By Joe Tash
Protesters who periodically set up a booth in front of the Village Market in Rancho Santa Fe that includes a photo of President Obama wearing a Hitler mustache were on hand again last week, angering residents and triggering complaints to the Rancho Santa Fe Association.
The protesters are apparently followers of Lyndon LaRouche, a 90-year-old political activist who advocates for the impeachment of President Obama and has himself run for president eight times between 1976 and 2004. LaRouche was jailed for mail fraud and tax code violations in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
For the past couple of years, the group has set up a booth outside the Village Market and post office every month or so, seeking to raise money, get out its message and direct people to its website, larouchepac.com, to sign up for a mailing list. The group’s most recent appearance in the Village was on Wednesday, Nov. 14, although it has also been seen at other North County markets.
While other political groups also set up shop in front of the Village Market, the LaRouche group seems to generate the most complaints. Patrons of the market and post office have also complained of being verbally harassed by the people staffing the booth.
“They are aggressive and intimidating people, blocking them from going into post office and market, and older people are in danger of falling and being hurt,” said Susan Woolley, who owns the shopping center where the market and post office are located.
“It’s an inconvenience and it upsets people,” said Matt Basham, manager of the Village Market. “We would prefer they weren’t there but unfortunately by law I guess they have a right to be.”
Those offended by protestors’ message are missing the point, said Angela Vullo, a representative of the Virginia-based LaRouche political action committee.
The group believes Obama is subverting the U.S. Constitution and trying to start a thermonuclear war, Vullo said.
“We’re really attacking popular opinion and people don’t like it,” Vullo said. “Our objective is to save the county, not to do what people like.”
Vullo said she could not comment on the specific behavior of supporters in San Diego County, or allegations they have verbally harassed patrons of the market and post office.
According to Matt Wellhouser, chief of the Rancho Santa Fe Patrol, a private security service operated by the Rancho Santa Fe Association, protestors do have a legal right to be on private property that is open to the public, such as a market or post office, as long as they don’t block doorways or sidewalks.
Wellhouser said the LaRouche group has set up its booth outside the market periodically in recent years. Each time, he said, the Patrol and Association receive calls of complaint. The Patrol then notifies the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, which has law enforcement jurisdiction in Rancho Santa Fe.
“Basically they are protected by the First Amendment to do what they’re doing, and by court decisions,” said Wellhouser. “The (San Diego County) district attorney here has researched it, basically there’s nothing law enforcement or security for the shopping center can do, they can’t tell them to leave as long as they’re peaceful and not obstructing the businesses.”
“There’s nothing we’ve seen that’s illegal in terms of laws that are enforceable,” Wellhouser said.
Woolley said the protestors are on their best behavior when deputies or patrol officers are present. As soon as they leave, however, “they become aggressive, intimidating and beyond rude. We have people shaking our citizens down in broad daylight and the police can’t stop them.
“I ask people to join hands and encourage them to leave by not talking to them and definitely not giving them any money. Act like they don’t exist and they’ll go away,” Woolley said.