The Nevada Democratic convention on May 14 didn't go smoothly. The Fix's Philip Bump breaks down what happened. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

The Nevada Democratic Party filed a formal complaint Monday against the campaign of Bernie Sanders after Saturday's state convention devolved into chaos. In the letter to the national party, it went so far as to accuse the Sanders campaign of fomenting violence.

By Tuesday afternoon, Sanders's campaign responded in a defiant tone, condemning alleged threats made against party officials but standing by supporters who are unhappy about what transpired at the convention.

The three-page letter from the Nevada state party's counsel reads, in part:

We write to alert you to what we perceive as the Sander [sic] Campaign’s penchant for extra-parliamentary behavior — indeed, actual violence — in place of democratic conduct in a convention setting, and furthermore what we can only describe as their encouragement of, and complicity in, a very dangerous atmosphere that ended in chaos and physical threats to fellow Democrats.

The letter details behavior of a small number of Sanders supporters who, angry at a vote rejecting proposed changes to the rules of the day, protested loudly over the course of the day's proceedings. That anger was heightened by the fact that, despite Sanders's team having managed to get more people elected to attend the event, more delegates for Hillary Clinton showed up on Saturday. Clinton had about 30 more people in the room -- but nearly 60 Sanders delegates were rejected for not being registered Democrats by the May 1 deadline.

This is where the state party points fingers directly at Sanders's campaign.

The most egregious instance of the Sanders campaign inciting disruption — and yes, violence — came as the state convention’s Credentials Committee completed its work. Adam Gillette, part of National Delegate Operations Team for the official Sanders campaign, drafted and arranged for a member of that committee to attempt to deliver an incendiary, inaccurate and wholly unauthorized “minority report” charging that the Credentials Committee had fraudulently denied 64 Sanders delegates their eligibility.

The party argues that six of those 64 delegates were seated -- and that a committee comprised of five Clinton and five Sanders supporters agreed to reject the delegates' credentials. "[O]ne can imagine the rage occasioned by this inflammatory charge, tossed into the tinderbox of a tense convention hall," general counsel Bradley Schrager writes. The scene was so tense that at the end of the event, the casino where it was being held demanded the convention adjourn, and law enforcement officials came in to assure order.

Part of the frustration from the state party is clearly that objections to what happened on Saturday, fueled by anger on social media, carried over outside the convention itself. Journalist Jon Ralston documented graffiti on the Democratic Party headquarters in the state disputing the outcome and targeting the chairwoman of the party, Roberta Lange.

guillotine

Lange also received a number of voice mails and text messages from across the country that were provided to the media. Many included threats of violence; some included Lange's home address. Her phone number and the address of the party headquarters were distributed on social media.


Top Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid, called for Sanders to address the matter, with the Nevadan going so far as to call it a "test of leadership" for him.

Reid didn't get the answer he was looking for. The Sanders campaign said flatly Tuesday afternoon that the accusation that it incited violence is "nonsense." It went on to detail complaints about how Nevada and other states have handled their delegate processes.

"If the Democratic Party is to be successful in November, it is imperative that all state parties treat our campaign supporters with fairness and the respect that they have earned," Sanders said. "I am happy to say that has been the case at state conventions in Maine, Alaska, Colorado and Hawaii where good discussions were held and democratic decisions were reached. Unfortunately, that was not the case at the Nevada convention."

Sanders ticked off four specific complaints: passing the convention rules by a voice vote rather than counting actual votes, not allowing the ineligible delegates to make their cases, and refusing to allow motions from the convention floor or petitions for amendments to party rules.

Sanders cast the episode as the latest evidence of the national party trying to silence the grassroots.

"The Democratic Party has a choice," Sanders said. "It can open its doors and welcome into the party people who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change — people who are willing to take on Wall Street, corporate greed and a fossil fuel industry that is destroying this planet. Or the party can choose to maintain its status quo structure, remain dependent on big-money campaign contributions and be a party with limited participation and limited energy."

For weeks, allegations of fraudulent behavior on behalf of the Clinton campaign have been passed around Twitter and Facebook. These stem in part from real voting problems such as were experienced in the Arizona primary, where a decrease in polling locations made it much harder for some Democrats to vote.

Largely, they're flights of fancy. We addressed some of these after the elections in Delaware, when a temporary incorrect vote count from the Associated Press made it appear that Sanders lost votes -- spurring outrage among some Sanders fans. Sanders's campaign is predicated on challenging what he himself calls a "corrupt" system, providing fertile soil for conspiracy theories about how the "establishment" is throwing the election on Clinton's behalf. As we noted over the weekend, the end result of the Nevada vote yielded four more delegates for Clinton than if the vote had gone the other way -- just a bit over 1 percent of what Sanders needs to pass Clinton in the pledged delegate total.

The escalation by the state party in Nevada, challenging Sanders's campaign directly for the behavior of a relatively small group of individuals, is a new chapter in disputes between the official Democratic Party and the campaign. Sanders's campaign sued the Democratic National Committee after he was denied access to the voter file in autumn. That suit was dropped last month.

What the party wants to avoid is a spectacle of anger and frustration on the floor of the convention in Philadelphia. That seems increasingly likely, thanks in part to the fact that the final nomination vote will rely on the votes of superdelegates — a group of unbound voters who the Sanders campaign has alternately pilloried and cajoled. If frustration over rules changes and credentialing can spur death threats and vandalism over a four-delegate difference, imagine what the final nomination vote might engender.

One of the text messages ends, “See you in Philadelphia."

Update: On Tuesday afternoon, DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz released a statement about the letter.

Here is Sanders's full statement:

"It is imperative that the Democratic leadership, both nationally and in the states, understand that the political world is changing and that millions of Americans are outraged at establishment politics and establishment economics. The people of this country want a government which represents all of us, not just the 1 percent, super PACs and wealthy campaign contributors.

“The Democratic Party has a choice. It can open its doors and welcome into the party people who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change – people who are willing to take on Wall Street, corporate greed and a fossil fuel industry that is destroying this planet. Or the party can choose to maintain its status quo structure, remain dependent on big-money campaign contributions and be a party with limited participation and limited energy.

“Within the last few days there have been a number of criticisms made against my campaign organization. Party leaders in Nevada, for example, claim that the Sanders campaign has a ‘penchant for violence.’ That is nonsense. Our campaign has held giant rallies all across this country, including in high-crime areas, and there have been zero reports of violence. Our campaign of course believes in non-violent change and it goes without saying that I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals. But, when we speak of violence, I should add here that months ago, during the Nevada campaign, shots were fired into my campaign office in Nevada and apartment housing complex my campaign staff lived in was broken into and ransacked.

“If the Democratic Party is to be successful in November, it is imperative that all state parties treat our campaign supporters with fairness and the respect that they have earned. I am happy to say that has been the case at state conventions in Maine, Alaska, Colorado and Hawaii where good discussions were held and democratic decisions were reached. Unfortunately, that was not the case at the Nevada convention. At that convention the Democratic leadership used its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place. Among other things:

  • The chair of the convention announced that the convention rules passed on voice vote, when the vote was a clear no-vote. At the very least, the Chair should have allowed for a headcount.
  • The chair allowed its Credentials Committee to en mass rule that 64 delegates were ineligible without offering an opportunity for 58 of them to be heard. That decision enabled the Clinton campaign to end up with a 30-vote majority.
  • The chair refused to acknowledge any motions made from the floor or allow votes on them.
  • The chair refused to accept any petitions for amendments to the rules that were properly submitted.

"These are on top of failures at the precinct and county conventions including trying to depose and then threaten with arrest the Clark County convention credentials chair because she was operating too fairly."