Recess Watch: Town-Halls Boil Over Into Violence

It's August, and lawmakers are back in their home states talking to constituents. Liberals and conservatives alike will show up to town-hall meetings and other events to question their elected officials--sometimes loudly--about health care and the rest of Washington's business, as lawmakers make the case for their own agenda. When passions run high, debate can be spirited. We'll be watching.

It would be naive to say that things are "getting" out of hand: town-hall meetings in Tampa, Florida and Mehlville, Missouri boiled over into shoving, fighting and arrests Thursday night, marking the craziest day of the escalating recess town-halls yet. Earlier this week, there was a protester who hung Rep. Frank Kravotil (D-MD) in effigy, and a death threat against Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC)--both disturbing developments to be sure. But last night there was actual violence.

In Tampa, a town-hall meeting hosted by Rep. Kathy Castor (D) erupted into some shoving amid chants of "you work for us!" The Tampa Tribune reports at least two scuffles, with a photo of one town-hall goer standing outside with his shirt ripped and a scratch across his chest. Here's video from YouTube:

In Mehlville, MO, six people (including a Post-Dispatch reporter) were arrested outside a forum on aging hosted by Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO)--three for "suspicion of assault," two for interfering, and one for peace disturbance. From the Post-Dispatch's story:
"You've got to understand -- we're at a very volatile situation, we've got 800 people and we've got to maintain order," [St. Louis County Police Spokesman Rick] Echkard said Friday morning. "They did what they had to do."...

The forum drew an overflow crowd of several hundred to Bernard Middle School gym in south St. Louis County. Dozens of people, many carrying signs about the health care debate, were kept out because of the turnout. The back and forth between factions within the crowd created a carnival-like atmosphere inside and out between members of the movement opposing President Barack Obama's policies and groups who came to show support for the president's proposals.
A conservative activist says he was assaulted outside the event; two supporters of President Obama's health care reforms say they were attacked by police from behind.

Here's video of a confrontation, apparently involving some SEIU members. A man in a purple shirt lies on the street (later we see him wearing a button reading "We Can't Wait"--an SEIU health care slogan), scuffling with another man in a tan shirt. Another man screams at one of the other purple-shirted town-hall goers, "You attacked him!" Amid the screams, the man in the tan shirt alleges being pushed:

The Rubicon has been crossed.