How a plan to keep a GOP rally off the Internet went awry

Last Saturday began very sweetly for Nydia Tisdale, citizen journalist.

She was at Burt’s Farm in Dawsonville, a private concern mobbed by tourists during pumpkin season, to point her video camera at several GOP candidates at the top of the November ballot.

They were scheduled to speak at the rally, which had been advertised as a come-one, come-all event.

Most journalists, this one included, are capitalists. We do what we do for money – and God bless the publishers who pay us. But there are those who write and operate their cameras for free, simply because they are driven.

Tisdale is one of those. She had arrived early enough to claim a seat on the front row, and quickly ran into Attorney General Sam Olens. “I knew you’d be here,” he said.

Olens asked her for a private word, and Tisdale obliged. In 2012, the mayor of Cumming, Ga., had tossed Tisdale from a city council meeting – for pointing her camera at the proceedings.

Olens had taken up for the 51-year-old journalist. Two days earlier, the attorney general told her, a judge had signed an order that leveled a $12,000 fine at the city and mayor for violating the state’s open meetings law. The decision wouldn’t become part of the court record until Monday, but Olens wanted her to know.

“I was on Cloud Nine. I was ebullient,” she said. A judge had recognized that what she did had value, and should be protected. Tisdale asked a fellow journalist to snap a feel-good photo of her and her protector.

That was as good as Tisdale’s Saturday would get. Within the hour, she would be screaming, bent double over a store counter in her black sun dress, with her arms twisted behind her and a deputy close on her haunches.

All because she had pointed her video camera at Republican candidates. Not a proud moment for a political party in need of female support.

It began with a speech by state Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, who has earned local renown for speaking off the cuff. Last August, Hudgens became a video star on Democratic websites, when he declared himself an Obamacare “obstructionist.”

But on Saturday, Hudgens’ target was Democrat Michelle Nunn, the U.S. Senate candidate, and her recent debate performance with Republican David Perdue. “I thought I was going to absolutely puke,” the state insurance commissioner said to much laughter.

And then he looked at Tisdale, who was on the same front row as Gov. Nathan Deal and his wife. “I don’t know why you’re videotaping,” Hudgens said.

Organizers of the event said they had barred Democratic trackers and their cameras – which they could, given that it was on private property. But Tisdale is not a tracker. “I don’t sell my work. I put it up on YouTube,” she would later explain.

It doesn’t make sense, but if a political rally is to be conducted within a secret Cone of Silence, then the polite and sane thing to do is for someone in authority to go to the microphone and announce the policy – and apply it to everyone with a smart phone.

From all we can learn, this did not happen. Instead, organizers targeted the woman with the camera in the front row. Brian Pritchard, a capitalist-journalist with, sat in the second row. He was not approached. Pritchard kept his voice recorder on and his camera snapping.

Which is how we know what happened next. Clint Bearden, a local attorney and former Dawson County GOP chairman – and one of the organizers, asked Tisdale to stop her videography. She declined, pointing out that she had been invited to attend.

A county deputy was summoned. As we said, Tisdale is driven. She did not go quietly. Her screams punctuated the event.

“I’ve had a lot of things happen as a speaker…” state Labor Commissioner Mark Butler gamely told the crowd over the noise, to nervous laughter.

Tisdale would eventually be charged with trespassing, a misdemeanor, and obstructing an officer “by elbowing him in the right cheek area and kicking him in the right shin.” That last one’s a felony.

”He didn’t need to have his body pressed against my rear end,” Tisdale said Wednesday.

Linda Clary Umberger, chairman of the Dawson County GOP, followed the citizen journalist and the officer to an outbuilding. “I watched as a woman was bent over the counter on her face, with an officer over her,” Umberger said. “If I had been her, I would have elbowed him in the face, too.

“I was so upset at how they handled it – I walked out,” said the county GOP chairman. It was one of those seminal events, she said, likely to split relationships and end friendships. The arresting officer, would report Wednesday, has been suspended pending an internal investigation.

The rally went on without Umberger and Tisdale. But only Olens dealt with what everyone had witnessed. The attorney general couldn’t ignore what had just happened to the same woman he’d spent the last two years defending.

“Let me be possibly politically incorrect here a second,” Olens told the crowd. “If we stand for anything as a party, what are we afraid of with the lady having a camera, filming us? What are we saying here that shouldn’t be on film? What message are we sending? That because it’s private property, they shouldn’t be filming? What is the harm?

“Who’s the winner in the long run? Not a good move,” the attorney general finished.

Local reports quote Johnny Burt, co-owner of the tourist attraction, as saying that Olens approached him afterwards and advised him to drop any charges against Tisdale.

Olens has declined further comment. But Sheri Kell, spokeswoman for the Olens re-election campaign, told us that this was not so – the attorney general didn’t learn of the arrest or charges until after he left Burt’s Farm. “He did suggest to Mr. Burt that he should allow her to stay and that we should let her continue to video the rally,” Kell said.

As for Tisdale, she was released on $6,200 bond. She is too bruised to be happy about the outcome of her fight to record the Cumming city council. And her camera, a $1,500 gift from her husband, remains locked up. “I can’t work without it,” she said.

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.