Washington state's Baird chooses to skip 'town halls' this year

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 7, 2009 

WASHINGTON — The same week he compared angry protestors at town hall meetings to a "lynch mob," U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, said Friday he has received a faxed death threat and menacing phone calls.

Baird, who has held more than 300 town hall meetings since being elected 11 years ago, has not scheduled any in-person town hall meetings during this summer’s congressional recess, in part because of protests over health care reform that have disrupted town hall meetings by members of Congress across the nation.

The congressman said Friday his office in Washington, D.C., had received a fax with a picture of President Barack Obama wearing makeup like the kind actor Heath Ledger wore while playing the Joker in the movie "The Dark Knight." A drawing of the hammer and sickle was drawn on Obama's forehead with the message "Death to All Marxists! Foreign and Domestic!"

The hammer and sickle was the symbol of the former communist Soviet Union.

Baird said his office has also received menacing phone calls, some talking about death and the other with less "overt threats."

Some of the phone calls were from the congressional district, but many of them were from elsewhere, he said. U.S. Capitol Police were notified of the fax and the phone calls by Baird's chief of staff, said Garrett Russo, a spokesman for the congressman. Russo said the information was then apparently turned over to the Secret Service, which investigates threats against the president.

A U.S. Capitol Police spokeswoman, Sgt. Jessica Baboulis, said Friday the unit that investigates such threats hadn't received information about the threats Baird had received.

At least one other congressman, Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., has reportedly received a death threat since the controversy over the town hall protests erupted.

None of the others Washington state congressmen or senators had received any threats.

Baird showed no indication of backing down Friday, adding the protests were being orchestrated and fueled by conservative activists and bloggers and some of his Republican colleagues.

"What's troubling is some of my colleagues on the other side are throwing gas on it," Baird said in a telephone interview. "They think it is funny. This is out of control and things are getting worse."

Since making his comments, Baird has been interviewed on CNN and on the MSNBC Rachel Maddow show. Baird said the only reason to hold an in-person town hall meeting now would be to "allow people to yell."

On Friday afternoon, he did hold a remote telephone town hall that he said involved more than 4,000 people.

People are invited to participate by a computer-generated call to their home phones.

During the hour-long session, which had been previously scheduled, Baird fielded questions from more than a dozen people. Many questions dealt with health care, though none was confrontational.

At one point, a woman who identified herself as Nan Malin, chairwoman of the Pacific County Republican Party, said she would hold a town hall meeting for Baird in her living room.

"I will be your bodyguard," she said.

Baird agreed to attend.

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