officers point their guns at a door that was vandalized in the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“I have always believed in peaceful protesting,” he said. “What is happening at the U.S. Capitol right now is not peaceful, this is violence. I condemn it in the strongest terms. We are a nation of laws and this must stop.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, tweeted that he and his staff were safe. Cooper called this a “dark day for America.”

Congressional staffers were evacuated after the pro-Trump rally devolved into violence and protesters smashed their way into the Capitol building.

Lisa Quigley, Cooper’s chief of staff, posted videos showing the protest crowd swelling in size just before the violence erupted. The Cannon and Madison buildings were evacuated around 1:30 p.m. Nashville time. Congress members and staffers were told to stay away from windows and doors, and photos from Getty images showed police with guns drawn standing behind the barricaded main entrance to the Senate chamber.

Shortly after 2 p.m., Congressman Steve Cohen tweeted: “Russia, if you are reading this, come and take your president home.” He then tweeted: “This is a third world country led by a tin-pot dictator.” 

Cohen initially said House members were locked in their chamber as “hooligans” entered the Capitol. 

The New York Times reported that Cohen had shouted out to Republicans on the House floor as the chaos unfolded: “Call Trump, tell him to call off his revolutionary guards.”

Congressman David Kustoff of East Memphis also reported he was safe.

Armed militia: The Three Percenters, a militia group, “guard” the Trump “Stop the Steal” protest rally in Legislative Plaza at the Tennessee State Capitol. Downtown Nashville. January 7, 2020. 12:21pm.
Armed militia: The Three Percenters, a militia group, “guard” the Trump “Stop the Steal” protest rally in Legislative Plaza at the Tennessee State Capitol. Downtown Nashville. January 7, 2020. 12:21pm. (Ray Di Pietro)

“Thank you to everyone for reaching out. I am safe. However, these actions are unacceptable. We are a nation of laws, not a nation of violence. Thank you to the U.S. Capitol police for your work at this time.”

Kustoff posted on Twitter earlier in the day that he would object to certification of the Electoral College results because of the need to investigate alleged voter fraud and other irregularities.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Republican Rep. Tim Burchett texted “shots fired” to a reporter at 2:46 p.m. EST. A reporter was continuing to try to communicate with the Republican Congressman, the newspaper reported. 

Some observers were blaming Congress members who objected to certifying the results for stoking the anger unleashed on Wednesday. U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, is among the House members who objected.

“The people of TN-7 have been clear: They have serious questions about the outcome of the election,” Green tweeted on Wednesday. “As their voice in Congress, I will vote to object to certain states’ Electoral College certification. The integrity of our elections is too important to rush—we must get this right!

Before chaos erupted, Rep. Scott DesJarlais also tweeted he would object.

“Today I will object to the certification of some states’ Electoral College votes. I believe the American people deserve a debate and investigation into voting irregularities during the 2020 election,” he tweeted.
“My constituents have made it explicitly clear to me that they want the assurance of a free and fair election,” another DeJarlais tweet said. “At the very least it is my hope that this is a catalyst for change in our current election practices to make them more secure.

Tennessee state Rep. Antonio Parkinson, chairman of Shelby County legislative delegation, sent out a text message saying he hopes all of his colleagues in the Tennessee Legislature would denounce the actions of President Trump “publicly, immediately.”

“As a legislator, a former U.S. Marine and an American, I am embarrassed, concerned and extremely disappointed in the acts and the incitement of rioting by @realDonaldTrump,” he texted. “To put the lives of members of congress, their staff and others at risk is detestable. This is not patriotic and completely unAmerican and it’s cowardice. This act of a sitting POTUS puts our country in a position of vulnerability with our enemies. This is an attempted #coup.”

Tennessee state Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, directed blame for the violence at Blackburn and Hagerty.

“Let’s be clear. This riot is your fault,” he tweeted. “@MarshaBlackburn. You,, @BillHagertyTN et al are are responsible for this. And don’t talk to us about “constitutional duty” when you vowed to violate your oath “without any reservation” just days ago. Also, @lamaralexander, this is your legacy.”

Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton compared the chaos to a riot in Nashville last spring where young people protested after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. At least two people were charged with vandalizing the Metro Courthouse by setting fire to it.

“Peaceful assembly is a founding principle of our republic. Just like the events in Nashville last May, what is happening in Washington right now is chaos, it is violence, and it must stop. Those who are defying our laws must be held accountable for their despicable actions,” Sexton tweeted shortly after 3 p.m.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said, “Today is the day we traditionally certify the election of the new president. It is a sacred process central to our republic. The orderly and peaceful transfer of power is a hallmark of our nation’s democracy. Any attempt to stop or subvert that process by force is unacceptable.”

“Peaceful protect is one thing. But what is happening in Washington, D.C. is not that. I pray that order is restored immediately and that the constitutionally outlined certification process resume unimpeded,” McNally said on Twitter.

Democratic state Sen. Raumesh Akbari of Memphis delivered harsher words.

“Traitors and terrorists. Our national Capitol- Congress is under siege! This is evil and vile. This is supposed to be the USA – torch bearers of democracy! Someone on the inside helped them get into this building. Call it what it is – a coup attempt. Investigate & arrest them all,” Akbari said on Twitter.

State Rep. Vincent Dixie, a Nashville Democrat, responded to Akbari’s tweet by saying, “Let’s see who is really about Law and Order!!!”


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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee. She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism. Wadhwani lives in Nashville with her partner and two children.

Nate Rau
Nate Rau

Nate Rau has a granular knowledge of Nashville’s government and power brokers, having spent more than a decade with the Tennessean, navigating the ins and outs of government deals as an investigative reporter. During his career at The Tennessean and The City Paper, he covered the music industry and Metro government and won praise for hard-hitting series on concussions in youth sports and deaths at a Tennessee drug rehabilitation center. In a state of Titans and Vols fans, Nate is an unabashed Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs fan.

Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.