Brooks Brothers Riot

hanging chad

The Brooks Brothers riot was a demonstration at a meeting of election canvassers in Miami-Dade County, Florida, on November 22, 2000, during a recount of votes made during the 2000 United States presidential election, with the goal of shutting down the recount.

According to investigative reporter Greg Palast, author of ‘The Best Democracy Money Can Buy’ in 2002, conservative lobbyist Roger Stone organized the demonstration, and political activist Matt Schlapp was the on-site leader. At least a half dozen of the demonstrators were paid by George W. Bush’s recount committee, and a number of them went on to take jobs in the incoming Bush administration.

Miami-Dade County official canvassers, in order to meet a court-ordered deadline, decided to limit the county’s recount to the 10,750 ballots that their computer had been unable to tally. They moved the counting process to a smaller room, closer to the ballot-scanning equipment, to speed up the process, at a distance from the media. Republican officials objected to this change of plans and insisted the canvassers do a full recount. At that time, New York Representative John E. Sweeney told an aide to ‘Shut it down.’

The ‘Brooks Brothers’ name was in reference to the protesters’ corporate attire; described in ‘The Wall Street Journal’ as ’50-year-old white lawyers with cell phones and Hermès ties,’ differentiating them from local citizens concerned about vote counting. Several of the protestors were identified as Republican congressional staffers.

Hundreds of paid Republican operatives descended upon South Florida to protest the state’s recounts. The demonstration was organized by these operatives, sometimes referred to as the ‘Brooks Brothers Brigade,’ to oppose the recount of ballots during the Florida election recount. John E. Sweeney of New York, nicknamed ‘Congressman Kick-Ass’ by President Bush for his work in Florida, set the incident in motion by telling an aide to ‘stop them’ (meaning the vote counters).

The demonstration turned violent and according to ‘The New York Times,’ ‘several people were trampled, punched or kicked when protesters tried to rush the doors outside the office of the Miami-Dade supervisor of elections. Sheriff’s deputies restored order.’ DNC aide Luis Rosero was kicked and punched. Within two hours after the event, the canvassing board unanimously voted to shut down the count, in part due to perceptions that the process was not open or fair, and in part because the court-mandated deadline had become impossible to meet, due to the interference.

Sweeney defended his actions by arguing that his aim was not to stop the hand recount, but to restore the process to public view. Some Bush supporters did acknowledge they hoped the recount would end. ‘We were trying to stop the recount; Bush had already won,’ said Evilio Cepero, a reporter for ‘WAQI,’ an influential Spanish talk radio station in Miami. ‘We were urging people to come downtown and support and protest this injustice.’ A Republican lawyer commented, ‘People were pounding on the doors, but they had an absolute right to get in.’ The protest interfered with attendance by official observers and hindered access by members of the press.

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