Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) on Thursday dialed back his critical language of protesters at town hall events, breaking with a statement issued by the Utah GOP that called for congressional leaders to delay those events out of concern about “intimidation and violence.”
“Everybody needs to take a deep breath,” Chaffetz told the Salt Lake Tribune, saying he disagreed with both the call to delay town halls and with the way state GOP chair James Evans framed it in a Thursday news conference.
“Of course we’re going to continue to interact with constituents. I need that,” he continued. “I believe I have a duty and a need to hear from everybody in my district. That will take on a variety of forms, but we’re not going to shut that down.”
Yet Chaffetz reiterated his belief that some of the 2,000 people who showed up to his boisterous town hall meeting last week were “trying to incite violence.”
The statement put out by the Utah GOP claimed that “several people were arrested or detained for being disorderly” at Chaffetz’s event.
— UtahGOP (@UtahGOP) February 17, 2017
Police confirmed that there were two or three armed individuals wearing masks, noting that Utah is an open carry state. Cottonwood Heights Police Lt. Dan Barlett told TPM one woman was arrested for causing a public disturbance. No injuries or property damage were reported.
The event itself was rowdy, with town hall attendees yelling “Do your job” at the Utah congressman and booing him when he mentioned President Donald Trump.
In interviews immediately after the event, Chaffetz had much harsher words for the protesters, claiming they were a “very, very small minority” of constituents who attended the event as part of a “paid attempt to bully and intimidate.”
The Utah GOP’s letter also used sensationalist language, attributing its decision to urge lawmakers to hold tele-town halls to “angry leftist mobs” who have “displayed hostile, violent, and deliberately disruptive behavior.”
It also misrepresented a Tuesday incident at the Huntington Beach, California district office of a Republican lawmaker, claiming the local branch of progressive group Indivisible “knocked a 71-year-old staffer for Congressman Dana Rohrabacher unconscious.”
As TPM previously reported, in stark contrast to Rohrabacher’s incendiary statement describing a “mob” that attacked his staffer, Huntington Beach police characterized the incident as an accident. The staffer fell to the ground after accidentally hitting the 2-year-old daughter of a protester with the office door. While the staffer told police she hit her head, she did not become unconscious as a result of the fall, and instead fainted later during an interview with police. She was eventually taken to the hospital by a friend.