This is brown shirt stuff, people. It worked in 1994, and they’re going at it again.
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: – 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.”
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.”
Meanwhile, AHIP, the trade group and lobbying juggernaut representing the health insurance industry is sending staffers to monitor town halls and other right-wing front groups are stepping up their ad campaign to smear reform efforts. The strategy for defeating reform — recently outlined by an influential lobbyist to the Hill newspaper as “delay” then “kill” — is becoming apparent. By delaying a vote until after the August recess, lobbyists are now seizing upon recess town halls as opportunities to ambush lawmakers and fool them into believing there is wide opposition to reform.
On 4 November 1921 the Nazi party held a large public meeting in the Munich Hofbräuhaus. After Hitler had spoken for some time the meeting erupted into a melee in which a small company of SA distinguished itself by thrashing the opposition. The Nazis called this event “Saalschlacht” (meeting hall battle) and it assumed legendary proportions in SA lore with the passage of time. Thereafter, the group was officially known as the Sturmabteilung.
UPDATE: ThinkProgress documents the use of these tactics across the country. Disgusting, unethical, dishonest, even unconstitutional…in the tradition of Karl Rove.
Digby points out how the GOP used this stuff in 1994 to defeat healthcare reform:
This is predictable. After all, they are following the 1994 playbook and they did the same thing then. This is from the PBS timeline of the Clinton health care debate:
July 22, 1994 – Trying to win back the kind of political support that brought them to the White House, the administration plans a bus trek across America to generate their own grassroots message to Congress for reform. A kickoff rally in Portland, Oregon, is marred by anti-Clinton protesters. When the first buses reach the highway they find a broken-down bus wreathed in red tape symbolizing government bureaucracy and hitched to a tow truck labeled, “This is Clinton Health Care.”
The anti-bus trek protests are the crowning success of the No Name Coalition and especially of the conservative political interest group Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). By the time the ill-fated bus caravan takes to the highways, CSE operatives, working closely — and secretly — with Newt Gingrich’s Capitol Hill office and with Republican senators, have mapped out plans to derail the Reform Riders wherever they go.
July 23, 1994 – Following several days of anti-Hillary rhetoric on local talk shows, Hillary Clinton — at a bus rally in Seattle — is confronted by hundreds of angry men shouting that the Clintons are going to destroy their way of life, ban guns, extend abortion rights, protect gays, and socialize medicine. When she finishes speaking and tries to leave the rally, her limousine is surrounded by protesters. Each of the four caravan routes becomes an expedition into enemy territory — with better-armed, better-prepared, better-mobilized anti-Clinton protesters at each stop along the way. Local reform groups and caravan organizers are forced to cancel scheduled stops because of implicit threats of violence.