GREAT BARRINGTON — At U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's town hall-style event Sunday, she told an overflow audience to "keep pushing back" against Republicans and the far-right.
But just before the gathering, someone already had pushed back — literally — and wound up in handcuffs.
Paul Solovay, 74, of Hillsdale, N.Y., is facing charges for allegedly assaulting one of Warren's opponents in the 2018 Senate race, and giving him a bloody lip.
A video of the incident shows Solovay push a bullhorn into Shiva Ayyadurai's mouth while he was using it across the street from the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, where a crowd of Warren supporters were lined up before the 2:30 p.m. event. The video has gone viral and even landed on Alex Jones' "Infowars" website.
The candidate suffered abrasions and swelling, and went to the hospital later with what town police described as minor injuries.
Ayyadurai, whom the Boston Globe Magazine dubbed the "shock candidate," picked the megaphone back up.
"That's racism right there," Ayyadurai told the crowd, while Solovay, who appeared bewildered, was being arrested.
After a few shouts from Warren supporters, Ayyadurai leveled accusations against the crowd, calling them "liberal fascists."
"You don't know what racism is; you've never experienced it," said the Indian-born candidate.
Ayyadurai, 54, noted he didn't see any people of color lined up for the Warren event.
Leading up to the scuffle, a video shows Solovay shouting at Ayyadurai from across the street. He is then seen making his way toward the candidate as Ayyadurai was saying the country didn't produce enough engineers or doctors.
"All we do is produce enough scumbag lawyer lobbyists like Elizabeth Warren," he said.
But it was when Ayyadurai's invective turned to the subject of racism, and chants of "racists" by his supporters followed, that Solovay came after the candidate, who is now running as an independent after cutting ties with the Republican Party.
As Ayyadurai and his supporters continued to chant "racist," Solovay, holding a collapsed umbrella, pushed the bullhorn into Ayyadurai's lips, and some of his supporters then rushed toward Solovay, who fell backward into the street.
Solovay was held down by one of Ayyadurai's supporters, while his other supporters soon began to chant, "Lock him up."
Solovay, as well as his attorney, declined to comment. Warren's press office did not return phone or email messages Monday.
In a phone interview with The Eagle, Ayyadurai said he hoped Solovay would be fully prosecuted.
"We're going after him hard. ... We're going to make an example of him," Ayyadurai said, noting that his mouth had bled. "I'm a fighter."
Ayyadurai said he had fought racism and apartheid when he was a student at MIT and that he has the right to express his views without being "punched in the mouth."
"It's a violation of free speech," he said. "That's a symbol of what could happen to anyone."
Ayyadurai said "a discourse on race" is the reason he and his supporters came to town and unfurled banners and set up on the lawn across from the theater. He said race is a paramount political issue in the U.S., and it is also one he has used to relentlessly taunt and dog Warren, who has claimed she has Native American blood.
Warren is running for re-election in November for what would be her second term. An estimated 1,000 people attended the Sunday event at the theater, which seats 700.
Some who were at the Warren rally say Ayyadurai is pushing it too far in a political culture that encourages personal attacks.
"Politics has always had incendiary talk, but it's been taken to a new level," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, who noted that Ayyadurai was also interrupting Warren while she was speaking to supporters from the gazebo nearby before the event. "While I fully support the freedom of speech, what's wrong with respectful freedom of speech — that's what we've lost."
Pignatelli said he thought Ayyadurai was simply trying to get attention for his campaign, and said he understood how such tactics could lead someone to do what Solovay did.
"If that's how you want to run for office, knock yourself out — before somebody else does," Pignatelli said.
But Ayyadurai doesn't shy away from generalized disdain, either. He decries what he calls the "moral narcissism" of the left, and the betrayal of Republican values by the Massachusetts right. He said the primary political parties are "two heads of the same snake."
"I'm a person who believes in using your mind," he said. "I'm not a righty or a lefty."
The arresting officer, town police Sgt. Adam Carlotto, told The Eagle that Ayyadurai had, at one point, sat on the lawn talking to a group of people before the scene took a testy turn.
While it is unclear whether, as Ayyadurai contends, Solovay was allowed into the event after he was released from police custody, Carlotto said given the time he was released it was entirely possible.
He pleaded not guilty in Southern Berkshire District Court on Monday to charges of assault and battery and disorderly conduct, and was released on his own recognizance. Judge Paul Vrabel agreed to push the first pretrial hearing to Aug. 16 so that Ayyadurai, of Cambridge, could be present, as he had asked the court.
Heather Bellow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.