Stun Guns or Free Speech

stun guns

Talk Back, Ignore or get out the stun guns?

Back from Netroots Nation, and while I’m still a little tired, I’m energized as usual after the conference.  As many of you no doubt know, the pathetic shadow conference Right Online was closer than ever this year.  And by “pathetic shadow conference”, I mean it.  Every year, Right Online finds out where Netroots Nation is and schedules near there, because there’s something about being conservative that requires being childish and petulant.  This year, it was especially ugly, because the Right Online was closer than ever to Netroots Nation, and they were in fact in the Hilton that many of us—including myself—were staying at.  Which means that the childish, petulant behavior kept spilling over.  And also that I ran into Andrew Breitbart downtown and took a picture of him standing with a friend (with his permission, of course!).  Breitbart showed up at Netroots Nation, which is irritating because while the vast majority of attendees react to such behavior the way you should—with scorn bordering on indifference—a handful of people got provoked and taped themselves yelling stupid shit at him.  Which is what he no doubt hoped would happen, and leave media with the assumption that “both sides” are bad, even though only one side schedules an entire conference for the sole purpose of irritating their opponents.

False equivalence is particularly a problem when you consider that the one incident that everyone heard about was a Right Online attendee harassing some Netroots attendees.  The main victim of the harassment told her story in a panel about fighting Islamaphobia (which was, by the way, a great panel that I learned a lot from). She was wearing a hijab  while standing outside a bar that was having a Netroots event, talking to some friends, and at least one of her friends was also wearing a hijab, and some dude from a shitty right wing blog rolled up and started to harass her and her friend.  When they told him to kindly fuck off, he started taking their pictures (at times like these don’t you wish you had some stun guns to deal with the situation?!>).  (For what purpose, I’m not sure—he seemed to be under the impression that someone could use the photos as some sort of expose of Netroots Nation, or maybe he thought the police would somehow stop free Americans from wearing what they like as they stand around on the streets of Minneapolis.)  At this point, a number of people at the party came to the women’s defense, and he was arrested.  Marc and I walked up to the club right as the man was being shoved into a cop car, and I said something about it, since something about the situation seemed like it was more than a drunk-asshole-getting-arrested situation.  Indeed, it was.  And of course, someone got video of much of the confrontation between the man who was harassing the women and the Netroots folks who pushed back. You can see the confrontation (with my Texas buddy Matt Glazer!) starting at 4:30.

Here is a first person account.  Here’s the harasser’s online profile, and here is his arrest record.

I want to highlight that the guy in question is threatening to call Andrew Breitbart, which again I don’t completely understand.  Does he think Breitbart has some legal authority to stop people from standing in the streets wearing clothing items he disapproves of?  I suppose I can see how you’d get confused, since all this happened the day Anthony Weiner resigned.  But it’s unsettling to see how at least one of Breitbart’s fans imbues the man with nearly god-like powers.  I’m inclined to think the guy is bluffing, by the way, and was just hoping the threat of calling the Breitbart cops who would make the women pay for wearing hijabs would make them, I don’t know, stop or something.

Anyway, the incident was understandably upsetting, and some people reacted by organizing a flash mob at the Hilton.  I stood on the second floor and watched it; it was mainly a bunch of people milling around, many in hijabs.  But it worked as intended, getting coverage for the incident and giving the protestors a chance to explain their point of view:


Jesse and I got in the elevator with some protestors after the incident and spoke briefly to them; they were excited and a little scared about everything that happened, but felt like they had made their point.

Of course, you can predict the right wing reaction, considering that what happened was a woman claiming a man harassed her: immediately hide behind claims that women are liars and not to be believed.  John Hawkins of Right Wing News went straight to that strategy.  Believe it or  not, I was one of the liberal bloggers he was talking to, as was Jesse.  I don’t recall if I explained to him that I had seen the guy getting arrested, but you know, if he was so skeptical, he could have asked if we knew anything. By the way, the characterization of Netroots as “90-95% white” is really laughable from someone who was there with Right Online, since when we were talking to him the entire conference was moving from one location to another.  But I wouldn’t characterize them as 90-95% white, since that figure is way too low.

Hopefully, the right wingers won’t be as close next year.  While it did provide from some really amusing encounters (liberals are apparently very frightening to ride elevators with!), it’s also scary, since there is the unhinged element of conservative activists, and a willingness to make casual death threats, as Melissa Clouthier did on Twitter, when she said, “Bunch of #nn11 folks in the elevator called me the enemy. I reminded that folks on the right pack heat. #ro11.”

If you are concerned with your own personal security visit