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Nevada's Democratic Party Is Accusing Bernie Sanders' Staff and Supporters of Inciting Violence

In a strongly worded letter to the Democratic National Committee, the state party complained that Sanders supporters caused an unruly and violent state convention.
Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP

Three days after an out-of-control state convention that left Nevada Democrats and Bernie Sanders supporters completely incensed — albeit for different reasons — the state Democratic party has lodged a formal complaint with the national party against Sanders' supporters and campaign representatives.

"We write to alert you to what we perceive as the Sanders campaign's penchant for extra-parliamentary behavior — indeed, actual violence — in place of democratic conduct in a convention setting," a lawyer for the Nevada State Democratic Party, Bradley S. Schrager, wrote in a letter to the two co-chairs of the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee on Tuesday.


The party claimed that Sanders supporters came to the convention looking for "a street-fight rather than attending an orderly political party process," and blamed the campaign for what it described as "encouragement of, and complicity in, a very dangerous atmosphere that ended in chaos and physical threats to fellow Democrats."

While the state party's complaint doesn't demand any specific action, Schrager did warn that events in Nevada could be "harbingers of things to come as Democrats gather in Philadelphia in July for our National Convention."

But Sanders denied the Nevada party's version of events in a statement on Tuesday afternoon. The senator said he did not condone violence in any form and called claims that the campaign itself fostered a culture of violence "nonsense."

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"Our campaign of course believes in non-violent change and it goes without saying that I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals," Sanders said in a statement, noting that his Nevada campaign office was shot at earlier this year.

"If the Democratic Party is to be successful in November, it is imperative that all state parties treat our campaign supporters with fairness and the respect that they have earned," the Vermont senator added.

The Nevada state convention on Saturday was nothing short of a ruckus. Sanders supporters, irate that Hillary Clinton had clinched seven delegates to Sanders's five, were accused of yelling and throwing chairs at the event held at Las Vegas's Paris Casino, refusing to leave after the convention concluded, and later sending death threats to Nevada Democratic Party chairwoman Roberta Lange.


Supporters of the Vermont senator say they were wrongly and purposefully disenfranchised.

One of the main sources of discontent arose when the Credentials Committee denied 58 delegates the ability to participate at the event. Most of those who had been denied delegate status had either failed to register as a Democrat by the party deadline of May 1, or their records could not be immediately verified, according to the state party. The party said that 13 Clinton supporters were also disqualified.

But tensions really flared up after Lange, the convention chair, refused to reconsider the committee's decision and later adjourned the event around 10pm to loud shouts for a recount from Sanders supporters, after proceedings had run three hours overtime.

Casino security and police had to remove some Sanders supporters from the convention floor, but not before shutting the lights off on them, which only inflamed the situation. Democratic state Senator Pat Spearman, who supports Clinton, told the Associated Press she saw an elderly woman hit with a bottle amid the chaos.

"There's no reason to do that," Spearman said. "That's the kind of shenanigans that they do on the other side."

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The morning after the convention, some attendees expressed their frustration by spraying graffiti on the state Democratic party's headquarters and staging a protest. An unidentified person also leaked Lange's cellphone number on social media. Lange has since received more than 1,000 calls and threatening texts, including death threats, according to the state party. The party attached a few examples of calls and text messages sent to Lange in their complaint Tuesday. Some of those messages called Lange a "bitch" and referenced her grandchildren and home address.


Las Vegas Police said Monday they are looking into death threats.

The state party's strongly and colorfully worded letter is a sign that some Democratic leaders are departing from their mandate to remain neutral in the Democratic primary, amid an amplifying battle between party leaders and the Sanders campaign.

The DNC denies that any national party members, including chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, have played a role in events in Nevada.

In its letter Tuesday, the Nevada state party accused the Sanders campaign of employing "easily-incensed delegates as shock troops to sway the convention proceedings."

The state party also said that campaign representatives attempted to draft and deliver a so-called "minority report," which wrongly charged that the credentials committee had denied 64 Sanders supporters delegate status. The party said that figure was "inaccurate," since six of the 64 supporters initially turned away were later granted status and allowed to vote.

Sanders said in his statement Tuesday that the credentials committee's decision to "en mass rule that 64 delegates were ineligible without offering an opportunity for 58 of them to be heard" led the Clinton campaign "to end up with a 30-vote majority." Sanders also said the chair refused to acknowledge motions on the floor to vote on the 58 that were turned away or to accept properly submitted petitions to amend the convention's rules.


But the state party sees it differently.

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"All that mattered was the creation of a narrative of fraud and dispossession, which the Sanders Campaign fomented intentionally for its own political gain," Schrager wrote in the party's complaint.

A day before the event, Sanders had unsuccessfully called for his supporters to show unity at the convention. "Working together respectfully and constructively on Saturday at the Nevada Democratic convention will move us closer to those essential goals," the senator said in a statement Friday.

But on Tuesday, the Sanders campaign said that in order for unity to prevail, it was up to Democratic state parties to make their processes fairer and more inclusive of his campaign.

"If the Democratic Party is to be successful in November, it is imperative that all state parties treat our campaign supporters with fairness and the respect that they have earned," Sanders said. "Unfortunately, that was not the case at the Nevada convention. At that convention the Democratic leadership used its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place."

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields