Speakers refute security ‘task force’ claims of legislative endorsement

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A private group called the Tennessee Task Force on National and Homeland Security is marketing itself with an official-looking logo and a claimed “mandate” from state lawmakers. But legislative leaders say the group has no official endorsement from the General Assembly.

In fundraising literature, the Tennessee Task Force describes itself as a “non-profit publicly funded and operated body with a mandate endorsed by Members of the Tennessee State Legislature to protect the citizens of Tennessee from the existential threat posed by various acts of terrorism.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey’s spokesman, Adam Kleinheider, said the group does not carry the Legislature’s imprimatur.

“The General Assembly took no vote approving or endorsing their work and neither speaker appointed the group,” Kleinheider said in an email. “Any attempt to assert otherwise would be erroneous.”

Fellow Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell’s spokeswoman, Kara Own, agreed.

“This task force does not function in any official capacity with either the Tennessee General Assembly or the state and has not been recognized in any way by the House of Representatives as a whole,” she said.

Leaders of the Tennessee Task Force, which touts itself as a “partner with state policy-makers, local and federal law enforcement agencies,” didn’t return messages seeking comment.

When the group held a closed-door briefing for state lawmakers at the Capitol in March, Senate leadership discouraged members from attending. About a dozen House members and one senator attended, the Nashville Post reported at the time. (Note: See previous post HERE.)

Spokesman Jeff Hartline told The Associated Press in March that the group is “all about safety, security and sniffing out threats.” While leaders tout expertise in Islamic terrorism and electromagnetic pulse weapons, Hartline said the group is concerned with all manner of security concerns.

Republican state Rep. Rick Womick of Murfreesboro, who has warned that terrorists could target state lawmakers, raised eyebrows at Legislative Plaza when he claimed in a 2013 hearing that an electromagnetic weapon had earlier been set off in Shelbyville. Officials said they had no record of an attack.

In its fundraising letter, the Tennessee Task Force says an electromagnetic pulse attack could be launched by “a nuclear-capable ballistic missile from a freighter or other platform off the coast of our country.” It also warns of Islamic State terrorist infiltrating the United States from Mexico.

The Tennessee Task Force says it is available to give briefings to civic organizations, churches and neighborhood groups.