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Rep. Jared Huffman says protesters turned San Rafael town hall meeting into a ’MAGA circus’

North Bay Rep. Jared Huffman was less than five minutes into his first in-person, town hall meeting in more than a year on Tuesday night when the room in his hometown erupted in chaos.

Protesters poured into the San Rafael Community Center, where Huffman, D-San Rafael, was scheduled to hold an hourlong forum that was limited to 100 participants and streamed live on social media.

The demonstrators shouted, shoved and jeered, most of them flouting the event’s pre-registration requirement and mask mandate. Some carried signs expressing opposition to the rule that participants in the meeting be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Jab mandate is fascist,” read one sign, which was visible in a recording of the event posted on Huffman’s Facebook page.

Another said: "My body, my choice.“

One woman lunged at a man in the audience and tried to yank the blue surgical mask off his face. She hopped up on the stage and sat cross-legged in front of Huffman, holding a sign that read “medical tyranny is still tyranny.”

It’s common for protesters to show up at Huffman’s town hall meetings, the congressman said. But the scene that unfolded on Tuesday was striking.

“There was pushing and shoving and a level of physical bullying that I’ve never seen at an event like this,” Huffman said in an interview.

He likened the demonstration to the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6. Many of the protesters, he said, were showing support for former President Donald Trump, wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats.

“Tonight an angry COVID-denying mob tried to turn my town hall meeting into a MAGA circus,” Huffman wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday. “Outside of the January 6th insurrection, this might be the ugliest, most disgraceful spectacle I've ever seen."

Huffman’s town hall came at a time of political acrimony, much of it surrounding the pandemic, with Congress and statehouses roiled by fierce debates over mask mandates, vaccinations and the pace of reopening.

At the same time, tensions between Democrats and Republicans have ramped up since the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, when supporters of then-President Trump stormed Congress in a violent confrontation in which five people died and dozens of police officers were injured.

Before Congress’s current recess, Democrats expressed concerns to the Washington Post that the atmosphere in Washington could follow them back home during their three-week recess, as lawmakers began meeting vaccinated constituents in-person for the first time in more than a year.

Capitol Police said threats against lawmakers increased by 107% in the first five months of 2021 over last year, the Post reported.

Police were on hand for Huffman’s event but did not intervene. Huffman continued on with the evening, thanking constituents for putting up with the disturbance.

The Sonoma County Republican Party encouraged its supporters in a Facebook post this week to attend Huffman’s town hall and “stand up for their constitutional rights.” It urged people to ensure that the event remained “a peaceful gathering.”

“We are now charged with blowing the top off the lies!” the post said. “You must show up!”

The post said Huffman was “breaking the law” by requiring proof of vaccination at the event.

An advertisement for the town hall said that a ticket reservation for the event would not “guarantee admittance without proof of completed vaccination(s) more than two weeks prior.”

Huffman said event managers were not requiring attendees to show proof of vaccination, but were instead using the “honor system.” He said the event rules, including the capacity limit, mask requirement and social distancing guidelines, followed mandates set by the Marin County Health Department.

Matt Heath, chair of the Sonoma County Republican Party, said in an interview that Huffman ought “to say ’no’ to segregation.”

“The Sonoma County Republican Party believes that every individual has the right to decide what they put into their own body,” Heath said, reading from a prepared statement.

"We do not believe in creating a caste system of those who have been vaccinated and those who have decided not to be vaccinated,“ Heath said. ”It is unfortunate that Congressman Huffman feels the need to not properly represent his constituency based upon this individual choice."

Heath said he did not attend the town hall and declined to comment on the disruption of the event.

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Pera at matthew.pera@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Matt__Pera.

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