N.H. Executive Council Meeting Postponed Due To Safety Concerns Over COVID Protesters
A crowd of disruptive protesters shut down Wednesday's Executive Council meeting, as state officials were escorted out of the room out of fear for their safety.
The protesters, who numbered in the dozens, effectively took over the meeting at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. They had gathered to oppose contracts that would bring more federal money to the state to expand COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Their yelling led several officials from the Department of Health and Human Services to leave the meeting, escorted by state police, according to Gov. Chris Sununu.
One protester shouted "we know where you live" to state officials in attendance. Others called for the governor to make an appearance, chanting "Where's Sununu?" Several protesters took to the front of the room and gave long speeches, decrying vaccination efforts. State troopers stood guard at the entrance, to keep the size of the crowd in the building from exceeding capacity limits.
The move frustrated some protesters, who felt the public meeting should be open to anyone. Others seemed more supportive of the troopers' presence and one protester fist-bumped a line of state troopers.
Several protesters said their goal was to delay a $27 million contract before the Executive Council that would create 13 temporary positions aimed at increasing New Hampshire's vaccination rate, and cover other related vaccine equipment and supplies. But others did not want to delay the vote or shut the meeting down. Instead, they wanted to implore councilors to vote the contract down.
In a press release this afternoon, one of the groups, RebuildNH, which is working to build opposition to COVID mitigation measures like vaccination, said that outside "agitators were able to feed off people’s raw emotion and misdirect them."
In a statement, Sununu called the protesters "unruly" and said, “I will not put members of the Executive Council or State Agencies in harm's way." Executive Councilor Cindy Warmington called the events "insurrectionist behavior."
"It is not only disruptive, it is dangerous," she said.
Executive Council meetings, which take place every two weeks, are typically temperate events, though the presence of protesters — on any number of issues — is not unusual. However, this is the first time in recent memory that protests have forced the cancellation of a meeting. Executive Councilor David Wheeler said state employees feared for their safety.
Wheeler said that without the employees present, who were needed to answer questions about contracts on the Executive Council agenda, the meeting would have to be canceled. Following the announcement, dozens of protesters erupted in cheers, with one man yelling, "Mission Accomplished!"
Anti-mask and anti-vaccine protesters have been gathering force in the state in recent weeks. Earlier this month, several hundred gathered on the State House lawn, confronting a group of Republican lawmakers with jeers.
A group of unruly protesters also interrupted a public hearing on proposed changes to the state's vaccine registry, forcing the hearing to a halt.
This is a developing story and will be updated.