With just hours to go until voters in Montana head to the voting booths in an at-large congressional special election, Republican Greg Gianforte is at the center of an assault accusation.
Guardian U.S. reporter Ben Jacobs was at an event at Gianforte campaign headquarters May 24. He went into a room and asked questions to Gianforte about his political stances on a number of topics. Suddenly, Gianforte “body-slammed” Jacobs out of nowhere, throwing him to the ground in an aggressive manner. Jacobs said that the incident caused his glasses to break.
“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs said to The Guardian, reportedly from the back of an ambulance. “This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”
Following multiple interviews with witnesses, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office charged Gianforte with misdemeanor assault. It issued a news release late in the evening May 24 saying that interviews with witnesses gave it probable cause to do so. Sheriff Brian Gootkin also addressed a $250 campaign contribution to Gianforte in the statement.
In the raw audio from the ordeal, Jacobs is heard asking Gianforte about his stance on health care. Gianforte says he wanted to “talk about that later,” before a loud rustle is heard. After that, Gianforte screams, “I’m sick and tired of you guys. The last time you came in here, you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here.”
Listen to the audio of the incident in the video below:
Jacobs reported the incident to authorities after it happened, and police responded to the scene.
To listen to police scanner audio from the incident, click here.
Also in the room with Gianforte and Jacobs at the time of the alleged incident was Fox News’ Alicia Acuna, field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey. Acuna wrote a chilling account of what she witnessed with her two coworkers inside the room. She said that Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck and punched him after throwing him down to the ground.
Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, “I’m sick and tired of this!”
Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.
The Gianforte campaign has since released a statement on the alleged assault. In it, campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon said that Jacobs “entered the office without permission” and “aggressively shoved a recorder” into Gianforte’s face.
Scanlon said that Gianforte tried to grab Jacobs’ phone as the reporter grabbed his wrist and “spun away,” forcing the two to the ground.
“It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ,” the statement concluded.
Gianforte, a businessman who had a failed campaign for governor last year, is running against Democrat Rob Quist and Libertarian Mark Wicks for the vacant House seat in Montana. A special election is being held for the seat because Ryan Zinke was confirmed as the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a statement calling for Gianforte to withdraw from the race due to the campaign’s latest development.
Leading up to the incident, Gianforte was leading in the polls.
One of them that was conducted by a Democratic Super PAC — Senate Majority PAC — in April showed Gianforte leading Quist in the race by six percentage points (49-43).