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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Audience members removed at McCain rally in Cedar Falls

Lara Elborno, a senior at the University of Iowa, is escorted out of Sen. John McCain’s, R-Ariz., campaign rally at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls Sunday. Elborno said she was sitting peacefully before asked to leave. Photo: Jon Lemons/Iowa State Daily

Audience members escorted out of Sen. John McCain’s, R-Ariz., campaign event in Cedar Falls questioned why they were asked to leave Sunday’s rally even though they were not protesting.

David Zarifis, director of public safety for the University of Northern Iowa, said McCain staffers requested UNI police assist in escorting out “about four or five” people from the rally prior to McCain’s speech.

Zarifis said while the people who were taken out weren’t protesting or causing problems, McCain’s staff were worried they would during the speech.

“Apparently, they had been identified by those staffers as potential protesters within the event,” Zarifis said. “The facility was rented by the RNC for the McCain campaign, so it’s really a private facility for them. We assisted in their desires to have those people removed.”

Lara Elborno, a student at the University of Iowa, said she was approached by a police officer and a McCain staffer and was told she had to leave or she would be arrested for trespassing.

“It was a very confusing, very frustrating situation,” Elborno said. “I said that I had a right to be there, I wasn’t doing anything disruptive — I was sitting, waiting for the rally to start.”

She said McCain staffers wouldn’t tell her why she was being asked to leave and when she got outside, she saw “a group of about 20 people” who had all been asked to leave.

Elborno said after seeing the people who were asked to leave, she was concerned that McCain’s staffers were profiling people on appearance to determine who might be a potential protester.

“When I started talking to them, it kind of became clear that they were kind of just telling people to leave that they thought maybe would be disruptive, but based on what? Based on how they looked,” Elborno said. “It was pretty much all young people, the college demographic.”

Elborno said even McCain supporters were among those being asked to leave.

“I saw a couple that had been escorted out and they were confused as well, and the girl was crying, so I said ‘Why are you crying? and she said ‘I already voted for McCain, I’m a Republican, and they said we had to leave because we didn’t look right,’” Elborno said. “They were handpicking these people and they had nothing to go off of, besides the way the people looked.”

Elborno said while she has protested at events before, no plans were discussed beforehand for a protest and she shouldn’t have been taken out because she was not causing a disturbance.

“If I had been disruptive, then I would have deserved to be taken out,” Elborno said. “But at the time I was asked to leave, I wasn’t doing anything.”

Elborno said she’s stunned at how the situation was handled, especially McCain’s staffers’ refusal to discuss the matter.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.

Despite repeated attempts, McCain’s campaign could not be reached for comment.

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