LAS VEGAS – With a flash of comedic timing, Hillary Clinton dodged the first controversy of her not-yet-declared 2016 presidential run after a heckler threw a shoe and a nearly half-century-old political document at the former first lady and secretary of State during a speech here.
Shortly after Clinton began a keynote speech Thursday night at an Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries convention, a woman walked down the aisle and threw the items. She then turned around, put her hands in the air and walked away as security officers took her into custody.
The 66-year-old Clinton took the offense in stride: She ducked both objects and then fired back with a verbal volley.
“Is that somebody throwing something at me? Is that part of Cirque du Soleil?” Clinton quipped, referring to the popular acrobatic show here, putting her hands to her eyes to shield them from the glare of the lights.
As many in the crowd of 1,000 guests broke into applause, she added: “My goodness, I didn’t know that solid waste management was so controversial,” Clinton said. “Thank goodness she didn’t play softball like I did.”
Las Vegas police on Friday identified the protester as Alison Michelle Ernst, 36, of Arizona. She was charged with one count of disorderly conduct. No bail amount was available.
Officials said the protester, who gave no indication why she tossed the items at Clinton, wasn’t a credentialed convention member and should not have been in the ballroom at the Mandalay Bay resort. A black and orange shoe was recovered from the stage, Brian Spellacy, U.S. Secret Service supervisory special agent in Las Vegas, told the Associated Press.
Neither the Secret Service nor the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries returned calls on Friday.
[Updated 2:55 p.m. PST, April 11: Mark Carpenter, a spokesman for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, said in a statement Friday that the protester had rushed past security.
“The woman interrupting the speech was not affiliated with our organization and was not credentialed for this event,” he said. “Our staff denied her access before she later rushed past security. An ISRI staffer then stopped her as she approached the stage. She was then handed over to law enforcement.”]
Clinton isn’t the first U.S. politician to be the recipient of a public shoe-throwing. In 2008, President George W. Bush was forced to duck twice during a speech in Baghdad as an Iraqi journalist threw two shoes at the U.S. leader in a gesture considered a major insult in some cultures.
“This is a gift from the Iraqis. This is the farewell kiss, you dog,” the shoe-thrower told Bush.
Bush also played down the incident, quipping: “All I can report is it is a size 10.”
Officials said the documents thrown at Clinton on Thursday involved a 1967 Department of Defense operation in Bolivia known as “Cynthia”, which referred to a Bolivian army maneuver to capture Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
On Friday, Fox News poked fun at the connection, posting on its website side by side photos of Clinton and Guevara.