On Thursday, hundreds—if not thousands—of protesters took to the streets surrounding the Tennessee Capitol to demand stronger restrictions on firearm purchases in the wake of a school shooting in Nashville this week that left six people dead, including three young children.
The rally, which began at 8 a.m. Thursday, began at a nearby park, with the crowd planning to head to the second floor of the Tennessee Statehouse to sing songs and interface with Republican lawmakers about the protesters’ desire for stronger gun control, following revelations that The Covenant School shooter—28-year-old Audrey Hale—had purchased firearms legally.
Things grew more heated as the day went on and, that afternoon, video of protesters rushing the doors of the Tennessee Statehouse quickly circulated among conservatives on social media—including prominent voices like Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk—who saw the episode as a left-wing “insurrection” comparable to the Jan. 6, 2021, siege on the U.S. Capitol.
“Is there an insurrection happening in Tennessee?” tweeted Kirk. “Will these kids be thrown into a gulag? Will the FBI arrest hundreds of people in a dragnet? Will we have a special committee on this?”
Even more claimed the protests were led by transgender activists, who have drawn the ire of conservatives after it was revealed Hale was transgender.
A coming “Trans Day of Vengeance” protest over laws seeking to outlaw gender-affirming surgery and LGBTQ+-friendly events like drag shows has been lionized by the right, for example, amid baseless claims from some who said Hale may have taken hormones to facilitate their transition, which could have been a primary contributor to the shooting spree.
Thursday’s protests, in their eyes, extended from that.
“More footage of the insurrection underway at the Tennessee State Capitol. Or should we say trans surrection,” Twitter user and California secession activist Louis Marinelli wrote on the platform Thursday.
“Trans Community Storms The Tennessee Capitol & The Media Is Silent,” another user tweeted.
The incident even got the attention of former Olympic gold medalist, reality television star and transgender woman Caitlin Jenner, who wrote “RADICAL RAINBOW MAFIA CAUSING A TRANSSURECTION!” in response to video of the protests circulating online.
But is that what happened?
Did the transgender community storm the Tennessee Capitol?
While some equated what happened Thursday to a left-wing reprise of January 6, a cursory investigation revealed that Thursday’s incident was anything but.
While the crowd—primarily made up of people in their teens, according to video from inside the statehouse—did grow heated at one juncture, photos taken within hours of the protest showed the halls of the statehouse were cleared of protesters a little bit past lunchtime.
“Right now, the capitol is basically empty except for members (in session), some staff, a few protesters, and scattered media members,” Jackson Lelle, legislative staffer, tweeted early Thursday afternoon after the protests subsided. “Please do not spread this disinformation.” (Newsweek has contacted Lelle for comment.)
Meanwhile, unedited video of the protest showed the one student apprehended by police surrendered peacefully, with their hands clearly in the air—a sharp contrast to images from January 6 of police officers being attacked by rioters with blunt objects.
The protester was later released, according to Kelsey Gibbs, Emmy-nominated news reporter with NewsChannel 5 in Nashville.
There were distortions of fact in other social media posts.
Video from right-wing Media Research Center and conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec was misleadingly presented to suggest protesters took over the microphone on the floor of the House of Representatives.
It was later revealed to be video of several elected members of the legislature—Representatives Justin Jones, Justin Pearson and Gloria Johnson—who had seized the microphone out of turn to express solidarity with the protesters and demand the legislature take action on gun bills.
Video from reporters in the statehouse shows members of Democratic leadership actively admonishing those lawmakers for their behavior and, while there was a pause in the proceedings initiated by the leadership in both parties after the outburst, legislative business was never substantially interrupted.
Other video and images from inside the statehouse show law enforcement clearing a path through the crowd wide enough to allow lawmakers to enter and exit the chamber without incident.
As for the origins of the protests, there is little to support that the protest was spurred by any LGBTQ+ group.
While groups like Parkland School shooting survivor David Hogg’s Everytown for Gun Safety have announced plans for a rally in Nashville this weekend, Thursday’s rally was actually organized by nonprofit group AWAKE Tennessee, a “grassroots nonprofit organization with a mission to advocate for the advancement of women and kids in Tennessee,” that promoted plans for a rally on social media two full days beforehand.
“We have collaborated with community organizations and individual citizens to organize a rally at the State Capitol Thursday morning,” the group wrote. “If you are looking for a way to channel your grief, anger, and confusion into action—please join us.”
Other photos from the Thursday rally found on social media show volunteers from other gun reform groups, like the local chapter of Moms Demand Action. Newsweek has reached out to the national organization via email for additional context on its involvement.
Given all the evidence available, there is no indication that the rally was organized by transgender activists or amounted to anything near the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
We rate the claims as false.
FACT CHECK BY NEWSWEEK