NORTH CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA—Mitt Romney’s events are usually calm, which is why it was a surprise to hear yelling and see police drag two people, apparently Occupy protesters, out of the crowd. “She’s being choked! She’s being choked!” yelled one of the protesters, and I—along with several other reporters—rushed to see what the commotion was about. After dragging them onto a parking lot, the police went back, leaving the two demonstrators shouting at both the police and the Romney campaign.
I spoke with one of the protesters, Adrianna Varedi, a member of Occupy Charleston, and she explained the situation. “I was standing in line, quietly, reaching out to shake his [Romney’s] hand, when someone forcefully grabbed me from behind, and dragged me out,” she said, catching her breath as the color returned to her face.
Another one of the Occupiers, an older man named Paul Getsos, explained that this wasn’t the first time someone had been removed from a Romney event “The advance staffers will actually go around, and ask people if they supported Romney if they didn’t look like they belonged,” he said. He added that there was a big incident on Wednesday at a Romney event near Columbia, South Carolina, where a staffer aggressively removed an observer from the area.
Getsos gave me the person’s number, his name was Dylan, and I gave him a call. “We were at the event with a nine-foot tall ostrich that said ‘Romney has his head in the sand over jobs,’” he said. “The Romney guys told us to leave, and we said that only the police could remove us.”
“This made them angry,” said Dylan, “and one of the Romney staffers jumped at me, swung like he was going to hit me, and called me a faggot.” He added: “I’ve followed Romney all around the state, and his handlers act like thugs.”
It’s a little unseemly, but not unusual for political campaigns to quash disruptions and otherwise manage their events. But it’s one thing to keep people from interrupting the candidate, and something else entirely to rely on insults, intimidation, and force.