Remember the “lock her up” chants that were popular at Trump rallies back in 2016? That was a taunt aimed at Trump’s White House rival Hillary Clinton, a suggestion that she should be in jail for her email server shenanigans. Today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was giving a speech to a group of conservative high school students, giving them a warning about the snowflakes they were likely to encounter when they get to college. During a pause in his message, students began chanting “lock her up.” Sessions repeated it once and then chuckled. From CNN:
“After the 2016 election, for example, they held a ‘cry-in’ at Cornell. I hope they had plenty of tissues for ’em to cry on,” he said. “They had therapy dogs at the University of Kansas. Play-Doh and coloring books at the [great] University of Michigan for heaven’s sakes. You know, give me a break. Students at Tufts were encouraged to ‘draw [out] their feelings.'”
“Well I can tell this group isn’t going to have to have Play-Doh when you get attacked in college and you get involved in a debate,” Sessions told the crowd attending Turning Point USA’s High School Leadership Summit at George Washington University. “I like this bunch, I gotta tell you. You’re not going to be backing down. Go get ’em. Go get ’em.”
Then chants of “Lock her up” broke out.
“Lock her up,” Sessions said chuckling at the brief interruption from the audience as the chant then grew louder.
This is already getting some traction on Twitter, with some reporters claiming Sessions joined in the students’ chant.
The attorney general of the united states just joined a chant of "lock her up" at an event in DC.
— Dafna Linzer (@DafnaLinzer) July 24, 2018
Beyond the top law enforcement officer of US chanting to lock up a (never charged) political rival of the President, why now?
He had ample opportunity on the 2016 trail. https://t.co/lHwZKokc8k
— Katy Tur (@KatyTurNBC) July 24, 2018
Just Jeff Sessions, the top US law enforcement official, laughing and joining in on a chant about imprisoning the president's political rival. pic.twitter.com/MMqm0IwFO3
— David Mack (@davidmackau) July 24, 2018
Politico has an article up making the same claim:
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions briefly joined in during a “Lock her up!” chant while delivering a speech to a group of conservative high school students on Tuesday, marking the latest example of President Donald Trump and his aides making aggressive gestures toward their political rivals.
Except that’s not what happened. When the chant began it was relatively faint. Sessions repeated what he heard, almost as a question. He then chuckled as the chant grew louder, but he didn’t join in the chanting. He waited for it to die down which it quickly did. Sessions said, “I heard that a long time over the last campaign.” He then continued with his speech.
CNN went to the clip the moment it was available. To her credit, NY Times reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis didn’t go along with the spin about Sessions joining in a chant. “Well, to me that sounded like a sort of a reaction of, like, what am I hearing here?” Davis said. She added, “He’s sort of…It seemed to me like he was trying to laugh that off.”
Here’s the clip of Sessions speech including the chant near the end. I think Davis’ take on this is basically right. In fact, I don’t see how any reporter could watch this and frame it as Sessions joining in a chant. At worst, he laughed it off rather than issuing a rebuke to the assembled high school students.