The House of Blues on Sunset was packed by the time President Obama took the stage around 6:16. So packed, with people standing since doors opened at 3:30, that one older woman fainted and had to be taken out by Secret Service and paramedics.
Also waiting in that shoulder-to-shoulder crowd was a bearded man on the front line - just feet away from the President. After Obama made some casual opening remarks, the guy yelled out: "Christian God is the one and only true living God, the creator of Heaven and the Universe." Obama stopped and looked at the guy, waiting for him to finish, and noted that he, too, believes in God. Meanwhile the crowd, which had failed to join in the old 2008 chants of "Yes We Can!" (prompting one volunteer to say, "This crowd sucks!") tried to drown out the Christian heckler as he was dragged out by Secret Service yelling, "Jesus Christ is god, Barrack Obama is the antichrist!" .
Obama lightened the moment by saying the heckler had lost his jacket. But the jacket apparently belonged to someone in the front row who had thrown it onstage. Someone else held up a pair of keys. Finally, Obama said, "Alright where was I? It is good to be back in LA."
President Obama at the House of Blues on Sept. 26, 2011 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Obama has been heckled before - by GetEQUAL pushing for DADT repeal, for instance (GetEQUAL was among the protesters with signs outside). But this was different. Law enforcement was maxed out for this trip - in uniform and undercover, in squad cars, an "intelligence" car with a mounted satellite disk, up and down and off to the sides of closed down streets, including Sunset Blvd. - they were everywhere. With good reason - before the President's visit, an Obama 2012 campaign office in Westchester had been vandalized and no one's yet been arrested.
I thought I saw Obama flinch when the man first yelled out. I don't see that on the videotape. Indeed, he seems incredibly calm. And the media has treated the incident as just another heckler. But truthfully, my heart stopped for a moment because, after all, the President of the United States is finally just a man, still vulnerable to the slings and arrows of hate, no matter how protected he is. This wasn't Mitch McConnell saying his most important job was making Obama a one-term president. This was someone who thinks Obama is the anti-Christ. Frankly, I'm surprised that more mainline Christians are not standing up to their fundamentalist brothers who have turned Christianity into a very scary, vengeful religion.
Obama went on with his stump speech, oddly not even slightly tailoring it to the entertainment or LGBT communities suggested by the setting. At the end, audience members with whom I spoke said they were excited having seen the President but were split on whether they would volunteer for his re-election campaign. This is going to be a tougher campaign than many expect.
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