I was the only journalist who spent two hours on the outside with those refused entry, after the building reached capacity. This nineteen minute video is from the five hours of footage I filmed that night.
On the evening of March 6, 2017, Tom MacArthur, the Republican representing New Jersey’s third congressional district, held an in-person townhall, which, recently, is unusual for him. The venue was the Waretown firehouse, located approximately one mile from the coast in a fifty mile wide district, in one of the more solidly Republican sections of the district. It is also near the large towns of Brick and Toms River. The firehouse has a capacity of 250 people.
In addition to the townhall-proper, a local carpenter’s union planned a separate event at 5 o’clock on the same day, entitled “Townhall meeting supporting Congressman Tom MacArthur.” The New Jersey Second Amendment Society (NJ2AS) also planned an event called “Tom MacArthur Townhall. Support Tom!” NJ2AS is pleased that MacArthur is the only New Jersey representative to sponsor a bill that would allow New Jersey residents to carry concealed weapons, despite the state having some of the strictest gun laws in the country.
In a clearly intimidating statement on the NJ2AS event page, the description originally ended:
We’re going to show groups across the country how to fight back against these organized protestors sent in to harass our members of Congress.
However, after I published this preview article the day before, that sentence was removed.
(Here is an interview with a constituent the day before the townhall.)
In the description, the group rails against people being bussed in from outside the district only to “harass” the congressman, yet two people waiting in line before the event confirmed that there was an actual bus that brought in NJ2AS members from outside the district to the townhall.
The townhall was held on Monday the sixth and was not announced on Facebook until Friday the third. However, in the video, a strong supporter of MacArthur states that she was alerted to the event a week and a half in advance.
Soon after the doors were opened, one of the very first people in line filmed all the people already seated inside and shared that footage with us. It is included above.
In the video, a few minutes after the doors are closed, Environmental activist and blogger Bill Wolfe gives a passionate speech to the crowd, telling them to “stand in your sheep line, and tell them you’re not sheep!” Soon after, an officer attempts to corral everyone to a spot on the far side of the parking lot, which they called a “protest zone.” Wolfe encouraged them to not listen to the officers for this one particular command, and the crowd remained and the police did not push the issue.
After Bill’s speech, the crowd attempts to chant, “Let us in! Let us in!” but the chanting soon peters out. This initial enthusiasm, followed quickly by fatigue, is something that I’ve noticed at a number of recent protests. The moment is there, but the people struggle to grasp onto it.
In the second half of the video, I speak to multiple members of NJ2AS, who confirmed that they do indeed reside outside the district (“We’re not from the district, and out of respect, we’re going to stay outside of the townhall”). You can also see that they are peaceful and friendly, and that they did not subscribe to the strong wording on their website. There were no confrontations with NJ2AS members that night, with the exception of one uncivil conversation, where most of the incivility came from the more “progressive” side of the conversation.
As shown in the video, I entered the townhall about twenty minutes before the end. There were only around twenty people remaining outside by that point (in addition to about 15 NJ2AS members), and they were let in only a few minutes after me. On the inside MacArthur implied that “all” of those on the outside were let in, which is true. It is also true that only about 10% of the original crowd remained.
The crowd applauded when MacArthur said he wanted to allow some of those on the outside to ask questions, despite implying that he wanted to end the event. I was personally struck with how, as soon as the first person from the outside started their question, MacArthur interrupted him to first praise the police and firemen, and then stated that it was unfortunate people were shut outside, “but that’s just how many the building could handle.”
This video is edited in exact time-order. This is the first major video editing I’ve done. If I the chance to do it again, I would do it differently.
– By: Jeff Epstein