State Rep: Protesters Were "A Group of Malcontent Thugs Who Were Likely Paid" | News

State Rep: Protesters Were "A Group of Malcontent Thugs Who Were Likely Paid"


All week long, Republican legislators, including Speaker Tim Moore, Senate leader Phil Berger, and Representative David Lewis, expressed their disdain for the protesters who shouted down House and Senate votes during the special session.

"I asked a couple of the protesters what they were protesting, they weren't sure," Lewis told reporters after the House went into recess Thursday night. "They were sure that they had been paid, got free lunch, and transportation. What we saw tonight was an impediment to the democratic process."

Lewis's colleague from New Bern, Representative Michael Speciale—the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Military, and Veterans Affairs—went one step further.

"Yesterday's childish display by the left disrupted the business of the people and caused some to be removed in cuffs," Speciale said. "A group of malcontent thugs who are likely paid and bussed in to disrupt the business of those who represent the people detracts from the ability of the peoples' government to effectively do their jobs."

"I’m grateful to the protesters. I don’t think we’d be hearing about this at all in western NC," Senator Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe, told the INDY Saturday. "What [the Republicans] did with the process they put in place completely cut the public out in any other way but through protest."

Gretchen Garrett, who was arrested after the third-floor sit-in on Friday, said she was protesting because "this wasn't what the founders had in mind."

"It's insulting to think that people who live in the state don't care about it enough to come down here," Garrett said in response to the claims that protesters were paid.

The idea of "outside agitators" coming in to disrupt things has been a conservative bogeyman for quite some time, employed by the likes of George Wallace in 1964 and Jim Clark, the Alabama sheriff whose officers attacked peaceful marchers in Selma in 1965.

People who protested this week have emailed and tweeted accounts of why they protested, and responded to claims that hundreds of people—about 335 on Thursday and even more on Friday—showed up for reasons other than genuine anger. What follows below are excerpts of those emails and tweets.

Sam Schaefer, a lifelong North Carolina resident currently studying in Tennessee for graduate school, wrote:
There were free snacks provided to protestors. Wednesday evening, I believe someone from the NC NAACP bought a modest spread of apple slices, Chik-fil-A nuggets and chicken salad wraps laid out on the couches next to the big window facing Jones Street. Yesterday, there was a table on the first floor on the House side which had boxes of Trail Mix packs, Ritz crackers, Lance crackers, and Christmas cookies. I do not know who left it, but I recall they left a sign saying they were for the protestors. This was not a steak luncheon.

Needless to say, though I certainly appreciated the generosity, none of us protestors were there for the food. It should be clear that North Carolina voters can't trust what Rep. David R. Lewis and his Republican colleagues have to say anyway. They said they were going to hold a session for Hurricane Matthew disaster relief, and instead they provided only a fraction of the funding needed, patted themselves on the back, and then preceded with a disgusting and cynical power grab from duly elected Governor-elect Roy Cooper, all without any public notice. The powers delegated, respectively, to the governor and the legislature are not an issue North Carolina voters care about, and Lewis and his colleagues lied to pursue an agenda with no popular support.


We will keep protesting until they pack up and go home. I pity Rep. Lewis, who can't imagine having any ideals he would fight for without financial compensation.
Dan Ruccia, a frequent INDY contributor, wrote:
In response to your question on Twitter: I took part in the protests yesterday morning. I find Lewis and Moore's claims about there being paid protesters really insulting. I took half a day off of work to drive to Raleigh from Durham to make myself heard as much as I could. Nobody paid me, nobody gave me anything, and I voluntarily sacrificed vacation time to be there. And while I wasn't born in North Carolina, I've lived here for a decade now. The state is very much my home.

I couldn't stick around all day, unfortunately, or I would have. I don't have a ton of time to protest these days, but I think it's important at times like these, when the legislature is so clearly overstepping the boundaries of what should be permissible in a representative democracy, to let my voice, my body, and my presence speak, both for myself and for the people I know who can't. The nakedness of the Republican Party's power grab is breathtaking, as are their feeble excuses for it.
Janet Whitesides:
I was there of my own free will on Tue, Thur. I emphatically deny that I was paid, bribed with food or free transport to be there. If you need any further information, please contact me.
Jennifer Bremer:
I am one of the volunteers who has protested every day of the session and will also protest today. I have not been paid, I have taken my own car (paying about $30 in parking, plus gas) or carpooled. I have mostly purchased food, although one group tapped its members to have some pizzas delivered. I have purchased my own supplies for signs.


Elections are not the only way, or even necessarily the best way, to advance progressive causes. Personal activism has always proven vital to getting anything done and our commitment to that tradition is what motivates us.  We had determined to protest as a group before hearing that the NAACP was organizing protests. Recognizing that the NAACP, Rev. Barber, and his colleagues have provided exceptional leadership in the state (e.g., through Moral Mondays), we have followed their lead, but we are completely independent and not funded by anyone.

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