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Context of 'August 13, 2009: Former Bush Speechwriter Warns against Anti-Reform Violence'

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Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) hosts a “town hall” meeting to discuss the Democrats’ health care reform proposal in Douglas, Arizona. As with so many other town halls of this nature, Giffords’s is repeatedly disrupted by shouting, screaming, and chanting audience members protesting the reform package (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, and August 3, 2009). Unlike the others, this event takes on a more sinister overtone when a pistol is found on the floor of the grocery store after the event. Giffords’s aides report the dropped pistol to local police. Giffords says she will not be intimidated by either guns or rhetoric. “Yelling and screaming is counterproductive,” she says. Trent Humphries, the leader of the local anti-reform movement in nearby Tucson, accuses Giffords of lying about the gun, and says none of his fellow protesters would hurt her. “Nobody is threatening Gabby,” he says. “But she does need to get in front of her constituents and answer to her constituents.” Giffords is a member of the so-called “Blue Dog” caucus of conservative Democrats who are balking at supporting the health care reform package in its current form. [Arizona Daily Star, 8/10/2009] Police investigating the incident will decide not to press charges. Officer Marcus Gonzalez will tell the press: “Apparently, there was no police report taken, the reason being that it was an accidental drop of a gun. Apparently, a male gentleman that went to the meeting had a gun holstered on his side. And when he sat down, it fell out of his holster.” The “male gentleman” owns the gun and was legally carrying it pursuant to Arizona’s “open-carry” law. “We’re not really conducting an investigation on this, because there’s not really an investigation to conduct,” Gonzalez says. [TPMDC, 8/11/2009] A conservative blogger will post a video from the event, and call it “tightly scripted.” [Gila Courier, 8/6/2009]

Entity Tags: Marcus Gonzalez, Trent Humphries, Gabrielle Giffords

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism, 2010 Elections

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), heavily involved in supporting health care reform, receives a call from an unnamed caller who threatens it with shooting. After the caller accuses SEIU of engaging in “thuggish violent tactics,” he says: “I suggest you tell your people to calm down, act like American citizens, and stop trying to repress people’s First Amendment rights.… That, or you all are gonna come up against the Second Amendment.” After issuing the veiled threat to shoot someone with the union, the caller concludes by saying, “[S]top the violence.” [Think Progress, 8/7/2009; Huffington Post, 8/10/2009]

Entity Tags: Service Employees International Union

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism, 2010 Elections

Discussing the anti-health care reform protests, Fox News host Sean Hannity asks his guest, conservative radio host Mark Levin, “You think the president [Obama] bears any responsibility for this conflict now that is emerging in these town halls” (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-8, 2009)? Levin responds, “[L]et me suggest that if there’s anything that happens at these town hall meetings, if anybody’s hurt or if anything really stupid happens, this White House has some responsibility for it.” Levin justifies his claim: “This White House is calling out its dogs. The president sent out an e-mail to millions of, uh, his supporters. [White House chief of staff] Rahm Emanuel, behind the scenes, is pushing too, so is [White House political coordinator David] Axelrod. If something terrible happens at one of these town hall meetings, I think the president in part can be held accountable.” [Media Matters, 8/8/2009]

Entity Tags: Sean Hannity, Fox News, Mark Levin

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

One of the clearest indications that lobbying groups are directing the “grassroots” protests against health care reform comes during a forum held by Representative Tom Perriello (D-VA) in Ruckersville, Virginia. Many of the protesters hold up signs provided by Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009), a corporate-funded lobbying group. One protester tells Perriello, “I’m angry that you ignore the law of the Constitution that requires Obama to prove that he is a natural born citizen.” After the event, the protester confirms that he believes President Obama is not an American citizen, but that he was contacted by AFP’s Ben Marchi to distribute talking points and signs before the event. Marchi is the Virginia state director of Americans for Prosperity and a former staffer for former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. In a related item, a local right-wing blogger calling himself “Send a Rope” attends this meeting. He follows Perriello around from forum to forum, videotaping him and accusing him of being a “traitor” for voting for energy reform. The blogger encourages people to send lengths of rope to the White House and Congress—implying that lawmakers will be lynched if they do not comply with the wishes of the senders—and declares on his Web site: “I don’t think that there are enough trees or rope in Washington, DC, to handle all the traitors you would find there.… I hope it doesn’t come to us having to do what we all think is coming with these guns, but you better be ready if it is.” The blogger does not claim a connection to AFP, but avows his inspiration is drawn in part from Fox News host Glenn Beck. [Think Progress, 8/11/2009]

Entity Tags: Thomas Perriello, Americans for Prosperity, Ben Marchi

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism, 2010 Elections

Protester William Kostric, bearing his sign and wearing a gun strapped to his leg.Protester William Kostric, bearing his sign and wearing a gun strapped to his leg. [Source: London Daily Mail]President Obama holds a “town hall” meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to discuss health care. Although the audience is allowed to attend on a first-come first-served basis, it is comprised mostly of health care reform supporters. During the event, Obama repeatedly solicits questions from skeptics of his health care plan, telling the audience, “I don’t want people thinking I have a bunch of plants in here.” In his remarks, Obama addresses what he calls some of the “wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to what’s in the [reform] bill.” He says for years, patients have been “held hostage” by insurance companies, and adds that “for all the scare tactics out there, what is truly scary” and risky would be the status quo, such as projections that Medicare will be in the red within five years. [ABC News, 8/11/2009; Think Progress, 8/11/2009] Seventy percent of the participants in the town hall were chosen in a random, online lottery, without consideration of political affiliation. The questions Obama answers are not prescreened. [MSNBC, 8/12/2009]
Debunking 'Death Panels' - Obama opens by saying: “I do hope that we will talk with each other and not over each other. Where we do disagree, let’s disagree over things that are real, not these wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to anything that’s actually been proposed.… Because the way politics works sometimes is that people who want to keep things the way they are will try to scare the heck out of folks. And they’ll create boogeymen out there that just aren’t real.” [MSNBC, 8/12/2009] Obama notes the claim of so-called “death panels that will pull the plug on Grandma,” directly referring to former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK)‘s recent claim that the Democrats intend to create “death panels” that would decide who lives and dies (see August 7, 2009). Obama responds: “[I]t turns out that this, I guess, rose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allowed Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about end-of-life care,” as well as living wills, hospice care, and the like. The “intention” is to help patients prepare for “end of life on their own terms.” Ironically, Obama adds, one of the chief sponsors of this idea is a Republican, Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), who “sensibly thought this would expand people’s options.” (Isakson takes issue with being identified as a sponsor of “end-of-life” counseling—see August 11, 2009). Obama says that beneath the false claims of “death panels” exists a real concern: “if we are reforming the health system to make it more efficient that somehow that will mean rationing of care.” He gives an example of such a concern: “some bureaucrat” saying “You can’t have this test, you can’t have this procedure” because “some bean counter” says so. This will not be the case, Obama says. The reform package would ensure that doctors and patients, not bureaucrats, make such decisions. He notes that insurance company bureaucrats “right now are rationing care.… So why is it that people would prefer having insurance companies making those decisions rather than medical experts and doctors figuring out what are good deals for care?” Obama tells his listeners: “I want to be very clear” about the “underlying fear that people won’t get the care they need. You will have the care you need, but also care that is being denied to you right now—that is what we are fighting for.” [ABC News, 8/11/2009; Think Progress, 8/11/2009]
Countering Claims of 'Enemies List' - Obama also counters recent claims that the White House is attempting to compile a list of “enemies” in asking that emails containing “fishy” health care information be forwarded to it. “Can I just say this is another example of how the media just ends up completely distorting what’s taking place?” he says. “What we’ve said is that if somebody has—if you get an email from somebody that says, for example, ‘ObamaCare is creating a death panel,’ forward us the email and we will answer the question that is being raised in the email. Suddenly, on some of these news outlets, this is being portrayed as Obama collecting an enemies list. Now, come on guys, here I am trying to be responsive to questions that are being raised out there—and I just want to be clear that all we’re trying to do is answer questions.” In recent days, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) claimed that the White House “want[s] information on opponents of its health care plan.” [Think Progress, 8/11/2009]
Advocating Violence outside the Venue - Outside the venue, a man, William Kostric, stands in the crowd with a gun strapped to his leg. Under New Hampshire law, he is within his rights to openly carry a handgun. He carries a sign that reads, “It is time to water the tree of liberty.” MSNBC host Rachel Maddow notes: “It’s a reference, of course, to Thomas Jefferson’s famous words, ‘The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.’ For perspective on the implication of Jefferson’s words in this context being quoted by the guy with the gun at the event as which the president was speaking, when Timothy McVeigh was arrested 90 minutes after the Oklahoma City bombing, he was wearing a t-shirt with that slogan and a picture of Abraham Lincoln on the front and a tree dripping with blood in the back” (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995). Maddow later notes that McVeigh’s shirt bore the words “Sic Semper Tyrannis”—“thus always to tyrants”—the words shouted by Lincoln’s assassin after firing the fatal shot. Another anti-reform protester, Richard Terry Young, is arrested by security officials after sneaking inside the building hours before Obama arrives. He is carrying a knife on his person and a .38 caliber semi-automatic pistol in his truck with a round in the chamber. A number of anti-reform protesters from the New Hampshire Republican Volunteer Coalition also stage a protest outside the event. One advocates murdering all undocumented immigrants: “Why are we bankrupting this country for 21 million illegals who should be sent on the first bus one way back from wherever they come from? We don’t need illegals. Send them home once. Send them home with a bullet in their head the second time. Read what Jefferson said about the Tree of Liberty—it’s coming, baby.” [Think Progress, 8/11/2009; MSNBC, 8/12/2009; MSNBC, 8/13/2009]

Entity Tags: William Kostric, Rachel Maddow, Medicare, New Hampshire Republican Volunteer Coalition, Barack Obama, John Cornyn, Johnny Isakson, Obama administration, Richard Terry Young

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism, 2010 Elections

David Frum.David Frum. [Source: Public Radio (.org)]David Frum, a conservative pundit and former speechwriter for George W. Bush, says that the potential for violence from anti-health care reformer protesters is too high, and protesters must restrain themselves. After noting the instances of protesters bringing guns to health care debates (see August 5, 2009 August 11, 2009) and the threats of gun violence against health care supporters (see August 7, 2009 and August 10, 2009), Frum notes: “[F]irearms and politics never mix well. They mix especially badly with a third ingredient: the increasingly angry tone of incitement being heard from right-of-center broadcasters.… All this hysterical and provocative talk invites, incites, and prepares a prefabricated justification for violence.” Frum goes farther, accusing “some conservative broadcasters” of “lovingly anticipating just such an outcome,” citing instances of Fox News hosts Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity openly advocating violence against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama (see August 8, 2009). Frum says: “Hyperbolic accusation and fantasy murder may well serve a talk radio industry facing a collapse in advertising revenues.… As revenues dwindle, hosts feel compelled to intensify the talk radio experience, hoping to win larger audience share with more extreme talk. It’s like the early days of the pornography industry: At first a naked woman is thrilling enough, but soon a jaded audience is demanding more and more, wilder and wilder. For the radio hosts, it’s all mostly a cynical marketing exercise. But the audience? Not all of them know better.… The guns are coming out. The risks are real.” Frum then gives his solution: “It’s not enough for conservatives to repudiate violence, as some are belatedly beginning to do. We have to tone down the militant and accusatory rhetoric. If Barack Obama really were a fascist, really were a Nazi, really did plan death panels to kill the old and infirm, really did contemplate overthrowing the American constitutional republic—if he were those things, somebody should shoot him. But he is not. He is an ambitious, liberal president who is spending too much money and emitting too much debt. His health care ideas are too over-reaching and his climate plans are too interventionist. The president can be met and bested on the field of reason—but only by people who are themselves reasonable.” [New Majority, 8/13/2009]

Entity Tags: Sean Hannity, David Frum, Glenn Beck, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

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