By Joshua Arnold
Last week, hundreds or thousands of left-wing protesters entered Capitol buildings in four separate states, disrupting legislative chambers holding session in at least two of them.
In three out of four incidents, the protesters explicitly opposed legislation to defend children, families, and women from the harmful effects of transgender ideology; in the other incident, a protest for gun control lapsed into pro-transgender overtones. The strange, unprecedented nature of these Capitol occupations renders the media’s near-silence on them only more astounding.
Let’s begin by reviewing the facts, as you likely haven’t seen or heard about these incidents anywhere else.
March 27: Austin, Texas
On Monday afternoon, the open-air rotunda of the Texas Capitol extension was “completely full” with pro-transgender protesters who gathered “to oppose HB 1686,” which would prohibit gender transition procedures on minors “for the purpose of transitioning a child’s biological sex.”
A photo shows what appears to be at least hundreds of protesters filling three levels of the rotunda while one account estimated the number at “over a thousand activists.” The extension of the open-air rotunda is available for public events, but the public calendar shows no scheduled events on March 27.
A committee of the Texas legislature heard testimony Monday on numerous bills to protect minors from gender transition procedures and drag shows, among other topics that angered transgender ideologues. Protesters held up paper signs representing 140 bills they opposed.
The activists remained at the open-air rotunda—which appears to be accessed via underground entrances through the Capitol complex—from mid-afternoon until sometime after nightfall, at which point hundreds of activists then entered the Capitol. The activists can be heard chanting, “Shut it down,” as they exited the rotunda, and then echoing through the hallways, “Protect trans kids.”
Apparently more than 2,500 people signed up to testify on HB 1686, but Chairwoman Stephanie Klick, a Republican, ended the testimony at midnight.
In response, the transgender protesters staged a “die-in” in which protesters lie on the ground and pretend to be dead—except for that one girl on her phone. The chant “Protect trans kids” could still be heard as protesters began to lie down on the ground, completely blocking the hallways in violation of the Texas Capitol’s demonstration policy. Legislators and others who testified at the hearing—including detransitioners—were forced to step over the people lying on the ground as they chanted. After the “die-in,” protesters went back to the open-air rotunda and continued their chant for over half an hour.
March 29: Frankfort, Kentucky
Before the Kentucky House and Senate convened at noon to consider a veto override attempt on SB 150, opponents and supporters of the legislation held dueling rallies at the Capitol. SB 150 promotes parental rights in education, guarantees student privacy in bathrooms and locker rooms, and protects minors from gender transition procedures.
Hundreds of pro-transgender activists had gathered early in the morning for a rally on the Capitol steps, including students from more than half a dozen schools.
After the pro-SB 150 rally in the Capitol rotunda concluded, pro-transgender protesters gathered in that space, although some had occupied a second-floor balcony during that rally. A bearded man, grotesquely dressed as either a “clown nun” or a demon, led the mostly teenaged crowd in an ironic chant of “Shame, shame, shame.” They continued to chant for hours outside the Senate chamber as the Senate discussed the veto override.
Around 2 p.m., the Senate voted 29-8 to override the veto. The Senate then sent the bill over to the House chambers, and the House began debate. But before the House could hold an override vote, protesters filled the overhead gallery, carrying signs and chanting loudly. Shortly before 3 p.m., the chanting grew so loud that it drowned out the debate taking place in the chamber below, disrupting the legislature’s proceedings.
Police removed the protesters from the gallery while they chanted, “Trans kids are under attack.” The protesters linked arms in their seats, forcing police to exert considerable force to separate them one by one. The police arrested 19 people in total, charging them with criminal trespassing in the third degree.
All protesters were released from jail by 1 a.m. Thursday.
The House voted 76-23 to override the veto at around 3:30 p.m., after order was restored.
Protesters remained in the Capitol rotunda, chanting, even after both chambers had voted to override the bill—although their chant changed to “Vote them out.”
March 30: Nashville, Tennessee
“Thousands, not hundreds” of protesters, according to one left-wing Twitter account, gathered early Thursday morning at the Tennessee state Capitol “demanding stronger gun laws.” One reporter said the pro-gun control crowd was “flooding into the Tennessee Capitol.”
“Demonstrators entered the Capitol peacefully—but loudly—and climbed to the second floor, where they deafeningly chanted ‘do something’ as lawmakers arrived at both chambers for the day’s legislative business,” said The Tennessean’s Vivian Jones. “State troopers removed a handful of protesters who disrupted House and Senate proceedings.”
Sometime that afternoon, reporters captured footage of half a dozen police officers holding a doorway against a large, screaming crowd pressing against them. In the video, the officers take hold of one protester, discuss among themselves—presumably whether to arrest him—and then return him to the crowd as they chant, “Give him back.”
The reporter who took the video deleted her original tweet and then reposted it to Twitter, explaining: “I deleted the last tweet because I wasn’t as clear. This was a peaceful protest. Students, parents and their supporters went through Capitol security to lobby for gun control in the Capitol. No one was arrested. This shoving started when THP [Tennessee Highway Patrol] needed to make way for lawmakers.”
Breitbart reporter Spencer Lindquist provided additional context to the controversial footage. “Protesters in the Tennessee Capitol blocked a bathroom doorway, preventing a legislator from exiting,” he explained. “That’s the lead up to this widely circulated video.”
The only quiet moment came when protesters held a moment of silence for the six victims of the Nashville shooting. They held up fingers to indicate the number of victims—but with a twist. “There was a disagreement over how many victims the Nashville shooting had,” Lindquist reported. “Some held up six fingers—others held up seven to commemorate the trans shooter as well.”
In the video, an overwhelming majority of protesters appear to be holding up seven fingers, while others can be seen switching their raised fingers from six to seven.
At around 11:50 a.m., three elected representatives joined in the protest. Democrat Reps. Justin Jones, Gloria Johnson, and Justin Pearson commandeered the House lectern with a sign reading, “Protect kids, not guns.”
Jones began leading the protesters in a chant of “No action, no peace” and “Shame, shame, shame” with a bullhorn. “If we don’t quit, we can’t lose. We will not be quiet. We will not be silent. You are being heard. Thank you for being here,” Pearson told the protesters in the gallery.
“House immediately recessed,” said Vivian Jones (no relation to Justin). “Party leaders look like they’re conferring to figure out what to do.”
The House remained in recess until 11:42 a.m., a 52-minute disruption. During the recess, members retired to meet separately as party caucuses.
Further footage shows Minority Leader Karen Camper, a Democrat, apparently scolding the three lawmakers for disregarding the House rules.
This was not the first irregular outburst by the activist members. On Monday of last week, Pearson continued speaking after his mic was cut off when he criticized as “out of order” a House resolution offered earlier this session to defend the Second Amendment.
“These actions are a blatant disregard for house rules & toward the Sgt. At Arms,” vented Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Republican, adding, “Their actions are and will always be unacceptable, and they break several rules of decorum and procedure on the House floor. Their actions and beliefs that they could be arrested on the House floor were an effort, unfortunately, to make themselves the victims.”
The controversy may not be over for the three activist legislators. On April 3, Jones said that he and his comrades had been stripped of committee assignments and that their member ID badges had been shut off. “This is not what democracy looks like,” Jones complained.
Later that day, a resolution was filed to unseat Jones from the Tennessee House, which is scheduled for consideration on April 6. The resolution contends that Jones, Johnson, and Pearson “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions.”
It adds that “such disorderly behavior on the part of Representative Jones reflects adversely upon the integrity and dignity of the House of Representatives of the State of Tennessee, places a cloud upon the action of this Honorable Body, and is inconsistent with the duty of a member of this Body.”
It seems that Jones has found it difficult to leave behind his radical activist past. Before his election to the Tennessee House of Representatives, Jones was repeatedly arrested for his left-wing street activism.
In 2017, he (Justin Bautista-Jones) was arrested for disorderly conduct during a vigil for the Charlottesville victims. Police told him “not to jump in front of moving marked police cars,” said the arrest report, and then he “jumped in front of a moving patrol car.”
In 2018, he was arrested for disrupting a rally for then-Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s, R-Tenn., Senate campaign.
In 2019, he allegedly threw a beverage on Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada and another House member. He had to post a $4,150 bond and was temporarily banned from the Tennessee Capitol as a condition of his release.
In 2020, it seems Jones was actively leading Black Lives Matter protests in Nashville. He was charged with “felony aggravated rioting” for walking on a police car during a Black Lives Matter protest, although charges were soon dropped.
Again in 2020, Jones was arrested with 55 other protesters on suspicion of criminal trespassing after “the group physically removed barriers and charged the steps” of the Tennessee Capitol.
The Tennessean reported in 2021 that Jones “faced more than 15 charges ranging from trespassing to assault between June and August 2020,” which were later dropped.
March 31: Tallahassee, Florida
Led by the Student Unity Coalition of South Florida, approximately 200 people (mostly college students) marched from Florida State University over to the state Capitol’s rotunda (within easy walking distance) on Friday. The protesters wore rainbow flags, LGBT pins, and face paint and chanted, “This is what democracy looks like,” and, “Erasers are for blackboards, not for people.”
The Florida House considered a number of bills on Friday, including H.B. 1069, which would expand the Parental Rights in Education Act passed last year, which nationwide left-wingers baselessly dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Passed by a vote of 77-35, the bill would clarify provisions on school libraries, adjudication processes, and the biological basis for its definition of sex. When the bill passed the House, the protesters let out a long, collective scream, “No!” and then broke out into a chant, “Whose schools? Our schools!”
Insurrections? Maybe Not.
Predictably, some voices on the Right invoked comparisons to the events of Jan. 6, 2021.
“Leftists storm Tennessee capitol,” tweeted Human Events senior editor Jack Posobiec.
“A group of insurrectionists occupied the Kentucky State Capitol,” said Libs of TikTok.
“This was the second so-called ‘transsurrection’ since the Monday shooting,” wrote World Net Daily.
Just as predictably, these comparisons provided an easy opening to left-wing refutations.
“Right-wing media attacked the legal and pre-planned protest as ‘another insurrection,’ apparently referring to the Jan 6th GOP Insurrection at the nation’s Capitol building that resulted in five deaths and hundreds jailed,” ran a Newsbreak blurb.
A Newsweek fact-check rated the claim as “False,” arguing that the protesters were peaceful and eventually left the Capitol.
As usual, the truth is more complex and nuanced. The protests were, in fact, mostly peaceful; although the shoving of law enforcement officers in Nashville entered a gray area. No injuries, fires, or even vandalism occurred at any of the demonstrations, to my knowledge. Additionally, the vast majority of protesters seem to have entered state Capitol buildings legally.
At the same time, the protesters did seek to disrupt, obstruct, or intimidate lawmakers by their presence. In Kentucky and Tennessee, protesters drowned out legislative debate, and in Tennessee and Texas, they obstructed the thruways of the state Capitol. State law enforcement did remove protesters in Nashville and arrested them in Frankfort.
In all four instances, protesters were extremely loud and disrespectful in the People’s House and sought to unduly influence the people’s elected representatives by their presence. Even media accounts that insist the protests were peaceful also admit that the disruptions to legislative business were “unprecedented.”
Those on the Right cannot correct the media’s hyperbolic narrative about Jan. 6 by committing the same mistake of irresponsibly slapping the label of “insurrection” on incidents that don’t qualify. That doesn’t mean we can’t point out unacceptable behavior and demand accountability. It does mean that we should be accurate in how we describe and characterize it.
An Emerging Pattern
What happened last week at these four Capitols is part of an emerging pattern in left-wing direct action. Activists strategically plan rallies at state Capitols on days when legislation they oppose is scheduled to receive a hearing or a vote. They then organize, show up in force, stay all day, and make as much noise as possible.
Recently, these protests almost always target legislation that aims to protect minors from the ever-expanding agenda of the transgender ideology. And occasionally, the protesters attempt to disrupt the legislature from conducting business as scheduled—and sometimes, they even succeed.
Unfortunately, this pattern is not new, but it is now occurring more frequently. Last year, pro-abortion activists tried to force their way into legislative chambers in Arizona and Indiana. Left-wing protesters also disrupted legislative proceedings in Texas in 2013 and Wisconsin in 2011. Those are two incidents of actual or attempted disruption during the 2010s decade, two incidents in 2022, and three incidents last week alone.
These aren’t the only “trans-centric” Capitol protests that have occurred this year.
On Feb. 6, 150 “trans lives matter” protesters occupied the Capitol rotunda in Oklahoma City to protest legislation to protect young people from gender transition procedures, forcing legislators to pass through the sea of protesters in order to reach the chamber where Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt was scheduled to give his “State of the State” address.
On March 9, more than 100 activists assembled in the rotunda of the Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, to protest legislation with the same intent (later severely watered down).
When they can’t assemble inside a state Capitol, these LGBT activists will assemble outside. On March 5 (the day of the domestic terrorism arrests in Atlanta), over 2,000 people assembled outside the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines to protest bills protecting children from gender transition procedures, opposite-sex bathroom intrusions, age-inappropriate sexual instruction, and a school’s hiding gender identity from their parents.
On March 29, hundreds of pro-transgender protesters rallied outside the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City, where lawmakers are also considering a range of bills to protect minors.
Activists for the transgender agenda have the same rights as every other American “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” As long as their demonstrations remain (truly) peaceful, then transgender activists are within their rights and within the law.
But, likely driven by a perverse media narrative, pro-transgender demonstrations seem to turn violent abnormally often. When hundreds or thousands of angry protesters, who constantly hear that powerful interests want to erase them from existence, assemble at the site of that power, there’s always a possibility that violence might erupt. So, when a demonstration day concludes peaceably, it’s worth breathing a sigh of relief.
What isn’t clear is how increasing numbers of activists can assemble for extended periods at state Capitols increasingly often. When social conservatives hold a rally, like the supporters of Kentucky’s SB 150, they might assemble for an hour or two and then disperse because they have jobs, kids, and other responsibilities. But the pro-transgender protesters—hundreds or thousands of them—seem determined to camp out all day.
Is someone paying them to protest? Is someone at least providing a stipend to subsidize their travel, lodging, and food? They are predominantly young people who, presumably, aren’t independently wealthy, so it’s highly likely that someone else’s deep pockets are behind the increasing organization of these protests.
What is clear, to use their phrase, is that this isn’t what democracy looks like. Laws that represent the will of the people should be made by the elected representatives of the people, duly seated in the legislature. They should not be dictated by any gathering of several hundred or thousand people who show up. Such direct action to pressure or intimidate legislatures has far more in common with European revolutionary movements (fascism, communism) than with traditional American democracy.
The First Amendment rights to speech, press, assembly, and petition are a part of America’s constitutional system, but they are designed to protect minority groups from the abuses of the majority—in other words, a check on democratic rule. The contradiction in the claims of these pro-transgender protesters is that they are simultaneously claiming to represent an oppressed minority and to represent the will of the people.
In reality, the pro-transgender protesters represent neither the will of the people—hence the overwhelmingly passed state laws—nor an oppressed minority. While they are a minority, they are widely celebrated, from the White House to Hollywood to the Country Music Awards.
The very same day that a transgender-identifying murderer entered a Christian school and killed three children and three adults, pro-transgender activists pretended they were the victims by staging a die-in in the Texas Capitol. This shameful charade then continued all week, as this group with outsized cultural influence shamelessly chanted “shame” because state legislatures sought to protect children from their predation.
“Whose [elementary] schools?” asked Florida college students. “Our schools.”
Nope, they belong to the people of Florida, as represented by the duly elected members of their legislature.
As we move through 2023 and into the next election cycle, The Prickly Pear will resume Take Action recommendations and information.