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Insurance companies, special interests, and partisan attack organizations are spreading lies and using scare tactics in order to incite people to lash out at their representatives and disrupt public events. One of the groups behind these disruptions – Conservatives for Patients’ Rights – is being helped by some of the same people behind the notorious ‘Swiftboat’ ads of 2004. [1]

Groups such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks are also working behind the scenes to create the image of mass public opposition to health care, and have distributed talking points on how to disrupt meetings and drown out debate. [2] One of these memos expressly stated that the goal was to ‘rattle’ Congressional representatives, not have an intelligent debate. [3]

In many cases, Republican politicians are stoking the flames. In Texas, it was revealed that a local Republican Party chair was behind an organized effort to disrupt a town hall. [4] In Wisconsin, a protestor was outed as a former Republican operative. [5]

Meanwhile, Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner issued a statement applauding the disruptions [6] and Republican Representative Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said that the time for polite town halls is now over. [7]

Their goal is not to debate or to have their voices heard. The goal of these disruptions is to hijack the entire public discourse, shut down debate, intimidate and instill fear. [8]


[1] “Conservative activists, though relatively small in number, have disrupted events.... Some have been organized by the group Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, whose public relations team helped mastermind the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks against Sen. John F. Kerry...” [The Washington Post, 8/5/09]

[2] “...traditionally sleepy town hall meetings have become rowdy shout-fests across the nation... with opponents hanging members in effigy and mocking them with Nazi and devil imagery in an effort to derail discussions of health care. They’re organized in part by conservative think tanks like FreedomWorks, which offers tips on how to disrupt a meeting...” [The San Francisco Chronicle, 8/6/09]

[3] “A leaked memo from Bob MacGuffie, a volunteer with the FreedomWorks website Tea Party Patriots, details how members should be infiltrating town halls and harassing Democratic members of Congress." Attendees are instructed to “yell out” as the member of Congress speaks to constituents and “stand up and shout out” intermittently throughout speeches. The memo says “You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep’s presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early,” and emphasizes to “Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.” Think Progress, 7/31/09]

[4] “But it was later discovered that the Travis County Republican Party Chair had led an organizing effort to disrupt the event, and national news services reported that a group called FreedomWorks Foundation had distributed talking points guiding organized disruptions of similar events in other parts of the country. The group is led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a Texan from Flower Mound.” [Oak Hill Gazette, 8/5/09]

[5] “...towards the end of the Wisconsin Democrat’s health care forum something a bit peculiar happened. A woman who initially identified herself as ‘just a mom from a few blocks away’ who was ‘not affiliated with a political party’ was outed by a reporter as a GOP operative who worked for Kagen’s election opponent John Gard as well as the Republican Party of Wisconsin and the Republican National Committee.” [Huffington Post, 8/6/09]

[6] “In the latest development of Democratic House members’ town hall meetings being disrupted by the Tea Party crowd, House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-OH) office is now applauding this turn of events.” [Talking Points Memo, 8/3/09]

[7] “Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, appeared to give his blessing to these tactics, telling Politico that the time for polite town halls is now ‘over.’” [The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 8/3/09]

[8] “... there is no credible way to look at what has been proposed by the president or any congressional committee and conclude that these will result in a government takeover of the health-care system. That is a flat-out lie whose only purpose is to scare the public and stop political conversation.” [Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post, 8/7/09]

Health care opponents funded, advised by those with financial stakes in debate's outcome

“Much of the money and strategy behind the so-called grassroots groups organizing opposition to the Democrats' health care plans comes from conservative political consultants, professional organizers and millionaires, some of whom hold financial stakes in the outcome.” [Miami Herald, 8/14/09]

Health care protesters largely from out of district

“Although town-hall meetings are intended for constituents of congressional members’ districts, some if not a majority of attendees seemed to have come from further away... [lending] credence to the accusation that the protests are the product of Washington-based ‘Astroturf’ organizations, rather than evidence of a groundswell of popular resistance to health care reform.” [Huffington Post, 8/11/09]

Beware of staged disruptions

“Memos that have cropped up on the Web show that these protests are not intended to be any kind of dialogue but purely disruptive, preferably ending with the member of Congress forced to retreat... The idea is to make opposition to health-care reform seem more widespread than it really is.” [Salisbury Post, 8/5/09]

RIP, public discourse?

“... for anyone who treasures a functioning democracy, where ideas from all sides are respectfully debated, it's a pretty ugly development.” [Post Standard, 8/5/09]

No room for mobs

“There’s no place for mob behavior in these kinds of situations, and it shouldn’t be tolerated. We always can agree to disagree, but shouting down an adversary won’t accomplish anything.” [Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter, 8/5/09]

Hoyer takes on heckler

“A closer look at this video also calls into question whether this is a serious grass-roots movement of town hall protesters or just a few folks holding ‘tea party’ signs. The Utica crowd, shown by a local TV news station, is sparse, and the anger seems to be coming from just a few in the audience.” [Politico, “Glenn Thrush,” 8/4/09]

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