For most of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Thursday town hall, the woman in a black jacket sat quietly in the third row. Then, as the event in Corona, New York, neared its end, the woman suddenly stood up and began yelling about climate change.
“But we’re not going to be here much long because of the climate crisis,” the woman blurted. “We got to start eating babies,” she abruptly declared, taking off her jacket to display a T-shirt that read, “Save the planet. Eat the children.”
The woman’s bizarre speech swiftly became the center of a heated Twitter fight Thursday night that pitted Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., against President Donald Trump, his son, Donald Trump Jr., and other conservatives, who suggested the woman was an example “climate change hysteria.” In response, Ocasio-Cortez chastised critics for trying to “mock or make a spectacle” of a woman who “may have been suffering from a mental condition.”
It now seems likely that the scene was carefully planned.
The woman was apparently part of an attempt by a right-wing fringe political group to embarrass the Democratic congresswoman. Late Thursday, a Twitter account belonging to the LaRouche PAC – which was founded by conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche Jr. – took credit for the stunt. A historian who has documented the organization said the woman’s outburst was “a fairly well-established tactic for them.”
“They’ve been doing this since the ’70s,” Matthew Sweet, whose book “Operation Chaos” delved into the group’s complex history, told The Washington Post. “The tactic is you go to a political meeting and you create a disturbance that disrupts the meeting, and more importantly, that creates a kind of chaos.”
The LaRouche PAC did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Friday.
Described by Sweet as a “bizarre political cult,” LaRouche led the group until he died in February at 96. LaRouche, who ran for president eight times between 1976 and 2004, “built a worldwide following based on conspiracy theories, economic doom, anti-Semitism, homophobia and racism,” The Washington Post reported. In its early years, the organization’s views skewed left, but LaRouche’s vision eventually shifted, becoming “ultraconservative and apocalyptic.” More recently, the group has expressed support for Trump.
Known as “LaRouchians,” the group has “always been tiny,” Sweet told The Post, but its members have still managed to make waves in American politics. The list of high-profile figures they have publicly heckled and harassed range from actress Jane Fonda to former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, he said.
The woman’s appearance at Thursday’s town hall is “the kind of noise and chaos that they have always delighted in,” Sweet said.
Video showed the woman getting increasingly worked up as Ocasio-Cortez listened and nodded with a concerned expression. At least two people in the crowd took out their phones, aiming them at the woman.
“Even if we would bomb Russia, we still have too many people, too much pollution, so we have to get rid of the babies,” the woman shouted. “Just stopping having babies is not enough, we need to eat the babies.”
Soon, the members of the crowd who had been largely silent, started murmuring. Another person approached the unruly woman and tried to intervene, while Ocasio-Cortez attempted to gain control of the room.
“One of the things that’s very important to us is that we need to treat the climate crisis with the urgency that it does present,” the lawmaker said once the woman had stopped yelling. “Luckily, we have more than a few months.”
Though Ocasio-Cortez quickly moved on to another question, the woman continued to try to talk, prompting two people to escort her from her seat.
By early Friday, a number of news outlets, including some conservative websites, had published articles about the woman’s comments. A two-minute video of the event had garnered more than 5 million views on Twitter, drawing reactions from Trump and Trump Jr., and the hashtag “#EatTheBabies” was trending.
Trump Jr. tweeted that the woman “Seems like a normal AOC supporter to me,” and the president retweeted his son, adding, “AOC is a Wack Job!”
In a tweet addressing the town hall, Ocasio-Cortez hit back at critics, writing, “At one point I was concerned there was a woman in crisis,” adding that she wanted to “ensure we treat the situation compassionately.”
“This person may have been suffering from a mental condition and it’s not okay that the right-wing is mocking her,” she wrote minutes later. “Be a decent human being and knock it off.”
Meanwhile, the LaRouche PAC Twitter account, which Sweet confirmed is operated by the group, was crowing.
“LaRouche PAC trolls AOC, AOC doesn’t rule out eating babies. #EatTheBabies,” it tweeted.
Throughout Thursday night, the group repeatedly confirmed their involvement in replies to various Twitter users, writing, “It was us.”
Daniel Burke, who is affiliated with the group and is running as an independent for a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey, also shared posts on his social media platforms giving credit to the LaRouche organization for sparking the trending hashtag.
Sweet said he has never seen the woman in the video before, but a person who looked like her showed up in photos posted on the LaRouche PAC’s Facebook page Wednesday. A description of the photos said they were taken in New York earlier this week as members challenged students “with a polemical campaign, ‘Eat the Children,’ signing up man-made global warming believers to reduce the planet’s population one child at a time!”
The woman also appeared to be behind a video uploaded Thursday by Burke, who claimed the clip was an “exclusive interview with a representative from ‘Eat the Children,’ the organization which intervened on AOC today at her own town hall!”
A representative for Ocasio-Cortez could not be reached for comment early Friday.
Though the group seems to be trying to “get as much capital as they can” from the viral video, Sweet said he doesn’t think they are “going to be too elevated” by the incident.
“Enemies of AOC are going to use this against her and they don’t care who this woman was,” he said, later adding, “The noise that they’ve made is going to drown out their part in the process.”