FRANKFORT, Ky. (WAVE) - Gov. Andy Beshear addresses the state each weekday at 5 p.m. to give an update on the coronavirus crisis.
Tuesday, however, he opened his daily briefing by addressing an incident at the state capitol on Sunday.
What was supposed to be a Second Amendment rally turned into a anti-lockdown protest, which then turned into Gov. Andy Beshear being hanged in effigy on the capitol grounds.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “unacceptable.” Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said it was “sickening.” Sen. Morgan McGarvey called it “disgusting.”
And on Tuesday, Beshear issued his first public response to it. He said the protesters made their way to his front porch.
“Just a window pane away from where my kids play, the mob chanted and heckled,” Beshear said. “Thankfully, my kids weren’t there that day.”
The governor called it a “celebration of assassination.”
“Let’s start by calling it what it was, and what it is -- actions aimed at creating fear and terror,” he said. "That’s an action intended to use fear to get their way. This small group ... is trying to bully everyone else into doing what they want us to do.
He said he would leave pressing charges to state prosecutors and investigators, but did throw some of the blame on several state politicians who have spoken at previous rallies.
“You cannot fan the flames and then condemn the fire,” he said. “I will not be afraid. I will not be bullied. And I will not back down. I owe it to the people of Kentucky not to bow to terror.”
WAVE 3 News reached out to several state representatives and a state senator who had spoken at a May 2 rally.
Representative Kim King said, “I am not responsible and won’t accept the blame.”
Representative Savannah Maddox issued this statement:
“While the Governor was standing behind a podium at 5 pm today disseminating his usual rhetoric, I was busy trying to help one of the 500k Kentuckians who are unemployed and running out of hope as a result of his failed agenda. His remarks are part of a greater initiative that he has unveiled in conjunction with the Kentucky Democratic Party to deflect responsibility for the economic turmoil his actions have created. This concerted effort to shift blame onto legislators who have stood by Kentuckians who are hurting is a reflection of this administration’s unwillingness to face the fact that Kentucky ranks #1 in unemployment in the nation, with 40% of our workforce out of a job. Neither I, nor any of the legislators he referred to were present at Sunday’s rally- and I stand in unison with the House Majority Caucus in condemning all acts of hatred in the context of political discourse.”
Representative Stan Lee and Senator John Schickel have yet to respond.
Beshear was clearly upset when talking about the incident for several minutes.
UofL Constitutional Law Professor Sam Marcosson said however disturbing the effigy is to many, it does not cross the line of free speech.
“Incendiary speech, offensive speech, speech that might be seen as hate speech, that’s protected by the First Amendment,” Marcosson said.
There are two instances the first amendment doesn’t protect: if it’s a true threat made intentionally or recklessly and if it incites violence.
“There are some pieces here that I think come awfully close to that line, and that a prosecutor might be able to show it crosses over it, but it is a very high bar for the government. Because we do want to protect free speech, no matter how reprehensible, it may be,” Marcosson said.
The words “sic semper tyrannis” hung around the dummy’s neck. That is a phrase meaning “Thus always to tyrants” and was most famously used when Brutus killed Caesar and when John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln.
“You do have using language that was used by assassins in the past, from Brutus all the way to John Wilkes Booth," Marcosson said. "You have the knocking on the governor’s mansion door, which could be seen as threatening, because it’s not just intending it to be harmless speech, symbolic, but actually to take action and to be threatening in doing so.”