Bill Preston, the man holding signs portraying Fox News' Glenn Beck and Illinois Republican congressional challenger Adam Kinzinger with Hitler moustaches in a video circulating in the right-wing blogosphere, tells Media Matters that he has no connection to the campaign of Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-IL) or the Democratic protestors whose rally he joined last week.
Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment site -- well-known for posting out-of-context videos and using them to promote dubious conclusions -- posted a YouTube video of the rally on September 17. The heavily edited video shows roughly a dozen people protesting outside a Joliet, IL event for the right-wing organization Americans for Prosperity. The video also shows four of the protestors entering a Democratic Party headquarters following the event.
Right-wing media have said that one of those protestors is a former Organizing for America staffer. They have also noted that in the video, Halvorson campaign manager Julie Merz, a former aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is seen working in the office when the protestors return. Right-wing media have thus demanded that Obama and Pelosi "publicly apologize for the Democratic Party countenancing, participating in, and potentially organizing this rally that included vile, racist and extreme depictions of conservatives."
But according to both Preston and Merz, neither the Democratic Party nor Halvorson's campaign had anything to do with Preston or his signs. Merz tells Media Matters that several staffers for the Illinois Democratic Party's coordinated campaign held a rally protesting both the AFP event and what she called Kinzinger's support for outsourcing. Indeed, the video shows one of the protestors who later returned to the Democratic headquarters leading a chant of "outsource Adam, not our jobs."
Preston, Merz says, showed up to protest AFP on his own: "No one knew this gentleman, no one invited him, he had nothing to do with our campaign." Merz also points out that the protestors seen entering Democratic headquarters are not carrying the Nazi signs.
Preston concurs, telling Media Matters, "I was just there." He says that he went on his own to protest AFP and the tea party, bringing along "about five signs" depicting right-wing leaders with Hitler moustaches. Preston says that "the point of my signs is, why is it OK to have Obama with a moustache" but not those leaders shown in the same way. Media Matters has noted that tea party protestors have followed conservative media figures in invoking Adolf Hitler and the Nazis to smear President Obama.
Preston says that when he arrived outside the AFP event and saw other protestors, "I didn't know who they were." He says that he tried to hand out his signs to them, but with the exception of one person who, Preston says, briefly held a sign depicting Palin with a moustache, none of the other protestors would hold them; others would take the signs when he offered them, then try to hide them from sight.
In the video, several other protestors are seen trying to hold their own signs between Preston's sign and the camera. According to Preston, it was clear to him that his signs made the other protestors uncomfortable, with the most vocal telling him, "Why don't you find yourself another corner?" He says that he "regret[s] that people might associate my signs with the other people" who were there.
Halvorson's campaign has since condemned the signs, saying that "the congresswoman would never condone anyone comparing Kinzinger or any candidate to Hitler."
Preston says that he has no affiliation with the campaign, and that while he once was called and asked to go door to door as a volunteer, he refused because he doesn't support Halvorson because she "supports the NRA."
Media Matters contacted the Halverson campaign in the course of reporting this story. The campaign said that Preston had called them after the reports about the protest first appeared. The campaign provided us with Preston's phone number. Preston says that he contact the Halvorson campaign after Kinzinger began trying to link the signs to the Democratic representative to let the campaign know "I'm not with anybody." We confirmed Preston's identity by asking him to send us a photo of himself, which we then compared to the man shown holding the signs in the video.