Gov. Bill Lee Fails to Remove Anarchist Protesters from Legislative Plaza, Who Camped There Overnight


Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee failed to enforce state law Friday night and allowed left-wing activist Justin Jones and a handful of his fellow protesters to camp out in Legislative Plaza, pitching tents and sitting on the steps of the plaza throughout the night and into the morning.

“By setting up tents and other equipment, this group is breaking the post-Occupy law @GovBillLee said he would enforce. It’s now midnight and there have been no arrests and no real conflict with the small group of troopers,”  Nashville Post and Nashville Scene reporter Stephen Elliott tweeted from Legislative Plaza as Friday night turned into Saturday morning:

A 2012 state law, “The Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012,” clearly states that people may not use state-owned property for camping if it’s not a specifically designated camping area. Violation of the law is a Class A misdemeanor.

The Act, which legislators passed and became law  in response to the 2012 Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Nashville movement, allows state officials to physically remove items such as tents blankets, and sleeping bags, which it states are “subject to seizure and forfeiture.”

The law, as written, states the following:

SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 39, Chapter 14, Part 4 is amended by adding the following as a new section:


  • This section shall be known and may be cited as the “Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012.”
  • As used in this section “camping” means the erection or use of temporary structures such as tents, tarps, and other temporary structures for living accommodation activities such as sleeping, or making preparations to sleep.
  • “Camping” shall include, but not be limited to, the laying down of bedding for the purpose of sleeping, storing personal belongings, making any fire, doing any digging, or earth breaking or carrying on cooking activities whether by fire or use of artificial means such as a propane stove or other heat-producing portable cooking equipment.
  • An area of state-owned land may be designated as a camping area by the department, agency, official or officials responsible for the operation, protection or maintenance of the property in question. The area’s designation as a camping area may be accomplished by means of signage, advertisement or other notice designed to make known its availability for the activity of camping.
  • It is an offense for a person to engage in the activity of camping on property owned by the state knowing that the area on which the camping occurs is not specifically designated for use as a camping area by the department or agency responsible for such land.
  • Any items associated with camping in violation of this section, including tents, portable toilets, sleeping bags, tarps, stakes, ropes, blankets, propane heaters, cooking equipment and generators shall be subject to seizure and forfeiture by the appropriate state officials authorized to maintain and protect the land on which the camping equipment is found or other officials whose duties include enforcement of this section.
  • Violation of this section is a Class A misdemeanor.
  • Nothing in this section shall be construed as preempting or preventing a state department or agency with responsibility for state property from enacting or enforcing other lawful and reasonable rules, regulations, or statutes, that concern the use of and access to state property. However, if any such rule, regulation or statute is in conflict with this section, it is the intent that this section shall prevail and the prohibition against camping on state property in areas not designated as camping areas be a uniform one.

Nashville Scene and Nashville Post reporter Stephen Elliott later tweeted, “one protestor who stayed through the night says troopers searched the tents for sleeping people around 4, but otherwise no conflict.”

As The Star reported Saturday, perhaps 100 to 150 or so protestors claimed Friday night that they had taken control of Nashville’s Legislative Plaza. They renamed it Ida B. Wells Plaza and draped a black tarp with the civil rights’ journalist’s name over a post visible to almost the entire surrounding area.

And then the protestors pitched their tents and said they weren’t going anywhere.

A Tennessee Highway Patrol officer told The Tennessee Star around 8 p.m. that no one had instructed him to arrest people as of yet. Other than what they said in their speech, none of the protestors had made any move— such as laying their heads down on pillows — to indicate they would stay the night.

Left-wing activist Justin Jones spoke.

“The governor seemed a little scared today because we said we were going to spend the night and we meant that, because this is stolen land. This is our land and that we have been marching for weeks now. There has been no change from those in this building. And so we are holding this space. We will set these tents out here. We intend to stay until Governor Lee comes out and talks to people about why we are out here,” Jones said.

“We saw Marsha Blackburn today call us anarchists. We saw Speaker [Cameron] Sexton today say that if we stay out here they will try and raise the penalty to a felony. The real criminals, though, work in this building. The real criminals work on the Metro Nashville Police Department. The real criminals work in the legislature. So we are here to reclaim this space. We encourage you to tell other people to come out today. We intend to stay here. We are a non-violent protest.”

As The Star reported Friday, Lee said Friday afternoon that state officials will not entertain any criminal behavior at the demonstration.

For his part, Jones took to social media and flaunted the fact that he and his fellow activists had camped out overnight on state-owned property.

“We’ve been out here for 12 hours now. It’s a little past 5 a.m.,” Jones said in a video he posted on his Twitter feed Saturday.

Jones then asked an unidentified woman how she was feeling.

“Feeling wonderful. Feeling a sense of community and accomplishment,” the woman told Jones.

“Empowerment and, at the same time, humility. Thanks to God, the universe, whatever you want to call it, the Great Spirit, for keeping us safe throughout the night.”

In the video another woman is lying down with her head propped on some unknown object she had clearly used as a pillow. Jones had his legs covered with a blanket.

Jones asked for more people to show up to relieve the ones who were out all night as part of their “ongoing resistance to white supremacy and police brutality.”

Members of Gov. Lee’s staff did not return The Tennessee Star’s request for comment Saturday morning.

Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security spokesman Wes Moster had little to say in an email late Friday night.

“We are monitoring this demonstration very closely. I appreciate your inquiry,” Moster said.

“However we simply do not discuss what our tactics or procedures may or may not be.”

Jones posted one video on his Facebook page overnight showing activists chanting loudly at around 3 a.m.

In another video, Jones bragged the following:

“Tennessee State troopers have changed shifts 6 times since we’ve been out here. Young people, respond chanting: ‘Shift change. Shift change. We still gonna say they name.’ Still holding space.”

Nashville Scene and Nashville Post reporter Stephen Elliott has posted several additional tweets from Legislative Plaza Saturday morning:

Another protest by the same group is scheduled at Legislative Plaza this evening from 5 pm to 7 pm.

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]






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30 Thoughts to “Gov. Bill Lee Fails to Remove Anarchist Protesters from Legislative Plaza, Who Camped There Overnight”

  1. Daniel & Vicki Collins

    Move them out. They are breaking the law. Stand up for Justice and Law and order.

  2. Jami Brizendi

    Gov Bill Lee appears to be spineless wimp – all talk and no action. Would rather acquiesce to out of state thugs and rioters than protect the safety and best interests of the citizens of his state. You were hired by the people to lead….not kowtow to Antifa. So, between Lee and bushy brow Cooper who is taking his regular marching orders former president Obama, I fear Nashville is screwed

  3. Jeannette Scott

    Governor Lee – please explain why you have taken no action. Tennesseans have a right to know.

  4. Austin

    Bill Lee is scared to death of Justin Jones!

  5. David Blackwell RN, BSN

    Bill Lee is not a leader. I will not vote for him again and will not use Lee Company any longer. He’s a guy with a lot of money that decided he had nothing better to do.

    1. Stuart I. Anderson

      Too late David, he’s in for another six years. Please let us know when you can expand your promise to make it a bit more forward looking. How about something like, “I not vote for a candidate that shows up with no record again.” Now that will be a promise worth making and you can begin in August by NOT voting for Chairman Manny Sethi by voting for Hagerty instead.

    2. Chaplain Ron F Hartley

      Governor Lee does dishonor tohis authority and position. Tennessee Veterans ask only
      that he enforce state law and oust the radical left thugs from the Veterans Memorial Plaza
      Now. It’s a sad day when our state is allowed
      to be bullied by such barbarians, governor its time to man up and carry out your duties.

      Veterans organization should be up arms
      over this nonsense, wheres the VFW, AMERICAN LEGION, Disabled American Veterans , time to let your voices be heard,
      not the time to sit back and sweat it out,
      the bunker mentality is a losing proposition
      for all of us.

      R. F. Hartley
      National LEGISLATIVE Task Force

  6. Wolf Woman

    Justin Jones is a true-blue socialist community organizer from California, who is now polishing his rhetoric and social justice credentials at Vanderbilt Divinity School. Vanderbilt Divinity School is the perfect place for him since they decided God is dead, Jesus was a social justice warrior and the Holy Spirit is too embarrassing to deal with.

    1. Lydia Ann Hubbell

      There was a gathering at the Historic Courthouse last night that was essentially a prayer vigil. God’s not dead in Nashville. We may not agree on everything, but we can move forward if we come together to act on the things we agree on.

    2. Austin

      It was a hilarious joke years ago when Al Gore, Jr. failed at the Vanderbilt Divinity School.

  7. Jerry D Woods

    Is the law-breaking down in Tennessee? Do we have a Governor with a National Guard? Can protesters operate under their own law and burn businesses down?

    1. Wolf Woman

      @Jerry D Woods

      Obviously not

  8. Dean Knoxville

    Once again, our Governor has shown himself to be spineless. Color me NOT surprised.

  9. midnitelamp

    how long must we endure these chickenshit rinos?

  10. MAGA

    What happened to “No one is above the law” ?

    1. Bob

      I knew from the get go that he was going to cave.

  11. Mike

    Another example of this Governor’s rhetoric. Yesterday he says he will not tolerate their actions he will make them leave. When it comes to acting on his words he turns into an abject failure. Once again this governor displays his inability to lead.

  12. Cannoneer2

    The state Coordinator of elections, Mark Goins ignored a judge’s order last week, and these people are ignoring another law today. Not much difference.

    1. Stryker

      anyone remember voting for Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ???

      that is a difference

      1. Cannoneer2

        Chancellor Lyle was elected in 2014 to a term of eight years.

      2. Cannoneer2

        Also, I don’t remember Mr. Goins standing for election to his current office…

      3. Bradley

        Bill Haslam, Bill Lee, Bob Corker, Lamar Alexander. I’ll take women like Marsha Blackburn and Diane Black over them every single time.

  13. Law-Abiding-Citizen

    WOW, Governor Lee and Speaker Sexton! These miscreants are occupying state property and defacing it. WHERE ARE YOU? HELLO?

    Will you people finally make committing these crimes felonies??

    Will you order these criminals to leave state property?

    1. Chris Kobeck

      Communist Bill Lee more concerned with keeping Christians apart on Sunday than he is on enforcing the law

      1. Law Abiding Citizen2


    2. Stephanie Mayerhofer

      Weakness in the face of violations of the law will only embolden the law breakers, causing the conflict to escalate. A small, relatively gentle push-back now will save a bigger and more violent episode later. The rule of disruption is to keep pushing until resistance is encountered. Governor Lee is making a mistake by not acting right away.

    3. Ron Welch

      Allowing some to break the law, that’s discrimination in violation of “the equal protection of the laws” (14th Amendment) one of the two admendments which ended slavery. Discriminatory application of the laws invites possible “vigilante justice”, and anarchy, “no justice, no peace” as dome say.

      “Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a law-breaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself. It invites anarchy. To declare that, in the administration of the law, the end justifies the means would bring a terrible retribution. Against that pernicious doctrine, this Court should resolutely set its face.” –Louis D. Brandeis, SCOTUS Justice, Dissenting, Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928).

  14. William Delzell

    So what?

  15. Pissed Off Nashvillian

    If they had been wearing MAGA hats Lee would have gotten out the fire hoses.

  16. rick

    Justin Jones what a POS. Useless.