The Magazine

The Town Halls of August

They're here, they're conservative, get used to it.

Sep 14, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 48 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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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. If he blames Bush for something or offers other excuses--call him on it, yell back and have someone else follow-up with a shout-out. Don't carry on and make a scene--just short intermittent shout outs. The purpose is to make him uneasy early on and set the tone for the hall as clearly informal, and free-wheeling. .  .  . When called on, ask a specific prepared question that puts the onus on him to answer. .  .  . After the Rep answers, or more likely diverts or dodges, be prepared with a follow-up--take the initiative and you will be able to follow-up. The balance of the group should applaud when the question is asked, further putting the Rep on the defensive.

Stead was just the latest fellow unlucky enough to have his words intentionally distorted for the sin of getting involved in public debate. Before he became known as a "terrorist" on national television, Stead was known in the community as the guy astride the Honda Gold Wing he jokingly calls his "fat old man motorcycle." He rides with three veteran charity groups, raising money for homeless and elderly vets, escorting fallen vets across the country to Arlington National Cemetery, and tracking down and identifying unclaimed remains of veterans for proper military burial. There are new rules in place. To summarize: The left calls protesters "political terrorists" for mere yelling at local town halls, protesters get teed off about being called "terrorists," they satirize the idiocy of liberals by calling themselves "terrorists," and are subsequently faulted for their rhetoric by the very liberals who called them "terrorists" in the first place. Says Stead: "Why can't I use their terminology? Especially if I'm poking it back at them?"

One public calendar, compiled by RedState.com, lists more than 400 congressional town hall meetings in the month of August. It's likely not an exhaustive list, but it represents an average of more than 13 live town halls conducted per day in America during the monthlong span. At these meetings, there were fewer than ten documented incidents that could be described as violent, and most of them involved very little physical contact.

The first of these came Thursday, August 6, in Tampa and St. Louis. Liberal health care groups and the DNC had encouraged union representatives to show up in force for Obamacare. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was an official sponsor of Representative Kathy Castor's town hall in Tampa, and at a meeting hosted by Castor's Democratic colleague Russ Carnahan in St. Louis, there was a heavy presence of attendees wearing the union's trademark purple shirts.

In Tampa, there were scuffles at the doorways as event organizers shut the doors on protesters who felt they were being unfairly boxed out, but there were no reports of charges filed or injuries--just a picture of a man with a ripped shirt. Inside the hall, a St. Petersburg Times photographer snapped Karen Miracle slapping Barry Osteen in the face. Miracle turned out to be the treasurer of a local Democratic club, and Osteen an Obamacare critic. Miracle claimed she was protecting her husband, with whom Osteen was arguing, but a slideshow depicts Osteen barely moving a muscle in a series of eight pictures, while Miracle and her husband move closer to him.

In St. Louis, several video cameras captured an altercation between Kenneth Gladney, who was selling "Don't Tread on Me" flags and buttons outside, and several purple-shirted SEIU members. Witnesses said Gladney, who is black, was addressed by an SEIU member using the "n-word," who then assaulted him. Gladney went to the hospital with minor injuries, and two SEIU members, including the local SEIU public service director Elston McCowan, were among the six people arrested in St. Louis that night. An unidentified female was arrested in connection with the same altercation. A video of the event shows her approach an Obama critic filming the Gladney incident, and then smash the camera into the filmer's face. The female assailant was later cuffed by police at the scene, also on tape. The SEIU later claimed that Gladney was the aggressor, but a video shows a different picture. Gladney is outnumbered and visibly shaken as one SEIU member yells on tape, "He attacked America!" before challenging Gladney's defenders to a fight and hurling profanities at the filmer.