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A thug too far, part 1

Nina Easton filed a report with Fortune on a protest outside her home in suburban Washington, D.C., last Sunday. Her report had an unusual personal twist as well as a strikingly close-up perspective depicted in the photograph accompanying her article:

[M]y front yard exploded with 500 screaming, placard-waving strangers on a mission to intimidate my neighbor, Greg Baer. Baer is deputy general counsel for corporate law at Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500), a senior executive based in Washington, D.C. And that — in the minds of the organizers at the politically influential Service Employees International Union and a Chicago outfit called National Political Action — makes his family fair game.
Waving signs denouncing bank “greed,” hordes of invaders poured out of 14 school buses, up Baer’s steps, and onto his front porch. As bullhorns rattled with stories of debtor calls and foreclosed homes, Baer’s teenage son Jack — alone in the house — locked himself in the bathroom. “When are they going to leave?” Jack pleaded when I called to check on him.
Baer, on his way home from a Little League game, parked his car around the corner, called the police, and made a quick calculation to leave his younger son behind while he tried to rescue his increasingly distressed teen. He made his way through a din of barked demands and insults from the activists who proudly “outed” him, and slipped through his front door.
“Excuse me,” Baer told his accusers, “I need to get into the house. I have a child who is alone in there and frightened.”

The protest was allegedly called to protest mortgage foreclosures. Easton doesn’t lend much credence to the stated purpose of the protest. Indeed, she casts a gimlet eye on the proceedings:

Now this event would accurately be called a “protest” if it were taking place at, say, a bank or the U.S. Capitol. But when hundreds of loud and angry strangers are descending on your family, your children, and your home, a more apt description of this assemblage would be “mob.” Intimidation was the whole point of this exercise, and it worked-even on the police. A trio of officers who belatedly answered our calls confessed a fear that arrests might “incite” these trespassers.

Easton followed up on the anomalies with the SEIU:

Targeting homes and families seems to put SEIU in the ranks of (now jailed) radical animal-rights activists and the Kansas anti-gay fundamentalists harassing the grieving parents of a dead 20-year-old soldier at his funeral (the Supreme Court has agreed to weigh in on the latter). But that’s not a conversation that SEIU officials want to have.
When I asked Stephen Lerner, SEIU’s point-person on Wall Street reform, about these tactics, he accused me of getting “emotional.” Lerner was more comfortable sticking to his talking points: “Millions of people are losing their homes, and they have gone to the banks, which are turning a deaf ear.”
Okay, fine, then why not continue SEIU protests at bank offices and shareholder meetings-as the union has been doing for more than a year? Lerner insists, “People in powerful corporations seem to think they can insulate themselves from the damage they are doing.”

Easton uncovers a few more anomalies:

Sunday’s onslaught wasn’t designed for mainstream media consumption. There were no reporters from organizations like the Washington Post, no local camera crews who might have aired criticism of this private-home invasion. With the media covering the conservative Tea Party protesters, the behavior of individual activists has drawn withering scrutiny.
Instead, a friendly Huffington Post blogger showed up, narrowcasting coverage to the union’s leftist base. The rest of the message these protesters brought was personal-aimed at frightening Baer and his family, not influencing a broader public.
Of course, HuffPost readers responding to the coverage assumed that Baer was an evil former Bush official. He’s not. A lifelong Democrat, Baer worked for the Clinton Treasury Department, and his wife, Shirley Sagawa, author of the book The American Way to Change and a former adviser to Hillary Clinton, is a prominent national service advocate.

Easton concludes that “we’ve crossed into a new era: The politics of personal intimidation.”

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