TENNESSEE – It sounds like the kind of legislation that should easily breeze through a statehouse, even in these politically divided times: a resolution denouncing white nationalists and neo-Nazis.
It didn’t even make it out of committee in the Tennessee legislature.
The resolution was written by Tennessee Democratic state Rep. John Ray Clemmons. It doesn’t name any particular group. It calls on law enforcement to go after white nationalists and Neo-Nazi groups with the same “fervor” as other forms of terrorism.
“[W]e urge law enforcement to recognize these white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups as terrorist organizations and to pursue the criminal elements of these domestic terrorist organizations in the same manner and with the same fervor used to protect the United States from other manifestations of terrorism.”
As Clemmons started to talk about the bill, the sole Democrat on the five-member committee motioned to have it discussed.
No one on the committee spoke up. The committee chair, Republican state Rep. Bill Sanderson, then gaveled the resolution dead
And with that the committee moved on to the next item on its agenda.
Because the resolution didn’t get a second motion to proceed, it means it won’t make it to a vote by the full legislature.
‘Why, I can’t begin to imagine’
Clemmons can’t understand how something so non-controversial couldn’t even get out of committee.
“Why, I can’t begin to imagine,” he told CNN affiliate WZTV. “What example does this set for children when their own state won’t denounce acts of violence by hate groups? We have blown a tremendous opportunity.”
Sanderson hadn’t responded to CNN requests for comment, but another Republican member of the committee, state Rep. Bob Ramsey, told WZTV that they didn’t have enough information on neo-Nazis or white supremacy to be able to talk about it.
“We have no expertise on it,” he said. “How could we determine these groups are terrorists? We don’t know the federal guidelines on terrorism.”
The reason for the objection
Later, in a statement to CNN, Ramsey said the committee agreed with Clemmons “on the intent and philosophy of the resolution.” The objection was to “the designation of ‘terrorist organization.'”
“In the past two sessions, our Committee has had several resolutions from various political parties, aimed at special prosecutors, designations of terrorist organizations, condemnation of religious sites and practices, and celebration of controversial historical sites, figures, or organizations. These subjects seem simple but have initiated some of the most bitter decisiveness and debates I have ever witnessed. They usually result in a retaliatory resolution from the other side.”
The committee could bring the resolution back up if it’s reworded, Ramsey said.
Clemmons told CNN on Friday afternoon he’s open to running the resolution by the committee again. But he doesn’t see what is so controversial about it.
“There’s nothing partisan about this resolution,” he said. “This is just them trying to do a 180 because there’s been a public outcry.”