Sunday, August 9, 2009

Questioning the Right-Wing Story on Last Week's Altercation

Last Thursday, the right-wing teabaggers intent on derailing health care reform once again attempted to disrupt a town hall meeting hosted by Congressmen Russ Carnahan. Progressives did a good job organizing a response this time, and the right-wing narrative since has focused on claims that "union thugs" attacked conservative activist Kenneth Gladney. Service Employees International Union (the union in question) has denied the charges, saying that Gladney attacked first. Here I analyze the video that is the tea baggers' primary evidence, and argue that it seems perfectly consistent with SEIU's story, and rather inconsistent with Gladney's story.

First, let me point out that I was out of town that week, and so couldn't be at the event. So I am not claiming to know what happened. In fact, I feel very similar to how I felt before the Iraq War: I didn't know that Saddam Hussein did not possess WMDs; I just knew that no one had provided me with any good evidence that he did. Likewise, right now I have yet to be provided with any good evidence that Gladney was the victim rather than the instigator (or co-instigator) of last Thursday's events. If someone has further evidence that is relevant, I'd be very interested to see it.

So what is the evidence? The primary teabagger evidence is this video:

The video is grainy and starts late, and clearly does not capture the whole story, so we have no way of knowing whether the Republican who filmed it really included the full sequence of events that were captured on tape. However, at first glance, we see some sort of a scuffle with a lot of screaming, and then see a large man with an SEIU shirt pull someone (Gladney) to the ground. Later in the video, Gladney claims that he was attacked simply for trying to sell his merchandise. So, at least at a loose glance, the video seems to support the right-wing story.

However, I've noticed quite a few subtleties in the video that actually seem to better support the story that SEIU is stating: namely, that Gladney was an instigator of the fight or was at the very least equally culpable. To start with, many of the statements from SEIU people in the video immediately lend support to the SEIU story rather than Gladney's (note: Elston McCowan is a minister in an SEIU shirt who was on the ground at the beginning of the video) :
(0:23) Angry women: He started it.
McCowan: Nah, he pushed me first.
(0:37) Gladney (to McCowan): Man, what the hell is wrong with you?
McCowan: You pushed me.
Gladney: Why'd you hit my hands?
(0:44) Angry teabagger: You attacked that guy for nothing.
Man in SEIU shirt: No, we didn't attack him for nothing. He hit Elston. Elston's a damn minister idiot! How'd [he fight?] a minister?...
Angry teabagger: Two of you guys attacked that guy!
Man in SEIU shirt: No we didn't. He attacked a minister.
OK, so maybe it's not surprising that the statements of SEIU folks during the video support their story. But on the other hand, consider the fact that many of Gladney's later statements seem to be inconsistent with what transpired on the video.

Here is how Gladney described what happened as a guest on Neil Cavuto's Fox News show:

GLADNEY Well, let’s see. Let’s start from the beginning- about- about 8:30- 8:45, we were- I was setting up actually to pass out the ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flags. A priest’s wife- she walked up to me and I was kind of showing her some of the merchandise that we had- that I had there at the time. And this guy- he walked up to me and said, who in the- you know, who in the blank is selling this blank here. And I said, sir, this is my merchandise, and- you know, would you like a flag or something like that? And he was like, what kind of ‘N’ are you to be giving out this kind of stuff here? And he snatched the- the button board. And when he snatched the button board, I snatched it back from him, and that’s when he proceeded to hit me in my face. After that, another member of his organization ran up, and he starts hitting me in my face as well. I fell to the floor. And another guy from the organization- a tall guy- a Caucasian- he began to grab me by my collar- by my neck, and he hit me in my face on the left side and knocked me back to the floor. And that’s when a woman started kicking me in the back of my head and in my back-
Several things strike me as very strange about these claims. For reference, here is a picture of Gladney's outfit so you can identify him in future pictures (click on this or any of the pictures for a larger version):

First, you can see at the beginning of the video that both McCowan and Gladney are on the ground (McCowen is circled in blue, Gladney in red):

You can see that Gladney gets up right away:

This immediately calls into question some of his testimony. First of all, (#4) it is clear from the video that Gladney gets up unobstructed, in contrast to his claim that he was being beaten while on the ground. Second, (#5) if he was on the ground being beaten, then how did Elston McCowan get on the ground? If Gladney was surrounded and being beaten by a mob, it's hard to imagine that McCowan would have coincidentally fallen to the ground and dislocated his shoulder. Someone put McCowan on the ground.

Next (#6), Gladney claims that he was being beaten by at least four people. Why, then, when asked by the videographer who was attacking him, did he answer (at 1:19), "That guy attacked me...the black guy there." If you were attacked by a mob of people, wouldn't you say that they had all attacked you? Furthermore, the only video evidence provided was of the large guy in the SEIU shirt pulling Gladney backwards, but this appears not to be the relevant event for Gladney. When interviewed on the spot, he thinks the important thing to focus on is that Elston McCowen attacked him, but there is absolutely no video evidence for that claim. All of the other stuff only appeared after he spoke with his lawyer and presumably other right-wing activists.

Also note (#7) that Gladney claimed in the Cavuto interview that he was hit in the face repeatedly, included by Elston. But in the quoted passage above (#2, 0:43), after McCowan says that Gladney had pushed him, Gladney asks McCowan, "Why did you hit my hands?" If someone were punching you in the face, I find it very implausible that you would choose to ask why they hit your hands. You probably would focus on the getting-hit-in-the-face part of the encounter.

Finally, (#8), listen at 1:10 where a voice that sure sounds exactly like Gladney's says, "I'm gonna beat the shit outta him." That does not sound like the innocent victim that Gladney portrays himself as being.

I think some of the most damning evidence against Gladney's story comes from some of the pictures. In this still frame of the video (around 0:05), you can see one of the SEIU people that Gladney claims attacked him standing directly over McCowan:

His body language quite clearly indicates a defensive posture, looking to protect McCowan from attack. But more importantly, check out some screen shots of Gladney:

It's a bit hard to see, but Gladley is clearly in an aggressive posture. He is facing McCowan on the ground, his knees bent as if ready to strike. As the videographer gets closer, it's a bit easier to see:

Finally, check out this picture:
In it, Gladley's fist is clearly clenched, and someone his holding his arm back. He looks like a man ready and willing to fight. Unlike the teabaggers, I will not claim that I have omniscient knowledge of who started this fight, but it certainly seems evident that Gladley was a willing participant who shares some of the responsibility.

Last, but not least, consider the fact that Gladney appeared at this Saturday's teabagger protest of SEIU in a wheelchair, claiming that he is not strong enough to talk:

He was sure able to walk, speak, and threaten to "beat the shit out of" people immediately after the incident. Now I've been hurt before in situations where I didn't feel it at the time but later was pretty sore. But not being able to speak? Like the rest of the story, it doesn't fit with what we can see on the video.


  1. Excellent analysis! Totally wrong and at odds with the eyewitness accounts and a second corroborating video, but really good example of how you can pretend to make anything sound reasonable.

    The video is shot after the attack - in the immediate aftermath. Eyewitnesses who will be deposed under oath will validate the original story, and if you do a search, you can find a second video that gives you a second angle.

    Kenneth was heavily sedated both on television and at the rally, and will have medical reports showing injuries he has sustained. If you wonder why he's able to get up - you ought to get a shot of adrenalin after getting punched in the face.

    But hey, nice attempt!.

  2. ooooh, a mysterious 2nd video! One that you can't provide a link to? How very exciting! I hope you're not referring to the "Did you just hit me?? Did you just hit me???" video, because the idea that someone would ask if they just got hit is also pretty absurd.

  3. Regardless of who started the fight, the thing I find the most ludicrous is that the guy protesting health care reform is the same guy asking for donations because he lost his job and with it, his health insurance! REALLY?!?

  4. You ought to go back and watch the 8 minutes of that second video, and focus on the different angles. As for that did you just hit me - that woman was arrested seconds later.

    As I said, wait until the police reports come out, and you're going to be printing a retraction.

    Are you honest enough to do that when you're proven wrong? Will you be able to admit that this was an unprovoked attack and one that should be roundly condemned by all people?

    I have the facts on my side. You're wildly and irresponsibly attacking someone who will have a medical report and police report to back up their claims.

    As for the false Post Dispatch report that Kenneth was just laid off and lacks health insurance - well, don't believe everything you read in the papers. Kenneth has health insurance, and has not asked for donations.

    Tea Party folks asked for donations for him. Kenneth and his lawyer never did. Again, careful of press accounts.

    You'd be a lot better off doing real reporting than theorizing what you want to happen.

  5. Jim, as I said in the post, I'm open to other evidence. However, I'll evaluate the police report the same way any intelligent person should evaluate any purported piece of evidence: by examining what evidence and reasoning is used to support the claim. If the report comes out in favor of Gladney's story but is based entirely on the testimony of right-wing activists with a vested political interest in the story going a certain way, I will not be persuaded. Likewise, if the report came out saying Gladney was the instigator but was based entirely on Elston McCowan's testimony, I would think that it does not provide much evidence (and I'm sure you'd agree).

    So I'm happy to see what the report has to say, but in the mean time I think some of the still frames pretty clearly show Gladney being held back from throwing a punch.

  6. Well, as they say in the X-Files, pay attention to "the cigarette smoking man". Since you guys seem to like to watch and suppose, play out the scenario both ways, and ask yourself... what motivates a union man to come off a smoke break?
    At best, he's a lousy 'friend'.

  7. Haha, Chuck, you just made me realize another hilarious part of the right-wing story. Two of the guys you claim were attacking Gladney were smoking cigarettes right at the beginning of the video! We're supposed to believe that they were smoking cigarettes while they decided to punch and hit Gladney in the face?! Also, if they had been beating Gladney for a while, and this was only the end of the incident, why did everyone wait so long to decide they needed to get the police?It is becoming more and more obvious that this story is going to blow up in the teabaggers face. Serves them right for such blatant dishonesty! (not to mention stupidity)

  8. Thank you Adam for all your work.

  9. Adam,

    Take a look at where the poster board is in the first video. It's 25-30 feet away, and by Elston's own story on KMOX with Mark Reardon, this started with Kenneth selling his buttons, and Elston asking him why. Kenneth says Elston punched him, Elston says Kenneth bum-rushed him and knocked him to the ground - 30 feet away.

    The video is shot after the attack. Both stories told on the radio now clearly show that. What you see is the aftermath of the fight, not the fight itself.

    As I said, nice analysis, but not as good as actually being there. You can discount witnesses, but they're the ones under oath. And there's still a fourth person who was involved who was not arrested.

  10. btw - the guy smoking - the long haired guy in the jeans the light shirt? He wasn't arrested - he was one of the ones breaking it up. You can see him clearly at the end of the video, unmolested by the officers while the 2nd purple shirted guy is arrested (and you see him throw Gladney to the ground in the video). There's also a former Marine and preacher who was there helping Kenneth after the fight.

    As I said - knowing people who were there is much better than analysis of video taken after the fact.

  11. uh-huh. Sorry, but Gladney's story is that McCowan punched him after looking at the buttons, so that doesn't explain why the poster board would be so far away either. Also, your story doesn't explain why (1) the cops weren't called until after the SEIU guy pulled Gladney off McCowan, (2) people didn't start rushing over until the SEIU guy pulled Gladney off McCowan, and (3) the angry man who kept yelling "you're going to jail" didn't start yelling until the SEIU guy pulled Gladney off McCowan. In fact, Mr. Angry yeller man was kneeling over McCowan early in the video; that's a pretty strange thing to do to a "union thug."

    And of course you also have the facts that Gladney was standing in an aggressive posture at the beginning of the video (after he got up), consistent with McCowan's but not Gladney's story; the quote from Gladney, "I'm gonna beat the shit outta him": and the fact that Elston McCowan was injured and lying on the ground at the beginning. Let me know if you guys actually have some real evidence worth talking about (and no, I'm not talking about "pictures of buttons", ha!).

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  13. I an executive for a large insurance corporation and I want to thank all the tea baggers for slugging it out on my behalf. We rake in billions from suckers to ignorant to see through our scam but the tea baggers sure help to throw off attention.

    We laughed and laughed in the boardroom when we first saw these morons going to bat for US but hey if they are going to spend their time helping us get filthy rich denying health-care to Americans I am not going to argue with them. I be sure to show this hilarious video at the company retreat in St. Barts in November.

  14. Once again great work. I think charges were dropped. I'll have to check that. I'm sure if they have been you'll never hear "i was wrong" from Jim.

  15. anitamurie, last I heard the trial was set for late October.