From Think Progress:
The lobbyist-run groups Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which orchestrated the anti-Obama tea parties earlier this year, are now pursuing an aggressive strategy to create an image of mass public opposition to health care and clean energy reform. A leaked memo from Bob MacGuffie, a volunteer with the FreedomWorks website Tea Party Patriots, details how members should be infiltrating town halls and harassing Democratic members of Congress:
- Artificially Inflate Your Numbers: “Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington.”
- Be Disruptive Early And Often: “You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep’s presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early.”
- Try To “Rattle Him,” Not Have An Intelligent Debate: “The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.”
The memo above also resembles the talking points being distributed by FreedomWorks for pushing an anti-health reform assault all summer. Patients United, a front group maintained by Americans for Prosperity, is currently busing people all over the country for more protests against Democratic members. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), chairman of the NRCC, has endorsed the strategy, telling the Politico the days of civil town halls are now “over.” Meanwhile, AHIP, the trade group and lobbying juggernaut representing the health insurance industry is sending staffers to monitor town halls and other right-wing front groups are stepping up their ad campaign to smear reform efforts. The strategy for defeating reform — recently outlined by an influential lobbyist to the Hill newspaper as “delay” then “kill” — is becoming apparent. By delaying a vote until after the August recess, lobbyists are now seizing upon recess town halls as opportunities to ambush lawmakers and fool them into believing there is wide opposition to reform.
It's already started. From this weekend, a story in the Austin American-Statesman:
Back in Central Texas while Congress is on a month-long recess, Congressman Lloyd Doggett faced an angry reception at a town hall meeting at an Austin Randalls store yesterday.
Doggett, D-Austin, spoke at the Randalls at Brodie and Slaughter lanes on Saturday. A video of the event on YouTube shows many in the crowd showed up with signs denouncing President Obama's proposed health care plan.
Witnesses say that when Doggett was asked if he would support the plan even if he found his constituents opposed it, Doggett said he would still support the plan. From there, the crowd began chanting "Just Say No," and overwhelmed the congressman as he moved through the crowd and into the parking lot.
"The folks there thought their voices weren't being heard," said Kathy Acosta, a Bastrop resident who attended the meeting at Randalls and another one later that day in her hometown. "They were angry, but they were respectful. There wasn't any violence."
No violence. Wow, that's a relief.
I think there is an important distinction here. It's one thing for activists to show up at a town hall meeting in order to ensure that their concerns are heard and addressed. It's quite another for them to show up in order to disrupt and close down the town hall meeting altogether (or, if not close it down, limit its utility). The strategy here is the latter, and while it may be successful, I'm not sure it is going to win over many converts.