I go to a lot of Democratic events. And at some of them there have been counterdemonstrators.
I remember going to listen to Bill Clinton speak at the University of New Mexico in 1992. And as it happened I ended up right in front of a group of pro-life demonstrators who were holding up a big sign calling Clinton a draft-dodger and a baby-killer. They were also quite vocal, although Clinton had a mike and they were some distance away so I doubt if anyone at the stage heard them, but I sure did.
I remember watching John Kerry when he made his whistle stop in Winslow in 2004. In the back of the crowd were two men holding up a 'Bush/Cheney' sign and who booed when Kerry was being introduced. Like everyone else, I chose to ignore them.
I remember also in 2004, Hillary Clinton was giving a speech at the Wild Horse resort near Chandler. On the way in, I passed a group of Bush supporters who were enthusiastically waving signs, and strategically placed to try and make people think that the right road to go down was one that led to the casino there (not the building where the speech was.)
But hey, that's America. We believe in freedom of speech, and as long as people don't actually try to disrupt a campaign event they are every bit as free to show their non-support of a candidate as others are to show their support.
Except, apparently at John McCain rallies like the one in Miami today. It seems like his supporters are willing to threaten violence and engage in mob mentality if anyone dares to show up and suggest that they are not for McCain.
Tonight we'll be at the Obama-Clinton rally in Kissimmee, Florida, and we're breaking in from Miami, where John McCain just concluded his "Joe the Plumber" rally at Everglades Lumber.
After the rally, we witnessed a near-street riot involving the exiting McCain crowd and two Cuban-American Obama supporters. Tony Garcia, 63, and Raul Sorando, 31, were suddenly surrounded by an angry mob. There is a moment in a crowd when something goes from mere yelling to a feeling of danger, and that's what we witnessed. As photographers and police raced to the scene, the crowd elevated from stable to fast-moving scrum, and the two men were surrounded on all sides as we raced to the circle.
The event maybe lasted a minute, two at the most, before police competently managed to hustle the two away from the scene and out of the danger zone. Only FiveThirtyEight tracked the two men down for comment, a quarter mile down the street.
"People were screaming 'Terrorist!' 'Communist!' 'Socialist!'" Sorando said when we caught up with him. "I had a guy tell me he was gonna kill me."
Asked what had precipitated the event, "We were just chanting 'Obama!' and holding our signs. That was it. And the crowd suddenly got crazy."
Garcia told us that the man who originally had warned the two it was his property when they had first tried to attend the rally with Obama T-shirts was one of the agitators. Coming up just before the scene started getting out of hand, the man whispered in Garcia's ear, "I'm gonna beat you up the next time I see you." Garcia described him for us: "a big stocky man wearing a tweed jacket." He used hand motions to emphasize this was a large guy. We went back to look for the gentleman twenty minutes after the incident but didn't find him.
The two Obama supporters had attempted to attend the event with tickets printed from the McCain website. Both were clad in Obama T-shirts, Sorando in a blue "Obama '08" shirt, and Garcia in a white "Obama-Biden" shirt. They were told that the event was being held on private property and that wearing the shirts or carrying the signs they would be asked to either remove the shirts or not attend.
For an hour during the rally, the two had stood across the street from the lumberyard on public property holding yard signs. Some drivers honked in support, and others honked in disapproval. When the rally ended and the crowd spilled out, the disturbance began.
Note that they did obey the request to vacate the private property, and were situated on the street, which by law is public access (anyone can stand there and demonstrate in other words.)
Well, Tony had something else to say to the man who had threatened him:
Garcia had a message for his stocky, tweed-clad threatener. "You tell that guy he can find Tony Garcia down at the West Dade library every day from 7 to 7 helping people early vote. I'll be there from 1 to 5 on Saturday and Sunday. You tell him if he wants to kick my ass that's where he can find me. Come beat me up."
Not thirty seconds later, John McCain drove by in his SUV and waved at Garcia on the sidewalk, who was happily waving his Obama sign.
But this is something that the McCain supporters don't get. Maybe Tony Garcia got under their skin by using his Constitutional right to counterdemonstrate at a McCain rally. But what else is he going to do this weekend? Darn right, he's volunteering to help people vote.
There are millions of Tony Garcias in the country, people who want change and whether they are as outspoken as he is or not, are going to do their part to make it happen.
We are all Tony Garcia.