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Conservative radio host Glenn Beck accuses the Obama administration of colluding with ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and SEIU (the Service Employees International Union) to construct a “modern-day slave state” in the US. Beck tells his listeners: “So, now, inside the health care bill is an organization where your tax dollars are going to go to go find information out about minority health. It creates a group of slaves to the government—a group of people working for the government—most likely minorities, working for the government, under the auspices of community organizers, going door to door to find out information about people’s health. This is a modern-day slave state that is being created.” (Media Matters 7/23/2009)
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) hold a meeting at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to discuss the White House’s health care reform proposals. A large and vocal crowd of anti-reform protesters attempts to shout over, or shout down, both Sebelius and Specter during the event. Over 400 people attend the meeting, and many “cheered, jeered, and booed” the two, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Sebelius’s response to the crowd: “I’m happy to see democracy is at work.” The Inquirer reports, “Sebelius and Specter managed, barely, to impose a tenuous civility on the hour-long meeting titled ‘Health Insurance Reform—What’s in it for You.’” At one point, the booing and screaming become so pervasive that Sebelius informs the crowd, “We can shout at one another, or we can leave the stage.” Audience members verbally engage with each other as well: one, a self-identified Republican “political junkie,” says the nation cannot afford to insure 47 million uninsured Americans, and is countered by a rheumatologist who works with underinsured and uninsured patients, and who describes the horrific situations many of them face. One anti-reform participant tells the pair, “The American people don’t want rationed health care,” winning cheers from many in the audience. When Sebelius retorts that health care is already rationed for the 12,000 people a day whose insurance disappears when they lose their jobs, she wins applause from other audience members. About a dozen members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are there to support Sebelius and Specter, and some members of the pro-reform group Physicians for Obama are also in attendance. Countering them are numerous audience members with “Tell Washington No” bumper stickers plastered to their chests. One anti-reform organization, the Philadelphia Tea Party Patriots, will later claim to have around 40 members in attendance. Outside the hall, dozens of anti-reform protesters picket with signs saying, among other slogans, “Government Health Care: Dangerous to Your Health,” “Welcome to the United States Socialist Republic,” and various anti-abortion signs. After the meeting, Sebelius says: “Health care touches everybody personally.… I find it difficult, because so much misinformation gets repeated in questions at town hall meetings. We have a challenge to get the message out.” (Bergen 8/3/2009) After the meeting, FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), a lobbying organization that actively promotes the town hall disruptions by conservative protesters, calls the event “a must emulate at town halls across the country over the next month.” (FreedomWorks 8/3/2009)
The raucous and near-riotous behavior of recent town hall and forum meetings about health care reform (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 6, 2009, and August 6, 2009) reaches new heights in Ybor City, Florida, just outside Tampa, as a large and disorderly group of anti-reform protesters disrupt a town hall meeting held by Betty Reed (D-FL) and featuring Kathy Castor (D-FL). (Terkel 8/6/2009; MyFoxTampaBay 8/6/2009) The forum, apparently intended to be something of a pep rally for the Obama administration’s health care proposals, was organized by Reed, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and a pro-reform group, Organizing for America. But hundreds of protesters also appear, many affirming that they came at the urging of the Tampa 9/12 conservative activist group, an organization promoted by Fox News host Glenn Beck. Others say they received e-mails from the Hillsborough County Republican Party urging them to speak out against the plan and offering talking points. (Smith 8/7/2009; March 8/7/2009)
Huge Turnout Exacerbates Tensions - Well over 1,000 people appear for the meeting, held at the Children’s Board, a venue that holds a maximum of 250. Local news reporters note that “[t]ensions were high among people who couldn’t get in.” Protesters accuse the forum organizers of barring people who oppose health care reform, but many of the people left outside are reform supporters. The meeting is marred by screams and shouts both outside the venue and in, as well as people banging on windows to be let in. (Terkel 8/6/2009; MyFoxTampaBay 8/6/2009; Fox News 8/7/2009) Both Reed and Castor are shouted down almost from the moment they begin speaking, and battle spates of shouting, chanting, and a variety of accusations throughout the evening. Castor leaves relatively early, apparently frustrated at being shouted down when she tries to speak; when Castor leaves, she requires an escort to avoid being accosted. (Zimmer 8/7/2009) One of the popular chants is an apparently orchestrated repetition of “Tyranny! Tyranny! Tyranny!” Other chants include: “Tell the truth! Tell the truth!” “Read the bill!” and “Forty million illegals! Forty million illegals!” One reporter will write, “The spectacle… sounded more like a wrestling cage match than a panel discussion on national policy.” (Smith 8/7/2009)
Verbal, Physical Violence - Outside the hall, a fistfight occurs, with Orlando cameraman Mark Bishop being roughed up. “That’s the most violent anyone has been towards me,” he says. A protester, Randy Arthur, attempts to force his way into the hall, and is instead slammed into a wall by, he claims, union members acting as door guards. (Susan Smith, a member of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party, later says that members of the Young Democrats, not union members, were on the doors.) A photo of him displaying his torn shirt and scratches later makes the rounds of anti-reform Web sites. Arthur says he intends to file charges, though the Tampa police have no such plans, and says he intends to become more involved in Republican and conservative politics as a result of the forum. Inside the hall, Kathy Miracle, who supports reform, is “inadvertently” spat upon by a shouting anti-reform protester, Barry Osteen, sitting beside her, she will later say. She shoves Osteen’s face away, and is photographed doing so, in what some people construe as a slap. Osteen will say: “She didn’t slap me. I almost didn’t even know she was there.” Miracle later says she doesn’t “appreciate being spread all over the Internet.” Supporters and opponents of reform engage in a number of verbal altercations in the parking lot. No arrests are made, even though many ignore police orders, issued through bullhorns, to disperse. Later, a Tampa police spokesman says, “We walk a fine line between freedom of speech and public safety.” (Zimmer 8/7/2009; March 8/7/2009; Susan Smith 8/7/2009; March 8/13/2009)
Cameraman Jostled - A protester with a camera, J. Mark Campbell, has his camera knocked out of his hand and his glasses broken during an attempt by protesters to force their way into the hall, and later tells his story to Fox News commentator Sean Hannity. Campbell claims that the event was “set up” by SEIU and Democratic organizers to bring supporters into the front rows and force protesters into the back rows. He also claims that four “thugs” from the “Pipe Fitters Union” not only “bum rush[ed]” the protesters, but then gave him their business cards. Campbell claims that a “28-year-old Democrat… with cancer” was assaulted by union members, but also identifies an adult woman as “his daughter.” “[T]his is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” he says. “And I’ve been into jihadist areas. I’ve been dealing with, you know, Muslim extremists. And, you know, this is the most afraid I’ve ever been.” Campbell’s video shows little more than jostling and shoving at the door of the hall; he tells Hannity, “it’s what you don’t see in this video is what’s really telling.” (Fox News 8/11/2009) Tommy Ates, a diarist on the liberal blog Daily Kos, later identifies Campbell as a member of a group he calls “the far right, libertarian, and ‘islamophobic’ Florida Security Council.” (Campbell directs viewers to the organization’s Web site during the Hannity interview.) Ates also asks some questions about Campbell’s claims: “How did Campbell get the information that the Tampa town hall had been stacked with Pipefitter union members? If the men guarding the door were union men committing assault, why would they give their cards to the man they were assaulting? Why didn’t Campbell file a police report? And (if J. Mark Campbell dealt with terrorists), why didn’t he identify what international media organization he served under? And if he didn’t go overseas, is Mark trying to say he dealt with Middle East domestic terrorists?” (Ates 8/12/2009)
'Somewhere in All the Screaming, No One Got Heard' - One participant, Largo resident George Guthrie, says of the crowd, “They think they’re exercising their right to free speech, but they’re only exercising their right to disrupt civil discourse.” Andrew Reder, a reform opponent, defends the shouting from himself and his fellows by saying: “There were clearly people who were very, very upset. People are concerned about the direction of the county right now.” But Reder, who is allowed inside during the proceedings, admits that virtually nothing is accomplished in the meeting. “Somewhere in all the screaming, no one got heard,” he says. One protester, who identifies herself as a member of Beck’s 9/12 organization, says of Castor and Reed: “They’re hiding from their constituents. She works for us and needs to listen.” After the meeting, Florida Democratic Party chair Karen Thurman says in a statement: “Throughout the summer, we have been reaching out to Floridians to engage in an important debate on the future our health care system. We have heard story after story from people who are struggling to get the care they need. Recently, their thoughtful discussions are being interrupted by angry mobs—well funded and organized by Washington special interests—attempting to drown out the voices of the hard-working Floridians who are desperate for health insurance reform. These groups are not concerned about Americans’ access to quality heath care, but are extreme ideologues, only interested in ‘breaking’ the president (see July 17-22, 2009) and thwarting the change Americans voted for last November.” (Zimmer 8/7/2009; March 8/7/2009) Castor later echoes Thurman’s sentiments, saying: “The insurance industry and… Republican activists are manufacturing a lot of these phony protests.… I do expect some rabble-rousing.” Reed later says she was shocked at the behavior of some of the crowd. “When you get to the point of possible violence, you’ve gone over the edge,” she says. Castor says the protesters who appeared at this and other venues “would have been protesting Medicare.… They would never have accepted Social Security.” But protester Brad Grabill counters, “It’s the backlash to the arrogance of our government that you’re seeing here.” (Smith 8/7/2009; March 8/7/2009) After the meeting, the Tampa 9/12 group posts the following on its Web site: “Be courteous while anyone is speaking, including Castor. We don’t want to sound like an ‘angry mob.’” (March 8/7/2009) Smith, the local Democratic Party official, later posts an e-mail she receives concerning the event. The message reads: “WAR IS COMING. YOUR THUG PR_CK B_STARD [apparently President Obama] SHOULD HAVE KEPT HIS F_CKING COMMUNIST MOUTH SHUT.” (Susan Smith 8/7/2009)
Six people, including a local reporter, are arrested outside a public forum called by Representative Russ Carnahan (D-MO) at a middle school gymnasium outside of St. Louis. The forum, planned to allow constituents to discuss aging issues with Carnahan, quickly becomes contentious, with an overflow crowd denied entrance to the gymnasium and left to protest and wave signs in the parking lot. Many of the protesters are from a local anti-tax and anti-health care reform “tea party” organization. Local Democratic organizations counter with their supporters.
Altercations in Parking Lot - Verbal, and later physical, altercations erupt between reform supporters and opponents. Six people are arrested outside the gym, including St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Jake Wagman, for interference after he refuses to stop taking pictures of the altercations. One of those arrested, reform supporter Brian Matthews, calls the situation outside the gym “a bull rush,” and adds, “It all came from behind.” After the forum, Matthews and a friend, Javonne Spitz, attempt to photograph a man who appears as if he has been assaulted. The police object, and, as Matthews tells it, several officers “charge” them “from behind.” The police push Matthews to the ground and arrest him for interference; Spitz is pepper-sprayed “after she was subdued by the police,” Matthews says, causing her to vomit as they are taken into custody. A woman is arrested for assault and destruction of property for pushing a woman who is recording the events on her cell phone, then taking the phone from her and breaking it. A man is arrested for refusing to leave a circle of people surrounding Matthews’s pepper-sprayed friend. A police spokesman later says: “You’ve got to understand—we’re at a very volatile situation, we’ve got 800 people and we’ve got to maintain order. [The police] did what they had to do.” (Bell and O'Connell 8/7/2009; Thorsen 8/7/2009)
Kenneth Gladney - Conservative activist Kenneth Gladney claims to have been attacked by several of those arrested as he attempts to hand out yellow flags with “Don’t Tread on Me” printed on them; police later confirm that two men were arrested for assaulting someone attempting to hand out flags and fliers. A reporter interviews Gladney as he awaits treatment at a local emergency room for injuries he says he suffered to his knee, back, shoulder, elbow, and face. Gladney, an African-American, says one of his assailants used a racial slur against him. “It just seems there’s no freedom of speech without being attacked,” he says. Gladney later affirms that he had been hired by the St. Louis Tea Party organization to hand out flags, and adds, “I was attacked for something I believe in.” (Bell and O'Connell 8/7/2009; Thorsen 8/7/2009) He appears on several conservative TV and radio shows, including those hosted by Laura Ingraham and Bill O’Reilly, where he tells his interviewers that he was punched in the face by three different people and kicked by a fourth. Unfortunately for his claim, he appears in perfect health on the broadcasts, with no indication of swelling or bruising. (Daily Kos 8/8/2009) Tim Tagaris, the new media director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), later sends an e-mail and links to photos taken during the altercation which contradict Gladney’s tale. According to Tagaris, the photos show an SEIU member getting off the ground holding his shoulder. Gladney is identified as an African-American male in a khaki (or gray) shirt “walking around just fine after the altercation.” Tagaris says it is only after he begins appearing on talk shows that he takes to a wheelchair (see August 8, 2009). (Daily Kos 8/9/2009)
Loud Attempts to Protest Health Care Reform - Inside the gym, protesters attempt to turn the discussion from the topic of the elderly to health care, an issue they apparently wish to shout down. “This isn’t even close to civil,” one audience member says after the forum. “The rudeness was beyond compare.” An elderly audience member calls the forum “a complete waste of time.” After the meeting, Carnahan says: “Sadly we’ve seen stories about disrupters around the country, and we have a handful of them here in Missouri. Instead of participating in a civil debate, they have mobilized with special interests in Washington who have lined their pockets by overcharging Americans for a broken health care system.” (Thorsen 8/7/2009) The next day, Carnahan says: “Sadly, they got out of control on both sides. That’s not helpful, and I condemn that activity.… Let’s have a spirited debate, a debate worthy of our country.” A member of the St. Louis Tea Party who attended another forum, local radio show host Dana Loesch, says: “Last night, it was a whole different scene. That’s not what this should be about.” Defending her colleagues, she adds: “I can’t blame them for being frustrated, but there are ways to handle this without calling these people mobs. This isn’t an angry mob.” SEIU spokeswoman Ramona Oliver says her union has no intention of confronting angry protesters. “The members didn’t come to talk to the angry mob outside, they came to talk to the congresspeople inside,” she says. “All our members want is to have a civil discussion. There is no campaign to confront the tea baggers.” (Bell and O'Connell 8/7/2009)
Anti-health care reform protester Scott Oskay, who lives in New Mexico, sends out Twitter messages under the moniker “ScottEO” urging his hundreds of followers to attend health care debates with weapons. If members from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) attend the events “for disruption,” Oskay tells his Twitter followers to “stop being peaceful and hurt them. Badly.” He also urges his followers to take photographs of pro-health care advocates “on anticipation of disruption,” and “If ACORN/SEIU attends, remind them that your target is centralized, while you and your allies, are not.” Oskay includes the “hashtag” #iamthemob in some of his messages, an identification tag popularized in part by conservative blogger Michelle Malkin. According to TPMDC, the particular hashtag “has gone viral on Twitter, appearing several times a minute according to a recent search.” Oskay, asked via Twitter if he advocates violence against SEIU or ACORN members, replies, “I would advocate retaliation for intimidation, be it verbal or physical.” (Beutler 8/7/2009; RootsWire 8/7/2009) After news of Oskay’s call to violence goes public, posters on Malkin’s blog will accuse him of being a “liberal plant,” and one says: “The individuals going to protest at town halls have no idea who Scott Oskay is, nor care. To suggest that his foolish tweet(s) (whether he truly is a ‘libertarian’ or not) influences all those protesters is preposterous. There has been nothing to substantiate the claim. If it weren’t for TPM bemoaning his Twitter, it’s likely he would have gone completely unnoticed (by both sides). If you wish to be ‘afraid’ of those scary protesters because of this one guy’s Twitter page, be my guest, but let’s not pretend that he’s the leader of some movement.” Oskay’s Twitter page has since been removed, according to posters on Malkin’s blog. (Michelle Malkin 8/10/2009)
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.” (Millhiser 8/7/2009; Weiner 8/10/2009)
Columnist Mary Katharine Ham of the Weekly Standard reports on a recent altercation at a town hall forum in St. Louis, where tea party activist Kenneth Gladney has charged he was “savagely beaten” by “union thugs” for selling anti-Obama merchandise (see August 6-8, 2009 and August 8, 2009). Ham writes that the Gladney altercation has been twisted “by liberals looking to paint the violence as caused by critics of the administration.” According to a conversation with Gladney’s lawyer David Brown, who claims to have witnessed the altercation, a member of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) approached Gladney and called him a “n_gger.” Then, according to Brown: “Kenneth didn’t say anything to the guy. Before Kenneth could even say anything or act in any way shape or form, the SEIU representative punched him in the face. He went to the ground. Subsequently, two other SEIU representatives or members, however you want to say it, jumped on top of him, yelled racial epithets at him… kicked him, punched him.” Gladney has claimed being kicked by a woman as well, but Brown says he did not witness that. Gladney subsequently went to the hospital, and will begin making appearances on Fox News and at other tea party events in a wheelchair. “He sustained some injuries to his back, some bruising,” Brown says. Ham includes a video of the altercation, which as Media Matters columnist Eric Boehlert writes, “pretty much undercuts the entire tale of run-away union violence.” Boehlert writes: “Go watch the YouTube video.… The first thing you notice when the camera starts rolling is a union member already sprawled out on the ground with somebody standing over him. No explanation of how he got there (pushed, shoved, punched?) and Ham couldn’t care less. Then yes, Gladney is pulled to the ground by somebody wearing a union shirt. (At the :06 mark.) But instead of Gladney being beaten and punched, as his attorney describes, and instead of union ‘thugs’ standing over him and threatening him, Gladney bounces right back on his feet in approximately two seconds and the scuffle ends. That was the savage ‘beating’ the conservative blogosphere can’t stop talking about? The only real mystery from the incident is why Tea Party member Gladney, who’s seen up-close after the brief encounter walking around and talking to people and who appears to be injury-free, then decided to go to the hospital to treat injuries to his ‘knee, back, elbow, shoulder, and face.’ All that from a two-second fall to the pavement? Also unclear is why he contacted a newspaper reporter, or why his attorney wrote up lavish accounts and sent them to conservative bloggers, or why Gladney and his attorney appeared on Fox News.” (Ham 8/7/2009; Boehlert 8/8/2009) Misdemeanor assault charges will be filed against two union members (see Late November, 2009); both will be found innocent of any wrongdoing (see July 12, 2011). The only person injured in the altercation was one of the union members (see Mid-August, 2009), though Gladney falsely claimed to have suffered severe injuries in the altercation.
Anti-health care reform protesters hold a rally in Mehlville, Missouri, to protest what they say was the beating of fellow protester Kenneth Gladney by “union thugs” (see August 6-8, 2009). Gladney is prominently featured in the protest, sitting in a wheelchair with his knee bandaged and holding a flag emblazoned with the words, “Don’t Tread on Me.” Gladney says he was beaten by a number of members of the Service Employees International Union. The SEIU says that Gladney is inflating the confrontation, and that he initiated the fight. Gladney has become a cause celebre among conservative anti-reformists, with talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, among others, telling his story to their listeners. “Limbaugh gave the address” of the SEIU offices, one protester says. “This is just a demonstration of numbers.” Gladney’s lawyer, David Brown, reads a statement to the crowd of around 200 people, saying on Gladney’s behalf: “A few nights ago there was an assault on my liberty, and on yours, too. This should never happen in this country.” Brown then tells the crowd that Gladney is unemployed and has no health care insurance, and is accepting donations towards his care. Brown would not elaborate as to what, if any, legal strategies he and his client are planning. (Gustin 8/9/2009)
Inflating the Story - Gladney’s story has taken on new details as he has retold it to a variety of conservative talk show hosts and to Mary Katharine Ham of the Weekly Standard. In its latest iteration, he was mauled by a number of SEIU “thugs” who drove him to the ground and “brutally” beat him while screaming racial epithets. Three of his assailants, he says, were wearing SEIU shirts. Unfortunately for his story, the video uploaded to YouTube which Ham says proves his story actually shows something quite different. The injured party in the video is clearly identifiable as an SEIU member. Gladney is pulled to the ground by another SEIU member, but no one punches or kicks him; instead, he bounces to his feet and walks off camera. Media Matters reporter Eric Boehlert writes: “The only real mystery from the incident is why Tea Party member Gladney, who’s seen up-close after the brief encounter walking around and talking to people and who appears to be injury-free, then decided to go to the hospital to treat injuries to his ‘knee, back, elbow, shoulder, and face.’ All that from a two-second fall to the pavement? Also unclear is why he contacted a newspaper reporter, or why his attorney wrote up lavish accounts and sent them to conservative bloggers, or why Gladney and his attorney appeared on Fox News.” (Boehlert 8/8/2009; Ham 8/8/2009)
Lied about Health Insurance - Days later, other elements of Gladney’s story will change. Brown will confirm that he can no longer represent Gladney because he was involved in the altercation as a “witness” and therefore cannot be involved in any legal proceedings on Gladney’s behalf. Brown will also confirm that Gladney’s claim not to have health care insurance is “misinformation.” Brown will say, “He’s just unemployed [and] has insurance through his wife.” Brown has identified himself as a “friend” of Gladney’s, but is unsure what kind of job Gladney had before his alleged layoff, and is not sure what Gladney’s wife does for a living, either. St. Louis Tea Party organizer Bill Hennessy confirms that Gladney is still soliciting donations to help him pay for his injuries, even though he has insurance: “Well, who doesn’t need a donation? If people want to give him a donation because he’s injured and unemployed, that’s up to them.” Brown says Gladney has raised about $1,100 in donations so far. Reporter Daphne Eviatar confirms that Gladney appears uninjured in the video, and only began appearing in a wheelchair after landing interviews on Fox News. Brown says his brother, Andrew Beeny, will represent Gladney, and that neither he nor Beeny have copies of Gladney’s medical report. Brown says Gladney intends to sue both the individuals who he claims attacked him and the SEIU, since “unions have a 100-year history of intimidation.” (Eviatar 8/10/2009)
Conservative activist and blogger Andrew Breitbart uses recent allegations by St. Louis tea party activist Kenneth Gladney to attack the Obama administration, the “liberal” media, and others. Gladney claims to have been “savagely beaten” by “union thugs” during a recent town hall forum in St. Louis (see August 6-8, 2009 and August 8, 2009). Gladney is “under fire” from what Breitbart calls “the Democrat-Media Complex (the natural coalition of the Democratic Party and the mainstream media)”; CNN’s Anderson Cooper, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann, and others, Breitbart writes, have “led the charge” in attacking tea party members, who they derisively call “tea baggers,” a term Breitbart says tea party members find offensive. The media, along with many Congressional Democrats, are working in collusion to deride and delegitimize the tea parties, Breitbart says. Breitbart turns to the Gladney incident, saying that Gladney was “viciously attacked” by “Service Employees International Union (SEIU) members,” one of whom called him a “n_gger,” Breitbart alleges. “These union thugs were directed by the White House to go to the protests and ‘punch back twice as hard,’” Breitbart continues, “[a]nd they did.” Only Fox News is reporting the Gladney story, Breitbart claims, while the “liberal media” resolutely ignores it. He concludes: “With the Democratic Party in control of all branches of government and the Fourth Estate acting as the Democratic Party’s protector, the tea party movement is the closest thing America has to checks and balances. If that isn’t enough to motivate you, perhaps showing your solidarity with Kenneth Gladney, a fellow patriot, is.” (Breitbart 8/10/2009) Misdemeanor assault charges will be filed against two union members (see Late November, 2009); both will be found innocent of any wrongdoing (see July 12, 2011). The only person injured in the altercation was one of the union members (see Mid-August, 2009), though Gladney falsely claimed to have suffered severe injuries.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) issues a “fact check” press release attempting to debunk what it calls the “falsehoods” surrounding recent allegations that two of its members “savagely beat” tea party activist Kenneth Gladney during a recent town hall in St. Louis (see August 6-8, 2009 and August 8, 2009). According to the SEIU, Gladney was not the victim of any assault; instead, SEIU member Elston McCowan, a disabled minister, was assaulted, presumably by Gladney. The video documenting the incident begins with McCowan already on the ground and clutching his shoulder. McCowan suffered a chipped bone and dislocated shoulder during the assault. Gladney, who later claimed to have suffered injuries to most of his body, is only seen being pushed to the ground by another union member, presumably coming to the defense of McCowan. Allegations that Gladney was beaten and kicked by multiple union members are not supported by the video. Some media reports alleged that Gladney was “rushed to the hospital” after the attack; in reality, Gladney, who was pushed to the ground during the incident, leapt to his feet and began walking around the event talking to others and even conducting live television interviews. He also took part in a live television interview after the town hall. Gladney later took himself to the hospital, where he alleged he suffered injuries to his “knee, back, elbow, shoulder, and face.” Two days later, Gladney made television appearances while “confined” to a wheelchair and “under heavy medication,” according to his lawyer. Gladney told people at the event and afterwards that he had no health insurance and could not afford to have his “injuries” properly treated; that was a lie refuted by his own lawyer, David Brown, who later admitted Gladney has coverage through his wife. Gladney has repeatedly insisted that he has no ties to the tea party movement and that he was at the town hall selling anti-Obama buttons merely as a part-time job. However, Gladney and Brown are both tea party activists. In February, Brown formed an LLC in Missouri called “The Political Mint” that has publicized its efforts to raise funds for tea party groups. Gladney has also been involved in tea party activities. (Service Employees International Union 8/2009) Misdemeanor assault charges will be filed against McCowan and another union member; both will be found innocent of any wrongdoing (see July 12, 2011).
Prosecutors in St. Louis file charges against six people in connection with an altercation outside a health care forum in August. Two of them are members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who are alleged to have beaten up a tea party activist, Kenneth Gladney (see August 6-8, 2009 and August 8, 2009). They each face a charge of misdemeanor assault against Gladney. Gladney and right-wing columnists, commentators, and bloggers have alleged that Gladney was “savagely beaten” by “union thugs,” who are also accused of using racial slurs against Gladney, an African-American (see August 7-8, 2009). Some have called the assault a “hate crime,” and some have accused the “beating” of being ordered by White House officials (see August 7, 2009 and August 10, 2009). The other charges are also misdemeanors. (Boehlert 11/25/2009) Both SEIU members will be found innocent of any wrongdoing (see July 12, 2011). The only person injured in the altercation was one of the union members (see Mid-August, 2009), though Gladney falsely claimed to have suffered severe injuries in the altercation.
Democrats are aghast at the amount of corporate spending they expect to be used against them in the 2010 elections, according to media reports. The US Chamber of Commerce (see September 20, 2010, September 30, 2010, and October 2010) projects that it will spend $75 million this year, over double its spending of $35 million in 2008, to oppose Democrats running for federal and state office. USCoC officials say that spending could go even higher. Other organizations, such as American Crossroads, a right-wing political group headed by former Bush political advisor Karl Rove (see September 20, 2010 and February 21, 2012), are on track to raise and spend tens of millions, again to fund political activities designed to prevent Democrats from being elected. A report circulating among Democratic Congressional leaders says that some $300 million has been raised for the 2010 campaign, all coming from 15 conservative tax-exempt organizations. Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics says: “A commitment of $300 million from just 15 organizations is a huge amount, putting them in record territory for groups on the right or left. With control of Congress hanging in the balance, this kind of spending could have a major impact.” Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), says the amount of corporate funding for Republican political activities is “raising the alarm bell.” The DCCC spent $177 million in all of 2008’s Congressional races. Labor unions and other groups allied with Democrats plan heavy spending of their own, but nothing to compare to conservative corporate funding. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), for example, plans to spend $44 million on election-related spending this year. Political scientist Anthony J. Corrado Jr. says: “What we are seeing is that major businesses and industries are taking advantage of the recent court ruling and favorable political environment. They are already committing substantially more money than they have in any previous election cycles.” Corrado is referring to the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) that has overturned almost a century’s worth of campaign spending limitations. USCoC officials also point to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that overturned the ban on political issue advertising by corporations and labor unions close to an election (see June 25, 2007). The Los Angeles Times reports that the heavy corporate fundraising for Republican political interests is driven largely by corporate opposition to the Democrats’ focus on health care reform, and a bill passed in July that established stricter government monitoring and regulation of the financial system. Roger Nicholson of the International Coal Group, a mining company, recently wrote to fellow executives urging them to contribute money to defeat the “fiercely anti-coal Democrats” in Washington, specifically targeting a number of Democrats in Kentucky and West Virginia. Five of the largest health insurers, including Aetna, Cigna, and United HealthCare, are banding together to create and fund a new nonprofit group to help influence elections. The group has not yet been formed, but reports say that it will spend some $20 million to defeat Democrats. (Hamburger 8/2/2010)
The liberal news Web site Think Progress, an affiliate of the Center for American Progress, reports that it has discovered evidence of a potentially illegal scheme to entrap and destabilize political organizations, including Think Progress, that support President Obama and other Democrats. The scheme, in development since November 2010 at least, centers around the US Chamber of Commerce (USCOC), a large trade organization that makes large secret donations to Republican candidates and organizations (see January 21-22, 2010 and October 2010), and a law firm, Hunton and Williams, hired by the USCOC. According to emails secured by Think Progress, Hunton and Williams is working with a set of private security firms—HBGary Federal, Palantir, and Berico Technologies (collectively called “Team Themis”)—to develop tactics to damage progressive groups and labor unions. Some of the organizations and unions targeted include Think Progress, a labor coalition called Change to Win, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), US Chamber Watch, and StopTheChamber.com. The last two are small organizations dedicated to exposing some of the secretive practices of the USCOC. One project proposed by Team Themis is an entrapment scheme. The proposal called for the creation of a “false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information,” to give to a progressive group opposing the USCOC, and then exposing the document as a fraud, thus undermining the credibility of the organization. Another proposal involved using potentially illegal computer-hacking techniques to create what the group calls a “fake insider persona” to “generate communications” with Change to Win and to undermine the credibility of US Chamber Watch. The proposal actually advocates the creation of two such personas, one to be used “as leverage to discredit the other while confirming the identity of the second.” Together, “Team Themis” asked for $200,000 for initial background research and another $2 million for an active disinformation campaign. It is unclear from the emails whether any of the proposals were accepted, and if the disinformation campaign was ever launched. Think Progress was recently provided with the emails by members of “Anonymous,” an online “hacktivist” community responsible for attacking the Web sites of oppressive regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, along with American corporations that have censored the online information repository WikiLeaks. The emails were secured from HBGary Federal after one of that firm’s executives, Aaron Barr, tried to take Anonymous down. Barr claimed to have penetrated the group and intended to sell the data he collected to Bank of America (BoA) and to US federal authorities. In return, Anonymous hackers penetrated Barr’s email account and published some 40,000 company emails. Barr intended to approach Bank of America, Think Progress writes, because WikiLeaks is believed to have sensitive information about the firm that it intends to publish later in the year. BoA hired Hunton and Williams and other law firms to pursue WikiLeaks. BoA’s legal team also targeted Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald, an outspoken supporter of WikiLeaks, saying that it had plans for “actions to sabotage or discredit” him. The USCOC posts a response to Think Progress on its blog dismissing the report as “baseless attacks.” And prominent liberal blogger Marcy Wheeler (see April 18, 2009) says that the Think Progress report will probably “cause the Chamber of Commerce to rethink the spying work with HBGary it apparently has been considering.” (Berico Technologies 11/3/2010 ; Fang 2/10/2011) Liberal blogger Brad Friedman, who has spent years covering voter suppression tactics by political organizations, will soon learn that he is targeted by Team Themis. An email sent by Barr and provided to Friedman “focused on me included names, personal information, home addresses, etc. of myself, family members, and a number of other members of VR,” Friedman will write. (Velvet Revolution is an “umbrella group” that includes StopTheChamber.) “Part of the plan included highlighting me as a ‘Tier 1’ player in a sophisticated disinformation/discrediting scheme that relied on high-tech tools developed for the US government’s ‘War on Terror.’ Team Themis’ US Chamber of Commerce plan was to deploy the very same techniques and technology used to track terrorists, terror organizations, and nations such as Iran, against private non-profit political advocates and citizens in the US.” The email also lists the names of people whom Barr clearly believes to be Friedman’s wife and two children (Friedman says the names listed are not family members—he is not married and has no children). The email also lists a Maryland address as Friedman’s home—another error, as Friedman lives in another state. Friedman will write that obviously Barr and his researchers found another, unrelated person named Brad Friedman and learned personal details about that person and his family. Prominent officials such as Ilyse Hogue of MoveOn.org and Robert Weissman of Public Citizen are also listed for “targeting.” (Brad Friedman 2/14/2011)
Tea party activist Mark Williams, who resigned from the Tea Party Express for racially inflammatory comments (see July 14, 2010, July 15, 2010, July 17-18, 2010, and July 19-23, 2010) and who now heads a tea party-affiliated political action committee (see August 6, 2010), declares on his blog, “MarkTalk,” that he intends to “infiltrate” the ranks of protesters in Madison, Wisconsin, and Sacramento, California, and “expose” them as “goons.” He calls for volunteers to join him. Williams writes that he wants to infiltrate the ranks of Wisconsin protesters who have taken to the streets of Madison to protest Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) and his attempts to cripple the ability of unions to organize among public sector workers. Williams says he and his prospective fellows will dress up like members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU): “[W]e are going to target the many TV cameras and reporters looking for comments from the members there… we will approach the cameras to make good pictures… signs under our shirts that say things like ‘screw the taxpayer!’ and ‘you OWE me!’ to be pulled out for the camera (timing is important because the signs will be taken away from us)… we will echo those slogans in angry sounding tones to the cameras and the reporters.” Williams later updates his blog post to report that tea partiers in several other states have called him to share “their own creative ruses” for embarrasing the union demonstrators. “Several have also reminded me that we have a distinct advantage in that the SEIU primarily represents non-English speaking illegal aliens so we will be the ones whose comments will make air!!!!” he writes, and continues: “Our goal is to make the gathering look as greedy and goonish as we know that it is, ding their credibility with the media, and exploit the lazy reporters who just want dramatic shots and outrageous quotes for headlines. Even if it becomes known that we are plants the quotes and pictures will linger as defacto truth.” The progressive magazine Mother Jones, reporting on the blog post, writes: “Thus far, demonstrations and counterdemonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin, have been peaceful.… Anti-union protesters, led by media mogul Andrew Breitbart, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, and ‘Joe the Plumber,’ largely fizzled after a rally on Saturday. And the image of union workers that Williams seeks to portray seems to run uphill against the images of the employees’ leaders seen thus far. But as labor disputes spread to other states, it remains to be seen whether tactics like those proposed by Williams will be effective in embarassing the public employees… or embarrasing the tea party ‘plants’ themselves.” (Weinstein 2/20/2011) Sometime after the press begins reporting on Williams’s blog post, the post disappears from the blog.
Two members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Elston McCowan and Perry Molens, are found not guilty of assaulting tea party activist Kenneth Gladney. Gladney claimed he had been beaten by McCowan, Molens, and perhaps others during a contentious town hall forum in St. Louis two years ago (see August 6-8, 2009); Gladney, who was not injured during the momentary altercation between himself and union representatives at the forum, went on Fox News and other media venues in a wheelchair after the incident, claiming to have been badly beaten and asking for donations (see August 8, 2009). McCowan and Molens were charged with assault and interfering with police. The interference charges were later dropped. If convicted, the two could have faced up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. The jury deliberated for about 40 minutes before declaring both men innocent. Asked why Gladney lost, Molens, referring to both Gladney and his tea party backers, says, “They lost because they lied, it’s as simple as that.” Molens says he has received death threats from tea party members since the incident. Gladney has become a regular speaker at area events, where he discusses the “savage beating” he received at the hands of “union thugs.” Paul D’Agrosa, the lawyer representing both McCowan and Molens, says his clients were exonerated because the matter was tried in court: “It wasn’t tried on the Internet. It wasn’t tried on the blogosphere.” D’Agrosa is referring to the innumerable videos of the incident, some heavily edited and altered, along with interviews of Gladney and commentaries made by a number of conservative bloggers (see August 7, 2009) as well as a number of national media figures (see August 7-8, 2009 and August 10, 2009), including some from Fox News (see Early November 2009). Keith Gladney, the twin brother of Kenneth Gladney, says of the verdict: “It’s atrocious. It’s obvious. The legal system here has come to the point where you can beat somebody up and still get off.” McCowan and Molens claimed in court that Gladney, who was selling anti-Obama buttons outside the forum, began the altercation by slapping McCowan’s hands when the two asked him about the merchandise he was selling. When Gladney slapped McCowan a second time, McCowan pushed him. According to Molens, Gladney then “started punching him in the face. I tried pulling him off.” The altercation escalated, with more shoving and punches being thrown; McCowan suffered a fractured shoulder during the altercation, but Gladney was the one claiming to have suffered extensive injuries. Video clips and testimony from onlookers supported McCowan and Molens’s version of events. McCowan, a Baptist minister, got chuckles in the courtroom when he testified that he didn’t turn the other cheek because it “hadn’t gotten hit yet.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch 7/12/2011; Boehlert 7/13/2011)
A dozen wealthy donors have contributed over half of the money collected by so-called “super PACs” in the first half of 2011, according to an analysis by USA Today. Super PACs are political organizations that exist to influence elections, which take unlimited amounts of outside money from donors, including individuals, unions, and corporations, and pool that money to advocate for or against a candidate (see March 26, 2010). By law, super PACs are supposed to operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign organization.
Majority of Donors Republican Contributors - The majority of those donors are contributing to Republican/conservative organizations, and overall, Republican organizations are outraising Democratic organizations by a 2-1 margin. American Crossroads, the organization formed by former Bush political advisor Karl Rove, has collected $2 million from billionaire Jerry Perenchio, another million from billionaire Robert B. Rowling, and $500,000 from Texas real estate billionaire Bob Perry. The super PAC supporting the Obama reelection campaign, Priorities USA Action, founded by former Obama spokesperson Bill Burton, has collected $2 million from Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, and $500,000 each from media owner Fred Eychaner and from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney (R-MA), Restore Our Future (see June 23, 2011), has received million-dollar donations from hedge fund manager John Paulson, Utah firms Eli Publishing and F8 LLC, and the shadowy W Spann LLC (see July 12, 2011). It has also received half a million each from Perry, financiers Louis Moore Bacon and Paul Edgerly, Edgerly’s wife Sandra Edgerly, New Balance Athletic Shoes executive James S. Davis, J.W. Marriott of the hotel chain Marriott International, and Richard Marriott of Host Hotels and Resorts. Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center says: “The super PACs are for the wealthy, by the wealthy, and of the wealthy. You’re setting up a dynamic where the candidates could become bit players in their own campaigns,” particularly in less-expensive races for the House of Representatives. Katzenberg says his donation to the Obama-supporting super PAC was because of the increasing dominance of “Republican extremists” in national elections: “The stakes are too high for us to simply allow the extremism of a small but well-funded right wing minority to go unchallenged.” Charles Spies, the treasurer of Restore Our Future and Romney’s former general counsel, refuses to discuss donors, but says, “Donors recognize Mitt Romney is the most experienced and qualified candidate to challenge President Obama’s record of out-of-control, big government spending.” One donation drawing scrutiny is a $193,000 donation to the presidential campaign of Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) from a group called Americans for Rick Perry. The primary funder of that group is Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, who gave $100,000 to the group 10 days after Perry signed legislation allowing Simmons’s company to accept low-level radioactive waste from other states at its West Texas facility. A Perry spokesman denies any coordination between Simmons and his campaign, and says Perry has not even decided whether to run for president. Simmons helped fund the 2004 group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which launched a powerful campaign that smeared then-presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) and his Vietnam War record. American Crossroads has reported raising $3.9 million during the first six months of 2011. Its affiliate, Crossroads GPS, has spent $19 million on anti-Democrat advertising so far. That group does not have to report its donors or the amounts it receives. (Schouten and Schnaars 8/4/2011)
'Recipe for Corruption - Legal expert Ian Millhiser of the liberal news Web site Think Progress comments: “It’s tough to imagine a surer recipe for corruption. Although super PAC’s are prohibited from giving money directly to candidates—one of the few remaining campaign finance laws that wasn’t eviscerated by Citizens United and similar cases (see January 21, 2010)—it’s not like a presidential candidate isn’t perfectly capable of finding out which billionaires funded the shadowy groups that supported their campaign. Moreover, if just a handful of people are responsible for the bulk of these donations, a newly elected president will have no problem figuring out who to lavish favors on once they enter the White House.” (Millhiser 8/4/2011)
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