MOUNT PLEASANT -- U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann's speech at one of the nation's most polite places was interrupted Thursday by 40 protesters who stood in unison and noisily read aloud a one-page statement.
The group of people, who looked like they were in their 20s and 30s, were part of the Occupy Charleston movement.
They interrupted the presidential candidate a few minutes into her major foreign policy announcement aboard the aircraft carrier Yorktown. Bachmann, R-Minn., momentarily left the podium and returned about 10 minutes later to finish her speech.
"That wonderful Constitution and Bill of Rights that we enjoy was in action today," she said upon her return. "Thank you for hanging in there and putting up with what just went on."
The disruption was one of the largest Bachmann said she has faced on the campaign trail and was unlike any recent presidential event in the Lowcountry -- at least in recent memory.
After her speech, Bachmann said she "was not afraid at all" by the outburst, but while she recognized they had a right to speak, she called their actions "disrespectful and ignorant."
The protesters were escorted out by police as they chanted, "We are the 99 percent." A few later talked with reporters but declined to give their names.
Audience members had mixed reactions. Bill VanDyk of Hewitt, N.J., who just happened upon the speech and protest, said he's used to tuning out the Occupy movement. "They in no way have the thoughts or opinions of most Americans," he said.
Shirley Weaver of Mount Pleasant praised Bachmann's remarks and was glad her grandson and granddaughter heard them -- and heard the protest. "I'm especially glad they saw that," she said. "It is freedom. It is our way."
Joan Thorn of Arnold, Mo., and her husband Don said Bachmann's speech was wonderful but were shocked by the protest. "It is the First Amendment, but I thought it was inappropriate," she said.
Barbara Pulicicchio of Mount Pleasant, a former police officer, found the protesters rude and disrespectful. "As I told the officers, if you shout, you can't get your point across. I couldn't hear a thing they were saying," she said. "They really should join the tea party because a lot of the things they want, we want too."
Bachmann gave her speech as she seeks to recapture her former popularity in South Carolina. A Clemson University poll earlier this week put her support here at only 3 percent.
"There are those who say that our day as the free world's leader has passed," she said. "When we conduct our foreign policy apologetically 'leading from behind' we weaken our own credibility."
She criticized President Barack Obama for reducing military resources during wartime and noted she understands the nation's threats as a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
She said the military budget can be trimmed strategically by such steps as changing from cost-plus contracting to fixed-price contracting.
Bachmann also traced the nation's conflicts with the Muslim world, from the Iran hostage crisis onward, saying, "Make no mistake the United States is at war with radical Islamic extremism." She criticized Obama for telling Israel to give back land, adding, "I'll stand on the side of Israel and will ensure that Iran never has a nuclear weapon."