WASHINGTON — As a House panel convened Thursday for the first hearing on anti-Asian discrimination in decades, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, argued that while he believed the session aimed to police free speech, “all Americans deserve protection” in the days after the Atlanta-area spa shootings. To make his point, Roy invoked “old sayings in Texas” that celebrated lynchings.

“We believe in justice. There’s old sayings in Texas about find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree,” he said before the House Judiciary Committee. “You know, we take justice very seriously, and we ought to do that. Round up the bad guys. That’s what we believe.”

Roy’s comments drew blowback from Democrats and critics who slammed the GOP congressman for referencing violent rhetoric two days after eight people were killed in a tragedy that has heightened concerns around the surge in attacks against Asian Americans.

The congressman’s office did not immediately return a request for comment. In a statement to the Daily Caller, Roy defended his comments and did not apologize, emphasizing that “more justice” was needed in race-related violence.

“Apparently some folks are freaking out that I used an old expression about finding all the rope in Texas and a tall oak tree about carrying out justice against bad guys. I meant it,” Roy said. “We need more justice and less thought policing. We need to stop evil doers, such as those who carried out the attack in Atlanta this week, or cartels abusing little children. We should restore order by tamping out evil actors, not turn America into an authoritarian state like the Chinese communists who seek to destroy us.”

Roy added: “No apologies.”

In his opening statement Thursday for the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Roy equated the violence in Atlanta with the situation along the southern border and the racial justice protests of last summer.

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After using the lynching terminology, the congressman argued that the hearing, the first in more than 30 years focusing on anti-Asian discrimination, sought to curb free speech.

“My concern about this hearing is that it seems to want to venture into the policing of rhetoric in a free society, free speech, and away from the rule of law and taking out bad guys,” he said.

Later, Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., who is of Taiwanese descent, was visibly emotional in calling out Roy for his rhetoric and support of former president Donald Trump, whose own disparaging remarks toward Asian Americans has been a focal point for Democrats.

“Your president, your party and your colleagues can talk about issues with any other countries that you want, but you don’t have to do it by putting a bull’s-eye on the back of Asian Americans across the country, on our grandparents, on our kids,” Meng said to Roy. “This hearing was to address the hurt and pain of our community to find solutions, and we will not let you take our voice away from us.”

In the hearing, Stanford Law School Prof. Shirin Sinnar testified that Trump’s “racist dog whistles” on Twitter during the course of the pandemic did “create ripple effects across society at large.” Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., used Sinnar’s testimony to take Roy to task over the hearing seeking to limit free speech.

“It’s not about policing speech. I served in active duty so you can say whatever you want on the First Amendment,” said Lieu, who served in the U.S. Air Force. “You can say racist, stupid stuff if you want. But I’m asking you to please stop using racist terms like ‘kung flu’ or ‘Wuhan virus’ or other ethnic identifiers and describe them as virus. I am not a virus.”

It is not the first time that adages referencing lynching have come under fire. In 2008, country singer Toby Keith was accused of using pro-lynching language in his song “Beer for My Horses.” The 2003 song features lyrics similar to Roy’s comments on Thursday: “Grandpappy told my pappy back in my day, son, A man had to answer for the wicked that he’d done, Take all the rope in Texas, Find a tall oak tree, round up all of them bad boys, Hang them high in the street.”

Keith denied the song was a pro-lynching anthem, telling Fox News at the time, “It’s not a racist thing or about lynching.”