Catoosa County Schools teacher told to remove post about Capitol riot, insurrection

Tom McMahan / Times Free Press file photo / THUMBNAIL ONLY
photo Times Free Press files / Tom McMahan

A social studies teacher with Catoosa County Schools was told to remove a posting from the district's online learning platform for being "the teacher's personal perspective." The post covered the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the 2020 presidential election and the inauguration.

The teacher, Tom McMahan, works at Catoosa County's Performance Learning Center. Days before President Joe Biden's inauguration, McMahan sent out a lengthy post titled, "A Message on Recent (and Upcoming) Events" to his students. In it, McMahan wrote that he wanted to offer guidance to anyone who wanted to talk about what was going on in the country.

In its introduction, McMahan said the message was "designed to help you think through what can be very confusing and even frightening times."

McMahan broke up his message into sections, the first one titled "Insurrection," regarding the violent Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump who attended a rally where he told the crowd to "take back our country."

In his post, McMahan described what that insurrection meant, explained the United States had just experienced its second insurrection since the U.S. Constitution was established and wrote, "There continue to be rumors of further violence pending, and there's questions as to whether there are current members of Congress who are linked to the insurrection."

Weeks after the deadly Capitol riots, state law enforcement agencies patrolled dozens of state capitols around the country after federal officials warned of further attacks.

Republican lawmakers - including Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who represents Catoosa County - had questioned the integrity of the election process and for months echoed Trump's claims that the election was rigged and stolen from him.

His claims of widespread voter fraud were rejected by elections officials, state governments, dozens of judges, high-ranking members of the Trump administration and the U.S. Supreme Court.

On the day of the insurrection, then-President Donald Trump urged people at a rally in Washington, D.C., to "fight like hell" against that day's congressional certification of his reelection loss to Joe Biden. Congress reconvened late Jan. 6 to certify the election results after the Capitol grounds were cleared of rioters.

"The simplest explanation for the insurrection is that the current president of the United States for months has been pushing the idea that the election in November in which he lost was somehow 'stolen,'" McMahan wrote, never mentioning Trump's name. "The people who committed the insurrection on the 6th believed this and, incited by the president, attacked Congress, where the presidential election results were being certified."

The House of Representatives impeached Trump on Jan. 13 for inciting the riot. The impeachment, the second of his term, is akin to a charge against the president. A Senate trial on that charge is set for Feb. 8, meaning he has not been convicted.

McMahan's post said there has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, and he provided links to back that up.

"A civil society has to respect facts and the truth, even when the truth turns out differently than what we wished for," he wrote. "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but everyone is NOT entitled to their own FACTS."

McMahan wrote that a big reason for the insurrection was intolerance, "especially racial intolerance." He wrote that many of the rioters who stormed the Capitol have been linked to groups who hold "white supremacist ideas" and explained how that idea came to be in America and how it still exists today.

"Most of the conspiracy theories involving the November election are centered on lies that cheating took place in cities that are predominantly African-American, places like Atlanta, Philadelphia, or Detroit," McMahan wrote. "These are not accidental lies being told, the implied racism behind them is very deliberate and needs to be called out for what it is."

McMahan finished by writing about how significant it was that Georgia had elected its first black senator in Raphael Warnock and its first Jewish American senator in Jon Ossoff.

"Regardless of who we support politically, if we want our democracy to continue to thrive, we have to continue to push to integrate ALL of our citizens as fully equal members of our society," he wrote. "And we must push back against lies and conspiracies that are based on intolerance."

Marissa Brower, spokesperson for Catoosa County Schools, said Monday the principal of the Performance Learning Center and other administrators with the district were contacted by parents and citizens and were troubled by the post.

At least two parents asked for their students to be removed from the teacher's class, Brower said.

"Some of the content of the post was determined to be the teacher's personal perspective and he was asked to remove the post from the APEX platform," Brower said in a statement. "While this statement does not specifically violate a school system or state board policy, the teacher has been directed to remain neutral in his communications on the school system's learning platform."

When asked which part of McMahan's post was deemed personal perspective, Human Resources Director Doug Cline with the school district said McMahan's post included "references to conspiracy theories, rumors and allegations that have not been litigated. This makes several of his points appear to be a perspective."

McMahan didn't face any punishment but was told to take the post off the district's online learning platform.

"Our teachers have the same civic privileges as any other citizen," Superintendent Denia Reese said in a statement. "However, their personal perspectives should not be shared in our classrooms or on our learning platforms."

McMahan did not respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.

Contact Patrick Filbin at or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.