Virgin Islands GOP meeting descends into chaos

Politico – by Nolan D. McCaskill

Chaos erupted at a Virgin Islands Republican Party Territorial Committee meeting regarding delegates over the weekend, and the pandemonium has been further muddled by wildly differing tales from the Virgin Islands’ GOP leadership that now include accusations of battery and defamation.

The Territorial Committee sought to correct the record Monday, issuing a “statement of facts to correct false representations.” In it, the committee charges Gwendolyn Hall Brady “physically attacked” its parliamentarian after Saturday’s meeting adjourned.  

“Officers of the Virgin Islands Police Department concluded the parliamentarian had been a victim of a ‘simple assault,’” the statement said, citing national committeewoman Liliana Belardo de O’Neal as a witness. The committee’s chairman, John Canegata, is listed as the contact on the release.

The assault charge is a rebuttal to an email Vice Chairman Herbert Schoenbohm sent out Saturday, writing that a “senior citizen” woman “was the obvious victim of assault.”

The meeting, which took place Saturday at Canegata’s shooting range in St. Croix, involved what delegates would be seated at the Republican National Convention this summer – a contentious issue as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz scrap for delegate support across the country.

The Virgin Islands Republican Party sent out a press release Saturday noting that the committee filled three vacancies that morning. Canegata appointed Garfield Doran, Jevon Williams and David Johnson, the release said, adding that it was ratified by the committee. Following ratification, Fred Espinosa moved a motion to adjourn, which was seconded, thus ending the meeting.

But it “ended in violence,” Schoenbohm wrote in his email, which suggested Brady was “slammed against the wall” by Espinosa “and thrown to the floor because she objected to the gestapo like tactics of” Canegata. Schoenbohm didn’t identify either person by name, but local media did, citing national committeeman Holland Redfield as an additional source who corroborated Schoenbohm’s account.

An edited video released Monday by the Virgin Islands GOP appears to show a woman motioning toward a person recording the encounter. The video, which has dramatic music placed over the audio and includes cinematic graphics, cuts away from the clip after the woman seemingly reaches to grab the cellphone.

Brady and Espinosa could not immediately be reached for comment.

Schoenbohm, who posted audio Monday of the chaotic meeting, accused Canegata of not adhering to proper procedures. A man can be heard around the 4:30-minute mark of one recording saying the entire meeting is out of order after what sounds like the chairman banging a gavel and saying “out of order.”

“[A]nd when the member objected and a Cruz volunteer that was at the meeting at the behest of the chairman put a cell phone camera in her face and then the … delegate who objected was subsequently thrown to the ground by an ardent supporter of the chairman,” Schoenbohm wrote.

The Ted Cruz staffer was allegedly Dennis Lennox, a Michigan-based Republican operative who spent weeks organizing the U.S. territories for Cruz’s campaign but said he would support Trump.

Schoenbohm added that Canegata was armed with a semiautomatic weapon at the meeting and “ordered everyone out of the meeting room and threatened all that opposed him with trespass if they didn’t live [sic] his private property.”

Brady “emerged from the meeting room visibly shaken and crying,” he continued. “Someone called the police and demand that she be arrested even though she was the obvious victim of an assault and battery.”

Near the six-minute mark of the recording, a voice can be heard saying the group can reconvene in one’s office. In response to the impromptu conference, the committee sent a release accusing seven members of violating party rules.

“By convening and participating in this illegal meeting, the rump maliciously used the name and legal identity of both the Republican Party of the Virgin Islands and the Territorial Committee to perpetrate a gross fraud,” the committee said in a statement.

The fact sheet doubles down on the notion that the second meeting was unlawful, as it lacked the requisite number of representatives.

“During this illegal meeting, the rump, at the behest of Mr. [Warren Bruce] Cole, unanimously passed a motion defaming Territorial Committee member Frederick Espinosa based on demonstrably falsehoods of a defamatory nature,” the statement said. “The ‘final edit’ of an audio recording of the rump’s illegal meeting was posted by Herb Schoenbohm, a felon convicted of fraud.”

The chaos follows the Virgin Islands’ GOP’s disqualification of six delegates last month that were elected to represent the territory in Cleveland, citing a rule that requires delegates to accept their posts in writing. Each of the delegates were elected by local Republicans but hadn’t pledged support to any of the GOP presidential candidates.

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