Friday, March 17, 2017 2:14 PM

Handling Hecklers

Friday, March 17, 2017 2:14 PM
Friday, March 17, 2017 2:14 PM


 U.S. Congressman Joe Barton (R - TX), Photo:


"Get 'em outta here!" was the constant refrain of then-presidential candidate, Donald Trump, in reference to hecklers at campaign rallies across the country who incessantly and relentlessly sought to disrupt, even break up his rallies.

Most recently and closer to home, Texas GOP Congressman Joe Barton's town hall meeting was interrupted by a rowdy heckler until in exasperation Congressman Barton pointed his finger and said, "You, sir, shut up."

That only added fuel to an already smoldering fire and of course it was caught on video which was quickly uploaded to social media and was the headline grabber across the country.

It emboldened others at the meeting to verbally attack the Congressman as they viewed his reprimand as the green light needed to put their collective foot on the gas and attempt to run the meeting into the ditch.

Today it was Congressman Barton - tomorrow if you're in elected office, it could be you.

While town hall hecklers are part of the price we pay for democracy, they not only have become increasingly vile, vitriolic and vicious, many have no real desire to be briefed on issues, but their goal is to  demean and demonize the elected official.

And in one moment of what is a natural human reaction by going into defense mode in responding back in kind, it will surely garner unfair headlines and negative comments against you.

You instead, will be cast as the villain in a plot to thwart free speech, or accused of being everything but anything reputable and decent.

We now know that many of these "hecklers" are not the garden variety of old, but paid verbal assassins whose target is the elected leader and the weapons of choice are predefined talking points and a loud mouth.

Their job is to be dispatched to a targeted town hall meeting and go to work in verbal beat downs of the elected official. It doesn't matter if it's a local, state or federal official. The game plan is the same.

Rather than verbally attacking back (this is always the wrong thing to do - you can't win), as a Christian serving in this arena these are the ways to win the battle against hecklers:


Put On Your Armor

As Christians in the political arena we can't afford to leave our faith on the pew on Sunday. The political arena is the Adversary's playground and we have to be prayed up before we face our giants, accusers and hecklers. 

No Christian leader can survive without being covered and fully dressed in the body armor of God's righteousness. Your enemy isn't the heckler that's accusing you - it's the Accuser behind the accuser who is spiritual and thus can only be overcome spiritually.

If you are involved in a small group at church, tell them you're having a town hall meeting and ask them to pray for you. 

Send faithful supporters and donors an e-mail or have your staff send them an e-mail and ask them to pray for you. Give them the time and date of your town hall meeting so they can put it on their calendar.

If from 6 - 9, ask them to pray for you between 6 - 9. Ask specific ones - ones you KNOW you can count on to pray, to pray during a specific hour. You will be covered the duration of the meeting. Make no mistake about it, this is warfare.


Stack the Deck

I can't emphasize this enough. You should never enter a battle alone! No leader goes it alone.  Inform your supporters, donors, church members, family members, friends, fraternity brothers, sorority sisters, workout partners, fishing or hunting buddies when your town hall is and ASK them to be there.

People are interested and engaged in the political process now more than at any time in recent memory. Use that to your advantage. You would be surprised at the number of your supporters and friends who would show up if asked. 

It is always reassuring and emboldening to look out and see friendly faces. You never enter a battle without other troops. Ask!


Ignore Them

Understand their goal isn't to understand the issues, but to disrupt your meeting. And if they are in some cases, paid disruptions, the more incentive hecklers will have to disrupt.

In fact their 3-fold goals are:

  1. To cause you to act in a way to embarrass you by capturing it on video, blasting it out on social media; to make you not just look bad but to prove a political narrative about you. They will keep pounding you on an issue until you give an answer that can be twisted to support the narrative. Setups to be used against you in the next election and to weaken your current influence and credibility. It will be a precise and repetitive question or statement on the same one or two issues (whatever the narrative is) to make you appear to be every bit the person or personna your enemies have portrayed you to be.
  2. To get your goat - you have to remember that to the masses, you represent power and a lot of this "speaking truth to power" stuff, is not that - it's an attempt to bring you down a notch or two; and,
  3. To totally shut down your meeting and they win - which paves the way for the next town hall in another city with a different elected leader. It's almost like opening heckler franchises across the country these days - same approach, just different folks.

When Shimei (2 Samuel 16) insisted on following King David and his men, cursing and throwing rocks at them, David not only ignored him, but made his men stand down. One of his men wanted to chop off the guy's head! But David said no.

The king tolerated Shimei, the heckler, telling his men that instead of attacking back, let God handle him. David knew he was doing God's business and that God would handle Shimei. David kept walking, Shimei kept, at a distance, walking, cursing and throwing rocks but King David TOTALLY ignored him. You probably haven't even heard the name Shimei - but everybody knows David's name. The same with you. Nobody knows the name of these people, but they sure know yours. Don't let them drag it down.


Flip the Script

When the heckler starts in on you, ask those in the audience who are there because they genuinely want to be informed to stand. Acknowledge and thank them. I guarantee they will far outnumber the hecklers (especially if you have asked your friends and supporters to be there).

While they are standing, tell them something like, "this person isn't hurting me, but you. And YOU (emphasize YOU), YOU are the only reason I'm here. I work for YOU. Whether you voted for me or not, agree with me politically or not. You took time away from your family, job - used your gas and the most valuable thing any of us have, your time to come here tonight and I thank you."

If you recognize any in the audience, call them by name, give them a nod, a thumbs up or an index finger point. 

Why do this? It visibly and instantaneously gets the crowd on your side! How? Simply because you recognized them and personalized their experience.

Don't take this for granted. While it means very little to you, it goes a long way with many.

At that moment you become human and you take the power away from the heckler(s).

Do you know that some hecklers actually believe they are speaking for most people in the room? Most of course don't, but people won't say anything because they are intimidated. Public acknowledgement takes away intimidation because it empowers.

Many elected leaders, whether city council, county commission, state or federal fail to understand this basic human need - the simple but powerful need to be recognized and appreciated. And when done especially in public, by an elected leader in front of God and everybody, people love it and will love you for it. And just as important, it will make them want to protect you.

As long as you're in public office, especially in this politically-charged climate, there will be hecklers. But as I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, these are not your garden variety. It's no longer to simply harass, but to tear you down and shut you down.

And while these tried and true methods are not easy, they are effective. Why? Because they're not political remedies but biblical principles and God always has the last word. Not hecklers. 


Dorothy Burton writes, speaks and teaches on public servant leadership, faith and culture. She is a popular speaker for various organizations across the country. Email:

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