Republican members of the Tennessee legislature say they are concerned about the increased willingness for physical confrontation exhibited by protesters, two of whom were charged with assault last week after cornering a group of lawmakers in the Capitol building.
The latest clash came on Thursday, when protesters demanding the removal of a bust of a Confederate general mobbed lawmakers and threw a cup of coffee into a group of them. The confrontation led to the arrest of activists Justin Jones and Jeneisha Harris, who were hit with assault and disorderly conduct charges.
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The presence of Jones, who has been temporarily banned from the Capitol, has become commonplace in recent years, but the willingness to physically confront members has increased, Republicans say.
Jones was arrested last year for trespassing and resisting arrest after he disrupted a campaign event for Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), but the physical confrontation is new. Two weeks before this Thursday's assault arrest, Jones "bumped" Speaker Glen Casada in the halls of the Capitol while demanding a meeting on the Confederate bust.
Republican lawmaker Cameron Sexton told the Free Beacon his caucus fears what will come next.
"What we are seeing on a national level with the escalation of far-left extremists attacking conservative leaders has trickled down to Tennessee," Sexton said.
"We believe in the right to peaceful protests and demonstrations, but what we have seen cultivating over the last several years, the volatility of these past few weeks and ultimately what led to Thursday's very intense politicized, threatening, and disruptive behavior resulting in the arrest of a protester for assault," Sexton said. "What is next? This behavior should not and will not be tolerated here in Tennessee or anywhere else."
Republicans had to be escorted by police to the Capitol building elevators on Thursday and were being called racists and members of the Ku Klux Klan by protesters. Video of the incident was posted by Casada.
Let me make something clear. This type of behavior from "peaceful protestors" won’t be tolerated. I will not stand for radicals physically & verbally assaulting my members. This behavior has no place or voice here. These folks have been arrested and charged with assault. #TNleg pic.twitter.com/ijQR8IzEiY
— Speaker Glen Casada (@GlenCasada) February 28, 2019
Neither Jones nor Harris expressed any remorse over the situation, indicating to Republicans that there will likely be more interactions in the future.
"People frown upon civil disobedience, but without it we wouldn't have the rights that we have today," Harris wrote Monday on Twitter. "Good trouble is needed. Good trouble is necessary."
Jones argues the incident was overblown, and that it's white men like Republican lawmakers who have the "monopoly on violence" in the state.
"The white men who have a monopoly on violence in [Tennessee] like Rep. Andy Holt are now hiding behind facades as champions of nonviolence," he wrote on Twitter. "The same men who seek the proliferation of guns and deny access to healthcare."
Republicans in the state have discussed various options on the issue of the bust of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, including adding a plaque with historic context and moving it to a museum.
Republican governor Bill Lee, who won election last year by a margin of 20 points, has endorsed the plans to add context to the Forrest bust.
"We don't need to erase history. We need to add to and put context," Lee said. "The history that we regret, the history that we aren't proud of, those are things that we need to remember so we don't repeat and that we do move forward."