This past weekend’s Democratic state convention in Nevada took an ugly turn when Bernie Sanders supporters reportedly shouted down speakers and threw things when proceedings didn’t go their way. Things got so out of hand at the Las Vegas venue where the event took place that hotel security staff eventually had to clear the room over safety concerns. In the days since, Bernie fans have bombarded the state party chairwoman with death threats, while the state party has responded by accusing Sanders supporters of having a “penchant” for “actual violence” and suggesting they’ll turn violent at this summer’s national convention in Philadelphia.
So, yeah, not exactly a good look for a party hoping to come together later this year to take on Donald Trump in the general election and to make his party look like the chaotic one. Also, while the exact details of what happened at the convention remain in dispute, the whole thing adds to the (not unfounded!) perception that the Democratic Party has rigged the system to favor Hillary Clinton and that there are some rather clear Trump-like undercurrents of misogyny and aggression among Sanders’ most passionate backers.
Facing calls from party leaders to denounce the weekend violence and the threats that followed, Sanders' response on Tuesday was surprisingly defiant. While he condemned “any and all forms of violence,” he dismissed the complaints from Nevada Democrats as “nonsense” and complained that his supporters were the ones that weren’t treated with the “fairness and respect” they deserve. His statement came only hours after Nevada Sen. Harry Reid told reporters that he had spoken to Sanders and was confident that the Vermont senator would try to calm tensions. Instead, Bernie appeared to fan the flames.
Here’s a snippet from his statement that went on to repeat, at length, many of the specific complaints voiced by his supporters over the weekend:
Within the last few days there have been a number of criticisms made against my campaign organization. Party leaders in Nevada, for example, claim that the Sanders campaign has a “penchant for violence.” That is nonsense. Our campaign has held giant rallies all across this country, including in high-crime areas, and there have been zero reports of violence. …
If the Democratic Party is to be successful in November, it is imperative that all state parties treat our campaign supporters with fairness and the respect that they have earned. I am happy to say that has been the case at state conventions in Maine, Alaska, Colorado and Hawaii where good discussions were held and democratic decisions were reached. Unfortunately, that was not the case at the Nevada convention. At that convention the Democratic leadership used its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place.
Saturday’s chaos erupted after the committee tasked with credentialing state delegates ruled roughly 60 Bernie supporters ineligible to be seated at the Nevada convention, at which Team Sanders hoped to narrow—or potentially even reverse—his delegate losses stemming from Clinton’s victory in the state’s February caucus. (The final Nevada delegate count was never going to swing the nomination, but Sanders is hoping to use every delegate he can get to help shape the party platform and secure a prime-time speaking slot.)
According to Bernie’s version of events, Nevada Democratic Chairwoman Roberta Lange relied on a voice vote—as opposed to a roll call vote that may have gone his way—to pass the convention rules, and also refused to consider motions, petitions, and amendments offered up by his supporters. Party officials, meanwhile, maintain that they were operating entirely by the book. “The rules governing the Democratic Party delegate selection process have been in place for decades and the specific procedures for this cycle were agreed upon in 2014,” DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement (sounding a lot like her rival chairman on the GOP side), adding that the credentials committee was made up of an equal number of members from both campaigns.
I wasn’t at the Nevada convention and can’t speak to exactly what played out there. But videos taken from the convention hall along with snippets of the phone and text messages later sent to Lange together paint an unflattering picture of pretty much everyone involved—though Bernie supporters came off particularly bad given at least a small slice of them decided to channel their political outrage into actual death threats.
In the videos, Lange can be seen bringing the convention to a close by voice vote and more or less taking her gavel and going home—not exactly the best illustration of a transparent and democratic process. In one such video, though, among the first words out of a Bernie supporter's mouth were, “what a bitch,” while in another they were “fucking bitch.”
Another video appears to show the aftermath of a physical confrontation, though it’s unclear who is the injured party laying on the ground:
Most concerning of all, though, were the threats sent to Lange following the event. Among them were a voicemail that suggested the chairwoman should be “hung in public execution,” and a text message that read, “Hey bitch, loved how you broke the system, we know where you live, where you work, where you eat, where your kids go to school.”
Pretty awful stuff. Now the question is whether the ugliness will still be raging at this summer’s national convention.