Updated to add more comments and responses
By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
MANCHESTER – An “unruly” crowd of anti-vaccination protesters closed down the Executive Council meeting before it started Wednesday when state employees left feeling unsafe by the chaos that erupted in the packed room at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.
“Shut it down. Shut it down,” the protestors shouted. “We are tired of the federal government that won’t give us any options…It will take away our live free or die and make us do things that are unsafe,” Terese Grinnell shouted to the crowd.
Someone from the audience asked: “Like what?”
Grinnell responded: “We will be taking an injection that has proven to have adverse reactions up to and leading to death.” She gave examples of results that she said she personally knew of when people took the COVID-19 vaccination.
Grinnell called InDepthNH.org after the meeting to say she isn’t against vaccines, but against vaccine mandates and said the term anti-vaxxer is not accurate. “I would prefer to say l’m advocating for medical freedom,” Grinnell said.
Gov. Chris Sununu didn’t make an appearance as the meeting was about to begin, although he did attended the earlier breakfast meeting that was also disrupted.
The protesters were opposed to the council accepting $27 million in federal money to hire 13 new temporary full-time positions to manage immunizations in the state through June 2023.
The contracts were tabled at the last council meeting.
Executive Council David Wheeler, R-Milford, addressed the crowd saying state employees “are fearful of their safety and have left the meeting. We need the state employees to answer questions on the agenda and they are part of this meeting. Therefore this meeting is cancelled.”
Sununu issued a news release after the meeting: “I will not put members of the Executive Council or State Agencies in harms way.
“State Police had to escort state employees to their cars after unacceptable, unruly behavior. This meeting is being postponed until our state employees can go before the Council in a safe and orderly manner. The items on today’s agenda will be brought up at a later date.”
Andrew Manuse, chairman of Rebuild NH, had sent an email to the Executive Council, letting them know to expect the protest. The literature said: “We want the Executive Council to KILL the federal DHHS grant for 13 vaccine propaganda bureaucrats. Come PROTEST with us on Wed. Sept 29 @ 7:30 AM.
“Join us to OPPOSE federal DHHS money and STAND UP for medical freedom.”
Medical freedom protesters are also planning a march at the State House Oct. 2, 12–3 p.m.
Manuse sent out a news release after the protest saying RebuildNH did organize a protest outside the Executive Council meeting.
“Unfortunately, a handful of individuals not connected to our organization led some of the protesters inside the meeting room and disrupted councilors as they attempted to attend to the people’s business. Despite efforts to direct public discourse by way of letters, emails, and peaceful demonstrations outside the building, these agitators were able to feed off people’s raw emotion and misdirect them,” Manuse said.
“There are thousands of New Hampshire citizens who are angry and hurt because they are losing their jobs,” said Manuse. “We want to be a vehicle for them to express themselves peacefully and civilly in order to restore the people’s liberty in New Hampshire.”
The $27 million dollars in federal funds through the American Rescue Plan would implement the state’s COVID-19 vaccine response as well as additional resources to support ongoing immunization efforts.
Sununu, and Lori Shibinette, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services, have supported the contracts noting it is important funding to help support statewide immunization efforts, not just COVID-19.
Separately, the governor has said Biden’s plan to mandate COVID-19 immunization for all federal workers and contractors, private employers with more than 100 employees and some healthcare workers is overreaching and said he plans to sue.
Councilor Cinde Warminton, D-Concord, said in a release after the meeting was cancelled: “I am shocked that this insurrectionist behavior has come to New Hampshire. It is not only disruptive, it is dangerous.
“Today’s meeting of the Governor and Executive Council was canceled because a far-right fringe mob put the safety of our dedicated state employees at risk. The actions of these extremists, guided by conspiracy theories and misinformation, not only disrupted state government but was an assault on our democracy.
“As Executive Councilor for District 2, I stand ready to do the work I was elected to do. I will not be intimidated by the un-American conduct we saw today. This mob and the people inciting them must stop. Every Granite Stater who believes in democracy needs to speak out against these attacks,” Warmington said.
House Minority Leader Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, said: “The insurrectionist takeover of today’s Executive Council meeting is a disturbing example of how Governor Sununu and Republican leadership have encouraged behavior endangering the very foundations of our democracy in New Hampshire.
“For the past year and a half, House Republican leadership has enabled and empowered seditionists in their own caucus and among their supporters, most recently by hosting a rally outside the State House to gin-up anti-government sentiment in front of a crowd similar to the one seen today at the NHIOP.
“Today’s antics are a continuation of the disinformation campaign and coddling of extremists led by Governor Sununu, Speaker Packard and Republican leadership. When Governor Sununu signed a GOP budget refunding fines to businesses that violated his own COVID protocols, it was a clear signal to extremists that the Republican party is on their side and that the Governor was incapable of standing up to them.
“The Speaker’s decision to allow conspiracy theorist Rep. Ken Weyler to remain Chair of the Finance and Fiscal Committees shows just how far extremism has risen in the GOP ranks. It is also outrageous that the mob today prevented the swearing in of a newly elected member of the House. It is a dereliction of duty for GOP leadership to encourage this behavior any further, endangering state employees and elected officials and preventing the government from doing its job for the people of New Hampshire,” Cushing said.
House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry said: “Our Constitution guarantees the right to free speech, but disruption of government meetings, and threats to government officials is absolutely unacceptable. The events we witnessed today were disgraceful and contrary to civil public discourse. Governor Sununu and the Executive Council members did the right thing by putting people’s safety first.”
Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said, “I fully support Governor Sununu’s decision to postpone today’s Executive Council meeting due to the threatening behavior by protestors that was directed towards the governor, councilors, and state employees. This behavior is totally unacceptable because it tears at the very fabric of New Hampshire’s long tradition of respectful civil discourse. Government must be allowed to carry out the people’s business free from intimidation and disruption.”
Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said: “Today’s Executive Council meeting was an alarming demonstration of the dangerous and reckless behavior that has been allowed to manifest under Governor Sununu and the elected Republican majorities. It is long past time that the Republican leadership of this state stop coddling extremists who continue spreading misinformation and threatening the lives of our state employees to score political points. This has gone on for far too long and needs to be stopped, now.”
Granite State Progress Executive Director Zandra Rice Hawkins said: “Governor Sununu has forced school boards across the state to deal with this same exact harassment from far-right actors for months, refusing to take steps to protect the overall safety of school board members, students, and educators.
“There have been threats of violence and repeated attempts to shut down important public health discussions. Sununu could have prevented this and the spike in COVID cases our schools and communities are experiencing by implementing public health and science guidelines around universal masking. Instead, Complicit Chris Sununu continues to pass the buck and coddle up to far-right extremists. In fact, Sununu and his Chief of Staff Jayne Millerick made three separate phone calls last week to meet with the anti-vaccination leader shown leading disruption activities at the Executive Council,” Rice Hawkins said. “…The fact that Rep. Ken Weyler continues to chair Finance and Fiscal committees after using that position to spread disinformation is a prime example. This is all dangerous and will continue to become more so as extremists use threats of violence to get their way.”