Two days after being hung in effigy, Gov. Andy Beshear returned the fire Tuesday, using much of his daily coronavirus briefing to talk about the incident near the governor’s mansion on Sunday.
He said the presence of protesters on the mansion porch after crossing barricades, “just a window pane away from where my kids play,” and the effigy hanging that followed on the Capitol grounds across the street, were “intended to use fear to get their way.” (His children, 9 and 10, were not present.)
“I will not be afraid, I will not be bullied and I will not back down, not to them and not to anybody else,” he said, reading from notes for about 10 minutes. He said it is his responsibility to lead in a dangerous time “and I know that the people out there are with me. I owe it to the people of Kentucky not to bow to terror, but to continue to do what is right.”
Beshear said the Three Percenters, “a right-wing militia group,” shares the blame with unnamed but previously identified Republican legislators who spoke at an earlier Capitol rally involving the group, which “had been embraced and emboldened by elected leaders that rallied with them weeks before.”
Alluding to other Republican officials’ condemnation of the incident, he said they should not “cater to these groups” and “You cannot fan the flames and then condemn the fire.” He said those who spoke at the earlier rally “have to claim responsibility, because they absolutely know what could have happened. And, they are in part responsible for what did happen.”
The effigy bore the motto “Sic semper tyrannis,” Latin for “Thus ever to tyrants,” which John Wilkes Booth reportedly said after fatally shooting President Abraham Lincoln. Beshear called that “a celebration of assassination on our Capitol grounds.”
Beshear said he and his wife Britainy had made a “very difficult decision” to leave “the only house my kids ever remembered” to “become the first family to live full-time in the governor’s mansion for over 30 years,” partly because Frankfort residents wanted them to. “One thing I never thought about and never questioned was their personal safety.”
Beshear’s first reference to the episode came as he gave his daily mantra: “Today maybe I need to say it as much as you do: We’re gonna get through this, and we’re gonna get through this together.” He said he believes that because “For the most part over this Memorial Day weekend, we showed that we can continue to do the right thing.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined other Republicans’ criticism of the episode, saying it “was completely outrageous and unacceptable. We all believe in freedom to speak in this country and the opportunity to demonstrate. But that episode, I believe on Sunday, was completely unacceptable, it’s not what Kentucky is and I hope that we will not be seeing that again.”
McConnell’s Republican seatmate, Sen. Rand Paul did not respond to a request for comment, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.
Patsy Bush, Kentucky secretary for the Three Percenters, said before Beshear’s briefing that the group does not condone violence and “if she had known about it ahead of time, she would have tried to stop it,” the Courier Journal reported.