Nevada airport apologizes after heckling protesters follow Elizabeth Warren

"Unfortunately, permits, policies and good faith don’t play well on social media. But chasing a woman through an airport, does."

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 02:  Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks during the 2020 Gun Safety Forum hosted by gun control activist groups Giffords and March for Our Lives at Enclave on October 2, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nine Democratic candidates are taking part in the forum to address gun violence one day after the second anniversary of the massacre at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas when a gunman killed 58 people in the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks during the 2020 Gun Safety Forum hosted by gun control activist groups Wednesday in Las Vegas. –Ethan Miller / Getty Images

An airport in Nevada is pledging to be “better prepared” in the future, after Sen. Elizabeth Warren was heckled and followed through the terminal by Republican protesters earlier this week.

In a statement Thursday night, Reno-Tahoe International Airport said the entire episode went against what the airport stands for, adding that Warren, like any other traveler, “deserved respect and Nevada hospitality.”

The Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential candidate flew into the Reno airport Wednesday afternoon, ahead of several campaign events in the early primary state. Upon her arrival, a small crowd of protesters waving signs supporting President Donald Trump loudly yelled “Don’t impeach” and “Go home!” at Warren, urging her to reconsider her continued calls for the Republican president’s impeachment.

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The group closely followed Warren as she and a handful of aides wheeled their luggage through the terminal out to a car, where the protesters continued to jeer the senator until a security guard yelled at them to back up. At least one member of the group can be heard repeatedly yelling Trump’s derisive “Pocahontas” nickname at Warren.

A video of the scene was tweeted by Michael McDonald, the chairman of the Nevada Republican Party, with the caption: “Welcome to Reno, @ewarren.”

Within hours of the event, the Reno airport issued an apology to Warren for the protest, which they said violated their policies and would be investigated.

“Airport Police weren’t given prior notice of the arrival. Protesters didn’t follow the permit process & the airport’s attorney will be investigating the incident,” airport officials tweeted.

“The video of Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren being pursued by Republican protesters in the airport terminal is not a reflection of Reno-Tahoe International or our beautiful region,” the airport said in the follow-up statement Thursday night. “That scene is counter to what RNO is all about. We don’t care how anyone votes, we care that you fly safely.”

The airport cited a 2016 policy designating specific “free speech areas outside the terminal” for protesters and picketers, “intended to literally keep politics outside the airport.” Airport officials also said that the Warren protesters “never” applied for a required permit for their demonstration, which would have spelled out its rules and given security time to prepare.

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“Unfortunately, permits, policies and good faith don’t play well on social media,” the statement said. “But chasing a woman through an airport, does.”

As the Reno Gazette Journal reported, several local Republican officials cried foul at being reprimanded by the airport. They pointed to a protest last year, in which then-Sen. Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican, was met by Democratic protesters at the Reno airport. A video of the apparent incident shows a relatively sedate group of sign-holding demonstrators asking Heller (who lost his 2018 bid for re-election) if he would rejected Trump’s fundraising help.

Airport officials said Heller’s staff never raised the protest as an issue, but said it nevertheless brings attention to the need for better enforcement of their protest policy.

“While these events were different in tone and vitriol, they both highlight the need for the protest policy to be better enforced,” said their statement. “Airport police, security and operations personnel will increase their vigilance in the coming weeks to be better prepared for the intense political season ahead.”

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