GOP complains protests aren't 'peaceful' — but they slam peaceful protests too


Suddenly they think protests against police violence are OK as long as they are peaceful.

Several Republican lawmakers have taken to social media over the past few days to demand that protests against police violence be done peacefully. But the same people were among the loudest critics in recent years when athletes around the country used peaceful protests to draw attention to the same problem.

The days of protests were triggered by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after he was pinned at the neck by a white Minneapolis police officer. Violence erupted in several cities.

But in 2016, then-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem prior to football games to draw attention to racial injustice and police killings — a protest that was then repeated by other athletes in the NFL and other sport leagues.

Republicans spent the following years denouncing these peaceful protests as unpatriotic and several urged the leagues to ban them.

Here are eight Republican lawmakers who were against peaceful protests before they were for them.

Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn

Blackburn tweeted Sunday to complain, "This has gone beyond a peaceful protest. Members of Antifa are domestic terrorists burning American cities down to the ground. The #ThinBlueLine is standing between chaos and calm."

But in 2018, Blackburn, then a member of Congress, made her support for standing during the national anthem a frequent talking point in her Senate campaign.

"In our country, we stand when the National Anthem is played because we owe our utmost respect to the men and women who defend our nation," she tweeted after the NFL owners decided to prohibit protests during the anthem. "I'm please [sic] to see the @NFL officially mandate that their players will stand and show respect for the National Anthem."

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz

Cruz tweeted on Saturday, "Protest, yes. Free speech, yes. Violent looting, arson & rioting, NO." He also scolded celebrities for bailing out protesters arrested in Minneapolis.

But Cruz also used his opposition to the national anthem protests as a wedge in his 2018 reelection campaign, attacking his opponent for defending the athletes involved.

"People can protest without disrespecting the flag," he said at the time.

Last July, he announced he would boycott Nike for signing Kaepernick to an endorsement deal, tweeting: "I love America. I stand for the anthem, respect the flag & honor the men & women who fought to defend our Nation. I respect Free Speech & I’m exerting mine: until @Nike ends its contempt for those values, I WILL NO LONGER PURCHASE NIKE PRODUCTS."

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley

Grassley said in a Saturday tweet that "Americans expect the police to protect & serve ALL incl black ppl The death of George Floyd was horrific & justice should be carried out Our constitution protects the right to protest & those expressions should be peaceful & not escalate into violence endangering our communities."

However, in 2018, he objected to a college athlete taking a knee during the anthem.

"Iowa constituents asked me why a starter for Wisconsin women [basketball] wld not be patriotic enuf to stand for natl anthem song today," he tweeted. He urged them to ask the team's coach and to "Exprress [sic] outrage to the university."

Florida Sen. Rick Scott

Scott tweeted Sunday that he has "been reaching out to law enforcement and local officials in Florida following yesterday's protests to offer my support. Peaceful protests are a right guaranteed by the constitution but acts of violence will not be tolerated."

But two years ago, then Gov. Scott attacked anthem protests as a Senate candidate.

"Our National Anthem is the one thing that unites us, and if it were up to me all players would stand. As a Navy veteran when I see people refuse to stand for our anthem I find it very disrespectful to our men and women in uniform. It's not a protest – it's basic lack of respect," he tweeted.

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz

Gaetz complained that protesters in Washington, D.C., were not behaving peacefully.

"This isn't a protest," he tweeted. "It is savagery."

In 2017, Gaetz was so angry about peaceful protests by NFL players that he actually proposed stripping the league of its tax status.

In a press release, titled "Gaetz Tells NFL Tax Breaks to Take a Knee," he wrote that he was "dismayed and disgusted to see multimillionaire athletes sitting or kneeling during the national anthem."

He added that "free speech does include protest. But nowhere in the Constitution does it say that Americans are required to subsidize disrespect for America, or to have their tax dollars wasted on corporate welfare to sports teams."

Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler

Hartzler retweeted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Monday, sharing his view that America can honor George Floyd's memory "by healing our broken communities. By mending racial divides. And by rebuilding America into a more perfect union that we know it should be," but that "Ripping a city—and a country—apart only deepens the wound."

But in 2017, she praised Mike Pence for a stunt in which he briefly attended and walked out of a game to protest players taking a knee during the anthem: "I applaud VP @mike_pence for standing for our [flag], our military, & our country by not supporting those who take a knee rather respecting same."

Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger

Kinzinger tweeted Monday: "The right to protest does NOT cover defacing US memorials, burning historic buildings, or looting from & destroying businesses. This heinous, violent rioting derails the real grievances that need to be addressed."

Three years ago, he told the Hill that he was "very offended by people that take a knee when the national anthem is played," and that he "would love to see the NFL put in a rule that says don’t kneel for the national anthem."

New York Rep. Lee Zeldin

Zeldin tweeted Saturday that protesters "all across American" had surrendered their "Moral High Ground."

"There is good reason for a protest," he said, but not for looting.

In 2018, he complained about Kaepernick's selection as a paid Nike endorser.

"Pat Tillman would have been a better choice for @Nike's new 'Just Do It' promotion. Pick a former NFL player and Army Ranger who died for our flag and national anthem rather than @Kaepernick7, a former NFL player who protested it."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.