| It's clear now that the top-down Republican strategy on health care for the month of August (a strategy made possible in part by the Blue Dog "victory" of delaying floor votes on legislation until September) will consist of organized and potentially violent disruptions of town hall meetings scheduled by members of Congress with their constituents in their districts.
On Friday, ThinkProgress posted a leaked "best practices" memo (PDF) written by Connecticut right-wing activist Bob MacGuffie based on his experience taking part in such an organized disruption of a Jim Himes town hall meeting in Fairfield back in late May. The memo includes such advice as:
- Artificially Inflate Your Numbers: "Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington."
- Be Disruptive Early And Often: "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."
- Try To "Rattle Him," Not Have An Intelligent Debate: "The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions."
As ThinkProgress notes, the tactics outlined in this memo are being used in an organized assault in congressional districts across the nation, led by organized and very well-funded right-wing groups.
Judging from the headline in the next week's Fairfield Citizen, MacGuffie's strategy certainly worked back in May:
"Himes faces tough crowd at library"
And even Rep. Himes, via Twitter after the event, seemed to voice some doubts about the nature of the tough audience he faced:
Town Hall meeting in Fairfield. People very worried about cap and trade. Some anger in the room. Hard to tell if organized or organic.
A few weeks later, on July 14th, MacGuffie described again disrupting a Jim Himes constituent event, this time in in Trumbull, while being videotaped by a "grassroots leader" of Rob Simmons' favorite right-wing activist movement, "Dump Dodd":
"About a dozen of us packed a meet-and-greet staged by our congressman, Jim Himes on Sunday in a supermarket in Trumbull, CT. The link below was posted by another grassroots leader as he filmed me giving Himes a reality check. All those voting for the socialist national agenda should receive a similar treatment. Watch for appearance announcements from your reps and give them a similar reality check. They need to go back to their caucus relating the same treatment from their constituents."
Whether through organized channels or merely through the broadcasts of Limbaugh, Hannity, and Beck, Connecticut's fringe right-wing activists - the teabaggers, DumpDodders, birthers, and others - all seem to have gotten the same memo: attend these events, yell loudly, disrupt, intimidate, and above all, avoid anything approaching intelligent discussion or debate.
The fruits of those tactics were visible today in Hartford, at a Chris Dodd event on health care, as CT News Junkie reports:
Following the event Dodd conducted an interview outside the warehouse and at its conclusion he spotted the handful of protesters across the street and turned to his staff to ask who they were. As he pulled out of the parking lot Dodd pulled up to the protesters and asked if they wanted to discuss the issue with him.
Jim Bancroft, one of the protesters who is part of the Dump Dodd and Tea Party movements, said Dodd asked if he wanted to talk to him and [Bancroft] declined.
Bancroft, who is currently uninsured and on disability for a back injury, said if he needs medical attention he will pay for it himself. Estelle Stevenson, another protester who was standing next to Bancroft, said she has health insurance with a $5,000 deductible and had to refinance her mortgage in order to pay her insurance bills.
Those are two individuals who sound like they would benefit greatly from the heath care legislation that Sen. Dodd got through the HELP committee. And despite the fact that they were protesting the event, Sen. Dodd still made the effort to go across the street to try to talk with them about it. But the marching orders had obviously already been given and received.
For the next year or so, Connecticut will likely find itself a national epicenter of teabaggers, DumpDodders, and birthers engaging in mob tactics like those outlined in the memo above. Instead of writing articles about the "tough crowds" at these events, reporters and analysts would do well to avoid getting played and instead focus on the use of these tactics and the people responsible for them.
And Members of Congress who want to avoid getting played themselves would do well to cancel any currently scheduled town halls they have in their districts, if this type of organized disruption is what right-wing activists are intent on turning those events into.
Update: TPM spoke to MacGuffie today, and has more on how his memo was widely distributed to right-wing activists across the country:
MacGuffie and four friends lead a group called Right Principles, described as "a communication and organizing platform so those for whom our core beliefs...ring true." Despite his connection to Freedom Works, MacGuffie insisted to me that his group is unaffiliated with the wealthy conservative interest groups that have fronted the right wing tea party events.
But his memo nonetheless found its way to hundreds of tea party activists, including the very organizations MacGuffie insists he's unaffiliated with....
MacGuffie's memo was posted to the Tea Party Patriots' list serve, which is hundreds of members large, and includes representatives from not just small protest groups, but also major anti-health reform organizations such as Conservatives for Patients Rights, and Patients First, Patients United Now (an affiliate of Americans for Prosperity), and, yes, Freedom Works.