On March 27, 2023, Aiden Hale, a 28-year-old graphic designer, entered The Covenant School in Nashville, TN, shooting and killing six people before being gunned down by police.
This heinous act of violence set in motion a series of events in which Tennessee Republicans have capitalized upon a national tragedy — indicative of some of our society’s most profound structural problems, in order to further their own fascistic agenda.
Aiden Hale happened to be a trans man — a fact that should’ve been totally insignificant, besides noting the rarity of transgender mass shooters. That demographic accounts for only 0.11% of the 3,561 mass shootings in the United States since 2016 despite making up between about 3% of the population.
Unfortunately, even if facts and statistics completely disagree with them, conservatives weren’t going to pass up a perfect opportunity to further escalate their genocidal anti-trans rhetoric.
Aiden Hale’s gender identity was cited as evidence by conservative media outlets and social media influencers to revitalize the myth that gender dysphoria is a mental illness that causes unstable and potentially dangerous behavior, suggesting the Covenant School shooting may herald a conspiratorial rise in transgender extremism.
Tucker Carlson even promoted this discourse live on Fox News saying, “The trans movement is targeting Christians, including with violence … Yesterday’s massacre did not happen because of lax gun laws. Yesterday’s massacre happened because of a deranged and demonic ideology that is infecting this country.”
In response to the shooting, a protest pushing for stricter gun control laws was organized by the nonprofit Advocates for Women and Kids Equality (AWAKE) and was staged on the grounds of the Tennessee Capitol building.
The protest involved no property damage, arrests, injuries or casualties. Those involved never made it past the gallery and calmly allowed lawmakers to come and go from their legislative chambers.
But once again, flying in the face of all evidence, conservatives nonetheless accused the protest of being a “transsurection”— likening it to the events of the January 6 Capitol Riots, doubling down on the baseless notion that there is some sort of maniacal and monolithic, plot-hatching “trans movement.”
In actuality, the most notable event of the gun control protests was three Democratic representatives — Justin Jones, Justin Pearson and Gloria Johnson — breaking the rules of decorum by speaking out of turn with a bullhorn in the middle of that day’s session. They turned out to show support for protests and admonished lawmakers who have championed turning Tennessee into one of the most gun-friendly states.
Jones claims that in the days prior to the protest wherever he or his peers had tried broaching the topic of gun reform, they were censored by having their microphones cut off, forcing them to resort to more dramatic measures.
As a whole, the bullhorn incident resulted in Tennessee House Republicans filing to expel the three dissenting members on April 3, and convening a vote which led to Jones and Pearson being expelled on April 6.
No state legislature has ever before been expelled on the grounds of breaking decorum, and Jones warned it could set a precedent “that any member who voices dissent or opposition can be expelled from the legislative body.”
Fortunately, on April 10, the Nashville Metropolitan Council met and voted unanimously to reinstate Jones, and on April 12 the Shelby County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to reinstate Pearson as well, to the excitement of progressives and the outrage of conservatives.
Historically, the most successful fascist movements which became fascist regimes did not assume control in one fell swoop, instead, they opted to infiltrate preexisting democratic structures and exploit institutional mechanisms that allow them to gradually amass more and more power.
Although this saga appears to have had a happy ending with the reinstatement of the two expelled representatives — an unambiguous victory for democracy — it also further radicalized the conservative base and served as more anecdotal evidence that our country’s institutions are controlled by some imaginary “woke” fifth column.
But unfortunately, even when they lose, conservatives still win among their supporters because they can flip-flop between being valiant culture warriors and persecuted martyrs whenever convenient. If or when the cycle of shock and outrage causes popular support to reach critical mass, the power of democracy may be harnessed to destroy itself.