“Vote Them Out”: Video shows Tennessee House erupt into chaos

A special legislative session at the Tennessee State House ended in chaos on Tuesday with an apparent physical altercation between House Speaker Cameron Sexton and State Representative Justin Pearson.

The state House of Representatives was called to session by Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee to discuss public safety in light of The Covenant School shooting that left six dead in March. But the several days of hearings were filled with heightened tension, and ended with the largely Republican-run House passing no legislation related to gun reform.

Videos captured on Tuesday after the chamber adjourned showed members of the public chanting “vote them out” from the gallery as lawmakers tried to quickly leave the House floor. In one such video, which was taken by WTVF photographer Devin Crawford, Sexton, a Republican, is seen walking by Pearson and fellow Democratic State Representative Justin Jones during the disorder. Both Pearson and Jones were temporarily expelled earlier this year after participating in a gun control protest on the Tennessee House floor, which Sexton and other GOP members deemed a breach of decorum.

In the video from WTVF, Sexton is seen being escorted by a security team, and appears to nudge into Pearson as he walks by. The young Democrat was holding a bright neon pink paper that read, “Protect Kids, Not Guns!” Republicans had adopted new rules to ban any kind of signs from House hearings and galleries during the special session, but a judge struck it down on Monday.

In response to the physical contact, Pearson nudges Sexton back, to which other nearby lawmakers reacted and separated the two men. The video cuts out with Pearson being shoved backward by other men on the House floor, although he continues to say something toward Sexton’s direction.

Video Shows Tennessee House Erupt Into Chaos
Members of the State House of Representatives bow their heads in prayer at the Tennessee State Capitol during a special session on August 21, 2023, in Nashville. A House special session on Tuesday ended in chaos as members of the public led a chant against GOP lawmakers as they exited the chamber floor.
Jon Cherry/Getty Images

The House speaker told reporters after the fact that a member of his security team had placed their hand on his back and directed him to move to his right, where Pearson was standing, in order to avoid a photographer that was on the floor.

“Unfortunately, a few members were trying to corral us in,” Sexton said, according to a report from The Tennessean.

In another angle of the moment that was posted by The Tennessee Holler, a progressive news site, it is unclear if Sexton had been physically directed by his security team before running into Pearson. That video, which was shared to X, formerly Twitter, is taken from behind Sexton as he leaves the House floor, and shows both Pearson and Jones confronting the House speaker moments before the physical confrontation.

Neither Pearson nor Jones appear to touch Sexton before he runs into Pearson, according to the video.

“[Speaker Sexton] violently shoved me today while I held my ‘Protect Kids, Not Guns!’ sign,” Pearson wrote on his X account in response to WTVF’s video of the encounter. “I’m infuriated by his actions but more infuriated by the INACTION of @tnhousegop to pass a SINGLE bill to prevent gun violence. This is how democracy dies. We must rise!”

Newsweek reached out to Sexton’s office via email for comment Tuesday night.

House members did adopt four new bills Tuesday, which included increased funding for safety upgrades at higher education institutions as well as mental health agencies, reported The Center Square. But several members of the public who were at the session—including some mothers whose children were at The Covenant School during the mass shooting—expressed outraged over the lack of action taken regarding gun reform.

“Let me remind you. My daughter was hunted at her school,” Mary Joyce, a Covenant mother, told The Tennessean. “She hid from a woman with a high capacity rifle in her third grade classroom. She now understands what it feels like to be shot at. Since then, every single day she worries if it will be her last. Because it almost was.”

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