A group of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s (R-CA) constituents went to his office on Tuesday to deliver Valentine’s cards. They go every Tuesday now, asking Rohrabacher to hold a town hall meeting in his district.
But now, after a confused tussle in the hallway involving a 2-year old and a 71-year-old-woman, Rohrabacher is now accusing them of engaging in “political thuggery, pure and simple.”
— Indivisible OC (@indivisible_oc) February 14, 2017
The delegation is one of many grassroots groups around the country organizing around the Indivisible guide, which is a how-to manual for people looking to have a more effective voice in government. It was put together by former congressional staffers after Trump’s victory.
Like many of the other Indivisible groups, the Orange County Indivisible group has been met with scorn and accusations of not being ‘real’ constituents. For the past three weeks, at Rohrabacher’s office the door has been closed and locked, and they have slid their documentation underneath.
Two weeks ago, they were met with the police. And this Tuesday, as a 2-year-old girl slid a valentine under the door on Tuesday, one of Rohrabacher’s staffers opened it, hitting her in the head and knocking her to the ground.
— Indivisible OC (@indivisible_oc) February 15, 2017
According to local reporting, one of the constituents then grabbed the door and tugged on it, causing 71-year old district director Kathleen Staunton, who was on the other side of the door, to lose her footing and fall. A spokesman for Rohrabacher’s office told media that she later fell unconscious and had to go to the hospital.
In a video of the immediate aftermath, the little girl can be heard crying, as visiting constituents apologize, and one of them helps Rohrabacher’s staffer up. The door is then closed, and the group leaves.
“I don’t think anybody from either side was trying to hurt anybody,” the mother of the young girl told a local reporter.
According to Mike Lisenbery, one of the organizers of the Indivisible group, the group visiting Rohrabacher’s office was predominantly composed of older retired women. This account is borne out in photographs of the group. The video shows that there were about 10 people in the hallway.
In his press release, however, Rohrabacher paints the incident as malicious and characterizes the activists as an unruly mob of thugs.
“I am outraged beyond words that protesters who mobbed my Huntington Beach office violently knocked down my faithful district director, Kathleen Staunton, causing her to be hospitalized,” Rohrabacher is quoted by saying.
— Indivisible OC (@indivisible_oc) February 14, 2017
“Though the protesters think of themselves as idealists, they engaged in political thuggery, pure and simple. These people do not want, as they’ve claimed, to hold a town hall meeting with me. These are unruly activists on whom the lessons of civility and democratic participation have been lost,” he continues. “These holier-than-thou obstructionists will be held responsible for this outrageous assault. They are exposing themselves for what they are — enemies of American self-government and democracy.”
Rohrabacher’s fiery response has flabbergasted his visitors, as did his one-sided depiction of the events. The only mention of the two-year-old is a passively-framed aside: “In the tumult, a two-year-old girl apparently brought along with the crowd was also hit by a swinging door.”
“Everybody is taken a little be aback by his staff, really not — not trying to assume any culpability for knocking the little girl to the ground and really blaming it on us,” Lisenbery told ThinkProgress. “His staff should have known what was going on outside the door because they have security cameras outside the door, and they’ve told us before they can see us on the cameras.”
“They are exposing themselves for what they are — enemies of American self-government and democracy.”
Rohrabacher posted his press release to his Facebook page. According to Lisenbery, any comments pushing back against his depiction of the events have been swiftly deleted, along with links to the video of the actual proceedings (embedded above).
“This is a very hamfisted attempt by him to spin the events in his favor,” said Lisenbery. “Calling people political thugs, calling people activists, when it’s a lot of adults, mostly retirees with a lot of time on their hands, who are engaged in political action for the first time in their lives — it’s offensive to the people he claims to represent.”
This isn’t the first time that Rohrabacher’s account has differed wildly from that of his constituents. In local media two weeks ago, his staff characterized the visitors as purposefully disruptive and from out-of-district — which the activists said was untrue on both counts.
While Rohrabacher’s response may seem hamfisted to those involved, his narrative is part of a long-running tactic of elevating small instances of violence in order to discredit larger movements. Right-wing commentators and lawmakers have long used isolated acts of violence to discredit the largely peaceful Black Lives Matter movement, for instance. And when protests in one city after Trump’s election victory turned violent, the massive outpouring of peaceful protests were then lumped in as of-a-kind.
In dismissing the activists, Rohrabacher is also echoing a common refrain among Republican congresspeople who are struggling to respond to newly politically active constituents in the aftermath of the presidential election.
In Tennessee, Rep. John Duncan (R) said he wouldn’t hold town halls for fear of “extremists, kooks, and radicals.” In Utah, Rep. Jason Chaffetz dismissed a particularly raucous town hall as “more of a paid attempt to bully and intimidate.” In Illinois, Rep. Peter Roskam snuck out the back door to avoid protesters, and a spokesman characterized them as “national groups” as opposed to local constituents.
And on the radio on Tuesday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), even extended the logic to a justification for ignoring Democratic politicians.
“These are people who have brought in anarchists to destroy this town. Of whom 240-some where arrested, with the support of George Soros and the Democrat left. This is not a cooperative environment,” he told Boston Herald Radio.
There’s no evidence that George Soros is paying protesters. Anarchists did smash some windows in downtown D.C. during Trump’s inauguration, but they were not connected to political groups, nor to the hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters who marched the next day at the Women’s March. Issa’s statistics are also misleading. The number Issa cites — which, in reality, is 229 — includes both the protesters and legal observers, journalists, and bystanders who were rounded up dragnet-style by the police.
This post has been edited.