Members of a far-left group called the Tennessee Activist Coalition live streamed a video last weekend on their Facebook page promising viewers a citizens’ arrest of both Marsha Blackburn and keynote speaker Lindsey Graham.
“Tennessee voters have shown up at a Republican GOTV rally to perform a citizens’ arrest on Marsha Blackburn & Lindsey Graham,” self-described journalist Taralei Griffin wrote in a post last Sunday on the Tennessee Activist Coalition Facebook page as she initiated a livestream from inside Nashville’s CabaRay Theater as the rally began.
That planned arrest, of course, never happened.
With private security and law enforcement everywhere, it is highly unlikely members of this group could have carried out their mission.
Whether they planned to use force is unknown.
They never got a chance to carry out their objectives. That’s because members of the Tennessee GOP recognized one protestor, Justin Jones, 23, at the Ray Stevens CabaRay Showroom, from previous encounters and had him removed.
The group’s plans to carry out the arrest evidently unraveled at that point.
According to its Facebook page, the Tennessee Activist Coalition is a far-left group with more than 5,700 followers around the state. The group lists an official website, apart from social media, but, as of Saturday, that website was inoperative.
Two people run the Facebook page — Kat Hitchcock and Jim Wohlgemuth, both of Nashville.
Law enforcement officers removed Hitchcock by force after she was one of the first people to protest the Blackburn rally. Police did not detain her, and they let her go because, as the live stream eventually shows, she cooperated with police.
In one post, Hitchcock says the group is made up of “unapologetically left-leaning political revolutionaries.”
In a YouTube video recorded this past spring, she says the group is “an offshoot from a previous Bernie Sanders group that started in the 2016 primaries.”
“We turned it into the Tennessee Activist Coalition because we weren’t done yet,” Hitchcock said.
“We needed to hit the streets to let everyone know what we still thought and what we still think and what we’re gonna make happen.”
Wohlgemuth, meanwhile, is a self-described activist at another left-wing group called Veterans for Peace Chapter 089.
According to the Tennessee Activist Coalition’s Facebook page, the group started in July 2016 and is a place for leftists in the Volunteer State to coordinate with one another. The group is apparently informal. The group never requests financial support, according to its Facebook page.
The Tennessee Star could find no evidence that Jones is heavily involved with the group, but the Facebook page has reported heavily on last weekend’s protest and what happened to Jones afterward.
Griffin’s and Jones’ handiwork
According to LinkedIn, Griffin did filming and editing work for the liberal-leaning The Young Turks news outlet from 2016 to 2017. Her articles about pop culture and Nashville politics appear on a website called Medium.com.
LinkedIn says she lives in Clarksville, but her personal Facebook page says she currently lives in Nashville.
As The Tennessee Star reported last week, Mark Brown, spokesperson for the Democratic Party’s Tennessee Victory 2018, somehow had access to the inside of the showroom before the Blackburn rally began.
Someone inside the showroom took two photos from the far-right corner, where several people were already sitting, waiting to hear Blackburn and Graham.
Brown posted those photos on his Twitter page that Sunday, although the exact time of day was unclear. One of the protesters, whom The Star can now identify as Griffin, thanks to her live stream, sat in the exact same area as the mysterious photographer — again, in the showroom’s far-right corner.
If Griffin sent the photos to Brown then that indicates potential coordination of the day’s protest between The Tennessee Activist Coalition and the campaign of Blackburn’s opponent for the U.S. Senate seat, Democrat Phil Bredesen.
Griffin began her live stream just as law enforcement officers removed Jones from the showroom. She said in the video she knew Jones — in fact, she has known Jones a long time, as The Tennessee Activist Coalition’s Facebook page reveals.
The page chronicled Griffin’s and Jones’s various adventures at the State Capitol together, including the time they fought for a bill that would allow college students to vote using their student ID’s only.
Provoking political opponents to anger
For Griffin and Jones, smart phones are a weapon. When in an adversarial situation, they whip out their phones and take pictures of people without their permission, presumably to post on social media. They also start recording video or live streaming their encounters with them to Facebook.
Jones and Griffin apparently try to provoke their political opponents to anger. Regardless of whether their opponents take the bait, Jones and his followers go online and exaggerate whatever their political opponents did or said. The pair try to portray their opponents in the worst possible light, as the aggressors, or even as racists. Their followers, of course, share the posts and attempt to make them go viral.
Take two years ago, for example. The pair, along with others, harassed former Republican State. Sen. Mae Beavers in her front office because they didn’t approve of a bill she had in the legislature.
Griffin uploaded a video to The Tennessee Activist Coalition’s Facebook page, recorded in Beavers’ office, showing Beavers’ husband Jerry asking members of the group about who they were and what were their intentions.
That was when Jerry Beavers entered his wife’s private office to visit her. At this time, a state trooper told Jones Sen. Beavers had recently received death threats. This seemed to amuse Jones.
Jerry Beavers came out of his wife’s private office a few minutes later.
As the video shows, Jones then tried to enter Sen. Beavers’ office — uninvited.
“If you can go in and out then we can go in and out too,” Jones said.
Before he could do so, Jerry Beavers’ stopped him by briefly putting his hand on Jones’ upper arm for only a second and told him no.
Jones and his followers then complained Jerry Beavers acted aggressive toward them. Jones then asked a trooper how he could file a complaint on Jerry Beavers.
At the time, Jones was a student at Fisk University.
On the video, Griffin described Jones’ encounter with Beavers’ husband this way:
“The senator’s husband, Jerry Beavers, grabbed Justin Jones (a student from Fisk University who has been attempting to speak with Mae and air his concerns for quite some time) by the arm, and later grabbed a sign that he was holding and violently attempted to rip it out of his hands.”
Making do without Jones
At last weekend’s Blackburn rally, featuring Graham as the keynote speaker, Jones initially refused a security guard’s direct order to leave, as shown on a video he uploaded to his personal Facebook page. Jones said he had a right to stay, regardless.
The showroom is private property.
Law enforcement officials eventually removed Jones by force, even though Jones physically resisted their efforts. They put Jones in the back of a squad car, where he continued to live stream about what he claimed was police brutality and what he claimed was racist behavior among Blackburn’s supporters.
Another woman, Janeisha Harris, accompanied Jones into the building and disrupted the event moments after Jones left the room.
That, of course, is when Griffin began live streaming yet again to The Tennessee Activist Coalition’s Facebook page.
The remaining protesters, according to the video, apparently had to make do without Jones, who may have been the group’s leader.
An unidentified female is heard asking “Are you still gonna?”
Another female voice, again, off camera says “I’ll go after you,” indicating each person had an assigned role to carry out.
Then an unidentified female, also off camera, asks “Who else is still left in here?”
Griffin then promised viewers “more protesters are coming.”
Eventually, during Blackburn’s speech, Griffin interrupts the Republican candidate and screams.
“Marsha Blackburn for continuously voting against women and safety and their rights. We place you under citizens’ arrest,” Griffin said.
“You continuously voted against women and their safety. You do not represent Tennessee women. You hate women despite being a woman.”
An unidentified man then dragged Griffin out of the showroom, even as Griffin continued to live stream. The man asked Griffin who is paying her to protest. Griffin said no one paid her.
In the lobby, a Nashville police officer told Griffin she is on private property and if she doesn’t leave then police have the right to charge her with trespass.
Griffin did the exact opposite of what Jones did when told to leave. Griffin actually agreed to cooperate.
But she asked several times why Jones was arrested.
“He was arrested before he even stood up or did anything,” Griffin told a cop — indicating she knew Jones planned some sort of disturbance.
Playing the race card
Griffin visited Harris as she sat in the back of a squad car and had a cordial attitude while talking to more police officers.
At this point in the video, Hitchcock appeared, 15 minutes after she had her outburst and security removed her.
Now, as the video shows, Hitchcock acted considerably calmer, but said she was still upset.
“Everyone pulled out and arrested was black, and everyone white was let go,” Hitchcock said.
Hitchcock, like Griffin, acted cordial to police and politely asked an officer to retrieve her purse from the showroom.
Cops returned Hitchcock’s purse and told both women to leave.
The two women — again, unlike Jones — left when told to.
As they left, Griffin addressed Facebook viewers on camera.
“Marsha Blackburn and her campaign believe that black people do not have the right to free speech. They had them arrested, but they allowed the rest of us white people to walk out,” Griffin said.
“I am furious right now. I feel like I should be in a police car too, but I’m not because I’m white.”
In an earlier interview, Nashville Police spokesman Don Aaron said officers escorted protesters other than Jones from the building Sunday after they too caused outbursts. Griffin and Hitchcock were among them. Police, Aaron went on to say, didn’t take those women into custody.
“The others were asked to leave the building,” Aaron said.
“Ultimately, they did so peacefully.”
As for Harris, Aaron said a woman from Washington, D.C. who attended Sunday’s event pressed charges against her for alleged assault.
Because no law enforcement officers witnessed the alleged assault they only gave Harris a citation, Aaron said.
As reported, Nashville police took Jones downtown.
That evening, Nashville Night Court Commissioner Carolyn Piphus refused law enforcement’s request to issue an arrest warrant to Jones on charges of criminal trespassing, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct.
Later in the week, however, Judge Melissa Blackburn — of no relation to Marsha Blackburn — found probable cause to arrest Jones on the criminal trespassing and resisting arrest charges after presented with evidence by the office of District Attorney Glenn Funk.
Melissa Blackburn issued a warrant, as The Tennessee Star reported.
Upon learning this, Jones opted to turn himself in.
After his release, Jones took to his personal Facebook page and said law enforcement officials detained him for six hours before they released him on his own recognizance.
As reported, Jones met with Bredesen in June, and they even sat next to each other on a plane ride from Washington, D.C.
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