Sergeant-at-Arms Warns Senators of Disruptive Town Halls

Posted August 7, 2009 at 3:06pm

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer warned Senators and staffers Friday that debate over “potentially contentious social topics— could lead to dangerous situations over the August recess.

In an e-mail sent Friday, Gainer asked Members to coordinate public events with his office and to contact local authorities if anything goes wrong. But he also emphasized that he has no information indicating that any criminal activity is planned against a Member.

“However, we do know that sometimes, tempers flare, with the potential for disruptions,— he wrote. “Should that be the occasion, notifying local law enforcement authorities is highly recommended while attempts are made to calm the situation.—

His e-mail comes amid reports of protests and disruptions at Members’ town-hall meetings over Democrats’ health care plans.

Most recently, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Thursday that six people, including a journalist, were arrested at a local town-hall meeting hosted by Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.). Though the meeting was supposed to be a “forum on aging,— protesters showed up to object to Democrats’ health care plans, and police ended up arresting six people on various charges, including assault and resisting arrest.

Gainer alludes to these situations in his e-mail, but he also mentions Members who will be traveling overseas during the monthlong recess.

Members, he said, should “maintain a heightened state of situational awareness.—

“If you see or hear suspicious activity, trust your instincts and notify local authorities immediately,— he writes. “Too often, unusual activity is discounted as nothing’ when it might actually be something.’—