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Scuffle breaks out at Rep. Katie Porter’s town hall

Katie Porter, outdoors on a stretch of grass, speaks to people sitting on the ground and beneath umbrellas.
Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) speaks Sunday at a town hall meeting at Mike Ward Community Park in Irvine.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

A melee broke out at Rep. Katie Porter’s district town hall meeting Sunday, with her backers scuffling with supporters of former President Trump who were loudly interrupting the congresswoman as she spoke.

Porter, a Democrat from Irvine, said the acts of the protesters were premeditated and that all attendees had been given the opportunity to ask questions.

“It is disappointing that a small but vocal group of attendees, who advertised a ‘confrontation rally,’ created unsafe conditions at a planned family-friendly event,” Porter said in a statement. “While I absolutely respect their right to disagree, their disturbance disrespected all the families who attended and were ready to engage in a thoughtful, civil and safe way.

“My team and I are evaluating next steps, but my promise to Orange County families is that I will continue to hold town halls and to be in conversation with them.”

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Porter was referring to an Instagram post by Nick Taurus, who is running against her in the midterm election. On Thursday, he invited supporters to join him at the town hall to “CONFRONT KATIE PORTER!”

“Katie Porter is a far-left ideologue supported by Bay Area academics, the billionaire class and foreign lobbies!” he wrote in the post. “Her America Last policies are awful for the 45th district and we intend to voice our displeasure.”

Taurus, who identifies as an “American nationalist” on his campaign website, was among the people involved in the scuffle; he declined to comment to The Times.

The fracas occurred shortly after Porter began speaking to a crowd of a few hundred people at Mike Ward Community Park in Irvine. It was her first in-person town hall since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a crowd, a man lying on the ground grips the wrists of another man. Two men shove each other in the background.
A brief scuffle breaks out at Rep. Katie Porter’s Sunday town hall.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“I am so excited to be here with you all today. Thank you everyone for coming out to express your opinion,” she said. “This is an outdoor activity; we have a lot of wind. So I’m going to ask that everyone, regardless of your views, try to keep your voices down and be quiet so we can have a conversation.”

She added that, as a mother of three, she had often worried about finding child care so she could attend such events, so she had directed her team to make the event family-friendly. Her staff handed out popcorn, snow cones and pocket copies of the Constitution to children.

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“I’m really excited to have kids here with us today,” Porter said, “and I want this to be a very family-friendly environment, even as we talk about the hard issues.”

As she spoke, a handful of protesters shouted “Carpetbagger Katie!” and “Corrupt Katie Porter.” They continued to interrupt her as she spoke about climate change, COVID-19 vaccinations and other topics.

Porter supporters, who made up the bulk of the crowd, tried to drown out the protesters by chanting, “Katie! Katie! Katie!” or screaming, “Shut up!” A few confronted protesters, resulting in punches being thrown and men falling to the ground. Porter rushed to the scuffle, wrapping her arms around an older woman near the scrum.

Officers from the Irvine Police Department intervened and separated the factions. Sgt. Karie Davies said one Porter supporter was arrested but released on a citation, and officers took a report of assault and battery. Injuries “sounded minor,” she said.

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A man in a flag head covering is held back by a police officer as he yells and points at another man.
Police restrain vocal opponents of Rep. Katie Porter at the Irvine event Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Porter’s congressional district is expected to be hotly contested in next year’s midterm election as Republicans try to regain control of Congress. The affluent district includes Irvine, Tustin, Villa Park, Laguna Hills, Lake Forest and Rancho Santa Margarita, as well as parts of Anaheim, Orange, Laguna Woods, Mission Viejo and Trabuco Canyon.

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Porter, a 47-year-old attorney, flipped this onetime Republican stronghold in 2018, becoming the first Democrat to represent the district, then won reelection last year by seven points. Still, her election performance trailed that of President Biden, which is partly why she is among the Democratic House incumbents being targeted by national Republicans in next year’s midterms.

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GOP officials argue that Porter, a darling of progressives, is too liberal for her swing district.

“Katie Porter and Democrats’ socialist agenda has caused everyday goods to cost more, created a border crisis and led to a rise in violent crime,” said Torunn Sinclair, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “It will cost her reelection.”

On his campaign website, Taurus has called for a 25-year moratorium on immigration, a prohibition on vaccine passports, a ban on teaching critical race theory and LGBT issues in schools, the pardoning of everyone involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection in the nation’s capital, and other controversial views.

Taurus’ social media profiles show that he associates with people such as Nicholas J. Fuentes, a far-right activist who espouses white supremacist rhetoric, including lamenting that America is losing its “white demographic core” and likening the Holocaust to baking cookies — a metaphor to cast doubt on millions of deaths.

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Taurus and anyone else who challenges Porter would likely face a tough fight. Porter, a protégé of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), is a prodigious fundraiser and has drawn national attention because of her sharp questioning of corporate leaders and government officials and her use of whiteboards to explain complex policy.

After the rally ended, Taurus led a chant of “America first! America first!” and asked members of the audience if they were from America.

Kathleen Ripley, 35, winced as she watched. The Irvine resident supports Porter, though she is critical of the congresswoman, saying she wished she would talk about college debt. Ripley left the town hall distressed by the spectacles she had witnessed that afternoon.

“It’s upsetting,” she said. “But there is no point in talking to them. They literally had a chance to put in questions just like all the rest of us … but instead they decided to be disrespectful and shout over the congresswoman and everybody else here.”


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