DFL Party leaders unanimously backed a plan Thursday to sanction anyone who incites or engages in violence at a party event, a move to contain the fallout from a weekend Minneapolis ward convention that descended into chaos.
Then they immediately sanctioned the candidate at the center of it.
At an emergency evening meeting of the DFL's executive committee, which included testimony from people caught up in last Saturday's violence, members unanimously approved a plan by Chair Ken Martin to give the party the ability to punish violent behavior, all but permanently banning from participation anyone found to have engaged in it.
Next, the committee unanimously voted to ban Minneapolis City Council candidate Nasri Warsame — whose supporters stormed the stage at the convention — from ever receiving a DFL endorsement. The ban is contingent on the party's central committee ratifying the new policy.
The party does not have the authority to ban Warsame from running for office, Martin said.
Warsame wasn't available for comment late Thursday.
Martin's plan would authorize the party to bar anyone found to have engaged in violent behavior from seeking the DFL endorsement, and prohibit them from holding any party or convention position.
"The melee that took place at the Ward 10 endorsing convention last weekend was unacceptable," Martin said in introducing his plan. "If we don't act now it will certainly embolden this behavior as a new tactic moving forward."
Committee member Greg Hansen proposed an alternate measure that would tackle head-on tensions within the party over the influence of its most progressive members. It would ban anyone from running a convention who had worked for a candidate endorsement by a group other than the DFL.
The proposal appeared to target DFLers who are openly affiliated with Democratic Socialist groups, but it might also affect more mainstream Democrats, such as union members. That proposal was referred to a separate committee.
The DFL's executive committee includes the state party's top leaders and a host of other Democratic Party officials, totaling dozens of people from across Minnesota.
Warsame campaign targeted
There was never a question that Warsame's campaign for the 10th Ward council seat was the ultimate target of the rule changes.
"Based on the evidence we have gathered from an in-depth investigation, from numerous conversations with convention officials, local party leaders, delegates and guests, as well as a preponderance of video evidence from multiple sources, it is clear to us that the supporters of the Warsame campaign were mainly responsible for the conflict that erupted," Martin said.
He said the investigation hadn't yet been completed, so he wasn't prepared "right now" to single out other individuals.
The chaos, which was captured on a widely viewed video by a local blogger, broke out as Warsame's opponent, Council Member Aisha Chughtai, took the stage with her supporters to address convention attendees.
Several DFL officials have said they believe that many of Warsame's supporters honestly — if erroneously — believed their voices were being unfairly ignored. But some local officials have also blamed Warsame's campaign manager, Abshir Omar, for misleading them.
Warsame has said he doesn't condone violence or intimidation, but he left a news conference Wednesday without answering questions. In a previous interview with the Star Tribune, he said he felt he could no longer control some of his supporters who were upset by feeling excluded.
Without providing evidence, Omar on Wednesday blamed a Chughtai supporter for starting the fracas, and he denied any responsibility on the part of the campaign.
He struck a less combative tone Thursday when addressing his DFL peers at the emergency meeting, which was held virtually. Omar, who served as political director for Bernie Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign in Iowa and once ran for elected office there, called the chaos "atrocious" and said he was sorry about what happened. But he maintained the party had failed to address the campaign's concerns.
Convention officials speak
Before the committee moved to a closed session, Samuel Doten, who presided over the ward convention and tried unsuccessfully to maintain order, said during the video conference that he supported Martin's measures. "They meet the moment," he said.
But Doten, who has chaired several party events, added: "I would encourage everyone to be judicious in the application because these bylaws … open a door, and potentially they could be abused."
Doten also addressed a concern that worried many in the DFL. Warsame's supporters who stormed the stage were largely Somali immigrants, he said, but they shouldn't be used to disparage the entire community, which is increasingly influential in DFL politics.
"What we saw last Saturday — the behavior of some people — was not representative of all the supporters of Nasri Warsame, certainly not representative of the Somali community," he said.
Doten emphasized that he believed some "five to 10 individuals" were to blame for inciting the disruption.
Members also heard from Amy Livingston, who worked as sergeant at arms during the convention and suffered a torn rotator cuff.
"I saw a few folks who were clearly leaders with Nasri Warsame campaign waving their arms to urge people to go forward," she said. "I'm only 5-foot-3. Suddenly my arm was being pushed backwards like it was a turnstile. It was a terrifying experience."