Image 01 Image 03

Here’s how liberal activists astroturfed town hall protests against Rep. Tom Reed (#NY23)

Here’s how liberal activists astroturfed town hall protests against Rep. Tom Reed (#NY23)

Organized, Not Organic.

You probably have seen viral videos of the disruption of town halls held by Congressman Tom Reed.

The media narrative is that there was an organic, grassroots uprising by concerned citizens.

Don’t believe it. As detailed below, there was a well-organized national and local campaign to get activists to Reed’s town halls for the specific purpose of creating a protest environment. Instructions how to protest and what questions to ask were circulated. Though the town halls were in the western part of the district, liberal groups in Ithaca and Tompkins county organized protests and got their members there. Other liberal groups like Planned Parenthood also got their people out.

The issue is not, as some have portrayed it, whether people were paid to protest. While most of the people at the town halls may have been there without prodding, it is clear that liberal activists groups made sure there were enough protesters, who had been schooled in tactics, in the crowds to create the viral video they hoped for.

This was astroturf. The deliberate, well-planned creation of the appearance of grassroots opposition.

Tom Reed

Tom Reed is the Republican congressman from NY-23, which includes the “Southern Tier” of upstate NY.

The district stretches from far south-western New York State near Jamestown and Lake Erie, along the areas just north of the Pennsylvania border, on to Corning. It is a mostly conservative, rural district, with an R+3 majority. Since post-2010 redistricting, uber-liberal Ithaca (where I live and work) and Tompkins County are in NY-23.

Reed was first elected in the predecessor NY-29 district in 2010. In the redistricted NY-23, Reed won election in 2012 in a close race by just 4 points, but romped to huge victories in 2014 (23 points) and 2016 (15 points).

The 2014 contest was particularly notable because national Democrats went all in supporting challenger Martha Robertson, but her campaign cratered over her support for single-payer healthcare and a number of scandals, including a fundraising claim that GOP operatives hacked her website and her “fat-shaming” of Reed. (Using images of Reed before his gastric bypass surgery.)

Reed Town Halls Targeted In 2013

Reed is a very skilled politician who has held over a hundred town halls in recent years, including one I attended in Ithaca in 2013. That town hall was targeted by Democratic activists as part of a national campaign to put Republican members of Congress on the defensive over immigration, Townhall Tactic 2013: Why do you want to deport my daddy?:

There also was a tracker from the New York State Democratic Party filming the whole thing. I approached her after the session to ask whether she would be sharing the video with the campaign of Reed’s Emily’s List-backed opponent, Martha Robertson, but she declined to answer other than to insist that she was there on behalf of the NYS Democratic Party.

Reed handled the pre-planned questions very well, and engaged with the crowd rather than running and hiding.

So Reed is no stranger to Democratic operatives using his town halls to try to create viral video moments as part of a national strategy.

Reed 2017 Town Halls Targeted by “Indivisible” and Other Activists

Reed had a similar experience recently when he held four town halls in the district.

As part of a national campaign to create the appearance of a “liberal Tea Party” movement, Democratic operatives using the name “Indivisible” combined with traditional Democratic interest groups, decided to target Republican politicians on recess.

Most Republicans, seeing that tactic, decided not to hold town halls. But not Reed, he pushed forward, and because of that was swarmed with media, including the NY Times, live broadcasting his town halls to capture video of disruptions.

Proof of Planned Protests

There is no question that these disruptions were manufactured and planned out well in advance.

My first clue to this was when I saw an article in The Cornell Sun student newspaper about Cornell students traveling to Reed’s town halls, even though the town halls were hours away (it’s a geographically huge district), Cornell Students Travel Across State to Protest Reed at Town Hall Meetings:

A group of Ithaca residents and Cornell students attended Rep. Tom Reed’s (R-N.Y.) town hall meetings Saturday Feb. 21 to voice concerns about poor constituent representation, among other political issues.

Reed represents the 23rd District, which includes the western end of southern New York, borders Pennsylvania and predominantly-liberal Ithaca. While the majority of his district consists of Trump-supporting working-class Americans, the town hall meetings were packed with frustrated protesters who disagree with Reed’s views on health care, immigration reform and finance reform.

“There is a growing frustration with Rep. Reed’s seeming avoidance of Tompkins County,” said Nicholas Aflitto grad. “So concerned constituents are taking their questions to him, even though these meetings are two plus hours away.”

The meetings, held in Allen Town, Humphrey, Cherry Creek, and North Harmony, also garnered national coverage from media sources like The New York Times and NPR, which noted the tension between the representative and his constituents. Students like Hayden Waller grad went for the purpose of expressing their frustrations.

I then began to investigate what was online about the planning of these protests.

WSKG News in Syracuse reported on February 14, 2017, about the national targeting of Republican congressmen, including in upstate NY, Progressive Activists Call For Town Hall Meetings In Upstate New York (emphasis added):

A nationwide protest movement applying pressure on lawmakers to resist President Donald Trump’s agenda has reached central and northern New York. The coordinated campaigns are starting to target local members of congress by pressuring them to hold town hall meetings….

Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) sounded frustrated when answering questions about repeated calls for him to host a town hall meeting for his constituents. He says those requests are largely coming from CNY Solidarity Coalition, an anti-Trump organization that recently protested in front of Katko’s office over his refusal to hold an in-person town hall.

“This is a movement nationwide where the whole design is to get you in front of a camera with several hundred angry people and not let you talk,” Katko said. “I’m not going to do that. I’m going to continue to talk to my constituents.”

To avoid the so-called political theatrics, Katko and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Willsboro) are sticking to telephone town halls. Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford) has no scheduled in-person town halls. Conversely, Rep. Tom Reed (R-Corning), who is a Trump supporter, has several town halls scheduled. He says he welcomes any protesters.

Nationwide, the Republican lawmakers who are hosting these meetings are being grilled by their constituents. It’s part of the Indivisible movement, an online guide helping activists model their protests after the success of the Tea Party movement that started in 2009.

Buffalo News reported on February 16, 2017, about the specific targeting of Reed, Progressives plan resistance at Tom Reed’s town halls (emphasis added):

Rep. Tom Reed can expect to face some strong resistance at his four town hall meetings in the Southern Tier this weekend.

But it sure won’t be spontaneous.

In fact, a group called “Indivisible of New York’s 23rd District” – which is connected to a national movement organized by former Democratic congressional aides – has published a two-page “plan of action” for progressives who will be attending Reed’s meetings.

The guide calls for people to ask Reed tough questions aimed at making the Republican congressman from Corning look bad.

“We want to trap Reed in appearing as if he doesn’t care about his constituents,” the memo said.

And that’s not all. The memo calls for progressives attending Reed’s event to avoid looking too vehement or too progressive, in hopes of appealing to more conservative members of the audience in Reed’s right-leaning Southern Tier district.

Part of the tactic, the Buffalo News reported, was for the protesters to hide who they were so as not to scare off conservative constituents. Also, much of the protest push was coming from far away Tompkins County (Ithaca):

Making references to “the morality of Christianity” in questions could help progressives at the meeting, as could dressing decently, the memo said.

“No progressive political messages on clothing, no Cornell swag,” it added.

It’s possible that some of the progressives at the town hall meetings will have Cornell University, in the liberal bastion of Tompkins County, in their hearts and minds.

The website for Indivisible of New York’s 23rd District – Reed’s district – shows that four of the six members of the group’s organizing team are from Tompkins County, where Cornell is located. The others are from Seneca County and Tioga County, which are nowhere near Reed’s Saturday town halls.

Activists from Tompkins County are most likely to show up at Reed’s town hall in Fillmore, in Allegany County, because it’s closer to Ithaca than Reed’s earlier town halls in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, said Reanna Lavine, a member of Indivisible of New York’s 23rd District organizing team.

They also devised a strategy to make it appear that they were more numerous than they were, by not sitting in a group and spreading out among the crowd, the Buffalo times reported:

Southern Tier Action Together, an Allegany County group, offered advice to those attending on its Facebook page.

“Don’t sit with members of your group during the town hall! Spread out so that you appear larger than you are,” the group recommended.

Further investigation showed that the Buffalo News report on preplanning of the protests was on target.

Ithaca-based and Other Liberal Activists Organize

On social media there was a concerted effort to get people to the town halls, and to instruct them how to create viral media.

Reed was aware of the activist planning, as WRFALP reported, Reed Anticipates Large Turnout, ‘Organized Protests’ During Upcoming Town Halls:

On Wednesday morning the Corning Republican also appeared on the nationally televised “Fox and Friends” morning show on the Fox News Network to discuss the upcoming town hall meetings. During that interview, he said a lot of people who are concerned with policy he supports want to see a 180 turn, and said that a recent effort to do political activist training is a higher level of “organized protest” and an attempt to “disrupt and disengage the process,” although he added he hopes that won’t be the case with the upcoming Town Halls.

“There’s always been an organized protest at times and I think this is just a higher level of that organization,” he told the program’s host.

Reed remained undeterred:

On social media, the planning for the protests unfolded.

In addition to the national Indivisible website which has a Guide to protesting, the website of Indivisible NY23 was one of the central planning mechanisms. There local group are organized through the national group:

It included a calendar highlighting Reed’s town halls.

The website made the Indivisible Sample Questions and Tactics instruction available.

Another Indivisible group, Indivisible Southern Tier, was organizing:

As was another group, Tompkins County Resistance:

Tompkins Resistance used one of the fat-shaming images of Reed previously used by Martha Robertson:

For her part, Robertson tried to get people to turn out:

Tompkins County Resistance shared a link to the local Planned Parenthood organizing effort:

Planned Parenthood went all in to get people to the town halls:

Planned Parenthood later bragged that many of its supporters attended the town halls.

A group of Ithaca residents upset that Reed didn’t come to Ithaca for a town hall also organized:

They even set up rideshares, which made sense since the town halls were so far from Ithaca:

As the town halls unfolded, the mayhem created a perception problem, to an organizer posted instructions of how to act to create better optics.

Result: Mass Media Coverage Of Grassroots Opposition

The end result was mass media coverage of the disruptions at Reed’s events.

Including in the NY Times, which had videographers on scene:

Which fed into a national media narrative of an organic uprising:

Reed, for his part, received accolades of a sort for standing his ground.

Organized, Not Organic

The issue is not, as some have portrayed it, whether people were paid to protest. While most of the people at the town halls may have been there without prodding, it is clear that liberal activists groups made sure there were enough protesters, who had been schooled in tactics, in the crowds to create the viral video they hoped for.

This was astroturf. The deliberate, well-planned creation of the appearance of grassroots opposition.


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


The answer to this problem seems simple to me.

Only allow registered voters from the speakers districts into the Town Hall meetings!

“The venues they booked are too small so they ended up outside”

I think that’s the way these “rule by mob” assaults are usually handled. Don’t give them room for a mob. When they’re outside yelling and clamoring to get in, not even TV can make them look like reasonable and concerned voters.

hope the townhall are video taped, and then compared to see how many repeat ‘customers’ there are.

I live in Louie Gohmert’s district, and the last couple of days we’ve seen an effort against him that is really pretty humorous. (just fyi, he got 77% of the vote here last time, will get around the same in 2018)

Louie is smart, and he knows that the Soros people have had it in for him for a long time. So, he campaigns constantly here, but he goes to civic groups (kiwanis, rotary) or he has events in private homes, which are invitation only. Those aren’t hard to get into, I’ve got an invitation to one next month (wondering whether its worth the time right now) but the point is, no opportunities are given to those who hate him to get themselves the kind of photo ops and video clips that CNN would love to run.

These other congresscritters should take some lessons from Louie.

Anyway, what’s been comical was that a couple days ago, about 50 people showed up at the town square, for the cameras, whining and complaining that Louie wouldn’t talk to them, because they couldn’t get into one of his events. Then today in an op-ed they trotted out Gabby Giffords, of all people to say that Louie should be doing public town halls. Why, Gabby? Because you wish he could get shot just like you? I almost feel badly about pointing out what a brain-dead idea it was to bring her example into the conversation.

It takes a lot of work and a good organization to make an approach like this work, but when it works, it’s unbeatable. Never give your enemies an inch, never give your enemies an opportunity.

I could see offering car pool service to drop the protesters off a couple miles from the venue.
Have a friend with a camera in the area to record the hilarity.

Simple solution, since these town hall meetings are for the convenience of those in the immediate area of the venue, have someone check at the door and admit only people who have picture ID showing they live within a specific distance from the venue, say 25 miles. That way the town hall meeting will be largely for the towns around it and their residents. As for Ithaca, Reed might just as well skip it, except to show the flag occasionally, as in the Ithaca square miles of insanity, there are very few open minded residents.

A very thorough background report Professor Jacobson, and quite a contrast to today’s WSJ front page article touting the grassroots nature of these protests. I attended Representative Reed’s North Harmony “town hall” on 2/18 and sent a brief reaction to the Jamestown Post Journal last weekend ( as yet unpublished) :

The “town hall” I attended in N. Harmony (way north)  on February 18th was quite unlike Rockwell’s well known painting. The shouting and screaming as well as slogan chanting made discussion impossible, and I suppose that was the point. Those who are interested in an exchange of ideas do not resort to mindless repetition of catchwords. Congressman Reed was a good sport, but no one should have to put up with the angry Hillary voters’ 10 minutes of hate (in this case more like 50.)  This was not democracy in action.

I was impressed by Rep. Reed’s wading into the crowd without security to get to the podium. The Chautauqua county sheriff’s officers stuck to the perimeter,  and it was comforting to note  the local Tea Party people were socializing with one of the officers while the “town hall” proceedings screamed on. I was very impressed by Rep. Reed, he kept his cool, and did his best to engage a very hostile crowd, which fortunately, never got violent.  

This crowd had way too many grey pony tails (one of the guys had a sign advising keep off social security and medicare, I was very tempted to suggest to him that Trump was his man), lots of teachers’ union people, and abortion folks with the de rigueur pink pussy hats. All in all, as you say, not very representative of a New York county which went for President Trump.

    Interesting and similar to my observations (below) about a 2015 Reed town hall here on the east end of his district. It would be interesting to know if, at your meeting, Reed ever had the opportunity to express his opinions or if he, as in 2015 here, repeatedly stated his willingness to “engage”.

The second paragraph is the “letter to the editor” which is unlikely to see the light of day.

He should send invitations to registered republicans to people in the area where his meetings will be held and separate them from the general populace. His should aggressively defend his positions for a very limited time with the astroturf constituents and then walk out on them. He can tell them when conservatives are welcome and treated with respect at colleges and universities in his district he will treat them the same.

I live in Congressman Reed’s district (which BTW extends some fifty five miles east of Corning) and attended one of his town halls in 2015. He’s a “Republican,” but I came away singularly and mightily unimpressed. In the meeting he was challenged by folks pushing liberal and progressive positions on healthcare and fracking to which he presented NO substantive positions or counter arguments, to the extent that he seemed unaware what they might even be, relying repeatedly and ONLY on the “I hear you” and the “engage in dialog/conversation” line that he used in the Fox video clip. He’s wearing that out. The 2015 meeting was almost completely co-opted by these folks who droned on until Reed’s staff interrupted him to announce that we were (thankfully) out of time.

That said, he is to be congratulated for having the courage to appear at these town halls, unlike Claudia Tenny the Republican congresswoman from the adjoining congressional district, who shamefully bailed out on her constituents and cancelled her town hall meetings. Nonetheless, he must know and be able to articulate clearly and forcibly the fundamental conservative (Republican) positions on topics such as healthcare and prevent those with no intention of engaging in a “conversation” from taking over his meetings.

The current “hecklers” differ completely from those attending the meeting I attended in 2015. It was attended by people from the community, known and neighbors. They didn’t take over the meeting so much as Reed lost control of it by constantly repeating–over and over–that he “understood” their positions, wanted to “engage in a dialog” with them, while never stating his own position, agreeing to disagree, and moving on. Basically, they were fierce local supporters of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s anti-fracking campaign and big government agenda; but otherwise, mostly on their own and left to their own devices.

Today’s “heckling” is an organized, engineered, and financed effort to disrupt the government: nothing less. So, Congressman Reed should forget “conversations” because the hecklers aren’t the least bit interested in one; just know and get with the program and keep showing up.

Meanwhile, Congresswoman Tenny, man-up. Show up.

I highly encourage more and more these astroturf demonstrations. The ones I’ve seen so far appear to do nothing more than show how moronic these people are. Asking the same questions over and over, cheering every Soros approved statement, jeering every response even before the Congressman is finished. The campaign ads for Republicans in 2018 are writing themselves.