Last week tea partiers protested outside Perriello's Charlottesville office, and during the demonstration, the police were called. Tea partiers felt that Perriello's office called the police, angry at the protest outside. Today, the Republican blogosphere is going crazy about this (1, 2, 3). But after some fact-checking, the Daily Progress discovered that Perriello's office did not call the police. A neighboring business, apparently, did so. Saith the Daily Progress:
(UPDATE: U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello’s office did not contact police about protesters gathered outside his Charlottesville headquarters, according to emergency communi-cation center records.) [emphasis mine]Lowell has a scanned copy of the clip if you want to see it.
On Friday, at the opposite end of the district, Danville, tea partiers also demonstrated on Perriello's office. On Saturday, they again showed up when Secretaries Chu and Vilsack visited the area to talk about rural economies, agriculture, and green energy. At the event, several tea partiers were apparently asked to leave the premises. Star News out of Danville/Reidsville even had a special show last night discussing these allegations, nevermind interviewing clearly sympathetic to the tea partiers. Since I was at the event, I can offer my eye-witness perspective, and I called Perriello's Press Secretary, Jessica Barba, for an on-the-record accounting of the events. Importantly, this event was hosted by the USDA and the Obama Administration, so Perriello had no control over the event, as it wasn't organized by his office.
Tea Partiers have been stating that the questions were staged at the event, seen in Perriello's calling specific people by name, and that Perriello purposefully and deliberately overlooked their questions, afraid to answer the tough questions. On Star News, the tea party organizer, Nigel Coleman, made these assertions - assertions corroborated by Del. Danny Marshall, though, Marshall fairly would not subscribe intent to Perriello. Here's what I saw: there were between 200-250 people at the event, and, since I was in the back during the Q&A, I can say that dozens upon dozens of people raised their hands to ask Perriello and the Secretaries questions - too many for each potential questioner to ask his/her question. To me, the Q&A did not look staged, and because of the slew of raised hands, no one was purposefully overlooked during the questions. Barba said that no one was given a question beforehand and that no one was purposefully neglected in the choice of questioners. She highlighted that, to the contrary, Perriello has held townhalls throughout the district, and that Perriello has much experience - even enjoys - taking the tough questions.
Tea partiers have implied either that Perriello asked the police to remove dissenters from the property or that the police department - or some other agent - was overzealous in the defense of Perriello, even intimidating protesters days later. As Star News put it, citizens were silenced. I did not see anyone asked to leave the property, and, obviously, I cannot speak for the police department. Barba said that Perriello had no knowledge that protesters were asked to leave the premises; he was even surprised to learn about the incident the next morning. With this in mind, according to Barba, Perriello and his staffers were not involved, in any way, with the actions of the police. On Star News, the event host, Buddy Mayhew, stated that he had told the police department, days beforehand, that, as it was his private property, he did not want any demonstrations - of any kind - on his property; he did not want to distract from the purpose and specialness of the event.
As an office policy, Barba said, no staff person is allowed to call the police unless there are threats of physical violence. The voicing of our disagreement are First Amendment principles, and the Congressman welcomes differences of opinion. By all accounts, the protests were/were to be non-violent, and as the facts show, Perriello and his staff did not involve the police in either circumstance.
Psychologically speaking, the presence of police is distressing and anxiety-provoking to be sure. To subscribe ulterior motives, however, contrary to the facts on the ground, to Rep. Perriello or his staff is intellectually lazy at best, partisan-hackery at worst. I do not know the intentions underlying these assertions, but I would ask that people take a deep breath and let the facts emerge. Don't jump to hasty, unfounded conclusions, and do not demonize the Congressman, because of disagreement, for these unfortunate incidences.
Of note, Rep. Perriello has met with Tea Partiers before in Charlottesville. According to Barba, to her knowledge and to the knowledge of Perriello's scheduler, there has been no request for tea partiers in Danville to meet with Perriello - Barba and the scheduler will double check to be sure. She also said that Perriello would be happy to meet with the tea partiers in Danville in the future.