House Republicans at the ‘Liberation Camp’

Representative Lauren Boebert had an important point to make. But it could be difficult to hear the rabble-rousing Republican from Colorado over a packed-in crowd of counter-agitators.

“So this is what the students here at GW University are facing each and every day,” Boebert was trying to say into a bank of microphones in the middle of the downtown Washington, D.C., campus of George Washington University on Wednesday afternoon. She and five of her GOP colleagues from the House Oversight Committee had just toured an encampment of tents, or a “liberation camp,” that protesters had put up last week in opposition to Israel’s war in Gaza.

“Their learning activities are being disrupted,” Boebert said of the students. “Their finals are being disrupted.”

But protesters kept disrupting Boebert. Or were she and her friends from Congress the disrupters in this particular Washington-bubble showdown? Who were the rabble in this equation, and who were the rousers?

“What about you in that theater?” one woman called out at Boebert from the back of the crowd, referring to a September incident in which the congresswoman was kicked out of a musical comedy after canoodling with a date, vaping, and talking in the midst of the production.

This was not the same protester as the one who had been trailing behind Boebert holding up a cardboard sign that said, simply, Beetlejuice, referring to the play that she’d been evicted from. (Google it, and you’ll find security footage of the episode—or don’t.)

If only theaters could always incubate such frivolity. But these are bloody days in the embattled theater of the Middle East, which have in turn triggered a spate of protests on American campuses, marked by episodes of bigotry, sporadic violence, and arrests. Combine this with a group of elected performance artists who couldn’t help but try to grab a cheap morsel of attention from this bitterly serious conflict, and you have the political theater that played out on Wednesday.

“Dude, are you gonna talk, or am I gonna talk?” Representative Byron Donalds, Republican of Florida, admonished a protester who interrupted his turn at the mic, after Boebert had spoken. Donalds wore dark glasses and a tight-fighting navy suit.

Like his colleagues, Donalds called for the immediate removal of the protesters from campus—something that, to this point, the D.C. police department has declined to do. “The mayor is weak in the face of foolishness,” Donalds said, referring to Washington’s chief executive, Muriel Bowser.

“You wouldn’t allow someone to stay in your house or stay in your dorm room. You would have them removed,” Donalds said. “Everybody believes in peaceful protest, but this is trespassing.”

“What about January 6?” a man standing next to me called out. Yes, what about that, sir?

“Calm down. I’m talking now,” Donalds said, addressing another heckler.

About 20 minutes earlier, Representative James Comer, the chair of the House Oversight Committee, had also urged calm as he paraded through the tent city. People shouted after Comer, mocking his committee’s fizzling effort to impeach President Joe Biden, while another said something about Hunter Biden. The voices and signs all blurred together into a muggy cacophony.

“Lauren Boebert, seen any good movies lately?”

Lesbians for Palestine.

I Stand With Israel.

Comer led his delegation past a row of tables covered with donated food for the protesters—pizza, granola bars, peanuts, bags of tangerines. Everything is FREE, like Palestine will be free, advertised a poster on the food spread, which covered several yards at the edge of the quad.

“Mr. Chairman, do you think your appearance today is going to lead to police violence on campus?” a man with a British accent asked Comer.

“Probably,” the congressman said, projecting zero concern.

“You want some pizza?” another onlooker asked Comer, who kept walking.

The congressman seemed eager to get on with the quick and chaotic press conference that would punctuate the lawmakers’ visit. “Thank you, Mr. Chairman, thank you,” an outnumbered supporter yelled out. The congressman waited for his colleagues to make their brief statements and seized the closing message for himself.

“Help is on the way for George Washington University,” promised Comer, who then joined his colleagues as they struggled through a thick crowd—and a “Beetlejuice” chant—before departing this enclave of academia and heading back to their own pillared sanctum on Capitol Hill.

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