Over the weekend, the Nevada Democratic Party convention turned into a bit of a sideshow. According to multiple reports, Bernie Sanders supporters—angry over a convention that they argued was rigged against them—threw chairs, rushed the stage, and sent threats to chairwoman Roberta Lange. The convention was eventually shut down, as the venue could no longer guarantee security.
On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that Lange, whose phone number was shared online, received thousands of calls and text messages, many of which threatened her and her family. “It’s been vile,” Lange told the Times, “It’s been threatening messages, threatening my family, threatening my life, threatening my grandchild.”
In messages shared with various news outlets, Sanders supporters accuse Lange of breaking the system, “guarantee fires” at Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, and threaten Lange’s grandchildren. In another voicemail, an unidentified man says Lange should be “hung in [a] public execution.”
The Associated Press reports that Sanders supporters were “protesting” Nevada’s convention rules, which had led to Hillary Clinton receiving more delegates than Sanders:
Clinton won the state’s caucuses in February, 53-47, but Sanders backers hoped to pick up extra delegates by packing county and state party gatherings.
Sanders had released a statement Friday night asking supporters to work “together respectfully and constructively” at the convention. But the state party alleged in its letter to the co-chairs of the DNC Rules and By-laws committee, “The explosive situation arose in large part because a portion of the community of Sanders delegates arrived at the Nevada Democratic State Convention believing itself to be a vanguard intent upon sparking a street-fight rather than attending an orderly political party process.”
Essentially, Sanders supporters had begun a campaign to shift the state convention’s rules, making them more favorable to their candidate. The Washington Post reports that supporters wanted to change the way voice votes were verified and wanted to remove Lange from leading the convention. In short, they hoped to alter a lot of procedural stuff that’s purposefully dry and hard to follow, i.e. the stuff of American political conventions. In this relatively bureaucratic quest, they got rowdy:
Many Sanders supporters immediately condemned both the behavior at Nevada’s convention and the threatening treatment of Lange. In a statement, Lucy Flores, a former Nevada assemblywoman and a current congressional candidate said, “Progressives need need to speak out against those making threats against someone’s life, defacing private property, and hurling vulgar language at our female leaders.”
Sanders’ campaign, too, denounced the behavior, saying that the Senator did not condone violence. That’s why, perhaps, CNN’s Tuesday morning interview with Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver was, well, interesting. In an interview with New Day’s barely sentient Chris Cuomo, Weaver did a bit of a sympathetic dance with conspiracy-inclined supporters who argued that Nevada’s convention was purposefully constructed to disenfranchise them.
“Obviously, no context justifies any kinds of threat or violence,” Weaver said. “But you know, we have been obviously campaigning in Nevada for almost a year because it’s one of the early states.” Weaver continued:
The state party has a lot of problems. They’ve run things poorly; it has been done very undemocratically. And the unwillingness on the part of the Nevada Democratic Party to bring in all of the new people that Bernie Sanders has brought into the process. If you read some of the reports from what went on there, the chair was clearly ignoring votes from the floor...”
I mean, it is dysfunctional or worse out there in Nevada. it is not a reflection of all Democrats in Nevada, but the party hierarchy has a lot of problems there. Obviously, you’re trying to exclude people...
Weaver’s interview proceeded strangely, and involved a lot of needle-threading between violence, threats, and the need to continue to organize supporters of an increasingly flagging campaign. But, as the Times notes, anger is also this election cycle’s emotion du jour:
The vicious response has come as millions of new voters, many of whom felt excluded by establishment politicians, have flocked to the insurgent campaigns of Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump has all but locked up the nomination, but many backers of Mr. Sanders remain enraged as his hopes of being the Democratic candidate dwindle.
It’s a problem that’s remained with the Sanders campaign—one that’s relied on progressive anger to fuel its grassroots approach (and productively, in some respects, but often leading to mixed results and more than a few gender problems). What to do with that anger once the National Democratic Convention is held in July is anyone’s guess.
For his part, Donald Trump thinks that Sanders supporters are ripe for the picking. That’s probably not true, but since this election cycle resembles an alternative universe picked from a bad sci-fi novel, we’ll say that stranger things have happened.