Pressing the Flesh: Democratic Congressman Assaults College Student Outside Pelosi Fundraiser

The amazing videotape below shows an encounter of Rep. Etheridge (D, NC-02) with college students outside a Nancy Pelosi Fundraiser. The students are presumably conservative activists but Etheridge quickly turns physical after the students ask the congressman to confirm that he supports the Obama agenda.

Etheridge insists that he has “a right” to know who the students are. I am not sure of the basis for that particular claim on a public street. What is clear is that he does not have the right to physical restrain a journalist or activist because they asked him a question on the street.

Even if these students were obnoxious, this appears to be a credible case of assault. While there was no serious physical harm, it is neither appropriate nor lawful to use such physical force unless threatened. The congressman is shown claiming that he is acting out of his right to know who these students are. That is not enough of a justification. This is not what is normally meant by pressing the flesh.

Based on the video, there is a basis for a criminal complaint. Celebrities like Sean Penn, Mick Jagger, and Kanye West have faced such charges in shoving matches with photographers.

Watching these videos, we may have been wrong about Democratic leadership telling members to avoid public meetings and unscripted townhall events. We had assumed it was for the protection of the members.

Update: Rep. Etheridge has issued the following statement:

“I have seen the video posted on several blogs. I deeply and profoundly regret my reaction and I apologize to all involved. Throughout my many years of service to the people of North Carolina, I have always tried to treat people from all viewpoints with respect. No matter how intrusive and partisan our politics can become, this does not justify a poor response. I have and I will always work to promote a civil public discourse.”

For other takes on the story, see Glenn Greenwald and Ben Smith.

49 thoughts on “Pressing the Flesh: Democratic Congressman Assaults College Student Outside Pelosi Fundraiser”

  1. Democrats want to do this to us all, and worse. You cannot support snuffing out of the lives of 48 million human organisms in the womb and not be a violent monster.

  2. Jill

    ” … I hope liberals will start looking at and addressing actions, not based on which party is performing these actions, but on the nature of the actions themselves. …”


    At times a difficult, but never-the-less necessary, discipline.

    “Always stand on principle even if you stand alone.” (John Adams)

  3. Byron, I guess you’re right. I should have analyzed it based on how I would have responded in the seventh grade.

  4. The kid showed much more restraint than I would have.

    I agree with Buddha, drunk on his own sense of power and importance.

  5. What is most striking to me about this incident is that it illustrates the fear and cowardice that have virtually paralyzed Congress. Who cares about the question that was asked? Who cares about the identity of the interrogator? What has happened to witty sarcasm? What has happened to the clever riposte? What has happened to the humorous reply? Why do those who pride themselves on their supposed ability to engage in intelligent debate virtually wet their pants when confronted in public? There are plenty of ways for people with a smidgeon of imagination to respond to loaded or dumb questions. Assault isn’t one of them.

  6. The congressman was being harassed by dirty tricksters and he knew it. It is too bad he apologized. I bet Breitbart succeeded and the race is now considered a “tossup”. They doctored the footage.

  7. Now that the supreme court ruled we can ship people off to be tortured, heh–why not? Maybe that’s the solution to pesky citizens who think they have rights. Here’s Glenn’s response: “UPDATE II: Given that this was a Democratic Congressman assaulting citizens who are perceived to be right-wing, I obviously knew that some people would rush to justify what he did; that’s part of the reason I posted this. But even I’m surprised by the extent of the eagerness to defend a clearly illegal and indefensible assault based on the political ideologies of those involved (just check the comment section for how extreme that mentality is, and I’ve seen it elsewhere). Some are honest enough to admit that because the victims here were right-wing advocates, they should be presumed to have provoked this and got what they deserved (who knew that the law of assault depends upon the political affiliation of aggressor and victim?), while others — amazingly — continue to fantasize about all sorts of events that they claim probably happened off camera to mitigate or justify the Congressman’s actions, even though: (a) I linked to the unedited video above which shows that no such thing happened and (b) Rep. Etheridge has now issued a statement and not even he claims there were any such mitigating or justifying events that were concealed as a result of dishonest video editing. But still, the claim persists.

    Some people obviously cannot accept that a Good Democrat could possibly do something bad to a conservative, and they’ll continue to deny reality — or just invent realities that don’t exist — to justify that. This is not a hard case. As Pam Spaulding said: “Sad that personal responsibility for being a violent hothead now comes with mitigation talking points. Dems need to quit it.” Tribalism is a natural part of the human perspective, but it’s amazing when even incidents as relatively trivial and clear-cut as this one are processed through its distorting lens. Do you think any Democrats defending Etheridge — or most conservatives criticizing him — would be doing so if he were a right-wing GOP Congressman from North Carolina who assaulted nice liberal students questioning him on a public sidewalk about his conservative views?”

  8. Yes, the politician wasn’t smart enough to give the provocateur enough rope to hang himself – and his master, Breitbart, if it was his setup.

    With all due respect to Mr. Greenwald, I don’t think harrassment on a public street is irrelevant, no matter who is doing the harrassing. If the “students” had assaulted the congressman

    [US Code (Chapter 7) – Section 111: Assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers or employees:

    In General whoever:
    forcibly assaults, resists, opposes, impedes, intimidates, or interferes with any person designated in section 1114 of this title while engaged in or on account of the performance of official duties;
    shall, where the acts in violation of this section constitute only simple assault, be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both, and in all other cases, be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both.]

    In the case of Rep. Stupak, Section 115 would probably apply.

    As frankdawg says, better public relations training is needed – or smarter politicians.

  9. I wonder if the Congressman regularly grabs lobbyists when they ask him questions? I’m going to guess there’s differential treatment at work in his response to paid donors and to someone he thinks is an ordinary citizen. And this is exactly the point. He felt free to abuse an ordinary citizen who asked a question, just as Buddha pointed out. The abuse of power isn’t an aberration for politicians in our society, it is the norm. Abusers often say they were somehow provoked, although, this time the Congressman does not claim this to be the case (I agree with James M., to his credit). Glenn Greenwald’s site links to the unedited version.

  10. I was doing what I usually do – “Hey! Look at the burning building!”. In this instance, set up or not, the Congressman’s reaction is simply unacceptable especially in light of the fact he apparently didn’t know it was a setup and was acting under the supposition that this was just another citizen. If he had known it was a setup, politicians are self-interested (more like self-fascinated) enough to have shown restraint. The bottom line is he dared to grab someone nominally a citizen in a threatening manner for asking questions. And my earlier statement stands: the less responsive to citizen interests the “elected” officials of this country become to citizens and the more responsive they grow to corporations, the greater the chances of violence are from both sides.

  11. James,

    Which is why we both said variations of “the Congressman’s behavior is not o.k.”

    What I’m saying is that it’s possible that both actors behaved badly. It’s to the Congressman’s credit that he didn’t make excuses. However, Just because one party in an incident behaves badly doesn’t mean the other gets a pass. And when the party releasing the video is well known for editing videos, using cheap theatrics, and other forms of dishonesty I see no reason NOT to suspect them of being dishonest.

  12. Swarthmore mom & Gyges,

    The Congressman apologized and didn’t bring up any provocation sufficient for his reaction. Given that we only saw a 40 second clip, I have no doubt the cameramen were truly annoying and/or harassing the Congressman. Still not OK.

  13. How do we even know that these people are merely students and not people on Breitbart’s payroll that go around and harrass democrats? Still the congressman is wrong for taking the bait.

  14. Glenn Greenwald has been following this story as well. Here’s his analysis: ”

    That’s a clear case of assault and battery (the unedited video from the first camera is here). There is some speculation that the individuals questioning him have some connection to the right-wing organization of Andrew Breitbart. I hope it goes without saying how irrelevant that is. The only reason I think this is worth noting is this: imagine what would have happened to those students if this situation had been reversed, and it was they who had physically assaulted Rep. Etheridge, rather than the other way around. How quickly would they have been arrested and prosecuted? The application of our laws isn’t supposed to depend upon who is perpetrating the crime and who the victim is. Obviously, there are few principles, if there are any, more discarded than that one in Washington, but it would be nice to see its being applied in this instance by having this Congressman, obviously inebriated with an extreme sense of entitlement, arrested and charged.

    UPDATE: In response to the emergence of this video, Etheridge’s office has released this statement:

    I have seen the video posted on several blogs. I deeply and profoundly regret my reaction and I apologize to all involved. Throughout my many years of service to the people of North Carolina, I have always tried to treat people from all viewpoints with respect. No matter how intrusive and partisan our politics can become, this does not justify a poor response. I have and I will always work to promote a civil public discourse.

    That’s nice. Of course, most people who commit crimes express regret once they get caught (especially on video) and it becomes a scandal, so it doesn’t affect the point that he ought to be treated exactly the same way as these individuals would have been had they physically assault him.”

  15. Update on the ACORN people:

    Charges Reduced in James O’Keefe Case
    Conservative Activists Accused of Tampering With Senator’s Phone Charged With Misdemeanor, not Felony

    (AP) Federal prosecutors filed reduced charges Friday against conservative activist James O’Keefe and three others who were accused of trying to tamper with the phones in Sen. Mary Landrieu’s New Orleans office.

    The new charges are contained in a bill of information, which can only be filed with a defendant’s consent and typically signals a plea deal. The new filing charges the four with entering a federal building under false pretenses, a misdemeanor. They had been arrested Jan. 25 on felony charges.

  16. Gyges You are right. Looks like Breitbart was effective though. Most the people on this blog bought it just as most Americans were led to believe ACORN was bad.

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