A group of protesters gathered for a “Patriot Day 2nd Amendment Rally” near the Kentucky State Capitol concluded Sunday’s event by hanging an effigy of Gov. Andy Beshear in a tree down the street from the governor’s mansion.
Video and photos from the event in Frankfort, captured by Courier Journal reporter Sarah Ladd, show two men hoisting the effigy with a sign reading “Sic Semper Tyrannis” as the song “God Bless the U.S.A.” plays in the background.
“Sic semper tyrannis” loosely translates from Latin to “thus always to tyrants.” John Wilkes Booth allegedly shouted the phrase after assassinating President Abraham Lincoln.
The demonstrators were reportedly protesting restrictions that the Democratic governor implemented to help curb the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gerry Seavo James, a freelance journalist who was covering the event, told HuffPost that the event’s organizer, Ben Kennedy, brought out the effigy at the end.
“As we were leaving, one of the guys said, ‘Hey, stick around. We’re gonna hang an effigy,’ and it didn’t strike me at the time what it was,” James said. “I didn’t think they would hang Gov. Beshear. I just stuck around.”
Then he realized what was happening.
“It was eerie to me because as an African American, there’s these intergenerational trauma triggers,” James said. “It’s a lynching. It’s a lynching. That popped into my mind and I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’”
James said the effigy was hung by men who appeared to be Kentucky Three Percenters, an anti-government, pro-gun group that the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as part of the right-wing militia movement.
The effigy was cut down by Tony Wheatley of Constitutional Kentucky, the leader of a different group in attendance. James said Wheatley was “very upset” about the act and that some of the Three Percenters tried to distance themselves from it afterward. (A Facebook page claiming to represent the Sons of Liberty Three Percenters issued a statement disavowing responsibility after the event.)
“After that happened, no one would talk about it,” James said. “Who made it and stuff. Now they’re trying to push this off as a media hoax.”
The act was roundly condemned by Kentucky politicians.
Kentucky state House Democrats released a statement calling the act “beyond reprehensible” and charged the state’s Republican leadership with condoning similar “hateful rhetoric” in the past, effectively enabling Sunday’s event.
“Doing this in front of our Capitol, just a short walk from where the Governor, First Lady, and their two young children live, is an act that reeks of hate and intimidation and does nothing but undermine our leading work to battle this deadly disease and restore our economy safely,” the statement concluded.
The state Republican Party also issued a statement decrying the act as “unacceptable.”
“What occurred at today’s rally was unacceptable and has no place in Kentucky’s political discourse,” the statement read. “The Republican Party of Kentucky strongly condemns the violent imagery against the Governor in today’s protest.”
CORRECTION: This article incorrectly located the hanging of the effigy outside the governor’s mansion. While the protestors did march to the mansion, the hanging occurred later near the capitol.