Tennessee Democratic Rep. Justin Jones of Nashville was expelled from the state House by Republicans on Thursday in a 72-25 vote — all the result of a Republican leadership effort to equate a peaceful gun protest in the state House to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Republican members of the state House began pushing for the expulsion of Jones and fellow Democratic Reps. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville and Justin Pearson of Memphis after the trio participated in a protest against lax gun laws from the floor of the chamber last week in the wake of the Nashville school shooting that left six people — three children and three school staff members — dead.
Following the vote to expel, Jones left the chamber and was met with chants of support from protesters.
Meanwhile, Johnson, a white woman, was not expelled, after some lawmakers cited her calmer demeanor during the protest.
The vote to expel the other Democrat — Pearson — is up next and will likely continue into the evening.
State Republicans claimed the lawmakers in question “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions.”
During the Thursday protest, Jones, Johnson and Pearson joined demonstrators — mostly children and parents holding signs and chanting — who packed the Capitol building and the House gallery and cheered on the protestors from the front of the House chamber with a bullhorn.
“What we see today is a lynch mob assembled to not lynch me but our democratic process,” Jones said on the House floor before the vote. “When I came to the well that day, I was not standing for myself but I was standing for my constituents… all of whom are terrified by the continued trend of mass shootings plaguing our state and plaguing this nation.”
Many Democratic lawmakers delivered lengthy, impassioned pleas to their Republican colleagues, arguing that the vote to expel Jones was less about rule breaking and more about silencing progressive ideas and the fact that he pushes the status quo as a young Black man.
Some also warned the GOP of expelling members simply for breaking a House rule as previously Republicans have resisted removing members of their own party even when they were alleged to commit serious crimes— including former Republican member Rep. David Byrd, who was accused of sexual misconduct by three women who were underage at the time of the alleged crime.
As the resolution was brought to the House floor, protesters who had gathered in the halls of the state House to demonstrate against the expulsion — a crowd, again, made up mostly of students, teachers and allies — could be heard cheering for the three Democrats.
Hundreds of protestors have been gathered outside the House floor and the building since early hours of the morning — despite the rainy weather.
Before the start of the 9 a.m. floor session, many demonstrators lined up the hallways leading into the House chamber, chanting “free the Tennessee three” and “you are fascist” as members entered the room, according to videos David Hogg — Parkland shooting survivor and a March For Our Lives founder — and Adam Friedman — a reporter for the Tennessee Lookout — posted on Twitter. Protest organizers also shared similar videos with TPM.
Since the Thursday protest, House leadership have been making bad faith and over-the-top comparisons, likening the trio’s behavior to the Jan. 6 “insurrection” and threatening to punish the lawmakers for participating.
“Two of the members — Representative Jones and Representative Johnson — have been very vocal about Jan. 6 and Washington, D.C., about what that was,” Sexton said. “What they did today was equivalent, at least equivalent, maybe worse depending on how you look at it, to doing an insurrection in the State Capitol.”
During his Thursday speech, Johnson slammed House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) for comparing a peaceful protest over gun laws in the state House with a violent and deadly attempted coup.
“Speaker Cameron Sexton went on national television to lie to the world and say that what happened in this well was an insurrection. What happened out in those halls was an insurrection. I was shocked to have the Speaker of the House condemn mothers and children and grandmothers and parents and concerned citizens… and say that they were violent insurrectionists,” Johnson said.
“I think that he owes the people of Tennessee an apology. Because at no point was there violence. At no point did we encourage violence. In fact, what we were doing was calling for the end of gun violence that is terrorizing our children day after day after day. and all we offer are moments of silence,” he added.