“You cannot fan the flames and then condemn the fire.”
That was the message Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear delivered to lawmakers during his evening coronavirus briefing following a Memorial Day weekend protest where right-wing militia members hung a noose around an effigy of the governor outside his home.
Beshear condemned the protesters’ actions as “aimed at creating fear and terror,” and called on Republican elected officials who had previously glad-handed with the group to claim responsibility for encouraging their actions. He contrasted the protesters’ message of hate with symbols of hope; the green glow illuminating front porches, the bells rung in support of health care workers and the messages written in chalk on Kentucky sidewalks.
“I owe it to the people of Kentucky not to bow to terror but to continue to do what is right for their families, and for mine,” Beshear said.
On Sunday, during the “Patriot Day 2nd Amendment Rally,” a small number of protesters crossed a barrier, chanting and heckling on the front porch of the governor’s mansion – outside a room where Beshear said his 9 and 10-year-old children play.
Armed protesters dressed in tactical gear also strung a noose around an effigy of the governor and raised it from a tree branch beside the mansion. Underneath, they had printed the words John Wilkes Booth claimed to yell after shooting President Abraham Lincoln: “Sic semper tyrannis,” Latin for “thus always to tyrants.”
That the words echoed through history was not lost on Beshear.
“It included the saying yelled by Lincoln’s assassin. Think about it, a celebration of assassination on our Capitol grounds. So let’s start by calling it what it was and what it is, actions aimed at creating fear and terror,” Beshear said.
Beshear similarly noted that although it was his white face on the dummy, he believes it also served as a message to black Kentuckians, an audience that “knows the pain from that, much deeper than I ever will,” he said.
Beshear’s family is the first to live full time at the governor’s mansion in more than 30 years. The governor said his family made the decision to live there believing it would help to unify the state, but that was before the coronavirus changed the world.
And while he knew it would be difficult on his children, he never anticipated what happened Sunday evening, Beshear said.
“One thing I never thought about and never questioned was their personal safety,” he said, “I did not consider that they might be bullied or heckled by grown adults. And then Sunday happened.”
Though he refused a reporter’s question to call out lawmakers by name, Beshear said the protesters were “embraced and emboldened” by elected leaders who rallied with them in previous weeks. Those officials included Republican State Reps. Savannah Maddox, from Dry Ridge, and Stan Lee from Lexington, according to the Courier Journal.
“Standing in front of a radical militia group, these elected officials claim that people including me aren’t Christian and even told them that people wanted babies to be murdered. What do you think was going to happen after throwing out these types of claims to this group?” Beshear said. “You cannot fan the flames and condemn the fire.”
Beshear was emotional during the speech, he said as much, and expressed his concern for the well-being of his children. He said that he knew he would face adversity, and that his faith requires he maintain his values in the face of that adversity.
“So I will not be afraid,” he said. “I will continue to do the right thing, and we will get through this together.”