As Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte ran a race last week in Manchester, climate activists ran behind her while wearing Donald Trump masks.
But now a conservative group is demanding they apologize to the senator.
Members of the climate advocacy group 350 Action, the political arm of 350.org which was co-founded by environmentalist Bill McKibben, wore the Trump masks during the charity race and filmed the protest. They posted the video on YouTube titled, “Kelly Ayotte Can’t Run From Her Trump Problem,” with a description that says, “350 Action made clear that Kelly Ayotte can’t support for a climate denying racist while pretending to be a ‘green’ candidate.”
America Rising Squared, an arm of the Republican opposition research group America Rising, condemned the campaign tactic as “despicable behavior.”
“It is reprehensible that Bill McKibben would send his left-wing activists to literally chase after Senator Ayotte wearing Donald Trump masks at last week’s race in Manchester,” said Brian Rogers, executive director of AR2, in a statement exclusively to NH Journal. “We demand that Mr. McKibben apologize to Senator Ayotte immediately.”
The video sparked a debate over political campaign tactics and what actions could be deemed harassment.
The Washington Examiner also criticized McKibben for “complaining” about being followed by conservative activists. McKibben published an op-ed in The New York Times on Aug. 5 saying that he is always watched and it’s a “never-ending nightmare.”
The Examiner points out that activists from 350 Action have been “bird dogging” candidates with policy questions at public events and filming their answers to post online later.
“This episode proves how disingenuous and hypocritical Mr. McKibben really is – complaining about tracking his own public political events one day, and then videotaping his goons running after a United States Senator the next,” Rogers said.
But 350 Action says that the decision to do the event was made by organizers on the ground and not from McKibben.
“Kelly Ayotte can’t run from her Trump problem, and she can’t have it both ways,” said Becky Wasserman, New Hampshire statewide organizer for 350 Action, in a statement when the video was published. “By supporting Trump, she’s supporting racism, climate denial, and violence. Voters need to reject Trump and reject Ayotte.”
McKibben stepped down as head of 350.org in 2014 and is not involved in the day-to-day operations of 350 Action, said Lindsay Meiman, U.S. communications coordinator for 350.org.
“America Rising clearly wants to make the connection since they’re weirdly fixated on Bill, but it’s not accurate,” she said in a statement to NH Journal.
McKibben is listed on the 350 Action website though as a board member and treasurer of the group.
Dani Heffernan, communication coordinator of 350 Action, also said there is a difference between their group’s campaign tactics AS2′s actions.
“There’s a big difference between America Rising Squared creepily stalking a private citizen like Bill and 350 Action student organizers engaging in some creative political theater to push a public official like Senator Ayotte,” she said in a statement to NH Journal. “America Rising is more than welcome to get in the mix and engage in electoral politics with us —it’s the dark arts, cloak-and-dagger type stuff they do that crosses a line.
“The photo of four Donald Trump’s running behind Senator Ayotte is a bit awkward, but that’s sort of the point: why is she still supporting someone who denies climate change and makes so many racist statements? Sometimes it takes an uncomfortable photo to reveal an uncomfortable truth.”
In response to the photos and video of the Trump masks, Ayotte’s campaign spokewoman Liz Johnson called out the Republican’s challenger Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan for allowing something like this to happen.
“It’s appalling that Governor Hassan’s special interest allies would exploit a charity race to launch cheap political attacks,” she said in a statement to NH Journal.
Hassan’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.