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Condemn neo-Nazis? Tennessee legislators opt to let idea die on the vine

Condemning neo-Nazis and white nationalists seems like a goal many politicians can get behind (with the possible exception of President Donald Trump).

But, a group of Republican lawmakers in Tennessee opted to let a resolution opposing the racists die in a subcommittee rather than let it go forward.

House Joint Resolution 583 failed to get a second in the House State Government Subcommittee because no one would second a motion to take up the issue.

The resolution condemned bigotry by white nationalists and neo-Nazis. It also stated that Tennessee “and its people will not tolerate discrimination or hate in any form or manifestation.”

Law enforcement agencies would have also been urged to treat such groups as terrorist organizations and investigate criminal elements of the groups in the same way terrorists are handled.

The sub-committee chair, Rep. Bob Ramsey, a Republican from Maryville, Tennessee, said the language condemning neo-Nazis and white nationalist wasn’t a problem. Declaring them terrorist groups was, however, Ramsey said.

“I don’t know the consequences of that,” Ramsey told The Southern Poverty Law Center. “Can you call in an air strike on someone? I don’t know.”

The bill’s author, Rep. John Ray Clemmons, a Democrat from Nashville, did not return messages from the Southern Poverty Law Center seeking comment. But, he told WZTV in Nashville that the wording tracks how U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions described the groups.

"I used the same language Sessions used,” Clemmons told the television station. “He stated the violence was domestic terrorism."

Tennessee has been at the center of attention from hate groups in recent years, with now-disgraced Traditionalist Work Party chairman Matthew Heimbach speaking at the University of Tennessee and sovereign citizens being charged with hundreds of felonies in the last year.

The state also turned up as the “most angry, hateful” state in a WalletHub survey. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists 37 hate groups in the state.

When the bill came up for consideration in the subcommittee, state Rep. Darren Jernigan moved for a vote. Three Republicans, Ramsey, state Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, and Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, declined to second it, allowing the measure to die. Neither Hulsey nor Sanderson returned messages from the Southern Poverty Law Center seeking comment.

“My take away was my colleagues simply did not want to vote on the issue,” Jernigan told SPLC.

The lack of a vote comes eight months after Trump infamously declined to condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists after the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.

“You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists,” Trump said. “The press has treated them absolutely unfairly.” “You also had some very fine people on both sides.”

Ramsey, Hulsey and Sanderson all received an “AWARD FOR CONSERVATIVE ACHIEVEMENT” from the American Conservative Union.

While Ramsey and Sanderson have both been conservative stalwarts in the legislature. Hulsey took it to a higher level.

Hulsey was a prime mover in an effort to push a “bathroom bill” aimed at stopping transgender students from using the restroom of the gender which they identify.

Hulsey also pushed a measure to make the Bible the official state book of Tennessee. Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, eventually vetoed that measure.

Ramsey said Clemmons is welcome to bring his resolution back up in the future and discuss how to deal with the terrorist organization designation. As long as that provision is included, Ramsey said, it creates too many issues and potential problems down the line.

“Anybody who associates themselves with a Nazi party after 1937 deserves to be condemned,” Ramsey said. “We don’t think we can deal with the terrorist organization designation. We know the other side is going to come next year with a resolution on Black Lives Matter.”

AP Images/Wade Payne

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