EDITOR’S NOTE: Over the coming month, ThinkProgress will be traveling to town hall events across the country to report on what we’re seeing on the ground. This is our second eyewitness report.
Last night, ThinkProgress attended Rep. Tom Perriello’s (D-VA) town hall in Ruckersville, Virginia. Inside, many people were holding signs provided by Americans for Prosperity, a corporate front-group run by a Jack Abramoff associate who also ran “grassroots” lobbying campaigns for Enron and other business interests. There were loud disruptions as people interrupted with intermittent yells and boos, but dozens of others showed up in support of both Perriello and the House health care bill.
“I’m angry that you ignore the law of the Constitution that requires Obama to prove that he is a natural born citizen,” said one town hall attendee. After being interviewed by ThinkProgress at the event, the man not only confirmed his “birther” views, but said he was contacted by Ben Marchi to distribute Americans for Prosperity talking points and signs at the event. Marchi is the Virginia state director of Americans for Prosperity and a former staffer for former Republican Majority Leader Rep. Tom Delay (R-TX). Watch it:
Americans for Prosperity, which is funded by oil-interests like Koch Industries, has relied upon extreme elements to build opposition to Obama and to progressive legislation. Events sponsored and organized by the group have featured Democratic members of Congress hung in effigy, rhetoric comparing health reform to the Holocaust, and signs accusing lawmakers of being traitors.
Rather than foster a constructive dialogue, groups like Americans for Prosperity have been tapping into fear and encouraging disruptions of town hall events. The strategy is not only undemocratic, but it lends legitimacy to far more dangerous activities.
A local right-wing blogger called “Send A Rope” is following around Perriello, taping him and accusing him of being a “traitor” for voting for clean energy reform. The blogger, who encourages readers to send pieces of rope to Congress and the White House, declares on his website, “I don’t think that there are enough trees or rope in Washington DC to handle all the traitors you would find there.” In a YouTube video, the blogger ominously warns, “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.”
Though this blogger is not openly affiliated with Americans for Prosperity, this type of violent political rhetoric is being fueled by lobbyist-run groups and their allies in right-wing media (Send A Rope lists Fox News’ Glenn Beck and Judge Napolitano as inspirations).