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Jason Aldean performs during the 2023 Country Music Awards Fest on Saturday, June 10, 2023, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP) Jason Aldean performs during the 2023 Country Music Awards Fest on Saturday, June 10, 2023, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

Jason Aldean performs during the 2023 Country Music Awards Fest on Saturday, June 10, 2023, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone July 20, 2023
Madison Czopek
By Madison Czopek July 20, 2023

If Your Time is short

  • Critics of country singer Jason Aldean’s “Try That In a Small Town” music video say it pushes a message of gun violence and lynching. Aldean and his band performed the song in front of an American flag-draped Tennessee courthouse that critics noted was the site of a famous 1927 lynching.

  • Aldean denied the lynching message and defended his video: “There isn’t a single video clip that isn’t real news footage.” Clips of violent protest scenes, burning American flags and crime were interspersed throughout the performance.

  • We found six of the clips in stock footage catalogs, one of which also was used in the fictional 2021 Netflix movie “Don’t Look Up.” The clips came from real events or news footage, but many did not take place in the U.S. They included scenes of protests in Ukraine, Spain, Germany and Canada, one as far back as 2010.

In "Try That in a Small Town," country singer Jason Aldean sings about big city violence and rural intolerance of such violence. His music video shows Aldean and his band performing in front of an American flag-draped Tennessee courthouse — the site of an infamous 1927 lynching and a 1946 race riot that The Washington Post once reported led to the near lynching of future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

"Pull a gun on the owner of a liquor store," Aldean sings, or "cuss out a cop, spit in his face … Yeah, ya think you're tough / Well, try that in a small town / See how far ya make it down the road / 'Round here, we take care of our own / You cross that line, it won't take long / For you to find out."

Critics complained the video was racist, pro-lynching, glorified violence, evoked vigilantism and acted as a "dog whistle." CMT this week told journalists it had pulled the video from rotation.

The video flashes through what looks like real footage from violent protest scenes. People ignite and toss Molotov cocktails. American flags burn. Masked robbers bash in a glass case in a business. An armed gunman storms into a convenience store. Near the video’s end, that chaotic imagery is contrasted with serene farmland sunsets, video of men raising rifles over empty marshland and audio from a 2013 news report about Wisconsin farmers helping a fellow farmer following a tragic accident.

In a lengthy July 18 tweet, Aldean, who grew up in Macon, Georgia, rebutted the notion that his video was "pro-lynching" or that any lyric in his song referenced race. He said the video "refers to the feeling of a community that I had growing up, where we took care of our neighbors, regardless of differences of background or belief."

"There isn’t a single video clip that isn’t real news footage," he said.

PolitiFact dissected the video and found that although many of the clips we were able to verify do come from news footage of real events, many of the scenes depicting crowd violence are from outside the U.S., including Ukraine, Germany and Canada, with one dating as far back as 2010.

We also found clips available on stock footage websites, including one from what appears to be a real event and also appeared in the 2021 Netflix movie "Don’t Look Up."

This is not the first time Aldean has come under controversy. In 2015, a photo surfaced showing Aldean, who is white, dressed for Halloween in blackface as Black rapper Lil Wayne. He later told Billboard that he had "zero malicious intent."

The Maury County Courthouse

Officers are on guard in Public Square in Columbia, Tennessee, after an outbreak of rioting, Feb. 27, 1946. The Maury County courthouse is in background. (AP)

The Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee, plays a central role in the video. Its clocktower is the first image and videos of violence and destruction are repeatedly projected onto its facade. Almost any time we see Aldean, he is standing in front of the courthouse.

The courthouse was built in 1906. Henry Choate, an 18-year-old Black man accused of assaulting a white teen girl, was lynched there by a white mob in 1927. Nearly 20 years later, a white mob gathered at the courthouse before the 1946 Columbia race riot. The incident started with a dispute over a radio repair and led to the near lynching of Marshall, then a defense attorney representing two Black residents.

We reached out to Tacklebox, the production company behind Aldean’s video, but didn’t immediately hear back. The company told USA Today and Fox News Digital that the courthouse is a popular filming location in Tennessee. It said several movies and music videos have been filmed there. Aldean did not choose the location, it said.

"Any alternative narrative suggesting the music video’s location decision is false," the company told Fox.

Aldean, who was performing in Las Vegas when a gunman opened fire on the crowd in 2017, killing 60 people and injuring about 500 others, rejected the idea that his video promoted violence. He referenced the mass shooting and said "No one, including me, wants to continue to see senseless headlines or families ripped apart."

Aldean’s record label, BBR Music Group, did not respond to PolitiFact’s request for comment.

Clips from protests, riots

Scenes of protests and police confrontations intersperse Aldean’s video. But eight of the scenes come from outside the U.S., including Germany, Canada, Spain and Ukraine. Some of the video clips were too brief or lacked unique characteristics necessary to identify their origin.

Woman flipping off police officers (0:27): This footage was captured in Berlin in 2017, according to the stock footage website Pond5 where we found it posted for purchase. 

"Girl messes with riot police during the Revolutionary May 1st Demonstration on labor day in Berlin," read the video description. Rioting in Berlin on May 1 is "a regular tradition," reported German news outlet Deutsche Welle, and there were protests on May 1, 2017. 

This footage was also used in a 2019 music video: "Eyes Closed" by Danish artist Mads Langer. 

Woman shouting in officer’s face (0:32): This comes from a Nov. 4, 2020, protest in Manhattan, a New York City borough. In the full video, Devina Singh, 24, shouts expletives at a police officer and spits in his face before he grabs and arrests her. She was charged with obstruction of governmental administration, resisting arrest and harassment, the New York Post reported. 

Protesters were calling for all 2020 presidential election votes to be counted before a winner was declared, Spectrum News 1 reported. About 50 protesters were arrested after clashes with police. The protests were a response to then-President Donald Trump saying Nov. 4, 2020, that he wanted the Supreme Court to stop the counting of ballots in some states.

Overhead view of a fire on a crosswalk (0:38): This appears to be stock footage that was captured during a May 2020 protest in New York City. We found the footage on Shutterstock and Adobe Stock

"Protestors riot burning small isolated fire in intersection on street at night to protest police killing of George Floyd in New York City NYC," read the Shutterstock description.

The clip was also used in the 2021 Netflix film "Don’t Look Up," starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep. In the movie, the clip appears briefly during a montage in which (spoilers) a comet hits the earth, around two hours and two minutes into the movie. 

Five people walking with flares, baseball bat under an overpass (0:49): We found this clip in a catalog of Adobe Stock footage. 

"Group of young men in balaclavas with red burning signal flare walking on the road under the bridge, slow motion," read the video description

Very similar stock footage from the same Adobe series appeared in guitarist Tom Morrello’s 2021 "Raising Hell" music video

"State of emergency declared in Georgia" chyron (1:22): This video comes from a January 27 report on the LiveNOW from Fox streaming service that used the chyron, "State of emergency declared in Georgia." The news story was about Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declaring an emergency in anticipation of protests against the construction of a police training facility and the shooting death of an environmental activist who was said to have shot a state trooper. The Aldean video also uses an image of a car burning at the 0:15 mark that’s from the same Fox video.

Protesters run down fiery street (1:35): We found this stock footage available to purchase. It originates from a 2019 protest in Barcelona, Spain, according to a 2020 NBC News article. NBC reported that the clip was used misleadingly at the 2020 Republican National Convention in a video that criticized crime and rioting as a "taste of Biden’s America."

This video was featured at the 2020 Republican National Convention. It used stock footage from a 2019 protest in Barcelona, Spain, to illustrate potential crime under a Joe Biden administration. The same footage was also used in Jason Aldean's "Try That in a Small Town" music video. The Trump video also includes footage from a 2020 street protest in New York City that was used in the movie "Don't Look Up" and featured in Aldean's video as well. (Donald J. Trump, YouTube)

Masked protester in blue puffer jacket throwing item at police (1:38): This comes from a 2013 protest in Kyiv, Ukraine. Reuters photographer Stoyan Nenov captured a still image of the same person. The photo was embedded in an article from French news service Radio France Internationale, with the caption, "Protesters storm the presidential administration building." 

Man swinging at police officer (1:52): This is body camera footage released in July 2022 that showed a robbery suspect in downtown Cincinnati swinging a metal pipe at officers who were trying to arrest him, according to a local Fox affiliate. The suspect faced multiple charges after injuring two officers during the arrest, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 2023.

Police charging at crowd of protesters (1:54): Using the hotel name, Hotel de l'ITHQ, and a reverse-image search, we tracked this clip to a stock image website and to a YouTube video of a 2013 protest in Montreal, where riot police charged a group of students protesting a rise of tuition fees in Quebec.

Police car driving through protesters (1:56): This is from May 2020 in Los Angeles when a California Highway Patrol vehicle drove away with several people on its hood after being surrounded by people protesting the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. 

A video clip of this protest — showing just an aerial view of the crowd on the freeway — was also used earlier in the music video, at the 0:52 mark.

Protesters in Los Angeles smashed the window of a California Highway Patrol vehicle in May 2020 after surrounding it during protests over the killing of George Floyd. (Screenshot from KTLA-5)

People pulling on gate (1:58): The footage of a crowd of people wrestling with police for control of a gate appears to be from a 2013 protest near the Kyiv City Council in Ukraine. Two of the men in the Aldean video can be seen in a photo in this article in RIA Novosti, a Ukrainian news site, and archived on its newsbank website.

Police car burning on street while others jumped on another burned car (2:00): This clip is from people protesting a G20 summit in Toronto in 2010. A Getty Images photo captured a similar scene and shows one of the people seen in the Aldean video wearing a white shirt and jumping on the same burned-out car.

Protesters holding green gate (2:05): People crouch behind a green gate and carry it forward in this clip from Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2014. PolitiFact used a reverse-image search to find the Jan. 20, 2014, video available for purchase. "Protesters attacked police during clashes in Kiev on the street Grushevskogo, throwing stones, set(ting) cars alight," read Shutterstock’s description.

The protest happened during a period of political upheaval in Ukraine and appears to have been partly a response to the Ukrainian parliament rushing the passage of tough anti-protest legislation.    

Police clashing with protesters (2:07): This brief clip of police clashing with an unseen crowd appears to match images from a 2013 protest in Kyiv. The buildings and yellow buses in the background can be seen in photos from this 2015 article on

Surveillance camera footage

Aldean’s video shows scenes from actual crimes in progress in Fresno, California; Yuma, Arizona; and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Liquor store robbery (0:23): The Fresno Bee shared footage of this robbery in 2018. The Bee reported that police were searching for a man who was suspected of robbing Dan’s Liquor in Fresno on Nov. 25, 2018. The suspect, who was armed with a revolver, jumped on the counter and told the store clerk, "Don’t be a hero," the Bee reported. 

Masked people breaking glass case (1:33): Surveillance video shows two masked people destroying and robbing jewelry cases in 2017 at Nouri’s Jewelry Store in Fort Lauderdale. CBS News Miami and other news stations reported that at least three people were involved in a heist, stealing more than $200,000 of jewelry within seconds. One of the suspects was arrested not long after the robbery.

A former U.S. Marine disarmed and detained a suspect in an attempted robbery at a Chevron Yuma, Arizona, gas station in 2021. (Screenshot from Yuma County Sheriff's Office)

Convenience store attempted robbery (1:44): Security video shows a convenience store customer in a blue T-shirt disarming a would-be robber seconds after the gunman entered and pointed his weapon toward what appears to be the store counter. This video was released by Yuma County Sheriff’s Office on Oct. 20, 2021. According to a department press release, the customer had served in the U.S. Marine Corps. The incident took place at a Chevron in Yuma, a city with a population of about 97,000 people. Three suspects, all juveniles, were arrested.

PolitiFact Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

UPDATE: The Washington Post reported July 26 that Aldean’s video was edited to remove some video clips, including a news report about a state of emergency being declared in Georgia and a news report about Wisconsin farmers described in this story.

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Our Sources

Jason Aldean’s YouTube channel, Jason Aldean - Try That In A Small Town (Official Music Video), July 14, 2023

Jason Aldean, tweet, July 18, 2023, Try That in a Small Town lyrics 

USA Today, CMT pulls Jason Aldean video: What to know about 'Try That In A Small Town' controversy, July 19, 2023

Fox News, Jason Aldean's controversial 'Small Town' video cut by CMT, song skyrockets to Number 1 amid backlash, July 19, 2023

The New York Times, Jason Aldean video for ‘Try That in a Small Town’ pulled amid backlash, July 19, 2023

Axios, CMT pulls Jason Aldean's controversial "Try That in a Small Town" video , July 19, 2023

Variety, Jason Aldean Already Had the Most Contemptible Country Song of the Decade. The Video Is Worse, July 18, 2023

The Tennessean, Jason Aldean speaks out on controversial 'Try That In A Small Town' video, July 18, 2023

The Washington Post, The history of the 1927 lynching site where Jason Aldean filmed a music video, July 19, 2023

The Washington Post, America’s first post-World War II race riot led to the near-lynching of Thurgood Marshall, Feb. 25, 2021

John Banks’ Civil War Blog, "That sends you to hell': The 1927 lynching of Henry Choate, March 29, 2020

Black Past, The Columbia race riot of 1946, Aug. 29, 2019 

Law & Crime Network YouTube channel, Caught on Security Camera: Liquor Store Robberies, Oct. 7, 2022

The Fresno Bee YouTube channel, 'Don't be a hero,' armed bandit tells clerk during liquor store robbery, Nov. 28, 2018

The Fresno Bee, 'Don't be a hero,' armed bandit tells clerk during liquor store robbery, Nov. 28, 2018

Arizona Republic, 'The Marine Corps taught me not to (mess) around': Robbery suspect at Yuma gas station disarmed by customer, Oct. 21, 2021

Tennessee Encyclopedia, Columbia Race Riot, 1946, accessed July 19, 2023

MadsLangervevo YouTube Channel, Mads Langer - Eyes Closed, Sept. 12, 2019

RIA Novosti, The Ministry of Internal Affairs opened 4 criminal proceedings due to riots near the Kyiv City Council , Oct. 2, 2013

Pond5, Girl Messes With Riot Police, Showing Middle Finger During Demonstration, May 1, 2017

Deutsche Welle, May Day protests kick off in Berlin, May 1, 2017

Fox 19 Now, BODYCAM: Video shows man hit CPD officer with pipe in ‘brutal’ assault, July 12, 2022

Fox 19 Now, Man found not guilty by reason of insanity for hitting Cincinnati cop with pipe, May 31, 2023

LiveNOW from Fox, Tyre Nichols: 'State of Emergency' issued in Georgia ahead of possible protests, Jan. 27, 2023

Getty Images, photo from G20 Summit protest in Toronto, June 6, 2010

New York Post, ‘Phlegm Fatale’ protester appears in court for spitting on NYPD cop, Jan. 22, 2021

Mediaite, Protester Charged After Spitting Into Police Sergeant’s Face Amid Coronavirus Pandemic, Nov. 5, 2020

Spectrum News 1, Police, Protesters Clash During NYC Protests Calling for Every Vote to Be Counted, Nov. 5, 2020’

New York Daily News, 'Count every vote’ NYC peaceful protest ends quietly while other demonstrators clash with cops; multiple arrests, Nov. 5, 2020 

Bloomberg, George Floyd Protests: Police Cars Swarmed On Los Angeles Freeway, U.S. Flag Burnt, May 28, 2020

KTLA-5, No arrests after L.A. demonstrators smash CHP car windows while protesting George Floyd’s death, May 28, 2020

The 4K Guy, Retrospective: 2013 Montreal student protest , March 29, 2015

Bloomberg Quicktake YouTube Channel, George Floyd Protests: Police Cars Swarmed On Los Angeles Freeway, U.S. Flag Burnt, May 28, 2020

CBS Miami, Pricey Heist Lasts 34 Seconds, Ends With $200K Jewelry Stolen, Jan. 31, 2017

7 News Miami, Suspect in jewelry store robbery denied bond; at least 3 at large, Jan. 31, 2017

Netflix, Don’t Look Up, released Dec. 10, 2021

Shutterstock, KIEV, UKRAINE - JANUARY 20, 2014: Protesters attacked police during clashes in Kiev on the street Grushevskogo, throwing stones, set cars alight, Jan. 20, 2014

The New York Times, Gunman in 2017 Las Vegas Shooting Was Angry at Casinos, New F.B.I. Files Show, March 30, 2023

CNN, Before Las Vegas mass shooting, a friend of the gunman implored him not to ‘shoot or kill innocent people,’ newspaper reports, April 8, 2023

USA Today, How a 1946 dispute over a broken radio in Tennessee helped spark the civil rights movement, Feb. 28, 2021

WGN News, Wisconsin Farmers Come Together To Help One of Their Own, Nov. 20, 2012

WPTV 5, Thieves smash display cases, steal valuables from Fort Lauderdale jewelry store (VIDEO), Feb. 1, 2017

WTSP 10 Tampa Bay, Thieves take only 34 seconds to get $200,000 in jewelry, Jan. 31, 2017

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Buzzfeed News, Everything You Need To Know About Kiev's Brutal Protest Standoff, January 21, 2014

CNN’s YouTube Channel, Trump calls to halt vote counting, prematurely declares victory, Nov. 4, 2020

The Guardian, 'Count every vote': protesters take to streets across US as ballots tallied, Nov. 5, 2020

RFI, "Rising Kyiv: 100,000 against the President," Dec. 1, 2013

Radio Europa Libera Moldova, Ukraine: how a peaceful protest is hijacked, Dec. 2, 2013

NBC News, RNC airs video clip of 'Biden's America' — it was actually Barcelona, Aug. 28, 2020

Donald J. Trump, YouTube, Catalina and Madeline, Aug. 24, 2020

Adobe Stock, Young rebel riot revolutionary anarchist stands on trash during demonstration, accessed July 20, 2023, 40 "Berkuta" buses are on duty at Bankova, Dec. 1, 2013

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Adobe Stock, Aerial of fire in crosswalk intersection after police officers killed , people take to the streets in New York City NYC, accessed July 20, 2023

Shutterstock, NEW YORK - MAY 30, 2020: protestors riot burning small isolated fire in intersection on street at night to protest police killing of George Floyd in New York City NYC, May 30, 2023

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Jason Aldean's 'Try That in a Small Town' video includes footage from non-US protests