February 28th, 2017

The town hall meetings takeover

You may have noticed that the brave Resistance has begun to dominate town hall meetings held by Republicans, in order to create “news” for the MSM to then report.

Marco Rubio has certainly noticed:

“They are not town halls anymore,” the Florida Republican told CBS4-Miami’s Jim DeFede on Sunday. “What these groups really want is for me to schedule a public forum, they then organize three, four, five, six hundred liberal activists in the two counties or wherever I am in the state.”

Citing protesting tips published by the new Indivisible movement, Rubio told the station that activists are instructed to go to town halls early and “take up all the front seats. They spread themselves out. They ask questions. They all cheer when the questions are asked. They are instructed to boo no matter what answer I give. They are instructed to interrupt me if I go too long and start chanting things. Then, at the end, they are also told not to give up their microphone when they ask questions. It’s all in writing in this Indivisible document.”…

Asked whether he thinks today’s town hall crowds do not consist of “real people,” Rubio was quick to dispel the notion.

“These are real people. They are real liberal activists, and I respect their right to do it. But it is not a productive exercise,” Rubio replied in the interview. “It’s all designed to have news coverage at night — look at all these angry people screaming at your senator.”

The article then goes on to explain that in 2009, “when [Rubio] ran against Gov. Charlie Crist for Senate. Back then, Democrats were complaining that the forums were being hijacked by conservative activists.”

I don’t know whether that’s a false equivalence or a true equivalence. In other words, I’ve been to quite a few public political meetings of the question-and-answer type, and there are always people from the other side—political activists—insistently asking questions. That happens on right and left, and politicians expected it. If that’s what was happening in 2009, no biggee.

But was it? I wasn’t following the 2009 Florida race that closely, so I don’t know. But I tend to think the situation was nothing like what’s going on today, when hundreds of leftist activists show up to hijack the proceedings by much more extreme disruption. That’s a lot different than a small number of activists asking a few questions that are hostile, or even some jeers.

What is the remedy? It’s a true dilemma. We want to have free assembly, free speech, dissent. But this is disruption of that give-and-take in the name of free speech. Why should a senator or any other public office holder hold a forum that doesn’t give him a chance to answer questions and merely affords a large group of activists a platform from which to heckle and stifle him? Is the remedy to hold the forum anyway? Chris Christie seems to think so:

“Welcome to the real world of responsibility,” he said to Republicans who don’t want to hold town halls. Christie said he himself had held more than 160 town halls during his two terms.

Christie was famously pugnacious during his town halls, but I wonder when the last one was held (couldn’t find that information when I briefly Googled it just now). Has he ever faced this particular type of protest? I watched some of his town halls on video when he was a rising Republican star, and I know he faced a lot of hostility particularly from teacher’s unions, but it seems to me that that was different in scope and kind than what’s been happening now. But I’m not sure.

When does free speech become the stifling of speech you don’t like? Is yelling and heckling in order to disrupt a public meeting protected speech, and when does it cease being protected speech? Here’s an article by Jonathan Levin on that very subject, published about a year ago at Legal Insurrection:

First, although there is some First Amendment protection for “speech” in the form of physical action, it is inapplicable for this conversation. Storming the stage is not protected speech; it is likely assault. If a protester crosses the line and lays hands on a candidate or somebody attending an event, that would be battery, at a minimum.

Second, the First Amendment does not grant an absolute right to speak or protest. There are a variety of limitations depending on the context. It is ironclad law that reasonable “time, place and manner” limitations on speech are permitted under the Constitution.

Levin cites a piece by Eugene Volokh on the subject, in which Volokh writes:

Many states outlaw “disturbing lawful assemblies,” which would include campaign rallies, whether on public property or private. . .

Attempts to shut down an event, for instance by shouting down a speaker, blowing whistles so that the speaker can’t be heard, rushing onto the stage and the like would thus be illegal. This is important both because the police can then arrest the disrupters, and because security guards and ordinary rally attendees could then legally use reasonable, non-deadly force to stop the disruption.

Levin further explains:

The “substantially impaired” piece means that it has to be more than a passing interference. Blowing an air-horn in a conference hall during a speech would interfere, certainly, but blowing it once then stopping probably would not be “substantial” enough to warrant arrest; blowing it continuously and drowning out the speaker probably would be. The interruption also has to be more than what everybody knows is acceptable. Booing a candidate no matter how vigorously will probably not support a conviction, because it is within the realm of normal responses at a campaign event.

I suggest you read both the Levin article and the Volokh article. It’s not an easy question with easy answers, and it’s a topic that will come up more and more often during the Trump presidency. At the extremes—a few boos, versus rushing the stage or podium—the answers are easy. It’s that vast middle ground that present the biggest problem.

Levin had this to say about the situation that had just occurred when he was writing the piece a year ago, when protestors ended up causing Trump to cancel a speech:

The problem, of course, is that Trump didn’t get to speak, and the audience didn’t get to hear him. This is known as the “Heckler’s Veto.” Protesters are so unruly and the situation so out of control that event organizers or police deem it too dangerous to proceed and shut it down. The protesters thereby obtain a de facto veto over speech they dislike.

That is exactly the problem with canceling the town halls.

Levin continued:

This sort of self-censorship raises its own issues. In giving up the podium, organizers signal protesters that they will cancel again if the atmosphere is adequately dangerous, creating an incentive for protesters to be ever more extreme. If the campaign then resists the next time, it becomes a game of chicken with protesters growing more volatile and organizers refusing to cave.

There is no great answer. Ideally, of course, we would conduct ourselves as members of a democracy and protest rather than intimidate, threaten or riot. More realistically, campaigns and police need to be vigilant for signs of concerted plans to disrupt events and who might participate, and to be prepared to quickly prevent that from happening. There is no constitutional right to attend a rally, and to the extent there is indication that somebody intends to disrupt an event, that person need not be allowed in.

This can easily escalate. In a sense, the protestors/agitators are in a win/win/win situation. They either force the person to stop having meetings (the Rubio solution), or they are allowed to stay and disrupt the meeting as well as getting themselves in the news and embarrassing the Republicans who held the meetings, or they are made into martyrs and seeming champions of free speech by being escorted out by police and perhaps even arrested. All three outcomes encourage more of their behavior.

34 Responses to “The town hall meetings takeover”

  1. Nick Says:

    Boo Ben Konop!


  2. parker Says:

    Any organization with connections to the Clintons, Obama, and Soros needs to be investigated by the DOJ.

  3. Ann Says:

    I think Rubio’s right to stop doing them. The term “town hall meeting” has a positive, cozy feel to it because of its historical association. But now they’re mostly theater, and because of social media and the MSM, theater on a very large stage.

  4. Susanamantha Says:

    Ann, if Rubio or anyone else stops doing “town halls”, what is the alternative? Only social media events? No live give and take?

    Perhaps rules of behavior should be stated, with consequences clearly spelled out for breaking the rules, before the event begins. Obviously, some number of well trained security staff should have the authority to remove offenders from the premises. I realize that offenders will thenbecome martyrs, but I see no reason for them to continue to disrupt and then halt a legally convened meeting.

  5. Ann Says:

    Telephone town hall meetings are an alternative. Senator Mike Lee, for example, has been holding these for several years now.

  6. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Yes, video upload in real time the meeting to a website. Take questions by telephone and email. The activists don’t want to interact with the representative, they want to disrupt.

  7. physicsguy Says:

    And here is audio of the planning meeting of such disruptors in Louisiana:


    As the article states, it’s likely many of these people are actually from out of state, even though the organizer is local.

  8. F Says:

    Physicsguy raises a good point: are the hecklers actually registered voters in the Senator’s state or the Representative’s district? If so, it would be counterproductive to prevent them from entering the event. If not, can and should they be turned away at the door? This should slow down the professional hecklers who travel from state to state sowing their seeds of discord. It would also possibly discourage some legitimate attendees who don’t want to be “registered with the gummint” when going to a townhall.

    It is a clever — and successful — tactic.

  9. Tuvea Says:

    Palestinian sympathizers have been disrupting pro-Israeli speakers for years. As best as I can tell Republican lawmakers – perhaps those being targeted now – were silent.

    Martin Niemoller’s quote comes to mind.

  10. parker Says:

    2017 – 1984 = 33 years. The msm-dnc axis was late to the party, but they have come on strong with the election of djt. So far they are pushing against what seems to be an immovable object. And, they expose themselves as the propaganda arm of the left to more and more people.

    Mea culpa, I did not see Trump as the agent to out the msm.

  11. CV Says:

    Here’s an email I got from a lefty neighbor in my very small suburb:

    “Hiya friends and neighbors…

    Since the surprising-to-many outcome of the November election, clearly lots of grassroots actions and responses have come together, and lots of good work has started right here in ******. One newer group I’ve been fortunate to fall in with is a dynamic bunch, Indivisible *******, and you are most welcome to join us. News, actions, thoughts are posted daily on the Facebook page and larger events are in the works. We will be working with other local Indivisible groups eventually, so have a look at that site if you like. https://www.indivisibleguide.com/

    “We are a grassroots gathering of like-minded neighbors drawn together by the collective need to resist the current Republican agenda and to promote progressive ideas. We will educate, participate in actions, and will hold our current federal, state, and local representatives accountable. We will also support candidates for office and incumbent elected officials who embrace progressive values.
    We welcome neighbors to join our efforts.


  12. Frog Says:

    The contrast between town halls attended by the Tea Party crowd some years ago, and those attended by the current Leftist crowd could not be more stark. As a Tea Party veteran who attended multiple town halls with our Congressman, I attest the Tea Party audience was respectful, questions were asked in a search for answers, there was no booing, cat-calling, cheering or applause. The Rep. was thanked for appearing before us.
    The current batch of town halls I’ve seen televised is the distinct opposite: rude, booing, questions posed in a hostile manner, with some vulgarity. Offensive, in a word.
    Therein lies the difference between the two sides: The Left is always on the offense, in offensive ways. The answers do not matter; reason does not often appear in the audience.
    That is the crux of America today: the Left is so very close to total victory; they can smell and taste it, it is so close. The Left has the Administrative State all sewn up, fighting from the inside. The trans-gender stuff is just to show us how powerful the Left is, shoving it all down our throats.

    So what are we to do? Play nice, or get down and dirty with them? Trump showed us the latter, but he is already fading into compromise territory, which means the Left is winning even as it lost the election.

    Steven Hayward writes a piece about Progressivism titled “The Threat to Liberty” in the current Claremont Review of Books, writing in part about an 1890 essay by Woodrow Wilson: “Wilson argues at one point in “Leaders of Men” that the “vision” of Progress is the new supreme force in politics: “Resistance is left to the minority, and such as will not be convinced are crushed.”

    It is whether we will be crushed, or instead crush our opposition.

  13. charles Says:

    For what it is worth . . . I attended my district’s “Town Hall” back when they were first discussing Obamacare.

    While I think most of the folks there were real voters with real concerns, there were also many that were “plants” by the congressman (A Democrat) who his assistant called on for every third question. And, of course, they did NOT ask questions. What they did instead was to praise the congressman for this “brave” action to help fellow Americans get “healthcare.”

    When we tried to form a line so that we could each have a turn. The congressman’s handlers insisted that we sit down and wait to be called on. They stopped calling on folks until we sat down.

    Since they clearly orchestrated their town hall meetings, they surely have helped with orchestrating chaos at their political opponents’ meetings.

    In both cases, the news media has failed to report what was actually happening. And, you don’t need an advanced degree (or even a journalism degree) to see what is really happening.

  14. Liz Says:

    For representatives – I found that many representatives will restrict emails to their districts, so email them with your concerns. You can also sign up for their online or phone town halls. If the opposition is not living in the zip code, they can’t connect.

    I also call my reps and senators… call them a lot and the people will recognize you.

    Re townhalls, I like the idea of video ones with questions submitted in advance. I think we should contact our reps to tell them of our support.

  15. Ymarsakar Says:

    Try holding a townhall on youtube, reddit, or the internet.

    You know, places where there might be some moderator or community that already exists… that way Republicans can stop failing to police communities that are astroturf.

    Are people going to do it? Are people’s IQ reminiscent of their being retarded? If people can do things while being stupid about it, that’s a success, but that’s unlikely.

    As with the 2016 election, if it isn’t close, they can’t cheat. If you can get enough people, whether Democrats or not, to flip sides and vote REpublican, their grass roots based vote fraud becomes less effective.

    Same for town halls. They can only dominate the place precisely because the number of Republican activists are so small, close to non existent given they hammered the Tea Party’s logistics down. No LOGISTICS, means you don’t have an army. YOu have a bunch of people with jobs that can’t be made to do jack, because they don’t care enough either way. The job, the world, is more important than the ideal or the cause. To the activist, professional ones, that is their job.

  16. Ymarsakar Says:

    Trum was supposed to fight the Left. So where’s the fight.

    Or do they actually think a person in DC will save them from the Leftist alliance…

  17. Liz Says:

    And another point – keep voting in your communities for the people that you trust. It is the local town guy that moves up to the state position and then gets into the Congressional post.

    If you don’t have the bullpen, then you won’t have a chance at a winning team.

  18. Tom G Says:

    How about “Refundable Tickets” — with rules of behavior and digital foto registration as folk enter.

    Seats in the far back for those NOT in the voting district. A GOP database of fotos and names of folk who are disrupting — who ARE these guys? Lots of mobile security areas, all personal video allowed.

    A LOT more security, ready and able to handle loud, violent disruptors, and escort them out of the limited access hall.

    Also pre-registration, with seat assignments, more like a theater performance.

    It should be the GOP folk who become “martyrs”, when they are shut down; or be patient as the 50-300 disruptors are escorted out of the hall for disruptive behavior, in ones & twos.

    With honest talk about the Democrats acting like the Nazis acted — Nazis used shouting out, shaming, lying about Jews, as well as violence; today’s Dem Socialist Nazis are trying to shout out, shame, and lie about Republicans, as well as use violence against peaceful Reps. They should be labeled: “Democratic Party Nazis”. And not welcomed, but accepted — as long as they behave politely.

  19. Maggie's Farm Says:

    Wednesday morning links

    There Is No Such Thing as Alternative Medicine  World’s largest Hindu temple is brand new  Meet the terrorist behind the next women’s march  Study finds Subway’s chicken only contains about 50 percent chicken DNA  The freaky tr

  20. Aggie Says:

    There is a very simple remedy to this and other Uber-Left tactics. An ID can be required to enter any secure area in government infrastructure. Convene the meetings in public facilities. A driver’s license or Photo ID with home address displayed would quickly determine local residency, or not. Section priority to place those with local identities to the front, and reserve the remaining sections for those who do not reside there. who can reasonably argue the preference being given in a town hall, to town members?

    IDs provide a very nice way of tracking the rabble circus too. Gosh they were 2 states over last week, now they’re here! Maybe that’s a fact worth publishing!

    And just imagine: Applying the same simple techniques to the voting roles!

  21. Susan Lee Says:

    Our representatives have websites where one can post thoughts and issues. I use this form to tell my rep what I am thinking. He, in turn, has a regular email “update” of what he is working on. It seems to work OK between us.

  22. amr Says:

    My Rep didn’t want to do townhalls some years ago because this was happening. He does do some now but mostly telehalls. I suggested back then that he have people check the ID of those attending for zip codes to keep out those not from his district.

  23. tommy651 Says:

    quit being a bunch of cowards. have the town hall meetings and ask republicans to come also. you shouldn’t be scared to meet your constituents. for most voters it is the only time they get see their representatives face to face.

  24. A_Nonny_Mouse Says:

    A couple of our local Republican “duly-elected”s have been avoiding live TownHalls –presumably for EXACTLY this reason, as one of those gentlemen already got slammed by Hostile Ambush Theater earlier this year– and boy-o-boy-you-betcha, our local NBC “News” outlet has been naming, blaming, and shaming them for “avoiding the concerns of local constituents”.

    There is NO WAY any sensible person would subject himself and his family to what the Proggs are dishing out — which means the only people left to run for office are mega-narcissists and would-be tyrants.

    Not really the best way to run a country…

  25. AesopFan Says:

    Aggie Says:
    March 1st, 2017 at 8:12 am
    There is a very simple remedy to this and other Uber-Left tactics. An ID can be required to enter any secure area in government infrastructure. Convene the meetings in public facilities. A driver’s license or Photo ID with home address displayed would quickly determine local residency, or not. Section priority to place those with local identities to the front, and reserve the remaining sections for those who do not reside there. who can reasonably argue the preference being given in a town hall, to town members?

    IDs provide a very nice way of tracking the rabble circus too. Gosh they were 2 states over last week, now they’re here! Maybe that’s a fact worth publishing!

    And just imagine: Applying the same simple techniques to the voting roles!
    * * *
    But but but – you might suppress somebody who just wants to have his/her/zher/its voice heard by the … person who actually doesn’t represent him/her/zit in Congress.
    Oh wait – you said “reasonably argue” —
    A little corollary to the bizness of Resistance (TM):


    ” Rubio has refused to hold a town hall event but protesters have shown up at the Tampa office anyway, often blocking the entrance and making a lot of noise. That generated complaints from other tenants in the building.

    The Tampa office was a satellite location with two employees, not Rubio’s main office space in the state. What the protesters have done is create a problem for a couple of junior staffers, plus the other tenants in the building and any Floridians who would have found it convenient to visit this office. What the protesters haven’t done is change anything of consequence. In fact, this will probably be more disruptive for the protesters, dozens of whom now need a new site to hold their weekly gathering, than it is for Marco Rubio.”

  26. Whitehall Says:

    Martyrdom comes at what cost? If it is merely in being physically ejected from a public meeting, that is little deterrent.

    Make the cost higher and fewer martyrs will sign on.

    Just as the Black Bloc people are aghast at being charged with crimes during the inauguration riots that could carry 10 years in prison, increasing criminal penalties for public meeting disruption could go a long way. Conspiracy to disrupt a meeting should also be a crime.

    The missing ingredient is enforcement and prosecution. As we saw in riots in San Jose, local government officials can decide what is the right kind of political violence and what is the wrong kind. Down this path lies civil war.

    On the other hand, when Rep. Tom McClintock of Northern California had his town hall disrupted so badly that he had to leave under police escort, I immediately sent him a $50 donation. If we offered positive feedback for those willing to face the mob, it might stiffen politicians’ spines.

  27. Bill Says:

    I feel like I’m always the free speech crank on this site… But here goes.

    In 2010 I applauded the Tea Party for having VERY RAUCUS town halls. Remember all the Democrats claiming “astro-turfing” and trying to come up with ways to stifle the protest?

    Well, shoes are always on different feet and here we go again. Now people who are not pro what’s going on are having VERY RAUCUS town halls and Republicans are claiming astro-turfing and trying to come up with ways to stifle the protest.

    Our snowflake representatives need to get a spine. I’m against any attempt to shut down peaceful, non-violent speech. And, no, “being mean” is not violent. Being disruptive is not violent.

    I’m for more speech. Free speech. Regardless of who’s ox is getting gored.

    So the Republicans (just like the Democrats should have before them) need to realize that this is what they signed up for. Engage with the crowds.

    Obviously – if things get out of hand they need to take appropriate action. But the dumb conspiracy theories about “all the protesters are paid” or hyperventilating about “our lives are in danger” needs to end. Cowards. You signed up for the job. Face your constituents. Wisely, of course.

  28. Bill Says:

    Also, one of the most prominent phrases in the comments thread on this site is “civil war”.

    We’re not going to have a civil war.

  29. Bill Says:

    “increasing criminal penalties for public meeting disruption could go a long way. Conspiracy to disrupt a meeting should also be a crime.”

    Depends. If you are violently disrupting, sure. But if you are shouting down the speaker?

    I’m not so sure. I know we need to have public, civil discourse. You should be removed from the meeting – I think that’s appropriate.

    But throwing people in prison for shouting?

    It’s chilling to hear conservatives talk this way. We used to love the first amendment. Remember?

    It is worth protecting.

  30. neo-neocon Says:


    No one should be arrested for shouting at a meeting, just escorted out if they are disruptive.

    However, there are certain kinds of speech that are not protected. Somewhere I have a post about it, although I can’t locate it now. Inciting a riot is one of them. Most of the demonstrations/protests at town hall meetings would be protected speech, however, and would not fall into the “inciting a riot” category.

  31. Bill Says:


    I completely agree.

  32. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    “Chief. Shouldn’t we be using the Cone of Silence?”

  33. Sergey Says:

    Tar and feathers or spanking is appropriate for hooliganism.

  34. Ymarsakar Says:

    Tarring was used as a punishment by mobs against people they found too weak to fight back. A lighter version of the Russian NKVD treatments.

    In the US, clans and power structures have mostly abdicated enforcement of laws to state and federal organizations. As a result, there are pluses and minuses.

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