Jan. 6 rioter running for Congress storms off stage during televised debate

Georgia Republican Chuck Hand accuses primary rival Wayne Johnson of ‘orchestrating’ political attacks on himself and his wife before marching out of studio

Joe Sommerlad
Monday 10 June 2024 17:13
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Georgia Republican candidate storms out of studio during TV debate

A Georgia Republican congressional candidate who was convicted over his part in the US Capitol riot stormed out of a live televised debate on Sunday night just a week before his party’s primary runoff.

Chuck Hand, who is battling GOP rival Wayne Johnson for the chance to take on 16-term Democratic incumbent Sanford Bishop in November, left the stage at the Atlanta Press Club after declaring that he refused to debate Johnson.

Rather than take a question on a new farming bill, the candidate — sporting a Caterpillar trucker’s cap and denim shirt — announced: “I’m Chuck Hand, life-long resident of the second district. I’ve worked side-by-side with the people of the second district solving problems since 2018.

“I’ve only seen this man next to me come around when it’s election time, wanting to run for office,” he said. “I’m not interested in debating the issues of the second district with a man who doesn’t even reside in it, especially one who orchestrates attacks on my wife. I’m more concerned about beating Sanford Bishop, representing you and passing the America First agenda and putting Donald Trump back in the White House.”

He concluded: “This race is very simple. It’s either eighth district money or second district heart. The choice is yours. It’s the dollar versus the change. Now this is where I get back in my truck and head back to southwest Georgia because I’ve got two races to win.”

And with that, Hand marched out of the studio with the cameras rolling, as moderator Donna Lowry called after him: “You’re not staying? You’re leaving, sir? OK.”

“Wow, I don’t even know how to react,” Johnson said.

Hand was aggrieved that Michael Nixon, who had finished third behind Johnson and himself in a four-way primary on May 21, gave a press conference at which he endorsed the front-runner and attacked Hand over the failed insurrection as well as two prior criminal charges brought against him, both of which were dimissed. Nixon, who ultimately endorsed Johnson, also brought up his wife Mandy’s past conviction for illegally selling oxycodone.

Hand’s involvement in the events of January 6, 2021 resulted in his arrest in March 2022. He ultimately pleaded guilty to the misdemeanour offense of demonstrating illegall and was sentenced the following January to 20 days in federal prison and six months of probation.

Georgia Republican Chuck Hand walks out of an Atlanta TV debate with rival Wayne Johnson on Sunday June 9 2024
Georgia Republican Chuck Hand walks out of an Atlanta TV debate with rival Wayne Johnson on Sunday June 9 2024 (J Glenn/AP)

Hand admitted in his plea agreement that he had broken off a piece of metal fencing and carried it in his rear pants pocket as he entered the Capitol with his spouse, who subsequently prevented him from intervening in a clash between law enforcement and other rioters.

In a letter to the court before his sentencing, Hand expressed remorse for his actions and said he would “never return to Washington DC unless the voters of Georgia decide to send me back as a representative of them someday in the future.”

He is one of at least four people convicted of crimes related to January 6 running for Congress this year, all of whom are Republicans.

Speaking to reporters after the debate, Johnson, a former official in the Trump administration’s Department of Education, said that Hand’s conduct was only further evidence of why he was not fit to represent the people of the Peach State.

“I would like to assume that Chuck Hand’s departure, the way in which he did it today, was his withdrawal from the race,” Johnson said.

“But it certainly should cause people to pause and think about why he did it and what he was trying to get by doing it.”

Hand — a construction superintendent by trade from the rural town of Butler, Taylor County — also spoke to the press at length and said: “It’s perfectly fine to attack me as a candidate. I expect that.

“But to come out and publicly attack my wife, that’s a completely different situation. My wife had paid her debt to society long before I ever met her.”

Early in-person voting begins on Monday ahead of the run-off between the two men on June 18.

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