DES MOINES, Iowa -- Already they have interrupted Michele Bachmann and drawn a withering putdown from Newt Gingrich as "all noise, no thought."
Now, to the dismay of Iowa Republicans, Occupy activists in Des Moines are vowing to expand their protests as GOP presidential hopefuls converge on the state that speaks first in the race for the party's presidential nomination.
"The 99 percent have woken up and we're not going to take it anymore," Occupy activist Stephen Toothman, of Des Moines, said as an advance guard met Tuesday to decide which candidates to target in the coming week.
Hundreds of Occupy activists from at least 10 states were expected to participate in a "People's Caucus" near the Capitol to plot activities between now and the Jan. 3 caucuses. The activists are promising to interrupt candidates at events and camp out at their Iowa campaign offices. They say they want to change the political dialogue, but critics fear their tactics could tarnish Iowa's reputation for civil political discourse ahead of the contest. Activists say mass arrests are possible.
They planned to break up into preference groups based on which candidates they want to target and present with a list of grievances.
Organizers are encouraging activists who live in Iowa to show up on caucus night and vote "no preference" as a protest but say they have no plans to interfere with the voting itself. Nonetheless, state Republican Party officials have instructed precinct leaders to report any disruption to police and the party.
Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn criticized Occupy activists for targeting the caucuses, which have long been held up as a model of democracy where citizens in the months leading up to the event can directly question candidates and then gather with their neighbors on caucus night. Strawn said he worried most of the problems would be caused by those from out of state. "It would be an absolute shame if outside agitators ruin the Iowa caucus experience," he said.
Occupy activists, who came from as far away as New York and Seattle, said the caucuses were largely meaningless because the parties and candidates were overly influenced by wealthy, special interests that led them to ignore key issues.