Saturday, December 2, 2006

Tancredo hot potato

Protesters try to mash appearance at Michigan State

By M.E. Sprengelmeyer, Rocky Mountain News December 2, 2006

Loud protests, small scuffles and fire alarms disrupted Rep. Tom Tancredo's appearance Thursday night at Michigan State University.
But campus police downplayed the incidents, and the conservative congressman took the charges of racism hurled at him during the protests in stride.

"It was pretty much what I recalled when I was in college myself during the old anti-war protests," said Tancredo, 60, on the telephone. "Lots of kids, lots of screaming, lots of banners."

Tancredo has become a lightning rod, thanks to his hard-line stance opposing illegal immigration, and each day seems to bring a new controversy and round of headlines. Just this week he got into a spat with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush when he was accused of disparaging the city of Miami.

Thursday night's event was sponsored by the MSU College Republicans and the Young Americans for Freedom. Not surprisingly, the topic of Tancredo's speech was illegal immigration.

While organizers were awaiting Tancredo's arrival, 10 to 20 protesters joined a few dozen people in the law school auditorium, awaiting the speech.

Some protesters carried signs ridiculing the security fence Tancredo has proposed building on the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Where's the wall to keep you out?" one sign asked, according to a published report and videotapes that were circulating online Friday. Another sign read: "Ignorant racist."

And one group of protesters stood in front of the podium where Tancredo was supposed to speak, unfurling a large banner reading: "No Nazis . . . KKK . . . Racist USA."

Before Tancredo arrived, campus police were called out on reports of disorderly conduct, said Sgt. Florene McGlothian- Taylor of the MSU Police Department.

"After a brief confrontation, the protesters did agree to sit quietly in the back of the room and listen to the speaker," she said.

While some protesters were leaving the room, a fire alarm sounded. Authorities cleared the building, including law school classes, McGlothian-Taylor said.

Once outside, shouting matches broke out between Tancredo's fans and foes.

"Some people came up, started calling me names: racist, Nazi, fascist," said Kyle Bristow, chairman of the Young Americans for Freedom.

Bristow said that he rushed to help a pregnant woman who was being pushed by protesters.

"As we were walking away, I was kicked in the back and a girl spat on my face," Bristow said.

In another scuffle, a male student who supports Tancredo allegedly was confronted by a woman who slapped a digital camera out of his hands, causing about $200 in damage. McGlothian-Taylor said the woman was questioned, and prosecutors are considering charges.

After the all-clear was issued following the fire alarm, audience members went back inside and waited for Tancredo. He was introduced to a mix of cheers and boos. A few minutes into his speech, the fire alarm sounded again. Authorities let people stay, and Tancredo ultimately finished his remarks.

After the second alarm, student Randy McPherson told the campus newspaper, "God works in mysterious ways. . . . (Tancredo) shouldn't be here."

Asked about what happened, Tancredo said, "It was, on the one hand, an excellent expression of free speech on the part of demonstrators and the school allowing them to do that. On the other hand, it was a demonstration on the part of the demonstrators not to extend that to me."

Attempts to contact various protesters were unsuccessful.

Tancredo has pockets of followers in Michigan, where he recently won one county's straw poll for would-be Republican presidential contenders.

"I hope so badly that he runs for president," Bristow said. "So many people are willing to move to whatever state he goes to to help him campaign."

Most of this week, Tancredo has been jousting with Jeb Bush and other Floridians after he said the ethnically diverse city of Miami resembles a "Third World country." Bush and Tancredo traded pointed letters, and Bush reportedly dismissed Tancredo as a "nut."

Joe Garcia, executive vice president of the New Democrat Network and director of its Hispanic Strategy Center, used the Miami controversy to give Tancredo backhanded praise.

"I'm a big fan of Tom Tancredo. I want to be the first guy to give him a check when he runs for president," Garcia said this week. "Morons like him gave us (Democrats) the House and Senate, and it's going to give us the White House, too."

Tancredo laughed when he heard the comment Friday.