Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) says paid protesters were among the thousand-plus people who gave him a raucous, negative reception at a town hall in Salt Lake City on Thursday. The crowd chanted “shame!” and “do your job.”
It was “more of a paid attempt to bully and intimidate” than a reflection of the feelings of his constituents, Chaffetz told the Deseret News.
“Chaffetz said he will continue to make himself available to voters but may now avoid providing a venue ‘for these radicals to further intimidate,’” the paper adds.
But reporters who were at the event and interviewed attendees say they found no evidence anybody was paid to be there.
— Eric Bradner (@ericbradner) February 11, 2017
— McKay Coppins (@mckaycoppins) February 11, 2017
Utah state Rep. Marie Poulson (D-Cottonwood Heights) represents the area around the high school where the town hall was held. She told the Deseret News she believes almost all the protesters were local.
“I’ve heard some of my colleagues (at the Utah Legislature) say here today that they had shipped in liberals to give him a bad time,” she said. “I serve that area and I listen to their frustrations.”
Poulson said she’s heard from many people frustrated that Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight Committee, has so far seemed unwilling to investigate President Trump’s conflicts of interests.
“I had so many get back to me and say, ‘We’ve been so upset by what Rep. Chaffetz is doing. We want him to investigate equally, with as much zeal as he did in the past, with this current administration,’” Poulson said, referring to Chaffetz’s dogged investigation into the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi incident that occurred under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s watch.
Chaffetz’s line about “paid protesters” has also been used by the Trump administration to explain away the massive protests that have been a staple of the early weeks of his presidency.
Raleigh. Portland. Minneapolis. NYC.
Now the fourth straight weekend of resistance protests in cities and towns across America. Keep it up. pic.twitter.com/pnWpkqb37l
— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) February 11, 2017
Last Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said “protesting has become a profession now.”
“They have every right to do that, don’t get me wrong, but I think that we need to call it what it is. It’s not these organic uprisings that we’ve seen through the last several decades — the Tea Party was a very organic movement — this has become a very paid, astroturf-type movement,” Spicer added, providing no evidence for his claims.
Spicer says nationwide protests of Trump are not like Tea Party was: This is “a very paid AstroTurf-type movement” pic.twitter.com/WEeGpoP2sK
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) February 6, 2017
Spicer’s comments echoed Trump’s equally baseless tweet about the protesters who have taken to the streets and airports in opposition to his administration’s agenda.
Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 3, 2017
In an interview with Politico, Angel Padilla, co-founder of the “Indivisible” group organizing the demonstrations that have spread across the country in a matter of weeks, said grassroots enthusiasm is behind the vocal opposition that has emerged in response to Trump’s Muslim ban, refugee demonizing, and threats to dismantle Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood.
“It doesn’t matter who we take money from — we’re always going to get blamed as a Soros group, even if we don’t take money from Soros,” Padilla told Politico. “That’s one of the attacks and that’s fine.”