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Six people, including a local reporter, are arrested outside a public forum called by Representative Russ Carnahan (D-MO) at a middle school gymnasium outside of St. Louis. The forum, planned to allow constituents to discuss aging issues with Carnahan, quickly becomes contentious, with an overflow crowd denied entrance to the gymnasium and left to protest and wave signs in the parking lot. Many of the protesters are from a local anti-tax and anti-health care reform “tea party” organization. Local Democratic organizations counter with their supporters.
Altercations in Parking Lot - Verbal, and later physical, altercations erupt between reform supporters and opponents. Six people are arrested outside the gym, including St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Jake Wagman, for interference after he refuses to stop taking pictures of the altercations. One of those arrested, reform supporter Brian Matthews, calls the situation outside the gym “a bull rush,” and adds, “It all came from behind.” After the forum, Matthews and a friend, Javonne Spitz, attempt to photograph a man who appears as if he has been assaulted. The police object, and, as Matthews tells it, several officers “charge” them “from behind.” The police push Matthews to the ground and arrest him for interference; Spitz is pepper-sprayed “after she was subdued by the police,” Matthews says, causing her to vomit as they are taken into custody. A woman is arrested for assault and destruction of property for pushing a woman who is recording the events on her cell phone, then taking the phone from her and breaking it. A man is arrested for refusing to leave a circle of people surrounding Matthews’s pepper-sprayed friend. A police spokesman later says: “You’ve got to understand—we’re at a very volatile situation, we’ve got 800 people and we’ve got to maintain order. [The police] did what they had to do.” (Bell and O'Connell 8/7/2009; Thorsen 8/7/2009)
Kenneth Gladney - Conservative activist Kenneth Gladney claims to have been attacked by several of those arrested as he attempts to hand out yellow flags with “Don’t Tread on Me” printed on them; police later confirm that two men were arrested for assaulting someone attempting to hand out flags and fliers. A reporter interviews Gladney as he awaits treatment at a local emergency room for injuries he says he suffered to his knee, back, shoulder, elbow, and face. Gladney, an African-American, says one of his assailants used a racial slur against him. “It just seems there’s no freedom of speech without being attacked,” he says. Gladney later affirms that he had been hired by the St. Louis Tea Party organization to hand out flags, and adds, “I was attacked for something I believe in.” (Bell and O'Connell 8/7/2009; Thorsen 8/7/2009) He appears on several conservative TV and radio shows, including those hosted by Laura Ingraham and Bill O’Reilly, where he tells his interviewers that he was punched in the face by three different people and kicked by a fourth. Unfortunately for his claim, he appears in perfect health on the broadcasts, with no indication of swelling or bruising. (Daily Kos 8/8/2009) Tim Tagaris, the new media director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), later sends an e-mail and links to photos taken during the altercation which contradict Gladney’s tale. According to Tagaris, the photos show an SEIU member getting off the ground holding his shoulder. Gladney is identified as an African-American male in a khaki (or gray) shirt “walking around just fine after the altercation.” Tagaris says it is only after he begins appearing on talk shows that he takes to a wheelchair (see August 8, 2009). (Daily Kos 8/9/2009)
Loud Attempts to Protest Health Care Reform - Inside the gym, protesters attempt to turn the discussion from the topic of the elderly to health care, an issue they apparently wish to shout down. “This isn’t even close to civil,” one audience member says after the forum. “The rudeness was beyond compare.” An elderly audience member calls the forum “a complete waste of time.” After the meeting, Carnahan says: “Sadly we’ve seen stories about disrupters around the country, and we have a handful of them here in Missouri. Instead of participating in a civil debate, they have mobilized with special interests in Washington who have lined their pockets by overcharging Americans for a broken health care system.” (Thorsen 8/7/2009) The next day, Carnahan says: “Sadly, they got out of control on both sides. That’s not helpful, and I condemn that activity.… Let’s have a spirited debate, a debate worthy of our country.” A member of the St. Louis Tea Party who attended another forum, local radio show host Dana Loesch, says: “Last night, it was a whole different scene. That’s not what this should be about.” Defending her colleagues, she adds: “I can’t blame them for being frustrated, but there are ways to handle this without calling these people mobs. This isn’t an angry mob.” SEIU spokeswoman Ramona Oliver says her union has no intention of confronting angry protesters. “The members didn’t come to talk to the angry mob outside, they came to talk to the congresspeople inside,” she says. “All our members want is to have a civil discussion. There is no campaign to confront the tea baggers.” (Bell and O'Connell 8/7/2009)
The influential conservative blog HotAir promotes tea party activist Kenneth Gladney’s tale of being “savagely beaten” by “union thugs” during a recent town hall forum in St. Louis (see August 6-8, 2009 and August 8, 2009). Blogger Ed Morrissey writes of Gladney’s claims: “Pay attention, America. This is a glimpse into the next three years of the Obama administration, at least using the same logic by which the Left accuses health care reform opponents of ‘astroturfing.’ If its policies get organized opposition, especially at events designed to allow for public debate, purple-shirted thugs will appear to crack heads and scare off the opposition. And if nothing else, it’s a great look at how the unions will act once the secret ballot gets eliminated from organizing elections.” (Ed Morrissey 8/7/2009) HotAir’s Patrick Ishmael posts an update later in the day giving more details about Gladney’s “brutal” “beating.” (Patrick Ishmael 8/7/2009) Misdemeanor assault charges will be filed against two union members (see Late November, 2009); both will be found innocent of any wrongdoing (see July 12, 2011). The only person injured in the altercation was one of the union members (see Mid-August, 2009), though Gladney falsely claimed to have suffered severe injuries.
Columnist Mary Katharine Ham of the Weekly Standard reports on a recent altercation at a town hall forum in St. Louis, where tea party activist Kenneth Gladney has charged he was “savagely beaten” by “union thugs” for selling anti-Obama merchandise (see August 6-8, 2009 and August 8, 2009). Ham writes that the Gladney altercation has been twisted “by liberals looking to paint the violence as caused by critics of the administration.” According to a conversation with Gladney’s lawyer David Brown, who claims to have witnessed the altercation, a member of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) approached Gladney and called him a “n_gger.” Then, according to Brown: “Kenneth didn’t say anything to the guy. Before Kenneth could even say anything or act in any way shape or form, the SEIU representative punched him in the face. He went to the ground. Subsequently, two other SEIU representatives or members, however you want to say it, jumped on top of him, yelled racial epithets at him… kicked him, punched him.” Gladney has claimed being kicked by a woman as well, but Brown says he did not witness that. Gladney subsequently went to the hospital, and will begin making appearances on Fox News and at other tea party events in a wheelchair. “He sustained some injuries to his back, some bruising,” Brown says. Ham includes a video of the altercation, which as Media Matters columnist Eric Boehlert writes, “pretty much undercuts the entire tale of run-away union violence.” Boehlert writes: “Go watch the YouTube video.… The first thing you notice when the camera starts rolling is a union member already sprawled out on the ground with somebody standing over him. No explanation of how he got there (pushed, shoved, punched?) and Ham couldn’t care less. Then yes, Gladney is pulled to the ground by somebody wearing a union shirt. (At the :06 mark.) But instead of Gladney being beaten and punched, as his attorney describes, and instead of union ‘thugs’ standing over him and threatening him, Gladney bounces right back on his feet in approximately two seconds and the scuffle ends. That was the savage ‘beating’ the conservative blogosphere can’t stop talking about? The only real mystery from the incident is why Tea Party member Gladney, who’s seen up-close after the brief encounter walking around and talking to people and who appears to be injury-free, then decided to go to the hospital to treat injuries to his ‘knee, back, elbow, shoulder, and face.’ All that from a two-second fall to the pavement? Also unclear is why he contacted a newspaper reporter, or why his attorney wrote up lavish accounts and sent them to conservative bloggers, or why Gladney and his attorney appeared on Fox News.” (Ham 8/7/2009; Boehlert 8/8/2009) Misdemeanor assault charges will be filed against two union members (see Late November, 2009); both will be found innocent of any wrongdoing (see July 12, 2011). The only person injured in the altercation was one of the union members (see Mid-August, 2009), though Gladney falsely claimed to have suffered severe injuries in the altercation.
Anti-health care reform protesters hold a rally in Mehlville, Missouri, to protest what they say was the beating of fellow protester Kenneth Gladney by “union thugs” (see August 6-8, 2009). Gladney is prominently featured in the protest, sitting in a wheelchair with his knee bandaged and holding a flag emblazoned with the words, “Don’t Tread on Me.” Gladney says he was beaten by a number of members of the Service Employees International Union. The SEIU says that Gladney is inflating the confrontation, and that he initiated the fight. Gladney has become a cause celebre among conservative anti-reformists, with talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, among others, telling his story to their listeners. “Limbaugh gave the address” of the SEIU offices, one protester says. “This is just a demonstration of numbers.” Gladney’s lawyer, David Brown, reads a statement to the crowd of around 200 people, saying on Gladney’s behalf: “A few nights ago there was an assault on my liberty, and on yours, too. This should never happen in this country.” Brown then tells the crowd that Gladney is unemployed and has no health care insurance, and is accepting donations towards his care. Brown would not elaborate as to what, if any, legal strategies he and his client are planning. (Gustin 8/9/2009)
Inflating the Story - Gladney’s story has taken on new details as he has retold it to a variety of conservative talk show hosts and to Mary Katharine Ham of the Weekly Standard. In its latest iteration, he was mauled by a number of SEIU “thugs” who drove him to the ground and “brutally” beat him while screaming racial epithets. Three of his assailants, he says, were wearing SEIU shirts. Unfortunately for his story, the video uploaded to YouTube which Ham says proves his story actually shows something quite different. The injured party in the video is clearly identifiable as an SEIU member. Gladney is pulled to the ground by another SEIU member, but no one punches or kicks him; instead, he bounces to his feet and walks off camera. Media Matters reporter Eric Boehlert writes: “The only real mystery from the incident is why Tea Party member Gladney, who’s seen up-close after the brief encounter walking around and talking to people and who appears to be injury-free, then decided to go to the hospital to treat injuries to his ‘knee, back, elbow, shoulder, and face.’ All that from a two-second fall to the pavement? Also unclear is why he contacted a newspaper reporter, or why his attorney wrote up lavish accounts and sent them to conservative bloggers, or why Gladney and his attorney appeared on Fox News.” (Boehlert 8/8/2009; Ham 8/8/2009)
Lied about Health Insurance - Days later, other elements of Gladney’s story will change. Brown will confirm that he can no longer represent Gladney because he was involved in the altercation as a “witness” and therefore cannot be involved in any legal proceedings on Gladney’s behalf. Brown will also confirm that Gladney’s claim not to have health care insurance is “misinformation.” Brown will say, “He’s just unemployed [and] has insurance through his wife.” Brown has identified himself as a “friend” of Gladney’s, but is unsure what kind of job Gladney had before his alleged layoff, and is not sure what Gladney’s wife does for a living, either. St. Louis Tea Party organizer Bill Hennessy confirms that Gladney is still soliciting donations to help him pay for his injuries, even though he has insurance: “Well, who doesn’t need a donation? If people want to give him a donation because he’s injured and unemployed, that’s up to them.” Brown says Gladney has raised about $1,100 in donations so far. Reporter Daphne Eviatar confirms that Gladney appears uninjured in the video, and only began appearing in a wheelchair after landing interviews on Fox News. Brown says his brother, Andrew Beeny, will represent Gladney, and that neither he nor Beeny have copies of Gladney’s medical report. Brown says Gladney intends to sue both the individuals who he claims attacked him and the SEIU, since “unions have a 100-year history of intimidation.” (Eviatar 8/10/2009)
Conservative activist and blogger Andrew Breitbart uses recent allegations by St. Louis tea party activist Kenneth Gladney to attack the Obama administration, the “liberal” media, and others. Gladney claims to have been “savagely beaten” by “union thugs” during a recent town hall forum in St. Louis (see August 6-8, 2009 and August 8, 2009). Gladney is “under fire” from what Breitbart calls “the Democrat-Media Complex (the natural coalition of the Democratic Party and the mainstream media)”; CNN’s Anderson Cooper, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann, and others, Breitbart writes, have “led the charge” in attacking tea party members, who they derisively call “tea baggers,” a term Breitbart says tea party members find offensive. The media, along with many Congressional Democrats, are working in collusion to deride and delegitimize the tea parties, Breitbart says. Breitbart turns to the Gladney incident, saying that Gladney was “viciously attacked” by “Service Employees International Union (SEIU) members,” one of whom called him a “n_gger,” Breitbart alleges. “These union thugs were directed by the White House to go to the protests and ‘punch back twice as hard,’” Breitbart continues, “[a]nd they did.” Only Fox News is reporting the Gladney story, Breitbart claims, while the “liberal media” resolutely ignores it. He concludes: “With the Democratic Party in control of all branches of government and the Fourth Estate acting as the Democratic Party’s protector, the tea party movement is the closest thing America has to checks and balances. If that isn’t enough to motivate you, perhaps showing your solidarity with Kenneth Gladney, a fellow patriot, is.” (Breitbart 8/10/2009) Misdemeanor assault charges will be filed against two union members (see Late November, 2009); both will be found innocent of any wrongdoing (see July 12, 2011). The only person injured in the altercation was one of the union members (see Mid-August, 2009), though Gladney falsely claimed to have suffered severe injuries.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) issues a “fact check” press release attempting to debunk what it calls the “falsehoods” surrounding recent allegations that two of its members “savagely beat” tea party activist Kenneth Gladney during a recent town hall in St. Louis (see August 6-8, 2009 and August 8, 2009). According to the SEIU, Gladney was not the victim of any assault; instead, SEIU member Elston McCowan, a disabled minister, was assaulted, presumably by Gladney. The video documenting the incident begins with McCowan already on the ground and clutching his shoulder. McCowan suffered a chipped bone and dislocated shoulder during the assault. Gladney, who later claimed to have suffered injuries to most of his body, is only seen being pushed to the ground by another union member, presumably coming to the defense of McCowan. Allegations that Gladney was beaten and kicked by multiple union members are not supported by the video. Some media reports alleged that Gladney was “rushed to the hospital” after the attack; in reality, Gladney, who was pushed to the ground during the incident, leapt to his feet and began walking around the event talking to others and even conducting live television interviews. He also took part in a live television interview after the town hall. Gladney later took himself to the hospital, where he alleged he suffered injuries to his “knee, back, elbow, shoulder, and face.” Two days later, Gladney made television appearances while “confined” to a wheelchair and “under heavy medication,” according to his lawyer. Gladney told people at the event and afterwards that he had no health insurance and could not afford to have his “injuries” properly treated; that was a lie refuted by his own lawyer, David Brown, who later admitted Gladney has coverage through his wife. Gladney has repeatedly insisted that he has no ties to the tea party movement and that he was at the town hall selling anti-Obama buttons merely as a part-time job. However, Gladney and Brown are both tea party activists. In February, Brown formed an LLC in Missouri called “The Political Mint” that has publicized its efforts to raise funds for tea party groups. Gladney has also been involved in tea party activities. (Service Employees International Union 8/2009) Misdemeanor assault charges will be filed against McCowan and another union member; both will be found innocent of any wrongdoing (see July 12, 2011).
Fox News host Glenn Beck accuses Missouri law enforcement officials of covering up the “savage beating” allegedly suffered by tea party activist Kenneth Gladney at the hands of “union thugs” at an August town hall forum in St. Louis (see August 6-8, 2009 and August 8, 2009). Beck asks: “Why haven’t charges been filed? I would like to know what game is being played.” Apparently Beck’s questioning of the lack of prosecution of Gladney’s “assailants” is sparked by a recent blog post by conservative Matthew Vadum, who alleges that the “cover-up” is being mounted because of the involvement of Buffy Wicks, the deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, whom Vadum says organized an “Obama truth squad” at the St. Louis town hall forum. Media Matters columnist Eric Boehlert writes, “[T]he right-wing’s selfish, and often comical, attempt to turn Kenneth Gladney into a political martyr continues to be a sad spectacle to watch.” (Matthew Vadum 11/4/2009; Boehlert 11/5/2009) Misdemeanor assault charges will be filed against two union members (see Late November, 2009); both will be found innocent of any wrongdoing (see July 12, 2011). The only person injured in the altercation was one of the union members (see Mid-August, 2009), though Gladney falsely claimed to have suffered severe injuries in the altercation.
Prosecutors in St. Louis file charges against six people in connection with an altercation outside a health care forum in August. Two of them are members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who are alleged to have beaten up a tea party activist, Kenneth Gladney (see August 6-8, 2009 and August 8, 2009). They each face a charge of misdemeanor assault against Gladney. Gladney and right-wing columnists, commentators, and bloggers have alleged that Gladney was “savagely beaten” by “union thugs,” who are also accused of using racial slurs against Gladney, an African-American (see August 7-8, 2009). Some have called the assault a “hate crime,” and some have accused the “beating” of being ordered by White House officials (see August 7, 2009 and August 10, 2009). The other charges are also misdemeanors. (Boehlert 11/25/2009) Both SEIU members will be found innocent of any wrongdoing (see July 12, 2011). The only person injured in the altercation was one of the union members (see Mid-August, 2009), though Gladney falsely claimed to have suffered severe injuries in the altercation.
Two members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Elston McCowan and Perry Molens, are found not guilty of assaulting tea party activist Kenneth Gladney. Gladney claimed he had been beaten by McCowan, Molens, and perhaps others during a contentious town hall forum in St. Louis two years ago (see August 6-8, 2009); Gladney, who was not injured during the momentary altercation between himself and union representatives at the forum, went on Fox News and other media venues in a wheelchair after the incident, claiming to have been badly beaten and asking for donations (see August 8, 2009). McCowan and Molens were charged with assault and interfering with police. The interference charges were later dropped. If convicted, the two could have faced up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. The jury deliberated for about 40 minutes before declaring both men innocent. Asked why Gladney lost, Molens, referring to both Gladney and his tea party backers, says, “They lost because they lied, it’s as simple as that.” Molens says he has received death threats from tea party members since the incident. Gladney has become a regular speaker at area events, where he discusses the “savage beating” he received at the hands of “union thugs.” Paul D’Agrosa, the lawyer representing both McCowan and Molens, says his clients were exonerated because the matter was tried in court: “It wasn’t tried on the Internet. It wasn’t tried on the blogosphere.” D’Agrosa is referring to the innumerable videos of the incident, some heavily edited and altered, along with interviews of Gladney and commentaries made by a number of conservative bloggers (see August 7, 2009) as well as a number of national media figures (see August 7-8, 2009 and August 10, 2009), including some from Fox News (see Early November 2009). Keith Gladney, the twin brother of Kenneth Gladney, says of the verdict: “It’s atrocious. It’s obvious. The legal system here has come to the point where you can beat somebody up and still get off.” McCowan and Molens claimed in court that Gladney, who was selling anti-Obama buttons outside the forum, began the altercation by slapping McCowan’s hands when the two asked him about the merchandise he was selling. When Gladney slapped McCowan a second time, McCowan pushed him. According to Molens, Gladney then “started punching him in the face. I tried pulling him off.” The altercation escalated, with more shoving and punches being thrown; McCowan suffered a fractured shoulder during the altercation, but Gladney was the one claiming to have suffered extensive injuries. Video clips and testimony from onlookers supported McCowan and Molens’s version of events. McCowan, a Baptist minister, got chuckles in the courtroom when he testified that he didn’t turn the other cheek because it “hadn’t gotten hit yet.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch 7/12/2011; Boehlert 7/13/2011)
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