Yesterday afternoon, approximately forty protesters assembled in front of the Republican National Committee offices in Washington to ask Republican leadership to denounce the “bigotry and hatred that have been ongoing and significant characteristics of the Tea Party.”
The demonstration was crashed by two Young Americans for Freedom counter-protesters, who interrupted the press conference several times, and tried to push their way into the area behind the speaker.
Speaking at the rally, ColorofChange spokesperson Dani McClain laid out the goals of the protest:
“We’re here to ask Republican leadership to tell those who embrace these divisive and un-American beliefs that they have no place in the Republican Party… We also ask that these leaders make it clear that the fear-mongering and coded appeals to racism that have stoked this atmosphere will not be tolerated.”
McClain pointed out several cases of what she termed “fear-mongering and violent rhetoric,” including when Sarah Palin told reporters that the Tea Partiers shouldn’t “retreat, [but] instead reload”; and when Chairman Steele said that conservatives should “start getting Nancy [Pelosi] ready for the firing line this November.”
“This rhetoric has real effects, and it destroys the possible for rational debate and disagreement; and it can lead to violence,” said McClain.
Asked by FrumForum whether she’s taking Tea Party rhetoric too literally, McClain replied:
“We saw real violence happening this week. We saw death threats made against Louise Slaughter’s children; I heard some of the death threats left on Representative Bart Stupak’s office; bricks thrown through windows… it’s not just words, it’s not just hyperbole [or something] where we can give it a pass. It has a real impact.”
Doug Heyes, a Republican National Committee spokesman, told FrumForum that “voters have a right to be angry. Unfortunately, some have chosen to engage in language and actions that go too far,” pointing out that RNC Chairman Michael Steele has denounced overheated rhetoric several times before, including this statement on March 25:
“Americans across the country are understandably angered and disappointed that Democrats put politics above the interest of their constituents and the economy. But resorting to violent measures is exactly the wrong way to send a message.”
The rally, organized by Moveon.org and ColorofChange, was interrupted several times by a counter-protester from Young Americans for Freedom, Jordan Marks. Marks attempted to wedge his way onto the backdrop behind the speaker, and interrupted the speaker with heckles several times.
Afterwards, FrumForum asked the counter-demonstrators why they were protesting. “When you use race to politicize an issue to make a group … look bad, you are racist yourself,” said Jordan Marks who is the Executive Director of Young Americans for Freedom.
WATCH: Counter-protester Jordan Marks try to explain his sign, which reads ‘Race-Baiting = Racism. Be Ashamed!’
The Young Americans for Freedom protesters were a caricature of everything that we hope is untrue of Tea Party protesters: the two YAF representatives were disruptive, angry and insolent.
Asked if the rhetoric on both sides had gotten overheated, Marks said: “I think it has, but I don’t think the Republican Congressmen at those [tea party] rallies got out and race-baited.”
WATCH: Counter-protester Jordan Marks yell over ColorofChange spokesperson Dani McClain.
“They’re misinterpreting what we’re saying,” said MoveOn.org volunteer Patrick Robinson. “We’re against violence and racism of any kind. We’re not saying that Tea Partiers don’t have the right to assemble… we are here because there has been a lot more violence and racism coming from the Tea Parties.”
“He was really rude for being so disrespectful, in my opinion. He shouldn’t have come between the press conference like he did… I believe he does represent the right. Why do you think he interrupted a speech like this?” said Thomas White, an organizer for MoveOn.org, as if being disruptive was a defining feature of the conservative movement.
Sadly, reporters paid far more attention to those who interrupted the rally than those who were staging it. Soon after the YAF counter-protester tried to crash the stage, he found a willing audience in six reporters and cameramen who left the press conference to speak with him on the side.
Does Young Americans for Freedom represent the conservative movement? No. But when those who cover these events pay attention only to the most dissonant and disrespectful, and conservatives themselves can’t find the courage to self-reflect and self-criticize, one can’t help but forgive people like Thomas White for thinking that, just maybe, we’re all that way.