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The MT GOP conflates protest with violence
And it's just embarrassing.
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In the wake of yesterday’s protests over the silencing of Rep. Zooey Zephyr at the Capitol in Helena, the Montana GOP—at least some of the loudest voices in the caucus—has made a disconcerting show of framing the event as an episode of violence, a “riot” and an “insurrection.”
These accusations are as absurd as they are alarming. One need only watch the countless videos of the events, or read the charges of the seven individuals arrested at the protest, to see that the GOP has fabricated this narrative of violence.
Article II of the Montana Constitution guarantees that “The people shall have the right peaceably to assemble, petition for redress or peaceably protest governmental action.” Judging by the available documentation of the protest, that seems to be what transpired yesterday.
Around 4 PM, roughly 100 people filed into the gallery of the House of Representatives. As has been the case for the past week, the Speaker of the House, Matt Regier, declined to recognize Representative Zooey Zephyr, a trans woman, over her scathing criticism of Senate Bill 99, a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors. Yesterday, when Zephyr was denied the opportunity to speak, the assembled crowd began to yell “Let her speak!”
Speaker Regier subsequently ordered the crowd cleared from the gallery. Members of Montana Highway Patrol and the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Department—some of whom wore riot gear—arrested seven individuals who did not leave. The Sheriff’s Office charged all seven with misdemeanor criminal trespassing, and they have all since been released. Representative Zephyr, for her part, stood at her desk with a non-functioning microphone in a raised hand.
No one has been charged with a violent crime or misdemeanor. The most damning available evidence against the protestors is a video that captures a single person hitting a glass door, albeit loudly, in rhythm with the chant.
Although some protestors were pushed aggressively from the gallery, many videos capture peaceful interactions between law enforcement and arrestees. Sheriff Leo Dutton, for one, appeared almost fatherly as he spoke to the cameras with Hannah Pate, an arrestee, by his side. Another arrestee, Paul Kim, chatted amicably with reporters outside the statehouse, his hands in cuffs behind his back. Honestly, I kept waiting for him to raise a martini to his lips.
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Yet some GOP members and conservative media pundits have nonetheless depicted the afternoon as a display of “far-left” violence and mayhem.
“Montana Democrats supporting and condoning a riot and an insurrection at the state capitol today. Further proof how out of touch @MTDems are with the majority of Montanans!” GOP state Chairman Don “K” Kaltschmidt wrote on Twitter.
Conservative commentator Aaron Flint began tagging his Twitter posts “#transurrection,” which I hope one day becomes the name of a shredding punk band. Lemme know if you need a bass player.
The GOP House leadership released their own statement, in which they described “far-left agitators” who had “endangered legislators and staff.” The Montana Freedom Caucus called for “immediate disciplinary action against Democrat Representative Zooey Zephyr for the encouragement of insurrection on the floor of the Montana House of Representatives.” Holy shit. Did the whole Fight Club crew roll on the House floor for an impromptu melee when we weren’t looking?
Some of the most ridiculous accusations of violence came from Speaker Regier, shortly before the protest even occurred.
On April 22, Regier posted on Twitter a handful of screenshots of emails he’d received from pissed-off constituents regarding his decision to silence his colleague, Representative Zephyr, because he didn’t like what she said.
“Differences of opinion make Montana strong. Violent rhetoric, either on the House floor or on the internet, does not,” Regier wrote.
While I doubt that calling the Speaker a “transphobic cunt” or “white-trash” will curry much favor with him, this name-calling does not constitute violence. Not even close. I believe that Regier’s pearl-clutching elevates him to the status of what conservatives often call a snowflake.
Regier and his like-minded colleagues have demonstrated a willingness to frame basic democratic freedoms—of assembly, and of speech—as something abhorrent. While their deviation from the truth is comic in its absurdity, their decision to pull an unsubstantiated narrative of violence out of thin air is nothing short of chilling. It’s irresponsible, and we deserve more from our elected officials.