ST. GEORGE – Due to concerns over alleged “recent acts of intimidation and violence,” the Utah GOP asked the state’s congressional delegation last week to either delay holding town hall meetings or hold tele-town halls instead.
The state GOP repeated those concerns again Monday, citing an advisory from the House Sergeant at Arms last Thursday telling members of Congress to maintain “enhanced security awareness.”
The advisory comes in the wake of raucous town hall meetings in which House Republicans have been blasted in their home districts over potentially getting rid of the Affordable Care Act. Some cases have also involved a general opposition toward other objectives of President Donald Trump and his administration.
“This advisory comes after multiple accounts of disruptive behavior from town hall attendees primarily targeting congressional Republicans including Utah’s own Rep. Jason Chaffetz,” Utah GOP Chair James Evans said in the statement released Monday.
This week is what is generally referred to as a “district work period” in which members of Congress return to their native turf and tend to hold town hall meetings or similar events with constituents.
Chaffetz held a town hall meeting Feb. 9 at Brigham High School in Cottonwood Heights that was packed and overflowing. Over 1,000 made it into the town hall meeting while several hundred more were stuck outside, according to Fox 13 News.
Chaffetz was meeting with angry constituents who disrupted and booed him. One man asked Chaffetz why he would call Trump “despicable,” and yet the Ethics Committee does not investigate him. This question drew the biggest outcry from the crowd, Fox 13 reported.
At that point, those inside started chanting at Chaffetz to “Do your job, do your job, do your job.”
While the commotion unfolded inside, hundreds of people were kept outside due to fire code regulations.
As for disruptions and suspect activity at the event, one incident involved a woman who was arrested for rushing police and trying to get inside the school. Another incident involved individuals who were openly carrying sidearms while trying to start a scene, Cottonwood Heights Police told Fox 13 News
While openly carrying a firearm in Utah is legal, two to three armed individuals using bandannas to cover the lower part of their faces tried to get the crowd to rush the police once they closed the doors to the school.
“People weren’t having it, for the most part everyone was very kind with us, a lot of people shook our hands,” Cottonwoods Heights Police Lt. Dan Bartlett told Fox 13 News. When police were made aware of the men and began to approach them, the men left the area. Officers did not pursue the men and no arrests were made.
In a press conference last week, the Utah GOP accused a group called Utah Indivisible for hijacking Chaffetz’s town hall meeting by sending an “organized mob” meant to sow disruption and chaos. The Utah GOP also compiled a list of alleged acts of intimidation and violence they accused the group of committing at the Chaffetz town hall.
Utah Indivisible organizers responded to the Utah Republican Party in a Facebook Live stream and rejected the party’s claims.
“We have been monitoring the social media pages of ‘leftist groups’ who are actively identifying, plotting, and recruiting, for the sole purpose of targeting Utah’s own Republican elected officials if they have scheduled town hall meetings or other public events,” Evans said in Monday’s statement.
“These groups are seeking an opportunity to flood these events with their own activists who have historically displayed disruptive and disorderly behavior,” he continued.
The Utah GOP also accused the Utah Democratic Party of taking part in organizing protest mobs.
Lauren Littlefield, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, issued a response to the claim:
The Utah Democratic Party doesn’t condone all of the behavior displayed at Congressman Chaffetz’s recent town hall meeting, but the accusation that Utah Democrats organized an angry mob is ludicrous and an ‘alternative fact.’ We are not currently working with Utah Indivisible though we do appreciate the immense grassroots organization that has sprung up since the Nov. 8 Election.
Another example the Utah GOP gave of groups allegedly causing trouble was an incident in California earlier this month involving Rep. Tom McClintock. According to the Washington Examiner, McClintock required a police escort after a town hall meeting due to concerns over a group of people demonstrating outside the town hall.
The issue of protesters at congressional Republican town halls has even caught the attention of President Trump, who took to Twitter (to the surprise of no one), posting: “The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!”
The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2017
If Utah’s congressional delegation begins to hold more tele-town hall meetings as the Utah Republican Party advises, it will be nothing new for some of them. Sen. Mike Lee has held them since 2013, with the next one scheduled for March 8. More information can be found on the senator’s website.
Rep. Chris Stewart also recently held a tele-town hall meeting hosted by the Dixie Republican Forum. While appearing via video feed, the Republican congressman was still hammered by a mix of constituents over concerns related to the potential repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act.
“Utahns are well known for their civility, respect for their fellow citizens, elected officials and law enforcement,” Evans said. “What we are witnessing is not representative of Utah values, instead it is merely left-wing ideologists attempting to force their rhetoric on a population that has already made their decision at the ballot box.”
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