No evidence that protesters are paid to disrupt Republican town hall meetings

Yeah, No Shit.

 
Several Republican lawmakers have accused protesters at recent town hall-style meetings of being the tools of deep-pocketed benefactors pushing a liberal agenda.

They’re being paid to demonstrate, some GOP officials say, with some activists being shipped in from out of state to Republican-led congressional districts to kick up an artificial fuss.

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas was one Republican who leveled the charge in a Feb. 21 statement. Gohmert was refusing to hold any constituent meetings because of protests elsewhere.

“Unfortunately, at this time there are groups from the more violent strains of the leftist ideology, some even being paid, who are preying on public town halls to wreak havoc and threaten public safety,” the statement read.

His statement noted former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords “was shot at a public appearance,” prompting Giffords to release a statement excoriating members of Congress who “have abandoned their civic obligations” to “have some courage” and “hold town halls.”

While Gohmert is not the only official to claim protesters are being paid, nothing has yet turned up to support those claims. The burden of proof still lies with the accusers, however, and Republicans haven’t been offering any evidence (and neither did Democrats when they made similar claims about the tea party a few years ago).

Nothing proven

First thing about these town hall protests: Crowds have been pretty raucous and confrontational, but not violent.

Gohmert spokeswoman Kimberly Willingham did not provide evidence that protesters had been paid.

Also silent when we asked for proof was Jim DeMint, a former senator from South Carolina who now is president of the conservative Heritage Foundation. He told Greta Van Susteren on MSNBC on Feb. 22 that’s he’d been reading the Indivisible Guide, a handbook for grassroots protest compiled by several Democratic former congressional staffers.

DeMint tried to draw a contrast between Indivisible’s protesters and the tea party, saying Indivisible’s activists were “very well-financed, very well-organized” and were “being bused around to go to these different town halls to disrupt them.”

That was news to the leaders of Indivisible, who have said they only tried to provide resources — how to found an activist group, how to reach members of Congress, how to hold meetings and form talking points, etc. — to groups unhappy with leaders in their districts.

“It’s easier to say all these protests are paid than to admit there are wide swaths of people in your district who disagree with how they are represented in Congress,” Sarah Dohl, a spokeswoman for Indivisible told PolitiFact.

Dohl said there were only a handful of people behind Indivisible, which offers a website that has registered more than 5,300 different activist groups in order to help them organize. The group was conceived over Thanksgiving 2016, she said, actually drawing from some tea party principles (keeping groups relatively small and committed to local issues, for example). While they have received some donations, none of the board members draw a salary.

Most of the people Indivisible helps have not been politically active before, Dohl said, but President Donald Trump’s election had sparked them into action.

One such protester is Caitlynn Moses, a 23-year-old from Fayetteville, Ark. She told us she had never gotten involved in politics, but helped organize her group Ozark Indivisible to convince Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., to hold a town hall meeting in Springdale on Feb. 22.

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