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‘Black people are idiots’ scandal rocks Tennessee legislature

Was an activist framed by a racist staffer using doctored emails?

CREDIT: NewsChannel 5 Nashville/Screenshot
CREDIT: NewsChannel 5 Nashville/Screenshot

Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada (R) is facing accusations that his chief of staff sent numerous racist text messages, and that his office conspired to frame an activist using a doctored email. Casada has so far denied all the claims, and accused NewsChannel 5 in Nashville of making false allegations in its exclusive reporting.

The latter situation involves activist Justin Jones, a Vanderbilt University divinity student who has advocated for voting rights and has protested against a bust commemorating a Confederate general, which the state legislature refuses to take down. When a protest in February escalated, a cup was thrown into the Speaker’s elevator and Jones was arrested for assault. As a condition of being released on bond, Jones was forbidden from having any contact with Speaker Casada, which he says he’s obeyed.

Shortly thereafter, however, Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk filed a motion to revoke Jones’ bail because he had reportedly sent an email to Casada’s office on March 1 — just one day after the no-contact order. According to Jones’ record of the email, however, it was sent on February 25, before his arrest even occurred. Funk’s office has admitted that a photo of the email came from Casada’s chief of staff, Cade Cothren.

When both Casada and Cothren refused to answer questions about the inaccurately dated email that appeared to frame Jones, NewsChannel 5 dug deeper. Cothren, it turns out, had also previously dismissed Jones’ complaints about why his request for a meeting was denied, falsely claiming the activist has misspelled “capitol” in the email address.

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Text exchanges further revealed that Cothren regularly uses racist terms and memes in his correspondence. For example, in a text to Casada, he referred to a West Tennessee district with a meme demonizing “black people.” Other exchanges with friends reveal him saying “black people are idiots” and referring to Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston as a “thug nigger.”

Neither Casada nor Cothren provided comment on the texts before NewsChannel 5 published its story.

Prosecutors could not verify the date of the supposedly incriminating email and dropped the motion to revoke Jones’ bond. District Attorney Funk has now asked a special prosecutor to take a more in-depth look at the case.

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Only after NewsChannel 5 published its report — and after days of ignoring the outlet’s questioning — did Speaker Casada issue a statement calling the allegations false. In his Thursday afternoon statement, Casada outlines a new explanation for the email. Though Jones sent the email on February 25, it was not delivered to state email accounts until March 1 “due to a security issue,” Casada claimed.

“The idea that my Chief of Staff would alter an email that was also received by nearly a dozen members of the media is absurd,” he said. As to the racist messages, Casada explained, “I’ve known Cade Cothren for nearly a decade, and I’ve never known him to act in a manner in which these emails and texts falsely portray him.”

Casada also provided emails that appear to show Cothren noting the date discrepancy in an exchange with the district attorney’s office and asking the motion be struck until he could verify the correct date.

The Tennessee Democratic Party has called on Casada to fire Cothren and condemn his behavior:

Casada, however, has insisted, “I’ve never… seen any kind of racist or bigoted action out of him,” adding, “I stand by my chief of staff on his character, because I know his character.”