Thousands of protesters gathered in Michigan’s state capitol Tuesday to protest Right to Work legislation that will make it illegal for union membership to be a mandatory condition of employment for a majority of workers. Violence broke out during those protests when one pro-right to work activist was assaulted by a union member. Dozens of other conservative activists were trapped beneath an Americans for Prosperity tent when a crowd of union protesters surrounded their tent and dismantled it with a few of them still inside. Despite witness reports and video footage of at least one union member trying to warn the conservative activists, the left has pursued the false narrative that Americans for Prosperity staged the incident themselves.
The assault of conservative activist and FOX commentator Steven Crowder was captured on video when a union member punched him in the face several times, leaving Crowder with minor injuries.
A large crowd of protesters — most of them union members – had surrounded a tent that was occupied by the conservative organization Americans for Prosperity, which was there at the Capitol to support the Right to Work legislation. Multiple videos captured footage of the raucous crowd yelling various invectives and converging upon the tent, as the stunned activists inside it looked out at the crowd.
Moments after the assault on Crowder, many protesters in the crowd could be seen pulling at the straps and kicking the poles supporting the tent, and pressing against it to hasten its collapse. When the tent finally collapsed, protesters then walked and stomped on the tent as some of the conservative activists still remained trapped underneath it.
The incidents came amidst controversial comments Tuesday from Michigan State Representative Douglas Geiss, a Democrat, in which he warned “there will be blood” if the Right to Work legislation passed. The Michigan House ultimately approved the two separate right-to-work bills – one each for both public and private sector employees – further agitating the already unruly crowd of protesters. The White House refused to condemn or even criticize Geiss’ statement.
Videos of both incidents went viral online and quickly sparked outrage in the conservative community, propelling the footage to make the cable television news stations before the day’s end.
A progressive blog called EclectaBlog subsequently posted an accusation that Americans for Prosperity had “staged a phony altercation.” The post featured a video interview conducted by David Holtz, Executive Director of the progressive organization Progress Michigan, with an individual by the name of Tom Duckworth.
Duckworth claims that he witnessed a gentleman in a NRA hat, whom he’d previously seen with the other activists inside the AFP tent, loosening the straps on the sidewall tent poles. He says the stakes came down from the inside and the tent subsequently collapsed, with people still inside. While he says he did not witness it himself because he’d turned away, Duckworth also said he’d heard that several union protesters, upon realizing people were still underneath the collapsed tent, cut it open, presumably to allow anyone trapped to get out from underneath the tent.
Duckworth concluded by claiming that the gentleman in the NRA hat was attempting to create the impression that it was union protesters who dismantled the tent, and implied that it was the activists with AFP who collapsed the tent themselves.
The Ed Show at MSNBC was quick to run with the left’s “setup” narrative. The cable network’s website even specifically called out Lee Stranahan of Breitbart.com, who had filmed one of the many videos out there of the incident. AFL-CIO representative Eddie Vale referred to the activists at the AFP tent as “disciples of James O’Keefe.” In a bizarre effort to twist the story into some sort of Breitbart setup, some left-wing blogs and Twitter users even blamed individuals who weren’t anywhere near the state of Michigan on Tuesday, much less even aware of the event before the incident occurred.
Other MSNBC programs followed suit, and further shifted the narrative to focus on AFP’s financial connection to the Koch brothers. Chris Matthews interviewed AFP Michigan Director Scott Hagerstrom, who is also said to have been inside the tent throughout the day. Rather than asking questions to get to the facts about the incident, the MSNBC host instead badgered Hagerstrom about his employer, demanding to know whether or not the Koch brothers sign his paycheck. Hagerstrom stated repeatedly that his employer is Americans for Prosperity, but apparently Matthews was not content to accept that fact.
The situation was reminiscent of the lead-up to the 2009 health care debate, in which charged political rhetoric from political and labor union leaders preceded protests that resulted in union members behaving violently against conservatives and Tea Party members, and the subsequent narrative in its aftermath to rewrite history by accusing the victims of being the violent perpetrators.
Despite the left’s writhing and verbal gymnastics to twist the narrative about Tuesday’s tent incident into some false tale of “selective editing” and Breitbart plotting, videos and witness accounts of the day’s incidents from a multitude of sources do portray the story as it really occurred.
I interviewed several people who were in and around the tent to try and piece together the facts surrounding the incidents.
To start, there were initially two AFP tents set up on the Capitol grounds, further away from the primary protest areas. According to activists with AFP, the group’s purpose for being there was not to compete with the unions’ protesters or engage in a conflict, but to meet with and educate legislators, residents, passersby and the like on the positive points of the proposed legislation. The group had reserved the location two weeks prior to the event. The tents were to serve as drop-off points for activists to meet with legislators, and to stop in from the cold and warm up, get food, and set up laptops and other equipment to perform interim work tasks.
Inside the larger tent – the one that was collapsed by the unions’ protesters – there sat a good deal of personal property and equipment. Laptops, electronics, video equipment, tables and chairs, and such. A food vendor had been hired to provide food for the activists, and had also set up his catering equipment inside the tent.
As the crowd of protesters grew louder throughout the day, activists with AFP decided that it would be safer and easier to consolidate things into a single area; there would be fewer locations on which to keep their eyes and attention focused. So they took down one tent and relocated everything and everyone to the larger tent.
There had been about thirty people inside the larger tent at any given time. The foot traffic there was fluid; people were in and out throughout the day. At least two elderly individuals in wheelchairs had been inside the tent earlier.
Meanwhile, police were lined up over at the north and south ends of the Capitol, where other protesters had gathered to try and catch legislators and the governor during the legislative process. The AFP tent was off in another area – still in view of the rest of that activity, but not a part of it.
About an hour prior to the tent having been pushed down, witnesses describe an individual who appeared to be with one of the unions stopped by the AFP tent and told some of the activists,
“The Teamsters are coming, you’re fucking dead.”
This warning prompted the activists to become more concerned for their safety. Some decided it was time to start packing up and moving out of the tent and away from the area. Many of them were women, several of whom were frightened as they were bumped around and verbally abused as they tried to exit through the crowd. Some of the women were so shaken by the increasingly threatening atmosphere that they were reduced to tears.
Over the next hour, more and more union members were arriving to the tent’s location and the scene was changing. Witnesses described it as being different than the usual back and forth that is typical between opposing groups at protests – it had quickly escalated into what they described as a mob. The protesters’ language became much more vitriolic and threatening, the noise grew louder, and union members were now moving in on the tent. The atmosphere felt very uneasy. But the activists who remained in the tent could see the police from their location, and they knew the police could see them. They assumed help was not far away if needed.
But help did not arrive in time.
The footage from inside the AFP tent offers some of the best perspective on what was occurring on the ground. The tent was clearly targeted and surrounded by protesters – the majority of them union members. They chanted things like, ”corporate whores, corporate whores!” as they moved in closer to the tent. Several of the union members repeatedly lunged at the tent.
From inside, several of the activists can be seen holding up the support posts of the tent as the posts are being kicked at by protesters from the outside. Someone else is heard yelling, “Get out!” from inside the tent.
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There were at least a few union members who recognized the danger, according to witnesses that were interviewed.
At about 0:46 in the above video, an individual — presumably with the unions — tries to assist some of the activists in the AFP tent by urgently warning them to move.
“Get everybody out of there now. Get everybody out of there now, they’re crushing this thing and it’s gonna go down. You’ve got everybody on this side (he gestures behind him and to his right, where a group of union protesters has gathered outside the tent), they’re already pushing. You gotta get these people out of here.”
Witnesses describe being confused by the man’s directive. While they recognize that he was clearly trying to protect them, they didn’t understand why the man wasn’t also publicly addressing his fellow union members or trying to stop their actions.
At 1:22 in the video, a union protester lunges at the tent.
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That same man can later be seen in other video footage screaming at Steven Crowder. Gesturing to him and other union members who were lunging at the tent, several of the activists can be heard yelling, “Why is this acceptable?”
Another union member answers, “You fucking rats came up here.”
Moments later, that protester has a physical altercation with Steven Crowder.
Two additional views show several union protesters assisting in dismantling the tent by kicking and pulling at the supporting poles and on the tent itself. As the tent collapses, the crowd of union protesters pushes in further as they cheer and clap, while chanting, “Go home scab.”
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Still images taken from those videos show the union protesters taking these actions to help dismantle the tent.
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After the commotion, once the pro-right to work activists had retreated and the tent had been left behind, one union protester took the opportunity to cut up pieces of the tent and hand them to fellow protesters as “souvenirs,” as can be seen on this video.
As the Detroit Free Press indicated, activists who’d previously been inside the tent were lucky to have left the area just before it came down. While several people were still inside when it did come down, the situation could have been far worse.
It was a crowd that at one point tore down a tent being occupied by Americans for Prosperity, a pro right-to-work group. Love said troopers went onto the lawn as the tent came down and a couple of people said “they just escaped in the nick of time without being trapped under the tent when it collapsed.”
As they tore down the tent, protesters yelled “Tear it down, tear it down.”
A look at any of the photographs or video footage of the inside of the tent, from any source, will illustrate the property that had been inside. Expensive items – laptops, electronic equipment, personal property and even the food vendor’s equipment. Witnesses that were interviewed said that once the union protesters discovered the food vendor – who had no connection to the event other than to serve food — was a Democrat, the protesters verbally berated him too, calling him a rat and a traitor, among other things.
Once police finally noticed all the commotion, they did finally arrive at the scene to push the protesters away from the area. A few union members wearing “marshal” vests were seen cooperating with and assisting police in doing so.
It appears from viewing a number of videos from multiple sources and from speaking to several witnesses that there were at least a few union members who were concerned enough about what they were witnessing that they tried to take some action to mitigate the escalating situation. Sadly though, none had the strength to publicly confront what had grown into an unruly mob of their fellow brethren.