Ron Paul supporters are gearing up for a major showdown in court over the weekend, as the St. Peters trial begins for a Ron Paul activists accused of trespassing during a Missouri GOP caucus on March 17. The fate of local Ron Paul leader Brent Stafford may help guide Ron Paul activists, as they navigate a number of battles with local and state authorities across the country in the delegate fight between Ron Paul and GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
The facts of the case are as follows: Stafford was arrested by St. Peters police because he allegedly tried to "reorganize and reopen" the unruly St. Charles County GOP caucus on March 17 after it disbanded. According to Sgt. Tim Hickey on the opening day of the trial which resumes next Tuesday, "He was attempting to keep the people from leaving."
Hickey testified that he was told by caucus organizers in advance "to expect problems from Ron Paul people and they turned out to be correct." He was an off-duty officer hired for additional security because of unruly and aggressive disputes over the course of the day between participants over caucus rules. "The environment became such that we were afraid for everybody's safety."
But Stafford maintains he did nothing wrong, and insists his arrest is part of the larger pattern of silencing Ron Paul supporters in an attempt to push the libertarian candidate under the rug. Ron Paul Nation has charged on several occasions throughout the course of the campaign that there was voter fraud. In states such as Massachusetts, Louisiana, and Arizona, the GOP caucus got out-of-hand at times, with Ron Paul supporters constantly clashing with GOP establishment. On Ron Paul forums throughout the course of the GOP primaries, Paul fans often called on supporters to "crash the party" and ensure their candidate received delegates in the fight against Romney.
In this instance, Stafford says he left the Francis Howell North High School gym, the caucus site, with other participants and then exercised his free-speech rights by trying to reconvene outside. He argues that the police order did not apply outside of the caucus area.
The Stafford incident is part of a larger pattern of trouble for Ron Paul supporters in Missouri. Paul backers say they have been at odds with Republican party old-hands since 2008, when there was also a contentious caucus in the county. In fact, Stafford was elected in April as chairman of a do-over caucus ordered by state GOP leaders.
As this battle plays out in court, Paul leaders and supporters across the country will be watching closely. The outcome may help to determine how the Paul campaign proceeds in places like Louisiana, where the campaign is planning on challenging all of the state's 46 delegates.