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Bernie Sanders Defends Supporters After Rowdy Protests In Nevada

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says his campaign and supporters were not treated fairly during last Saturday's Nevada Democratic convention.
Charlie Neibergall
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says his campaign and supporters were not treated fairly during last Saturday's Nevada Democratic convention.

After an unruly and chaotic Nevada Democratic convention over the weekend, Bernie Sanders is doubling down on accusations that the state party treated him unfairly, and he denies that his supporters were inciting violence.

"Within the last few days there have been a number of criticisms made against my campaign organization. Party leaders in Nevada, for example, claim that the Sanders campaign has a 'penchant for violence.' That is nonsense," the Democratic presidential hopeful said in a statement Tuesday. "Our campaign has held giant rallies all across this country, including in high-crime areas, and there have been zero reports of violence. Our campaign of course believes in non-violent change and it goes without saying that I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals."

Sanders also argued that his campaign had been victim to violence in the state before, pointing to a possible shooting that occurred at one of his campaign offices.

The Sanders campaign says that in Nevada on Saturday, "the Democratic leadership used its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place." It is alleging that the chair of the convention incorrectly ruled on a voice vote, unfairly deeming 64 of its delegates ineligible, ignored floor motions from his supporters and wouldn't accept any petitions to change the rules.

"If the Democratic Party is to be successful in November, it is imperative that all state parties treat our campaign supporters with fairness and the respect that they have earned," the Sanders statement continued.

Rival Hillary Clinton won the state's caucuses back in February by five points, and the 23 delegates were split proportionally between the two, 13 to 10. The remaining 12 were set to be awarded last Saturday at the state convention. The Sanders campaign had worked to make sure many of its loyalists were at that gathering, where they hoped to win a majority of the delegates and narrow Clinton's lead to 18 to 17 delegates out of Nevada.

But chaos followed after Sanders supporters allege they were denied being seated at the convention and that the state party chairwoman, Roberta Lange, was slanting the rules in favor of Clinton. In the end, Clinton ended up with 20 delegates out of the state to Sanders' 15.

Sanders supporters, believing they had been treated unfairly, rushed the stage, threw chairs and were shouting obscenities, according to veteran Nevada journalist Jon Ralston. Even after the convention concluded, many refused to leave and had to be escorted out by security.

Since then, Lange, the Nevada Democratic chairwoman, said she's been receiving threats from Sanders supporters.

"It's been vile," she told the New York Times. "It's been threatening messages, threatening my family, threatening my life, threatening my grandchild."

The dent Sanders supporters hoped to make in Clinton's nearly insurmountable delegate lead would have been minor — she leads Sanders by 283 pledged delegates, and that grows when superdelegates are factored in.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had said earlier in the day that he was confident Sanders would condemn the violence.

"This is a test of leadership, as we all know, and I'm hopeful and very confident Sen. Sanders will do the right thing," Reid said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Democratic National Committee said it would "be reaching out to the leadership of both of our campaigns to ask them to stand with the Democratic Party in denouncing and taking steps to prevent the type of behavior on display over the weekend in Las Vegas."

"There is no excuse for what happened in Nevada, and it is incumbent upon all of us in positions of leadership to speak out," DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: May 17, 2016 at 9:00 PM PDT
An earlier version of this posted stated that Hillary Clinton has an "insurmountable delegate lead" when it should have stated that her lead is "nearly insurmountable."
Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.