Bemidji State University senior Matt Riddle got more than he bargained for when he attended a GOP fundraiser in Hackensack Saturday evening. The 22-year old political science major intended to tape the candidates’ speeches for a school project but instead found himself being grabbed, pushed, pulled and shoved out the door by staffers as Rep. Chip Cravaack stood nearby, calmly ignoring the student’s pleas.
Riddle says he paid $25 upon arrival at Biddle and Joe’s Restaurant, and was given permission to tape the speeches by organizers of the Cass County GOP fundraiser. He complied with their request to sit in the back of the room. Riddle had what he describes as a ‘friendly’ conversation with Sen. Paul Gazelka, but the tenor quickly changed when Rep. Chip Cravaack entered the room.
Riddle’s voice still shook late Saturday night as he detailed his harrowing encounter earlier that evening:
I was manhandled by these guys… I was there for about one half hour. I was sitting in the back row talking with an older guy about making apple pies from the apple trees growing in his back yard when a couple of big guys wearing GOP badges who came in with Cravaack came up to me and said ‘you can’t be here, this is a private event.’
I told them I had paid to attend, and one of them said ‘no, you didn’t’ and shoved the money in my pocket. I said I had been given permission to tape the speeches. They told me ‘well, now you have to go’ and it was at that point they grabbed and dragged me to the door and shoved me out, demanding ‘get out of here’ and telling me ‘the sheriff is on the way’. I waited outside for awhile but no one showed up.
Riddle says at no time did they give him an opportunity to turn off the camera and remain at the event just to listen to the speeches, and he kept trying to get an explanation as to why he was being thrown out:
I couldn’t understand it. I told them ‘I’m an American citizen, I should have the right to listen to speeches. I even told them I’m from Washington, I can’t vote here, I’m not going to vote against you….I’m just a political science major.’
They kept asking me who I was working for, who was paying me. They didn’t believe me when I kept telling them ‘nobody, I’m a political science major taping speeches for a school project.’
They just started grabbing me and ordering me out, even threatening to call the sheriff. They told me ‘you’re going to go to jail if you don’t leave’
And they got rougher when he tried to go back and get his belongings*:
They weren’t letting me get my camera and equipment….they held me so hard, my left arm still hurts.
Riddle said he recently attended a DFL event and said there was no problem. And he noted a GOP tracker was present and was treated “really well” by former Congressman Rick Nolan. His voice trembled with anger as he contrasted how he was treated by Cravaack and his staffers:
Nolan greeted his tracker by name – Brady – and was really nice to him. This was totally different. They just pushed me out and manhandled me, and kept pushing me and pulling me out the door without my stuff. I’m a political science major working on a project. This is dirty politics and ridiculous…
Chip Cravaack was literally 5 feet way… I asked him ‘why can’t I be here’ and he just kind of looked of me blankly, didn’t say a word and watched as they dragged me out without my stuff… He did not care whatsoever. He wanted me out of there, and his guys were not letting me stay whatsoever, and physically lifted me off the floor to get me out the door.
*Riddle’s equipment was eventually returned to him