Politics

Clinton-Sanders Fight Turns Violent

Altercations between supporters suggest growing hostility

A campaign rally in California is cut short by a unruly crowd. Outside, protesters shout obscenities and rip in half a young girl's campaign poster.  

A celebrity,Wendell Pierce of "The Wire" fame, is jailed after he pushes a man during a political disagreement, then grabs his girlfriend by the hair.  

A delegate at a Nevada political convention lies motionless on the floor as someone yelled into a public address microphone, "We need a medic to the front!"  

Such stories have become all too familiar after the rowdy, and sometimes violent political demonstrations that followed Donald Trump's rise to the top of the Republican ticket.  

Except these recent melees all involved Democrats .  

Reports of aggressive altercations between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernard Sanders have increased in recent weeks as the Democratic primary enters its last leg, suggesting a liberal counterpart to the politically disenfranchised conservative voters whose passions Trump was able to harness during his primary campaign.  

At the political convention in Nevada over the weekend, Sanders delegates shouted down California Sen. Barbara Boxer, threw chairs at the stage and engaged in fist fights, according to news reports .  

On Monday, the Nevada State Democratic Party filed a complaint and warned the Democratic National Committee to prepare for possible violence at the national convention in Philadelphia.  

"Having seen up close the lack of conscience or concern for the ramifications of their actions—indeed, the glee with which they engaged in such destructive behavior—we expect similar tactics at the National Convention in July," wrote Bradley S. Schrager, counsel for the Nevada party.  

Not since the riots at the 1968 conventions have the Democrats had to deal with this level of anger in the political process.  

"I don't remember these kinds of altercations — and I’ve been at this a while,"Brad Bannon , a Democratic political strategist, said Monday. "Things are probably a little uglier than usual."  

Bannon attributes what seems like an uptick in violence on the Democratic side to "the Sanders people realizing that Clinton is going to win the nomination."  

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"They’re feeling frustrated and angry," he said. "I can see it in their tweets."  

Clinton supporters are not blameless. Pierce was arrested in Atlanta early Saturday after mixing it up with the two Sanders backers.  

Clinton has by now demonstrated a decisive lead among pledged and superdelegates — but it's the superdelegates that seem to bother Sanders supporters most. About 524 of these party regulars and elected officials have pledged their support to the former secretary of state, compared to 40 for Sanders, according to The Associated Press .  

In spite of — or perhaps because of — those numbers, Sanders supporters say the primary process has robbed them of a voice in the party and have become increasingly ardent at recent political events,.  

In Las Vegas, tempers erupted after Clinton backers won what seemed like a particularly close voice vote. It's reached the point where some Sanders supporters say they won't support Clinton in the general election.  

Jim Manley , another Democratic strategist, agreed that "this hasn't happened much before."  

But he doubts the online and face-to-face dust-ups on the Democratic side will last much longer, especially once Sanders, as expected, urges his supporters to back Clinton against Trump.  

"It makes sense for 'Bernie bros ' to get a little crazy in Las Vegas, but let's hope what happened there won’t start happening elsewhere," he said. "I hope everyone leaves their aggression on Twitter."  

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There is a recent precedent for rough-and-tumble rhetoric, but not actual violence.  

"In Bush v. Gore , things got heated then," Manley said of the 2000 general recount and subsequent legal battle that ended with George W. Bush winning his first term. "I don’t know just how much influence social media is having — but it's definitely cheapening the public discourse."  

The Democrat-on-Democrat violence raises the question of just how heated things might get when Trump supporters, who have shown a willingness to get violent at campaign events, mix with Clinton backers — and any still-frustrated Sanders followers that she attracts.  

"I think the closer you get to November, the less you’ll see," Bannon said. "The big handshake with Hillary on the stage at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia will cool down a lot of the Sanders people."  

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"And as they face the possibility that Donald Trump could be the next president of the United States ," he added, "they’ll forget about Hillary fairly quickly and turn their anger on Donald Trump."  

Anger. It's what Trump's bid is largely based on — possibly signaling scuffles right until voters head to the polls on Nov. 8.  

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this story. Contact Akin at stephanieakin@cqrollcall.com. Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.