For Granite Staters still stunned and appalled at the Trump-fueled insurrection at the Capitol last January, the events that unfolded at the N.H. Executive Council meeting at St. Anselm College last week may feel too familiar. Anti-vaccine protesters disrupted the meeting, some shouting “We know where you live!” and “They should be afraid!”
The governor, councilors and state staff were escorted safely away from the building by State Police, as Councilor David Wheeler appeared and told the mob the meeting had been canceled because the employees required to present information had left.
It was actually the second state meeting shut down by such antics. Weeks earlier, a Health and Human Services hearing on changes to the state vaccine registry was postponed due to similar protests.
It would be a mistake to equate the New Hampshire protests with the national insurrection: The scope of the latter, and its consequences, were much larger. There were no deaths or injuries in the two New Hampshire protests, and the end goal of the Jan. 6 riot was no less than the violent takeover of the U.S. government.
Some parallels can be drawn, however, and they’re disturbing in their own right.
The crowd that disrupted the Executive Council meeting was, like those at the Capitol, attempting to keep duly elected officials from performing their constitutionally designated duties, through intimidation.
Make no mistake: Yelling that someone should be afraid and that you know where they live is nothing but an outright threat. Those who kept the council from doing its job — which in this case would have included voting on whether to accept $27 million in federal vaccine assistance — congratulated themselves for their incivility and later took to social media to declare they had “won.”
Not so. They at best delayed any decisions the council would have made last week. They’re also being investigated by the state Attorney General’s Office for any potential crimes they may have committed through their actions. And since the council’s Republican majority had already turned down the bulk of the funding once, their antics probably didn’t sway anyone to oppose the funding; they may, however, have angered some councilors enough for them to change their minds and accept the funds — which they should have to begin with.
More importantly, the mob’s boorish behavior furthers the deterioration of civil discourse and due process upon which our political system is based. Everyone is entitled to be heard by public bodies, and the Executive Council accepts public comment on the issues its members tackle. But chaotic yelling and threatening is not the way for that to happen.
Peaceful protesting to remind councilors that citizens care about those issues is fair game. What happened last week was not peaceful, and the primary message sent was that the councilors ought to fear more than being voted out if they didn’t vote the way the protesters wanted. There are few ways to misinterpret “We know where you live.”
Thus, it’s not at all that the protesters, by shutting down the lawful process of our government — even temporarily — through threats and intimidation rather than by calmly having their say at the appropriate time, have “won.”
Rather, it’s that we all have lost.