SEARCHLIGHT, Nev. — Firing back at critics who say that she and other conservatives had encouraged harassment of House Democrats who supported the health care overhaul, Sarah Palin Saturday ripped the media for casting her and tea party activists as violent.
“When we talk about fighting for our country, let’s clear the air right now about what it is that we’re talking about,” she told a crowd estimated by organizers at 20,000 gathered for a rally in a windswept desert lot about four miles north of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s tiny hometown. “We’re not inciting violence. Don’t get sucked into the lame-stream media lies.”
Palin said “violence isn’t the answer.” She said “our vote is our arms” and encouraged activists not to be discouraged by the passage of the Democratic health care overhaul bill last week but, rather, to channel their energies into defeating congressional Democrats who supported the legislation.
Democrats this week accused Palin of exacerbating the already tense atmosphere after last weekend’s House vote passing the overhaul by telling her followers via twitter “Don’t Retreat, Instead — RELOAD!” and by singling out 20 House Democrats who voted for the health care bill as targets on her website using a map with cross-hair gun sights on their districts.
The targeting phraseology is commonly used by political pros to indicate priority races, but Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) told a New York television station that Palin’s presentation was dangerous, given the context.
“She may believe that she’s engaging in metaphor,” said Weiner, whose Kew Gardens, N.Y., district office received a letter containing white powder (later ruled not hazardous). “But there are too many people who have twisted minds who might think that she’s being literal.”
The tea parties — and the Republicans who hoped to benefit from their energy at the polls — suffered a public relations setback after passage of the overhaul unleashed a rash of threats and vandalism targeting Democratic House members who supported it, ranging from a broken congressional office window to a severed gas line at the home of a congressman’s brother to death threats against a lawmaker who brokered a key deal that paved the way for passage.
Palin, though, told Saturday’s crowd that “when I talk about it’s not a time to retreat, it’s a time to reload,” she was “trying to inspire people to get involved in their local elections and these upcoming federal elections. And telling people that their arms are their votes is not inciting violence.”
Palin called said the apparent link between threats against Democrats and the tea party movement was “not true. It’s a bunch of bunk.” Addressing a media riser behind the crowd, Palin, a contributor to FOX News, said “we ask for some fair and some balanced reporting coming from you.”
The allegations of media bias from Palin and other speakers including Internet entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart and talk show host Mark Williams prompted angry pointing, yelling and jeers from the crowd aimed at the media riser.
And Williams, who is an official with the political action committee that organized the rally, Our Country Deserves Better PAC/Tea Party Express, said reports by lawmakers and reporters of slurs directed at House Democrats during tea party rallies in Washington before Sunday’s vote were “a crock.”
And he alleged that when his group’s buses drove down Searchlight main street, they were pelted with eggs by Reid supporters.
“Thuggery is a left-wing tactic,” he declared. “We denounce it. We will not stand for it.”