SALT LAKE CITY — Utah GOP Chairman James Evans said Thursday members of the state's all-Republican congressional delegation should avoid holding town hall meetings in the wake of the raucous crowd that turned out for Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
"I've asked them to delay town hall meetings because of the recent acts of violence and intimidation by several left-wing groups," Evans said, naming Utah Indivisible, the Utah Democratic Party and Organizing for America.
Instead of traditional town hall meetings, Evans advised members of Congress hold tele-town halls by phone or limit attendance that they can better control. He offered the party's help in screening attendees to ensure they are constituents.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon said the party has used emails to encourage participation at town hall meetings no matter what congressional district voters live in.
"We aren't encouraging people to be disruptive or encouraging them to act in any kind of violent or rude manner," the Democratic leader said. "Why shouldn’t Democrats show up?"
Corroon said Utah Indivisible, which has more than 4,300 Facebook group members, uses tactics from the far-right tea party movement that helped defeat longtime Utah GOP Sen. Bob Bennett in 2010 to help people engage with their elected officials.
He questioned why the left shouldn't do the same.
"It's OK for their Republican constituents to act this way but not the Democrats? It doesn't sound fair to me," Corroon said.
Kellie Henderson of Utah Indivisible said she was "honestly, honestly flabbergasted at Mr. Evans' use of scare tactics to dishonestly characterize a group of citizens trying to petition their government for change and to make their voices heard."
Noting the group will continue its "lobbying" efforts, Henderson said it was "unfortunate that Mr. Evans, instead of engaging with our concerns or encouraging legislators keep their promise of representing their constituents, instead responds with dishonesty and mud-slinging."
Evans said Chaffetz's town hall meeting last week was "hijacked by organized agitators," accusing them of surrounding what they thought was the congressman's car and displaying "hostile, violent and deliberately disruptive behavior," including "charging a door."
He also said Rep. Mia Love's home address was posted on Facebook.
"There's a pattern here that the political left, primarily the Democrat voters and organized affiliates, lost at the ballot box and, as a result, they've taken this fight to the streets," Evans said. "That is not the American way."
Town halls are being sought out so they can be taken over by Democrats to give the appearance that the GOP congressional delegation doesn't have voter support, he said. Currently, Evans said, none are scheduled in Utah.
More than 1,000 people filled Brighton High School's auditorium and at least that many were turned away at Chaffetz's town hall meeting last week. There were angry jeers from the crowd and chants of "Do your job."
Chaffetz has said he believes there were paid protesters in attendance, prompting some participants to send him mock invoices.
Evans said he did not have proof of his claims.
"The point is, if you want me to prove this in a court of law, that's not going to happen," the Republican Party leader said. "This is the court of public opinion."
On Saturday, Cottonwood Heights Police Lt. Dan Bartlett said some attendees at the Chaffetz town hall did tell officers they had come from out of state, but the majority appeared to be Utahns.
"The majority of people I talked to were from here, from all over Utah," Bartlett said.
When asked if he knew if there any paid protesters, Bartlett said: "Not that we could tell."
Contributing: Ryan Morgan