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Ex-Nashville council member — a coronavirus skeptic — dies from Covid-19

NBC News logo NBC News 9/21/2020 David K. Li and Ali Gostanian and Jareen Imam
© Provided by NBC News

A former Nashville council member, who believed the threat of coronavirus was being radically overblown, died from complications from Covid-19, officials said Monday.

Tony Tenpenny passed away over the weekend after more than five weeks in the hospital, fighting the virus that's sickened more 6.8 million Americans and killed at least 200,000, Nashville Vice Mayor Jim Shulman told NBC News.

"I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of former councilman Tony Tenpenny. I send my condolences to his wife, Robbie, their son Ira and the rest of the Tenpenny family," according to a statement from Nashville Mayor John Cooper, who wears a mask in his Twitter profile picture.

Tenpenny, 57, was a member of the Metropolitan Council, which governs the city of Nashville and Davidson County. He represented District 16, neighborhoods south of downtown Nashville, for one term, before losing his bid for re-election in 2015.

Over the past several months, Tenpenny has been very active on social media, voicing his support for President Donald Trump, opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement and expressing extreme skepticism about coronavirus.

On May 30, Tenpenny posted on his Facebook a statement falsely attributed former Congressman Trey Gowdy, putting forward conspiracy theories that the virus is noting more than a political trick aimed at derailing Trump's re-election bid.

Gowdy did not make such a statement attributed to him and Facebook labeled Tenpenny's re-posting as "false information."

Then on June 29, Tenpenny posted a meme that equated wearing a mask to being "manipulated to live in irrational fear" and willing "to be controlled by a socialist agenda."

And on July 7, he wrote that "the CDC and the WHO are pure lying (expletive)" and that those public health bodies are "not telling you the truth."

The former council member made than a dozen posts, stating or sharing, Covid-19 disinformation, including video from the disgraced Texas doctor who peddled dangerous theories about the virus, linking its cause to demons. Facebook flagged that July 29 posing by Tenpenny as "Partly False Information."

Tenpenny ran again for that District 16 seat again last year and lost by 4 percentage points to current Council Member Ginny Welsch.

"The message to me is that Covid is no joke, it knows no boundary, and no matter what you might believe, it doesn’t care," Welsch said in a statement Monday. "Anyone can be felled by it. Not taking the precautions we know work to slow the spread is like playing Russian roulette. You are risking your life and the lives of those around you."

Vice Mayor Shulman said he and Tenpenny rarely agreed on issues, but believed the late lawmaker made sincere efforts to "try to get along with as many people as possible."


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