Occupy Gingrich! Newt Gets Heckled by Protesters at Brains Talk

The former Speaker's remarks met with an Occupy-style Mic Check and shouting at the University of Iowa.

IOWA CITY -- This afternoon, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich visited the University of Iowa to argue for the centrality of brain research to his domestic policy. Brought to campus by the undergraduate group Students for Newt Gingrich, it appeared the candidate would conduct a sober, intellectual discussion in an academic setting.

Things did not go as planned.

Within seconds of taking the stage, Gingrich was interrupted by a group of protesters who appeared to identify with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Several dozen individuals began shouting the call-and-response "Mic Check!" chant that has become widely identified with Occupy actions, and the candidate was unable to begin his address.

"Mr. Gingrich, we are here to protest your speech today," the demonstrators began, "we object to callous and arrogant attitude towards poverty and poor people."

Chaos erupted, with Gingrich supporters and detractors shouting at one another openly. The hecklers called Gingrich's desire to deregulate U.S. child labor laws a "disgusting" suggestion; many of their other demands were inaudible in the pandemonium.

When it became clear that the protestors were not going to quiet down, some audience members became angry at the disruption.

"You've had your freedom of speech!" one man yelled, standing and thrusting his finger.

"How many people would like to hear Mr. Gingrich speak today?" another audience member cried out, to applause.

But the shouting continued, even as security began escorting demonstrators out of the room.

"I'm going to try to talk over them," Gingrich finally said, after several minutes. From there, the audience began to quiet down. The candidate made a coy allusion to Occupy Wall Street's "We Are the 99%" slogan, saying, "I appreciate the fact that 95 percent of you -- maybe even 99 percent of you -- try and have an intelligent discussion."

"Not a fat chance!" Someone yelled in response.

"Rather than the 1 percent who try to impose their will by making noise," Gingrich continued.

After that, the former House Speaker began an uninterrupted lecture, given without notes, that addressed the deleterious effect of Alzheimer's and other brain-degenerative diseases on the economy and on the American public. In Gingrich's view, our ability to study and understand the brain is rapidly developing; he suggested that creating incentives for new brain research would be a cornerstone of his domestic policy.

"This is a very big idea in an area that not many political leaders are willing to tackle," he said. "It will lead to a dramatic explosion of new science that will lead directly to a better quality outcome for health, which would lower the cost of health care, which would help solve our long-term budget problems and would create a huge new zone for growing American jobs."

Though Gingrich was able to conclude his 15-minute remarks without further interruption, tension grew again during the question and answer period after critics attacked his economic views and personal history.

Video credit: Joe Fassler

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Joe Fassler is a writer based in Brooklyn. His fiction has appeared in The Boston Review, and he regularly interviews authors for The Lit Show. In 2011, his reporting for TheAtlantic.com was a finalist for a James Beard Foundation Award in Journalism.

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