On the eve of special election to fill Montana’s lone House seat, previously held by President Donald Trump’s secretary of the interior pick Ryan Zinke, Republican candidate Greg Gianforte reportedly lost his cool and viciously body slammed a reporter, throwing him to the ground and punching him.
The incident took place at the candidate’s Bozeman, Montana, headquarters after Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs asked him about the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, which estimated that 23 million people would lose health coverage under the American Health Care Act.
However, instead of addressing the concerns of millions of middle and lower-income Americans, the millionaire Republican proceeded to assault the journalist and go on a deranged rant about being “sick and tired” of media.
Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) May 24, 2017
There was a local TV crew there when Gianforte body slammed me. Audio is posting soon at @GuardianUS— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) May 24, 2017
There is also an audio recording to support Jacobs’ claims.
Right after the reporter asked the candidate about the health care bill, there was a loud crash, followed by Gianforte’s voice and several more thumps.
“I’m sick and tired of you guys,” the candidate yelled. “The last time you came here you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here!”
“Jesus Christ,” Jacobs responded. “You just body slammed me and broke my glasses.”
“Get the hell out of here,” Gianforte repeated, to which Jacobs can be heard saying, “If you’d like me to get the hell out of here, I’d also like to call the police.”
Once Jacobs tweet began drawing attention, the Republican campaign tried to spin the story, claiming Jacobs had assaulted the candidate, not the other way around.
Campaign representative Shane Scanlon said “liberal journalist” Jacobs barged into a private office and “aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face and began asking badgering questions.”
@Bencjacobs Gianforte campaign: "unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene @ our campaign volunteer BBQ."— Whitney Bermes (@wabermes) May 25, 2017
However, in all their haste of shifting the blame, Gianforte’s team apparently forgot there were several witnesses present on the scene.
In fact, it was the Fox News crew preparing for an interview with Gianforte that not only refuted the candidate’s claims but also described an exchange more violent than what Jacobs had first detailed.
“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” reporter Alicia Acuna wrote on the Fox website. “To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”
She said the crew gave statements to authorities.
Here is how BuzzFeed’s Alexis Levinson explained the altercation:
“This happened behind a half-closed door, so I didn’t see it all, but here’s what it looked like from the outside,” she wrote on Twitter. “Ben walked into a room where a local TV crew was set up for an interview with Gianforte ... All of a sudden I heard a giant crash and saw Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor.”
Following the outrage, the Gallatin County Sheriffs Office confirmed it was investigating the alleged assault. The authorities later charged Gianforte with misdemeanor assault and ordered him to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court.
He reportedly faces a maximum of six months in a jail along with a $500 fine — which is definitely the last thing anyone would want a day before the election.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also called on Gianforte to drop out of the race.
Jacobs later spoke to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and recounted the incident.
“The next thing I know, I’m being body-slammed,” he said. “He’s on top of me, my glasses are broken. It’s the strangest moment in my entire life reporting.”
Social media users also had a lot to say about the incident.
Gianforte is very wealthy -- I hope @Bencjacobs sues the hell out of him.— Yashar (@yashar) May 25, 2017
Ya know what doesn't make you a tough guy? Laying hands on a reporter doing their job.— john r stanton (@dcbigjohn) May 24, 2017
Heads up, Montana, the country will be watching tomorrow to see how you respond to Greg Gianforte's actions. What do you value?— Jane Bennett (@zatara609) May 25, 2017
This is so easy for Republicans. Denounce what #Gianforte did. Say violence against journalists is unacceptable. Simple. And...they can't.— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) May 25, 2017
In the past two weeks, reporters have been arrested, pinned against a wall, and now body slammed -- all for trying to ask a question.— Michael Calderone (@mlcalderone) May 25, 2017
These damn liberal journalists badgering political candidates for their positions on policies that will affect tens of millions of Americans https://t.co/bKPTUCPhsf— Tim Alberta (@TimAlberta) May 25, 2017
Donald Trump is under investigation by the FBI. Greg Gianforte just beat up a reporter. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2016 Republican Party.— Palmer Report (@PalmerReport) May 25, 2017
Gianforte lost his shit over a question about the CBO score, if you want to know how confident Republicans feel about defending their bill.— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) May 25, 2017
So the game plan is to lie, dismiss Ben Jacobs as a "liberal reporter," and just count on feckless GOP leaders to do nothing.— Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) May 25, 2017
Sounds right. https://t.co/m0LbddGEqY
Just as a reality check: the odds are (still) heavily in the favor of Gianforte becoming a US Congressman tomorrow.— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) May 25, 2017