This morning, Politico reported that Democratic members of Congress are increasingly being harassed by “angry, sign-carrying mobs and disruptive behavior” at local town halls. For example, in one incident, right-wing protesters surrounded Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) and forced police officers to have to escort him to his car for safety.
This growing phenomenon is often marked by violence and absurdity. Recently, right-wing demonstrators hung Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-MD) in effigy outside of his office. Missing from the reporting of these stories is the fact that much of these protests are coordinated by public relations firms and lobbyists who have a stake in opposing President Obama’s reforms.
The lobbyist-run groups Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which orchestrated the anti-Obama tea parties earlier this year, are now pursuing an aggressive strategy to create an image of mass public opposition to health care and clean energy reform. A leaked memo from Bob MacGuffie, a volunteer with the FreedomWorks website Tea Party Patriots, details how members should be infiltrating town halls and harassing Democratic members of Congress:
The memo above also resembles the talking points being distributed by FreedomWorks for pushing an anti-health reform assault all summer. Patients United, a front group maintained by Americans for Prosperity, is currently busing people all over the country for more protests against Democratic members. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), chairman of the NRCC, has endorsed the strategy, telling the Politico the days of civil town halls are now “over."
– Artificially Inflate Your Numbers: “Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington.”
– Be Disruptive Early And Often: “You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep’s presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early.”
– Try To “Rattle Him,” Not Have An Intelligent Debate: “The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.”
On Monday, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) held a public campaign event at a local coffee shop in Louisa, VA, described as a “friendly event where voters could meet” the Congressman and Republican leader. Jon Taylor, a member of the Louisa Democratic Committee, and his wife RSVP’d to the event and showed up with a sign for Cantor’s opponent, Rick Waugh. The coffee shop owners asked the couple to leave, and when they protested, Jon Taylor was dragged out and put on the ground by three law enforcement officers. Watch:
Taylor says he feels he was “manhandled” by the arresting officers, and that “[t]he Louisa County police department was basically used by Eric Cantor’s campaign to make a political statement.” For its part, the Cantor campaign accused Taylor of disrupting an event, and blamed Waugh’s campaign. “The voters of Virginia are going to reject this thuggery,” said Ray Allen Jr., a Cantor spokesman.