Franklin mayoral candidate Hanson is running as the latest outgrowth of the Trump era

When lies, exaggerations and contradictions prove successful at the highest levels of elected office, the effects trickle down to lower offices.

September 30, 2023 6:00 am
(Illustration: Getty Images)

(Illustration: Getty Images)

Many Middle Tennesseans have of late been riveted by the saga of Franklin mayoral candidate Gabrielle Hanson, a sitting alderman who has been busted for lie upon lie, all of which contradict her professed claims of a campaign run on “transparency” and “family values.”

Hanson, who was elected in 2021, made little news until March, when she began to raise Cain about permitting the third annual Franklin Pride festival. While she admitted she hadn’t attended the first two events, she claimed a drag performer had behaved in a grossly inappropriate way. 

She whipped up outrage — and a horde of speakers — at an April Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting to discuss Pride, at which she made the absurd allegation that drag queens eat human hearts.

Gabrielle Hanson, Franklin, Tenn., Board of Mayor and Aldermen. (Photo:
Gabrielle Hanson, Franklin, Tenn., Board of Mayor and Aldermen. (Photo:

Investigative journalist Phil Williams with Nashville NewsChannel 5 has exposed Hanson for numerous falsehoods and contradictions, including that she encouraged her husband to walk in a Chicago LGBTQ+ Pride parade wearing nothing but an American flag print men’s bikini-style swimsuit and sandals, an apparent conflict with her current anti-Pride stance. 

Williams traced court records that showed Hanson was arrested twice in the 1990s for promotion of prostitution. He found that women in a photo featured on her campaign Facebook page at an event purportedly in Franklin were, in fact, women at a 2016 Chicago event, some of whom said they’ve never met Hanson. 

At a Wednesday mayoral forum, Hanson was caught on audio by an attendee telling her supporters to keep Williams from entering. A Hanson supporter confronted Williams, striking him twice as a police officer told her she could be arrested. 

In different times, this pile of hooey would have cost Hanson the election — if she didn’t drop out from shame first — but now, in these very strange times, she may be helped rather than hurt by the exposes.

Hanson is the latest outgrowth of the dis- and misinformation era that grew out of former President Donald Trump’s election and the “revelations” of QAnon. 

QAnon, a conspiracy movement that originated on the far right in 2017, gave rise to all sorts of bizarre theories, including one that has taken hold in the imaginations of Q-followers: that Democratic politicians, high-ranking government officials and media stars, among others, are operating a child sex-trafficking cabal. 

Trump associates, including several involved with attempting to overturn the 2020 election — including retired U.S. Army Gen. Michael Flynn and lawyer Sidney Powell — have promoted QAnon theories. 

The term “QAnon” has become as synonymous with far-right nuttiness as “Kleenex” is with facial tissue. To be clear, Hanson has not explicitly supported QAnon theories, but her accusations of LGBTQ Tennesseans and her pattern of lies are of a kind with the QAnon movement that so loves Trump.

The movement sowed the seeds of ignorance and fear that have been nurtured by Republican officials too scared of losing reelection to fight back, and what we have to show for it is elected officials like U.S. Reps. George Santos, R-New York, and Tennessee’s own 5th District Rep. Andy Ogles.

U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles. (Photo: John Partipilo)
U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles. (Photo: John Partipilo)

The latter two are the poster boys for how lying can lead to political success. Santos has lived under several different names — much as Hanson, whom Williams showed to have created an alias to purchase a home in Florida — lied about his employment, his education and even his health. Ogles similarly inflated claims about his work, claiming to have earned a college degree in economics and to have worked as, among other claims, an international expert in sex trafficking. 

Put simply, lying leads to political success these days, at least on the Republican side of the aisle.

It’s easy for people who don’t live in Franklin or Williamson County to chuckle over Hanson’s antics at the expense of residents: the county is the predominantly-white wealthiest county in Tennessee and home to several of the state’s leading Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Gov. Bill Lee. 

But the 2024 election cycle commences soon and Trump, the ringleader of dishonest politicians, is very likely to be the Republican presidential nominee. Members of the media will be working overtime to fact check not only Trump, but his disciples at all political levels. 

Never mind that Hanson is taking on incumbent Mayor Ken Moore, an affirmed Republican regularly lauded by state leaders for running a tight municipal ship. Voter turnout in Franklin is no better than in the rest of the state: only 6% of registered voters went to the polls in the 2019 municipal elections and Hanson’s motivated supporters are likely to show up en masse. 

So laugh away at the very real predicament Franklin residents face of having a mayor elected by a small and vocal group of conspiracy theorists. Say it’s what an affluent and conservative-leaning community deserves. Tell yourselves it won’t happen in your community. 

But it can. As long as people like Trump, Santos, Ogles and possibly Hanson can get elected, more like them will be emboldened. And eventually, they will be running for office in your town.


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J. Holly McCall
J. Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.