White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday dismissed protests against the administration’s travel ban as being nothing more than “paid” demonstrations.
During an interview with Fox News’ “Fox and Friends,” host Brian Kilmeade asked Spicer whether people were being paid to protest the order, which banned travel from seven Muslim-majority countries into the U.S.
“Oh, absolutely,” Spicer said. “I mean, protesting has become a profession now.”
He added: “They have every right to do that, don’t get me wrong, but I think that we need to call it what it is. It’s not these organic uprisings that we’ve seen through the last several decades. The tea party was a very organic movement. This has become a very paid, Astroturf-type movement.”
Americans took to the streets for a second weekend on Saturday to protest President Donald Trump’s order, which has been temporarily suspended by a federal judge and is being reviewed by an appellate court. Anti-Trump gatherings were reported in Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Salt Lake City, St. Louis and outside the president’s resort in West Palm Beach, Florida, where he spent the weekend.
Last week, thousands of people descended on the White House on Sunday afternoon for a rally followed by a march down Pennsylvania Avenue. Thousands more marched in cities and outside airports across the nation in protest of the order, which had caused families and refugees to be detained or otherwise prevented from entering the country. Hundreds of volunteer lawyers descended on airports to provide free legal services to those in need.
If someone had been able to organize a sustained nationwide protest that involved hundreds of thousands of people in dozens of cities and airports across the country, as Spicer claimed, that would certainly qualify as an extraordinary feat.
Trump took a similar stance against the protesters last week. “Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” the president tweeted, after a protest at the University of California at Berkeley turned violent.
A Republican member of Congress even found a way to use the same line. Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) last week complained about the heat he was receiving back home in his district over his desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“There’s paid protesters ... paid activists on the far left, not my Democratic friends I go to church with. They’re being paid to go around and raise havoc,” Brat said after the town hall.
But there is danger in dismissing the significance of such protests (and bad poll numbers, as Trump did Monday) outright.
In 2009, for example, Barack Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs took a stance similar to Spicer’s, referring to tea party-organized disruptions at Democratic congressional town halls as “Astroturf” and “manufactured anger.”
We all know how that turned out.