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Tea Party Protester Sorry For Mocking Man with Parkinson's

The protester at an anti-health care reform rally who yelled and threw money at a pro-reform advocate with Parkinson's disease has apologized for his "shameful" actions and blamed them on impulse.

"I snapped. I absolutely snapped and I can't explain it any other way," Chris Reichert told the Columbus Dispatch. "He's got every right to do what he did and some may say I did too, but what I did was shameful."

The man Reichert verbally abused, Robert A. Letcher, 60, is seen in the video sitting on the ground as Tea Party activists demonstrate in front of him. He is holding up a sign that reads, "Got Parkinson's? I do and you might. Thanks for your help."

After one man in the crowd starts mocking Letcher, Reichert steps out of the crowd, throwing money in Letcher's face, and mockingly shouts, "No, no I'll pay for this guy. Here you go, start a pot. I'll pay for you." He then yells, "I'll decide when to give you money...No more handouts," and again throws money at him. In the background, shouts of "Communist" can be heard. (This section begins about 50 seconds into the above video.)

Letcher is a former nuclear scientist with a doctorate from Cornell University. He told Talking Points Memo that he been on disability since 2005 but was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2000. His last job was teaching science and technology policy at Ohio State.

"I feel I embody the controversy that was being fought out," Letcher said. "No one was engaging, everyone was screaming. I thought, I don't have to scream, I just have to be there. I walked over and sat down ... I sort of presented myself as an argument by myself." He said the writing on his sign was not as clear as he would like because his disease impairs his motor skills.

The video of the confrontation went viral on the Internet, with many who watched it harshly condemning Reichert and the other protesters who mocked Letcher. The Dispatch reported that Reichert has become fearful for his family after threatening comments surfaced online.

"I've been looking at the web sites," he said. "People are hunting for me."

Reichert, who initially denied that he was the man in the video, expressed his deep guilt about the confrontation and tried to amend his actions. "I made a donation (to a local Parkinson's disease group) and that starts the healing process," Reichert told the Dispatch. "That was my first time at any political rally and I'm never going to another one."

The demonstration took place just days before the House voted on health-care reform legislation. Hundreds of protesters, both for and against the bill, rallied outside the office of Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, a Democrat from Ohio.

Kilroy condemned the incident and brought it up during the House floor speech last Thursday.

"Unfortunately, some of those opposing health-care reform went too far. Instead of making their arguments against the bill, they engaged in abusive language directed at one of my constituents who suffers from the terrible ravages of Parkinson's disease," she said.

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