Events, Michigan — December 14, 2012 at 6:43 am

UPDATED x3 – Tentgate: What really happened?


Curiouser and curiouser…

The destruction of the two Americans for Prosperity tents on the grounds of the Michigan State Capitol building during Tuesday’s anti-Right to Work for Less rally has stirred interest nationally.

Those on the right portray it as a violent upheaval of “union thugs” and “union goons” who acted as predicted: with violence and mayhem and racism and vandalism.

Those on the left have framed it as anti-union conservative groups getting their just desserts for their harmful attacks on working men and women.

The truth, I believe, is that union members at the rally were stoked to a fever pitch by Americans for Prosperity’s huge footprint in the middle of their rally and by intentionally antagonistic Fox News and operatives who were there to incite reaction and film it. Why? To help further their narrative that we shouldn’t care about the attacks on the rights of union members because VIOLENCE. VIOLENCE! VIOLENCE!!!

I believe that a handful of union members among a crowd of upwards of 18,000, responded to that antagonism, acted shamefully and did, in fact, behave like thugs. They were helped along very intentionally by AFP staff and Fox News contributor (and comedian) Steven Crowder to maximize the negative perception of ALL union members and to make themselves look like victims. If even 100 union men and women were involved in helping to tear down the tents, that’s still well under 0.1% of the thousands of people who were there and clearly not proof that union members are all “thugs” or “goons”.

Not that you would ever know this by visiting the various right wing websites, news channels or radio programs.

Since the event, the right, including Crowder and even Hot Dog Guy Clint Tarvin, along with a ready-willing-and-able conservative news and radio machine, have done everything in their power to maximize their anti-union narrative. While the funds that have been collected for Tarvin have now surpassed $31,000 to replace $500 worth of folding tables, crockpots, coolers and various food items, he is appearing on conservative radio and television programs around the clock and was front and center at today’s AFP rally to demand justice for their tents and Tarvin’s hot dogs. And, frankly, the more he talks about the event, the less credible Tarvin becomes.

Here’s the timeline of events as I have been able to reconstruct them. It’s important to note that there were actually TWO AFP tents on the grounds. One on the north lawn and one on the south lawn. Much of the video tape you have seen came from the one on the south lawn. This was the second tent to go down and it was the one where Clint Tarvin had his hot dog table (not cart as has been widely reported — his cart was safe and sound at home.)

Sometime in late morning, a man dressed in workman’s clothes went around the north tent and began loosening the straps on the outside of it. At the time, the tent was virtually, if not actually, empty. Yesterday, I both emailed and spoke at length to Dr. Sandra L. Cade from the Michigan Peace Team (Facebook page HERE.) Dr. Cade witnessed the loosening the straps. She wrote me this:

I had been standing near the completely empty other tent before it came down. A union marshal had asked my Michigan Peace Team (MPT) affinity team to stand by and accompany one of their marshals so he could get others. Meanwhile, the Americans for Prosperity man who had been the only one inside, stood at the open doorway with the remaining marshal. A few minutes later, the AFP man left, as did the marshals.

Then a man in work clothes loosened – not cut – a rope near the tent front. Slowly, the remaining ropes were loosened clockwise and the tent came down. Another guy in work clothes unscrewed stakes that would have been potential places to trip people. No one was injured and the people looking on chuckled. Minutes later, a gentleman in a black overcoat and velvet fedora, came over from the other AFP tent.

Dr. Cade described seeing Fedora Guy (see update below showing that “Fedora Guy” is Stacy Swimp) earlier that morning:

Earlier that morning, I stood with my MPT affinity group watching as he [Swimp] and other AFP people expressed their Constitutional Right to free speech in defense of the Right to Work legislation. When a union guy started shouting responses, two union marshals placed themselves on either side of him saying “C’mon brother, you know he just want to egg you on. Don’t give him what he wants.” “A guy can only take so much of this (expletive),” said the union guy. I placed my hand on his arm and told him that I understood he was upset and suggested that he look around to see how many more people were expressing their Free Speech rights in a way that supported collective bargaining. The union marshals led the guy away.

After the first tent went down, Dr. Cade told me, Swimp went to the other tent where there were more people inside, including Clint Tarver, and she followed shortly after. There she saw another man in workman’s clothes loosening straps on the outside of the tent.

Recall that Tom Duckworth described a guy in an NRA jacket and cap in his interview, a guy he had seen earlier inside the AFP tent, loosening straps.

However, there was more than one person loosening the straps. Check out this video at the 0:25 mark. Watch for the person in the long burgundy coat who appears to have a mask on:

The person in the burgundy coat with the mask on may be one the people described in a Talking Points Memo piece as “masked instigators”. The AFP has, apparently, begun to shift blame on the collapse of the tents from soley union members to now include members of the Occupy movement, another group they characterize as composed of mainly violent thugs.

UPDATE: The burgundy coat person is actually a woman without a mask. She appears to be a disgruntled union supporter:

(Hat tip to @NicoleGennette who tweeted me this video.)

This next video, however, shows at least THREE people loosening the straps:

At the very start you see Masked Instigator Guy Red Coat Woman on the left. Then you see a guy in workman’s clothes and a hard hat. Then you see a guy in a black coat and stocking cap.

In other words, the downing of the tent was done by several people and it’s not at all evident that they were all actually union members. It’s also worth noting that the tent wasn’t “torn down” by an angry mob. A few people basically pulled up the stakes.

While this was going on, Dr. Cade watched Swimp encourage people inside the tent. You can see that in this video where you see him tell Howell tea partier Wendy Day to get into the tent at the 0:25 mark:

He tells Day, “I need you to come inside.”

“Why?” asks Day. “Just come inside,” Swimp answers. Meanwhile, inside, others inside the tent are urging people to LEAVE the tent because it’s coming down.

[Side note: Wendy Day is a notorious tea party activist from Howell, Michigan who I have had some fun with in the past. She is a homeschooler who once sat on the Howell School Board and was busted for blogging during Board meetings.]

Although I have yet to identify him, Dr. Cade described Swimp as “clearly in charge”.

Dr. Cade picks up her story:

So, I was there when the tent came down and there were, indeed, hot dogs & fixings on a table near the entrance. There was no cart; no one got beat up; no cart was destroyed. I saw a union marshal – trained in non-violent response – ask (and receive) help in lifting the edge of the fallen tent in order to fold up the table because “we want to make sure no one trips and gets hurt.” I saw another use a pocket knife to slice through the tent fabric because an AFP guy asked for help in looking for his computer, which had also been on the table. They didn’t find it.

The marshals can be seen using knives of some kind to get to the inside of the tent at around the 5:15 mark in the video above. If you watch the video, you can see that, as Dr. Cade describes, except for a couple young men, everybody stayed off of the tent, encircling it but staying off it. When the marshals begin cutting into the tent to make sure everyone is out, you can see people filming it and one man says, “That’s nice malicious destruction of property.” Others are trying to get into the tent the marshals are cutting and one woman can be heard to say, “My property is in there and I want it.”

While this happening, Dr. Cade was on the west side of the tent, closest to the Capitol. On the other side of the tent, closest to Capitol Avenue, Steven Crowder was brawling with union members in the minutes before the tent came down. According to Dr. Cade, the police arrived within 15 minutes of the tent coming down but Crowder claims he was unable to find any police at all after he was assaulted. Again, as I discussed this morning, the man that assaulted him had to get up off the ground before he took a swing at Crowder. If you watch this next video at around the 5:40 mark, you’ll see the union guy who punched him having words with the guy next to Crowder.

At 5:50 or so, Crowder puts his hand on the man’s shoulder and, as the camera pans away, the union guy is suddenly on the ground. When he gets back on his feet, he goes after Crowder, clearly believing that he had knocked him down. Who actually did knock him down isn’t obvious and it may well have been the guy next to Crowder. Or, perhaps he simply tripped.

Dr. Cade finishes recounting what she saw in Lansing on Tuesday:

Once it was completely down, approximately 30 State Troopers marched in, eventually forming an outward facing circle, telling everyone to “Get off the tent”. One State Trooper appeared to lose his cool and knocked down a labor protestor, who took a long time in getting up, with the help of two others at his side. I stayed at the side of the man in the black overcoat and another AFP guy in a green sweatshirt, who was trying to stand on a table. I assured him that he would be all right. Eventually, he was led away by some marshals and another MPT affinity team.

In the meantime, my team moved to the other side of the State Trooper circle. Their determined faces as they stood – truncheons at the ready – did the job of intimidating anyone who might have thought of taking any violent action. After about five minutes, an officer in charge signaled for them to form a squad and, as they marched away, the crowd sang ¨Na, na, na na na na, Hey hey, Good bye!¨. Several people tromped over the tent; a union guy picked up hot dogs to offer to the crowd; a plastic chandelier that had been uncovered when the fabric was cut got smashed. The marshals urged everyone to leave the remains of the tent alone.

So, who loosened the straps on the tents so that it would collapse? That is very difficult to say. It could have been AFP people dressed as “masked instigators” and union members in order to make Occupiers and union members look bad. Tom Duckworth’s story suggests that’s true. It could have been actual Occupy folks, trying to stir up unrest. It could have been union guys being idiots. It could have been a combination of more than one of these groups. What’s clear is that the national narrative has been co-opted very effectively by the right in order to cast blame on union members themselves completely absent of proof that this happened. Yes, once the tent began going down, union members helped it along. But, it was the loosening of the straps that caused the tent to fall, not violent acts of vandalism by union members.

Meanwhile, Crowder becomes more insufferable with every interview. This man is clearly seen in multiple videos antagonizing union members throughout the day, trying to provoke a response. He himself admits that he did this. When he finally gets one, he is suddenly the big victim. Aided by Swimp, he managed to ensure that there were people inside the tent when it collapsed and has since spun a more harrowing story with each new telling. However, considering how outraged Crowder is, he never took any action to press charges. According to him, he couldn’t find any police to report the incident to. This outlandish claim is completely laughable to anyone actually at the rally which was literally crawling with police. Yet, in an interview with Michael Coren, he makes that claim (at the 2:58 mark in the video which is almost nauseatingly unwatchable):

It took these people about 30 minutes to destroy and take apart a tent — by the way, for the second time — and no police officers were to be found. As a matter of fact, I’m trying to file a police report by phone because, after the assault, I couldn’t find any…

Again, for anyone that was at the Capitol on Tuesday, this is positively absurd.

State Police are still waiting for Crowder to take time from the interview circuit to file a lawsuit so that they can begin an investigation:

“There is video footage of him being assaulted. We don’t know who the suspect is, but we could do a several month investigation and find the suspect,” Inspector Gene Adamczyk, spokesperson for the state police, told TPM on Thursday. “But if Mr. Crowder is not going to prosecute, we have not gained anything, we’ve wasted resources.”

So far Crowder has not sought out police help after he was hit. Adamczyk pointed out he’s instead turned the video into a national conservative media tour.

“I saw Mr. Crowder’s interview on Sean Hannity and he wants to have an MMA-sanctioned fight with this individual,” he said. Crowder told Hannity that if the suspect doesn’t come forward for the MMA fight (which he said would be held for charity), Crowder would “press charges.”

Adamczyk did not sound impressed by the plan.

“You can’t leverage the law for personal gain,” he said. “Either you’re the victim, or you’re not. So if he’s the victim of an assault, and he wants to file a complaint, we will definitely investigate it.”

Yes, he wants to have a fistfight with the union guy who punched him. And, if he won’t have a fist fight with him, Crowder will then press charges. This is nothing more than a crass attempt to extend the news cycle on their “union members are thugs and criminals” narrative.

While Crowder didn’t file a lawsuit, AFP finally did, on Thursday night, a full two days later.

Clint Tarver The Hot Dog Guy is also doing the talk show circuit and there are some things in his story that simply don’t add up. In an interview with Breitbart wannabe Lee Stranahan, he first says that he was hired to hand out hot dogs. People would get a ticket from AFP and he would give them a hot dog, just like other times they hired him. It’s at 1:00 mark in the following video:

Then, at 2:40, he tells about how two guys came into the tent wearing masks. These two began overturning tables, etc. according to Tarver, but not before he gave hot dogs to two masked guys who somehow has been permitted inside the tent wearing masks and had possession of hot dog tickets:

Two guys came into the tent, they pushed they way into the tent, ’cause we were under the tent. One had a devil’s mask on, a Halloween devil’s mask on and the other one had a ski mask on. [Stranahan explains that one of the masks was a Guy Fawkes mask.]

So, these guys came in and I just thought maybe it might been like, uh, everybody’s havin’ fun. So, when the guy came up and took his ski mask off, gave me a ticket for a hot dog, I gave him a hot dog. He said, “My friend wants one, too. So he took his mask off and I gave him a hot dog.

Three minutes later, they were turning over the coffee urns that was next to me…they turned tables over and by that time they started cuttin’ the tent.

Now, you have to admit, THAT is a pretty compelling story. It’s got excitement. It’s got bad guys. It’s got one cool as hell good guy (Tarver.)

It’s also complete bullshit. Are we to believe that, while all of the chaos was swirling around this tent, Tarver had a conversation with a couple of kids in masks, kids who by some odd miracle had been let into the tent and had tickets for hot dogs, and then gave them hot dogs? Only to have the tent being cut to shreds around him a few minutes later? Seriously?

I have no doubt whatsoever that Clint Tarver is one awesome dude who makes a mean dog. I have no doubt that he was basically an innocent bystander when all the tent came down around him, causing him to lose $500 worth of stuff. But I’m not buying his story one bit. It simply doesn’t pass the smell test. Given that he’s now doing interviews all over Fox News and attended an AFP press conference today to “demand justice”, it’s clear that he has signed on with the anti-union Republicans that his wife works for.

So what we had on Tuesday was a massive clusterfuck. Those on the right did everything they could to make sure that union members lashed out violently and union members, to my great dismay, obliged them. At the end of the day, the handful of idiots that actually brought that tent down and that actually engaged in violence made nearly 18,000 of their union brothers and sisters look VERY bad. Do I excuse them? Hell, no. I’m pissed at them. What they did was wrong.

However, Crowder and Tarver and the rest of their crew are culpable, as well. They clearly played a role in the affair and schemed to make things much worse than they would have otherwise.

As to who actually loosened those tent straps? Who knows? Frankly, I’m not far from believing that the AFP had some folks dressed in Guy Fawkes masks, in ski masks, and in union clothes inciting others and creating the mob rule that’s far too easy to pull off in large crowds of angry people.

For all of you out there that lay this exclusively at the feet of the unions, you’re deluding yourself. There’s blame to spread around to everyone.

Well, except the Michigan Peace Team and the rally marshals. Those people are the heroes from that day, for sure.

UPDATE: Thanks to @NicoleGennette who informs me that “Fedora Guy” is actually Stacy M. Swimp, president of the Frederick Douglass Society. Clint Tarver’s wife, the Vice-Chair for Ethnic Outreach for the Michigan Republican Party is on the FDS advisory board.

A visit to Swimp’s website shows a photo of him at the rally confirming that it is him. Swimp is part of the ultra-conservative National Center for Public Policy Research. As it turns out, so is Steven Crowder, who is a “media fellow” according to NCPPR blogger Amy Ridenour.

UPDATE 2: I think I need to make it clear the Swimp was not, so far as I can tell, involved with the loosening of the tent straps. He came over to the first tent, saw what had happened, and then went to the other tent to urge people to go inside, even as others were urging people to LEAVE the tent because it was about to come down. My assumption is that he was trying have people inside so it would make them look more victimized. They couldn’t play the victim card after the first tent because there were never more than two or three people in it at any time, sometimes less.

Also, I am trying to understand what the kid in the Guy Fawkes mask says just after 0:58 in the video with Wendy Day. He approaches the camera and tells the guy trying to get people out of the tent, “I’m Scott [inaudible]‘s grandson. That’s who I am.” I believe he repeats it sometime later. If anyone can figure out what he’s saying specifically and who the guy with the black coat and ball cap he’s talking to is, please let me know right away. It appears to me that the kid with Guy Fawkes mask is somehow connected with the AFP people or one of the other groups they partnered with as the took up a massive footprint in the middle of a labor rally with two giant and nearly empty tents.