After video circulated online Tuesday showing Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) New Hampshire chairman locked in a physical altercation with a protester dressed as a robot, the political organizer behind the stunt said in a phone interview with TPM that the tussle was unprovoked.
Aaron Black, a progressive activist, said in a phone interview that he had no idea the man who grabbed him at a event on the day of the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation primary was Cliff Hurst, Rubio’s state campaign chair.
“I just felt his hands and arms around my neck,” Black told TPM. “I asked, ‘Why are you putting your hands on me?’”
In the video, Hurst can be seen grabbing Black, who’s toting a homemade “ROBOT RUBIO” sign, around the neck in an effort to drag him away from where Rubio was speaking while others attempt to force Black from the area with massive campaign signs.
Black told TPM he asked Hurst, “Do you realize all these cameras are here and it doesn’t look good?” before the chairman released him and walked over to shake hands with Rubio.
Watch the confrontation:
Americans United for Change, a liberal advocacy group, confirmed that Black was dressed as Robot Rubio. Black’s involvement was first reported by the conservative news site Breitbart.
Black said that while there was no reason his protest should have turned physical, he doesn’t plan to file charges against Hurst.
“We exposed one of [Rubio’s] weaknesses and they didn’t know what to do,” he told TPM. “At the end of the day, we’re taking the moral high ground.”
But Hurst cast Black as the aggressor in the run-in, telling Breitbart in an interview that “he just attacked me.”
“We were right crowded together and he just almost knocked me down,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. I mean, he was violent against me.”
When asked about the end of the confrontation, Hurst told the Breitbart, “I figured he was going to not bother me anymore…And I wasn’t in a place to be bothered at that time.”
While Rubio drew ridicule for repeating himself three times in four minutes during the last Republican presidential debate, Black told TPM that the idea for “robot Rubio” was more broadly aimed at critiquing his ties to donors and record in office.
“We thought it would be funny to hit him on the robot thing, and it stuck,” he said. “I just wanted to troll him a little bit.”
Black also hinted at plans for future Rubio gags, but declined to offer specifics. He said only that they would be “visually significant, probably more colorful than what we did today, and coming fast.”