Indivisible Denver members protesting against Republicans' health-care bill earlier this year.
Indivisible Denver members protesting against Republicans' health-care bill earlier this year.
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Critics Rip Cory Gardner for Tying Office Protests to Steve Scalise Shooting

Members of Colorado political groups affiliated with the Indivisible movement are blasting Senator Cory Gardner for linking protests at his office involving coffins and costumed Grim Reapers and the attack on Republican lawmakers at a practice session for the congressional baseball game that critically wounded Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise last week.

"While pretending to call for a more civil discourse, Senator Gardner is escalating negative rhetoric by himself pointing fingers and making childish mischaracterizations about the peaceful expression of democracy from the very constituents he perpetually avoids meeting with," notes Indivisible Denver's Eric Shumake via Facebook Messenger. "What is he trying to distract us from?"

Gardner's remarks, made during a June 15 appearance on KCOL-AM, were first highlighted by BigMedia.org's Jason Salzman in an article for the Colorado Times Recorder. We've included a sound clip of the comments at the bottom of this post, but here's a transcription of the key segment:

You know, The Hill is reporting that FBI officials told The Hill that the shooting appeared to have been planned and, on the surface, appeared politically motivated. And you know, that the rhetoric, the discourse, is elevated to a point where, you know, left, right — you know, both sides have to stop this rhetoric. I mean, when you have people showing up dressed as the Grim Reaper with — you know, in my office — when we have people showing up with coffins in offices around the country, when you have people holding up the head of the president — decapitated head of the president, when you — you know, when you have people who are, you know, accusing other people of killing people.

Some of these rambling observations aren't Colorado-specific, including the reference to comic Kathy Griffin, who lost her New Year's Eve gig at CNN after sharing a photo of herself with the severed head of President Donald Trump. But he also alludes to the Sunday Gardner, a regular series of protests held at his office by Indivisible Denver.

In an April post about the demonstrations, Shumake described one rally that took place at multiple locations: "We protested the attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act with an old-fashioned die-in, where we came with cardboard tombstones and laid down in front of the building. Then we marched up the 16th Street Mall and died on the steps of the Capitol."

Such imagery is hardly unique to progressive protesters. In 2009, as Salzman points out in his piece, "Tea Party activists dressed as the Grim Reaper to denounce Obamacare and the liberal agenda."

Senator Cory Gardner has been the target of many protests in the wake of the November 2016 election.
Senator Cory Gardner has been the target of many protests in the wake of the November 2016 election.
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That Gardner would be particularly sensitive to such protests is understandable. His refusal to conduct in-person town halls has led to plenty of ridicule, including public meetings populated by angry constituents and staged in his absence — and he's also the namesake of FuckCoryGardner.org, a website that goes beyond mere joke status by including material about special interests who've donated big bucks to him.

Still, assorted Indivisible groups argue that this history doesn't excuse the conflation of theatrical protests with a horrible attack that injured Scalise (who's still in the hospital) and three others before gunman James Hodgkinson was killed.

Mark Stalnaker of Indivisible Denver CD-1, which separated from Shumake's Indivisible Denver outfit earlier this year in a split we detailed in the May post "The Division of Indivisible Denver," coordinated a statement about Gardner that's also been endorsed by Indivisible Colorado CD-5, Indivisible Colorado CD-6, Indivisible Colorado CD-7 and Indivisible Front Range Resistance. It reads:

Frankly, we are somewhat perplexed by even being asked to give a response to Senator Gardner’s statements. At no point does he name Indivisible directly, and the concerns he raises regarding violent political rhetoric are utterly inconsistent with our philosophy and methods. Indivisible Denver and our sister groups embrace nonviolent, legal methods of political action, and we vigorously condemn acts of violence in any form. We challenge the policies and politics we disagree with, but never in a manner that disregards our common humanity. Through our partnerships with other progressive organizations in our community and through our participation in nonviolent political activities, we will continue to focus on our goals of community-building and increasing civic engagement by empowering citizens to take an active part in the political process; we would hope that Senator Gardner shares these goals.

We also note that Senator Gardner’s statements appear to willfully misread the meaning inherent in the protest symbolism he cites (Grim Reaper costumes, coffins, etc.). To our eyes, these symbols so clearly refer not to the potential for violence, but rather to the life-and-death consequences for those whose health care is threatened by the policy positions being taken by Senator Gardner’s party. Ultimately, our passion for political engagement comes about precisely because we abhor violence in all forms and wish to protect the most vulnerable among us, including the 23 million people who are at risk of losing health care under the AHCA.

We've reached out to Senator Gardner for his take and will update this post when and if he gets back to us. Here's the sound clip from his KCOL appearance.

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