SAN RAFAEL, Calif. - It was a raucous 90 minutes in Marin County when a congressional town hall in the Bay Area Tuesday night was stormed and disrupted by anti-vaccine and pro-Donald Trump protesters. Rep. Jared Huffman struggled to carry on his first in-person town hall in a year amid the disruptions.
Congressional town halls are generally tame, even dry with discussion over policy, but that was before COVID and the polarizing 2020 presidential election.
"Medical freedom now!" was the chant at the San Rafael Community Center. Huffman had to shout into the microphone to be heard.
"We have always had capacity rules for gatherings. We've always had common sense limits on gatherings and I'm sorry that some of it rubs you the wrong way. But it is not a civil right. It is not apartheid. It is not the Holocaust," Huffman tried to reason with the crowd among the shouts.
About 100 people RSVP'd to the town hall. His audience ended up in face to face confrontations with protesters.
"I apologize to everyone who came here to try to have a civil, respectful conversation," said Huffman as a woman with a sign that read, ‘All the ferrets died. No passports no way’ sat on the stage in front of him.
Demonstrators were upset that vaccination cards were originally required for admission and that capacity was limited for physical distancing.
"We are the taxpayers. He is our servant. It doesn't go the other way around," one demonstrator said.
People offered proof of vaccination, but it ended up being an honor system situation.
Huffman didn't get to his first topic before protesters poured in. Huffman was clearly frustrated.
"Please respect the distance of others and the masking rules, but I can see you're not going to do that either," Huffman said.
At one point the woman with the ferret sign stuck her tongue in a man's face and tried to rip off his mask. She defended her actions saying, "Civil disobedience is not going to look pretty all the time," said Kegan Stedwell of Point Reyes. "The idea is that you're disrupting the flow of the day-to-day."
"Please don't get physical with each other," Huffman tried to implore protesters to calm down over the microphone.
"To see it on my doorstep, yeah, they're entitled to their opinions, but do it in a civil approach," said Jim Davis, who was the man confronted by Steadwelll when she tried to take his mask.
While Davis spoke to KTVU on camera, an anti-vaccine protester saw the opportunity to get her message across via a sign on camera that read, 'Huffman event violates civil codes on medical privacy.'
"This was just ugly," Davis said.
San Rafael police stood by throughout.
Huffman preferred to slog his way through.
"You don't want to bring in police and get all heavy-handed. You know they're going to claim that they're victims," said Huffman.
He thanked his constituents who strained to hear about the issues. He said those who interrupted were outrageous and that their tactic was a page from the Donald Trump playbook.
"Just because you're really loud and rude and disruptive doesn't make you right and it doesn't make you the majority," Huffman said.
Huffman said he won't quit on his public forums or abandon public health guidelines.