The untold story of Cynthia McKinney's final demise

Matt Towery
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Posted: Aug 10, 2006 9:14 PM

I wrote last week that our InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion survey showed that controversial Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney would likely lose her primary runoff election against former county commissioner Hank Johnson in Georgia's 4th District.

McKinney lost handily. Beyond that, her final hours before eventually conceding defeat made for the most underreported and bizarre story of a political exit I've ever seen in my years of participating in or analyzing political races around the country.

I had agreed to join the anchor desk at Atlanta's NBC-TV affiliate to provide analysis for that day's elections. As the night wore on, it became clear that McKinney would lose in a landslide, just as our poll had suggested.

As the regular broadcast wrapped up at 11:30 p.m., McKinney had yet to appear publicly to concede the election, as custom dictates. Beyond that, earlier in the day her bodyguards had scuffled with a cameraman from the same NBC affiliate.

We signed off, and the station switched to the network feed of NBC's "Tonight Show." That's when the bizarre ending of Cynthia McKinney started to unfold.

During the day, McKinney had been accompanied everywhere by a phalanx of bodyguards. Reportedly, they held no official law-enforcement positions. Also, some of them reportedly were affiliated with political groups or positions described by some as extremist.

It remains to be seen if their political leanings and affiliations are so. Regardless, McKinney crisscrossed the district throughout the day in a white Hummer, all the while refusing to allow the approach of the public or media, the lot of whom was fended off by these menacing guards.

Now let's jump ahead to that night, and the unfunniest "Tonight Show" I've ever sat through. Not because host Jay Leno was out of form, but because back in the studio we could also see on the monitors a commotion in the ballroom of McKinney headquarters. I pointed out to anchors Brenda Wood and Ted Hall that something odd was happening.

Then we heard shouting in the newsroom itself, from where station officials were phoning 911. A station cameraman allegedly had been struck at McKinney headquarters by one of her bodyguards, and then chased to a nearby satellite news truck, where he and others locked the doors and were surrounded.

The original raw video footage fed into the station showed McKinney entering her headquarters like a hip-hop artist, with bodyguards shouting at a clearly agitated crowd.

As of this writing, police were still investigating the incident. The McKinney bodyguard believed to be involved in the altercation -- a man apparently nationally known for his martial arts skill, as well as for his involvement in similar past incidents -- claimed that the cameraman had thrown his camera at him, the bodyguard. Also, there were claims McKinney's mother was struck by media equipment.

Anyone familiar with the cost of this kind of camera equipment has to doubt it would be a weapon of choice.

The video showed fists flying and the cameraman being knocked to the ground.

It got stranger still. Finally McKinney appeared before reporters. She summoned her supporters to the stage, separating them from the press. Next was heard a song by the artist Pink that was directed at a clearly demonized President Bush. McKinney then commenced a rambling speech that, among other things, implied fraud in the electronic voting that day. She also thanked or expressed support for all sorts of groups and even foreign nations, including Venezuela, an avowed enemy of the United States.

At least that's what we thought we heard.

Media reports have since surfaced of anti-Semitic remarks hurled at media by McKinney supporters as they left the headquarters. One reporter for a major national newspaper claimed she was threatened with being "thrown down the stairs or the escalator" if she didn't vacate an area near where McKinney was holed up.

Every corner of that headquarters emanated fear and hatred.

I have to make this clear. In last week's column, I recalled the bright and personable Cynthia McKinney I knew back in 1990. And it's not my place to summarily judge her in 2006.

But I now know why our polling of this primary runoff election showed so accurately that McKinney would be trounced. Clearly, this heavily African-American district she represented no longer wanted to be associated with her brand of representation.