Let’s talk about the body slam, and let’s start by recognizing the absurd reality—this is a thing that 100% happened. Republican candidate Greg Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault late last night, throwing today’s Montana special election into chaos. It all began with a tweet from Ben Jacobs, one of The Guardian’s most respected reporters.
There were witnesses. Quite a few in fact.
A local Fox affiliate was getting ready to interview Gianforte inside the room when it happened. After Jacobs asked Gianforte about his reaction to the CBO score of the AHCA (something he said he was reserving comment on until the CBO score came out), all hell broke loose. Per Fox News:
At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, “I'm sick and tired of this!”
Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.
Here is Jacobs' account of the ordeal.
If you think Gianforte expressed any contrition and took accountability for his actions, well, then you clearly haven't been paying attention to the modern Republican Party. Here is Gianforte's blatant lie packaged as an official statement.
Tonight, as Greg was giving a separate interview in a private office, The Guardian's Ben Jacobs entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg's face, and began asking badgering questions. Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg's wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.
We know that this is a steaming pile of bullshit due to eyewitness accounts and the audio of the incident.
At no point did Gianforte ask Jacobs to lower the recorder, and Gianforte's account differs dramatically from the eyewitness statements from three journalists in the room. Additionally, the police clearly didn't believe his story since they charged him with a crime. In response to this assault, the Missoulian, Billings Gazette and the Independent Record all rescinded their endorsement of Gianforte, and the Billings Gazette called to change the law—allowing early voters to change their vote after they have mailed in their ballot.
If you're thinking that Jacobs is just a “liberal journalist” out to embarrass a Republican, do more homework. Jacobs is covering this special election for The Guardian, and has been pressuring Democrat Rob Quist to respond to questions he doesn't want to answer either.
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch's Press Secretary unleashed a brutal subtweet shortly after the incident.
Sadly, this probably won't hurt Gianforte's prospects very much in today's special election. Firstly, Montana is heavily reliant on mail-in ballots, so a lot of votes have already been cast. Secondly, assaulting a reporter is a positive in the eyes of most Trump fans, and isn't viewed as the unadulterated assault on the first amendment that it truly is.
There is a large segment of the Republican Party that endorses fascism—not necessarily as a policy matter, but as a worldview. We don’t need to call the police when a clear crime has been committed, we can settle it the “Montana men” way (note: Ingraham grew up in Connecticut and attended Dartmouth, so she clearly doesn’t have a fucking clue what she’s talking about, but that’s normally the case with most of Donald Trump’s cheerleaders).
The response from the unhinged right was almost universally dismissive of the seriousness of this matter. Physically assaulting a journalist is simply seen as payback for their unspecific grievances. It’s a literal representation of the divide between “elites” and “Real Americans.” People like Jacobs run to the cops when a crime has been committed, while men like Gianforte respond to an uncomfortable line of questioning with their hands. It’s a sick worldview that gains more legitimacy each day as the fascist tangerine sullies the reputation of the Oval Office.
This ordeal with Gianforte and Jacobs feels like a fork in the road for the American project. Coming on the heels of West Virginia police arresting journalist Dan Heyman for asking Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price about the AHCA, we must confront the ugly truth that the United States has begun heading down a very dark path. This is a health care bill that raises serious questions about whether it will kill people, and instead of responding to those queries, two men supporting that bill have exercised force against those prodding on behalf of people potentially stuck under the boot of the government. A future where journalists are physically assaulted and arrested by the state is the literal definition of a banana republic, not the highest functioning democracy in the history of mankind. If we don’t assert our unequivocal support for a free and fair press right now, there may not be one to stand up for us in the future.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.