I was asked by some friends to write up a summary of the problems with the Tea Party/Kenneth Gladney story that "union thugs" were sent to a Russ Carnahan townhall meeting on August 6 to beat up dissenters. I think what I came up with is a pretty good overview of the situation that highlights some blatant falsehoods spread by Kenneth Gladney and the St. Louis Tea Party as well as a number of other problems with their story. Hopefully, it will be a useful resource for anyone interested in the case....
“Destroying the Left” by Destroying a Good Man
Members of the national tea party shamed the nation earlier this year by screaming racial epithets at members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and spitting on Representative Emmanuel Cleaver. But the behavior of the tea party in the days that followed was almost as disgraceful. The St. Louis Tea Party, both one of the most successful and the most unethical tea party groups in the country, led a national campaign by right-wing extremists to deny that the events had ever happened. They called members of the CBC “frauds” and “hustlers.” They called civil rights hero John Lewis a “liar” because Lewis reported that he had heard racial slurs being shouted. And the St. Louis Tea Party also pulled out a trick they have been relying on for the past eight months: they used a story built on a foundation of lies in an attempt to distract from the racism present in parts of their movement.
This particular right-wing myth revolved around a fight that took place on August 6, 2009 outside of Congressman Russ Carnahan’s town hall meeting on aging. The fight began between two men: Kenneth Gladney, a man selling “Don’t Tread on Me “ flags and buttons with faked photos of President Obama smoking marijuana, and Elston McCowan, a Reverend and an employee of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The St. Louis Tea Party immediately alleged that McCowan and fellow SEIU member Perry Molens had assaulted Gladney. They embraced Gladney as a hero and claimed that because Gladney was a black man, the fight was a hate crime committed by “the Left” (they usually left out the fact that Reverand McCowan was also a black man). They used these allegations to get countless appearances in the local St. Louis media, as well as national right-wing propaganda outlets like Fox News and the Big Government website. They claimed that President Obama had sent “storm troopers” to beat up anyone opposed to healthcare reform. They claimed that this demonstrated that organized labor is evil. And most of all, they used this incident to distract from and deflect any discussions of racism on the political Right: whenever racist behavior was observed on the Right, including the D.C. incidents, the St. Louis tea party would respond, “it’s the Democrats who beat up black men in parking lots.”
Though I wasn’t present on August 6th and can’t claim to know exactly what happened, I have many good friends who have testified to the moral character of Reverend McCowan. And there are a huge number of lies, inconsistencies, and distortions that prove that Kenneth Gladney has not been honest in his description of events. Since the trial is coming up soon and the tea party will be sure to use the opportunity to try to build upon their stated mission of “destroying the Left,” I have assembled a number of these falsehoods below. I think they show quite clearly just how cynically the tea party was willing to use Kenneth Gladney to push their right-wing agenda.
The tea party originally claimed that Gladney was assaulted by four union members and that the assault was caught on video. However, the video does not support their story. At the beginning of the video, both Gladney and McCowan are laying on the ground. Gladney gets up, and is being restrained from attacking McCowan, when Perry Molens comes up and pulls Gladney backwards onto the ground yelling “get off him!” (0:03 in the video)
Another man is standing protectively over Rev. McCowan as McCowan is laying on the ground. Later in the video, Kenneth Gladney can be heard saying, “I’m gonna beat the s**t outta him. That’s what I’m gonna do” (1:10) So the video suggests that Gladney was an active participant in the fight, and possibly the instigator. Furthermore, it is important to note that the video was shot and edited by a right-wing activist so we have no idea if the beginning of the fight was intentionally cut out of the video.
The police report: Misdemeanor charges were filed against McCowan and Molens based upon the police report. However, the report was highly flawed. Despite the fact that there were at least four people present who supported Rev. McCowan, the police report relied only on the testimony of three tea party activists. The report states clearly that these witnesses approached the police officer with their version of events (p. 6). None of the witnesses in the police report are credible.
Two of the witnesses are Harris Himes and his wife Sandra. Harris Himes is a right-wing activist from Montana who believes the United States should be a theocracy. He leaked information to the right-wing media in an attempt to bias public opinion. The original police report stated that Himes and his wife saw McCowan and Molens attack Gladney. However, in a separate interview, Himes admitted that he was a distance away when the fight started, and that his wife didn’t see the fight start. The police report also quoted Himes as saying that Gladney was pulled over a table despite the fact that there was no table at the site. Finally, in one story, Himes said that McCowan punched Gladney and Gladney fell to the ground, but in the video Himes claimed that Molens rather than McCowan knocked Gladney to the ground originally.
The other tea party activist, John, who spoke to the police, is seen in a video (6:44 mark) earlier in the day having to be held back from starting a fight with a different SEIU employee. At the beginning of the original video, John was leaning over McCowan in a concerned way, which would be strange if McCowan had just been assaulting Gladney. John also only started yelling, “You attacked him!” when Molens pulled Gladney backwards. But if Gladney was being beaten for a long time before that, why wasn’t John yelling earlier? John also accused the guy with a ponytail of attacking Gladney (0:46 in the original video), but that man was never charged with anything.
Also of note, six total people were arrested that night. The charges against two were dropped, one after a video showed that the police report was inaccurate.
The lies: Kenneth Gladney has said a number of things that have been proven false. He claimed that McCowan laid down on the ground to pretend he was hurt.
However, an x-ray that night showed that McCowan had a dislocated shoulder from his fall, and later CT and MRI scans showed multiple fractures.
Gladney also claimed that after he went looking for his glasses, the police had to protect him because McCowan and Molens “went after him again.”
However, the video clearly shows that no one was going after Gladney. In fact, Gladney was speaking to McCowan afterwards (0:38 in the original video).
Gladney also repeatedly claimed that he was giving the “Don’t Tread on Me” flags away. However, in the original video, he said he was selling the flags (1:25). Also, he claimed that all of the buttons said “Don’t Tread On Me,” but the video showed that the board had buttons with fake pictures of President Obama smoking pot. Finally, he claimed that all of the merchandise was his. But in fact, his employer David Brown is seen on video selling the same merchandise earlier in the night and was quoted as saying that Gladney was selling his merchandise.
The inconsistencies: In the video, Gladney says to McCowan, “Why’d you hit my hand?” (0:41). This would be a pretty strange thing to say to someone who had just been punching and kicking you while you were on the ground.
Gladney claimed that McCowan and Molens attacked him and knocked him to the ground while he was trying to hand out buttons. However, the video clearly shows that the button board is far away from where McCowan and Gladney are on the ground.
Gladney and Brown claimed that four people attacked Gladney. However, charges were only ever filed against two, and the witnesses never mentioned anyone else.
The employer/lawyer/witness/spokesperson: David Brown hired people to sell swag at political events, and Gladney was one of his employees. Brown lied to a right-wing blogger, claiming that there were no buttons of Obama smoking pot, which was proved wrong by the video and photos. He then claimed that he didn’t know what was on Gladney’s board, even though video shows him using the same board earlier in the day. He was quoted by a former employee as saying that the incident with Gladney would be his “gravy train.” He claimed to be a witness but the video showed that he was far away when the fight started. He also originally claimed he was going to be Gladney’s lawyer, but then said his brother would be. Shortly after the incident, he stated his intention to arrange a “Liberty Tour” where he and Kenneth Gladney would travel around the country and be paid to speak about “liberty” and “free speech.”
The Absurd Behavior: As soon as the incident occurred, the St. Louis Tea Party started raising money for Gladney and have been doing so into 2010. Immediately after the incident, Gladney and Brown suggested that President Obama had something to do with the attack. The St. Louis Tea Party claimed that Obama had sent a “signal” for people to attack tea party members. The tea party also literally blamed, at various times, the President of SEIU, the Field Director of Health Care for America Now, David Axelrod, and many other public figures for the fight.
Even though Gladney was seen walking around the night of the event, at one of the early tea party events he showed up in a wheelchair. At that same event, St. Louis Tea Party leader Bill Hennessy claimed that Gladney needed help with his medical bills. After the irony of them asking for help with medical bills while opposing healthcare reform was pointed out, they then claimed that Gladney was covered by his wife’s insurance and accused the “liberal media” of making things up.
Gladney and Brown also held a protest and press conference outside of the NAACP offices claiming that the NAACP wouldn’t help them because they were conservative. However, they had never even filed a complaint with the NAACP. When asked about the extent of Gladney’s injuries at the event, Brown replied, “It wouldn’t be prudent for us to discuss his injuries at this time.”
Gladney and the tea party repeatedly accused Rev. McCowan of calling Gladney “the n-word.” However, what they don’t explain is that the word used was “negro.” They continually say, “n-word” to imply that the much worse n-word was used.
Gladney toured the country with the Tea Party Express, selling flags to make money.
The tea party pressured the St. Louis County Counselor to file the charges as a “hate crime,” even storming her office with video cameras at one point. They falsely accused her of not looking at Gladney’s medical records, then refused to apologize when they were proven wrong. They also falsely claimed that Gladney’s brother was fired from the animal control department for political reasons, then had to admit they were wrong.
Conclusion: The above information is a good case study in how the tea party is willing to cynically use people in their quest to restore right-wing Republicans to power. The tea party does not care about either Gladney or McCowan: they simply are using them as pawns in their game of political theater. If we are going to combat the growing right-wing extremism, we must be prepared to stand up for our friends and allies, because even these small battles can take on a large significance when exploited by the tea party and a mainstream media that is often all too happy to peddle their conspiracy theories.