Left-wing activist Justin Jones walked into the Tennessee State Capitol Tuesday, more than a year after state officials banned him from the facility for allegedly assaulting then-Speaker of the House Glen Casada.
Various Republican and Democratic officials, as well as those from the Tennessee Highway Patrol, provided no information about how Jones entered the building.
But Jones’ social media postings from the Capitol Tuesday provided some clues as to how he might have gotten in.
Jones posted from the state House gallery on his Facebook page while demanding that state legislators, including Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) meet with him and other protestors.
“We don’t know why they are afraid of accountability, but that is why we are here today on the House floor — to get some answers from Speaker Cameron Sexton and some of these members here. These representatives have kept us out for so long,” Jones said.
“We are glad we were invited as guests of some lawmakers today to come inside, to get answers, to seek accountability and we will remain here until we get those answers.”
Jones, however, did not identify the lawmakers who summoned him to the Capitol.
State Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) posted Monday that she spent an hour talking to Jones, which she described as the “best hour of my day.”
I spent about an hour tonight sitting at the protest talking with @brotherjones_ , best hour of my day. Another hour with other young folks there, also lovely people and time well spent. pic.twitter.com/zFp3sIL4Yj
— Gloria Johnson (@VoteGloriaJ) June 16, 2020
Nashville Public Radio reporter Sergio Martinez-Beltran posted a video to his Twitter feed Monday morning. In it, Jones appeared to stand alongside Johnson in front of the Capitol bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest.
About an hour later, The Tennessean reporter Natalie Allison posted a video of Jones trying to walk toward Gov. Bill Lee’s office before THP officers intercepted him and forcibly removed him from the Capitol. A few minutes after that, Martinez-Beltran posted another Twitter video that showed Jones screaming for Lee while asserting he was a peaceful protestor.
— Natalie Allison (@natalie_allison) June 16, 2020
As The Tennessee Star reported, Jones led a group of protesters in trying to force their way into the Capitol Monday. State Rep. Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) invited some of them to come inside as his guests.
Stewart spokesman Ken Jobe told The Star in an email Tuesday that Jones was not one of Stewart’s guests at the Capitol that day.
THP officers detained more than 20 people at the Capitol during a protest Monday evening.
According to a news release, troopers removed the protesters after issuing a warning Monday evening that anyone remaining on Capitol grounds after 11 p.m. would be arrested. The crowd declined, and instead locked legs and arms while sitting down.
Troopers say they cited 19 people and arrested two for public intoxication. Protesters had been allowed to stay overnight outside the Capitol building since Friday without being arrested. Earlier that day, however, protesters were blocked from entering the Capitol right before the House’s scheduled floor session.
State troopers initially told the crowd that the building was closed because of COVID-19 — even though the public had been attending House chamber meetings in a limited capacity for the past two weeks.
GOP leadership later clarified that five protesters could enter, but the group declined, arguing that all the protesters should be able to access the public building.
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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected] The Associated Press’ Kimberlee Kruesi contributed to this report.
Background Photo “Justin Jones Removal” by Natalie Allison.