Airport apologizes to Elizabeth Warren, says protesters violated policies (updated)

The Reno-Tahoe International Airport publicly apologized to Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren after she was pursued by Trump supporters yesterday through airport.

A video posted by the Nevada GOP on social media shows protesters following Warren as she went through the public area of the airport. Republican protesters were chastising her, calling her “Pocahontas.”

The group said that it was protesting attempts to impeach President Trump as Warren once again visited Northern Nevada on her campaign. (Warren is a senator; the impeachment process to date has been led by House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi.)

Those actions violated airport rules, however, said Brian Kulpin, airport spokesperson.

“The Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority apologizes to Senator and Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren for the small group of protesters who gathered at Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) yesterday in violation of airport policies,” Kulpin said. “Airport Police and security were not given prior notice of the candidate’s arrival on a commercial flight or of the gathering of protesters.

“The gathering was a violation of the airport’s First Amendment /Protest Policy. In the interest of security and safety, protesters are required to follow a permit process before obtaining permission to demonstrate. This process was not followed yesterday and the airport’s attorney will be investigating the incident,” Kulpin added.

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Kulpin told ThisisReno that their permit process was created under Nevada law and that “our attorney will be looking at this issue in its totality as it pertains to either side of the political aisle.”

The incident was covered in the international news media, another indication of Nevada’s pivotal role in national politics.

Nevada Republican Party Chair Michael McDonald shared the video and wrote, “Welcome to Reno Elizabeth Warren. This is team Trump country!”

In fact, Trump was outvoted in Nevada in 2016, and the state’s last election cycle effectively turned the state blue, politically. Nevada’s Governor and the majority at the legislature are democrats.

“Every passenger, regardless of political affiliation, should be allowed to travel through RNO safely and without interference,” Kulpin added.

It’s not the first incident where politicians have been accosted at the airport.

Nevada democrats with signs confronted former U.S. Senator Dean Heller at the airport last year. And former Republican Governor Jim Gibbons was accosted by former Las Vegas News 8 reporter Jonathan Humbert in 2011. Watch the video below. (Humbert is now a public information officer with the City of Reno.)

UPDATE

New statement from the Reno-Tahoe Airport (5:23 p.m.)

One thing RNO is not about is politics.

The video of Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren being pursued by Republican protesters in the airport terminal is not a reflection of Reno-Tahoe International or our beautiful region. That scene is counter to what RNO is all about. We don’t care how anyone votes, we care that you fly safely.

That’s why we developed a First Amendment/Picketing Process and Procedures Policy under NRS 614.160 back in 2016. It was intended to literally keep politics outside the airport. It sets aside free speech areas outside the terminal while protecting the safety and security of ALL passengers inside—no matter how they vote.

In light of the airport’s primary purpose, RNO is entitled to impose reasonable time and place restrictions on people who want to exercise free speech.  Second, for safety and security purposes, we need to know what activities are occurring in our terminal.  We have a permit that is easily filled out and provides protestors all of the information that they need with respect to time and place and provides us the information we need to ensure the safe and secure travel for passengers.

The Warren protestors clearly wanted a video harassing a candidate to post on social media. They never applied for a permit. In 2018, a handful of health care protesters greeted Republican Senator Dean Heller with signs in the airport and also failed to get a permit. Heller and his staff had a very positive and long standing relationship with the airport and did not make us aware of the protesters.

While these events were different in tone and vitriol, they both highlight the need for the protest policy to be better enforced. Airport police, security and operations personnel will increase their vigilance in the coming weeks to be better prepared for the intense political season ahead.

Unfortunately, permits, policies and good faith don’t play well on social media. But chasing a woman through an airport, does. Holding signs and asking questions of a weary Senator coming home after a historically tough vote looks good on Twitter.

But to RNO, Senator Warren and Heller were not pawns in a political game. They were equal in our eyes. They were not politicians. They were not Democrat or Republican. They were travelers who deserved respect and Nevada hospitality.   

And that is why we have First Amendment permits that will be better enforced in the future. We care about traveler safety, not their voting record.  

Bob Conrad
About Bob Conrad 1129 Articles
Bob Conrad is co-founder of ThisisReno. He manages ThisisReno and Conrad Communications, LLC, his marketing communications consulting company. He also works part time for the University of Nevada, Reno.

1 Comment

  1. This is an example of how our country manages to reach new lows on a daily basis. When we have lost civility and respect for one another, we have lost much more than that as a people, as a country, and as individuals who participate in hurting others through behaviors, words and deed.

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