Protester holding caribou heart rushes stage at Sen. Sullivan campaign event

Published: Jul. 13, 2020 at 8:13 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A protest at Sen. Dan Sullivan’s campaign event in Anchorage was caught on camera Saturday after protesters took the stage, prompting security concerns from Sullivan’s staff.

The event was part of Sullivan’s kick-off campaign for reelection as a U.S senator. He had taken the stage and was introducing his wife, Julie, when protester Kathleen Bonnar walked up to the senator. Bonnar said she spoke briefly to Sullivan to ask “if I could give him a gift.”

That gift was a caribou heart.

When Bonnar walked onto the stage, Sullivan Campaign Manager Matt Shuckerow said he perceived it as a “very serious security threat” and began to move towards Bonnar with his hand raised up.

Then, a woman in red, also one of the protesters, ran into Shuckerow’s side. Shuckerow was pushed into a blue table before he grabbed her arm and pushed her back. He continued on towards the stage where Bonnar was standing. Shuckerow grabbed Bonnar’s wrist and the two protesters are then shown being escorted from the hanger where the event took place.

Bonnar, who is Iñupiaq, said she was not an organizing member of the protest but was standing in for Gwich’in activist Samuel Johns who believed a caribou heart was symbolic of the harm done by oil drilling at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to caribou.

The hope was the heart would “act as medicine to heal Sullivan’s heartlessness regarding Alaska Native issues,” according to a statement from protest organizer Rina Kowalski.

“Throwing a caribou heart — a bloody caribou heart — at a United States senator and his Athabaskan wife, if that’s a gift, we don’t want to be invited to any of your birthdays or holidays,” Shuckerow said, adding that the senator stands by his record.

The entire incident took place in less than a minute, and while it was all caught on camera, the two groups disagree about who was the violent actor.

“By rushing the stage, reaching for a concealed item within a bag, physically assaulting people on the Senator’s staff, the campaign staff, attempting to restrain their movements, it created a very dangerous environment and a very serious security threat and that was what was responded to,” Shuckerow said.

Bonnar said she was anxious about being perceived as a threat and would have “done things a little differently in retrospect.”

“I think that the only violence that happened at that event was actually coming from the senator’s staff and his supporters,” Bonnar said.

Once protesters were escorted from the event they further vandalized campaign signs with blood Shuckerow said. Those signs have been turned over to the Anchorage Police Department, but Shuckerow declined to say whether further legal actions will be taken at this time.

A statement from the protesters said they had filed assault charges.

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