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Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks as the House Judiciary Committee holds an emergency meeting to advance a series of Democratic gun control measures on June 2. (AP) Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks as the House Judiciary Committee holds an emergency meeting to advance a series of Democratic gun control measures on June 2. (AP)

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks as the House Judiciary Committee holds an emergency meeting to advance a series of Democratic gun control measures on June 2. (AP)

Yacob Reyes
By Yacob Reyes June 13, 2022

Gaetz mischaracterizes Bennie Thompson’s stance on rioting

If Your Time is short

  • We found no evidence to suggest that Thompson praised rioting in the 1990s. Gaetz’s claim echoed an article published by Breitbart, which pulled from a news report from 1992 to highlight Thompson’s hesitancy to oppose violence as an acceptable response to “an unwelcome court ruling.”

  • But contrary to Gaetz’s claim, the 1992 report did not state Thompson supported violence in response to a judicial decision.

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said members of the House committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021, have "insurrectionist roots," namely Democratic chair Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi.

Thompson used the select committee’s June 9 primetime hearing to show Americans new footage of rioters overwhelming police officers guarding the Capitol as they clobbered their way into the building. Thompson introduced Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards, who testified about her experience of fighting rioters in battle-like conditions.

But Gaetz said Thompson is in no position to criticize attacks on police.

"Bennie Thompson actively cheer-led riots in the ‘90s," Gaetz said during a June 7 appearance on U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s podcast. "So, he had no problem with violence against the police then."

We wondered whether Gaetz’s characterization of Thompson’s background was accurate. So, we put his comments on the Truth-O-Meter. 

Gaetz’s claim about Thompson being a cheerleader for riots in the ‘90s is similar to one made in an article published by Breitbart on June 6 about how Thompson "declined to oppose riots in 1992."

The story referenced an "unearthed" 1992 report in the Clarion-Ledger, a local Mississippi newspaper, which described correspondence between the leader of the Hinds County Bar Association and Thompson, then a district supervisor for Mississippi’s Hinds County.

The association’s president, Hal Miller Jr., asked Thompson to speak out "in favor of the principle of law" and push back against the philosophy that "if I do not agree with the law, I may take it into my own hands," per the Clarion-Ledger.

Miller’s letter invoked unrest that erupted in Los Angeles in 1992 after the acquittal of four police officers who were captured on video severely beating Rodney King, a Black man. 

Miller feared that Hinds County could experience similar unrest if Byron De La Beckwith — a white supremacist who murdered civil rights leader Medgar Evers — was acquitted. (Beckwith was convicted, and PolitiFact found no evidence of riots.)

According to the newspaper story, Thompson said, "I do not understand what the Hinds County Bar requests of me in your June 23 letter … so please provide me with another letter explaining your request in greater detail." 

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Thompson also asked that Miller explain the association’s record of inaction regarding the lack of Black elected officials and trial judges. 

The 1992 report did not show Thompson supporting violence in response to a judicial decision. Nor did Breitbart. 

When we asked Gaetz about his remark, a spokesperson pointed to the Dec. 2, 2021 episode of Gaetz’s podcast, Firebrand. 

In it, Gaetz referenced a purported connection between Thompson and a Black liberation movement called the "Republic of New Afrika," which was prominent in the 1970s and had several armed confrontations with the police. 

The podcast largely relied on reporting from John Solomon, a journalist whose reports have given false credence to conspiracy theories about President Joe Biden and Ukraine

The bulk of Solomon’s evidence comes from news clippings and archival footage that show Thompson pushing back against an attempt by law enforcement to, in Thompson’s words, "stop the republic from building their community."

"My position is that people are entitled to live as they choose, so long as they are law-abiding and peaceful," Thompson said in footage from 1971, published online by Just the News.

When Gaetz asked whether Thompson was a member of the group, Solomon said, "At this point, the public evidence is that he sympathized with the group, he stood up for them — but he wasn't a member."

Thompson’s involvement with the group is distinct from Gaetz’s reference to Thompson encouraging riots in the 1990s.

Our ruling

Gaetz said, "Bennie Thompson actively cheer-led riots in the ‘90s."

We found no evidence to suggest that Thompson praised the unrest that erupted in Los Angeles in 1992. Gaetz’s assertion mirrored one made in an article by Breitbart, which highlighted an exchange between Thompson and the president of a bar association in Mississippi.

However, Thompson did not express support for rioting in his correspondence with the bar association — he questioned its inaction regarding a lack of Black elected officials and judges.

We rate Gaetz’s claim False.

Our Sources

Clarion-Ledger, "Letter calling for calm offends supervisor," Aug. 15, 1992 (accessed via Nexis)

Breitbart, "January 6 Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson Declined to Oppose Riots in 1992," June 6, 2022

Email interview with Joel Valdez, Communications Director for Gaetz, June 10, 2022

Rumble, "MTG:LIVE Ep 7 with Congressman Matt Gaetz," June 7, 2022

Rumble, "Episode 18: Insurrectionist Bennie Thompson," December 2, 2021

PolitiFact,​​ "Who is John Solomon," Nov. 19, 2019

NPR, When LA Erupted In Anger: A Look Back At The Rodney King Riots," April 26, 2017

New York Times, Jackson Mourns Mayor With Militant Past Who Won Over Skeptics, March 10, 2014

Just the News, Jan. 6 commission chairman once sympathized with black secessionist group that killed cops, Oct. 4, 2021

ProPublica, How a Veteran Reporter Worked with Giuliani’s Associates to Launch the Ukraine Conspiracy, Oct. 25, 2019

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Yacob Reyes

Gaetz mischaracterizes Bennie Thompson’s stance on rioting

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