Franken clashes with Dean heckler

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Could Al Franken’s life take an unfunny turn? The liberal comedian may have crossed the line after brawling with hecklers during a Howard Dean rally in New Hampshire.

Though accounts of the fracas vary, the beefy comedian essentially bearhugged, then brought down an agitated Lyndon LaRouche supporter who screamed Mr. Dean was “a liar” from the back of the Palace Theatre in Manchester, where the Democratic presidential hopeful took questions.

“We did respond to an incident at the Dean gathering in a theater here on Monday night,” said Sgt. Mark Fowke of the Manchester Police Department yesterday. “There was no police report filed, and no one has made a complaint so far. Therefore, at this point there is no victim, and there is no crime.”

“But someone could come forward in the future and make a complaint at the District Attorney’s Office,” he said.

The charges would be “simple assault — considered a misdemeanor here,” Sgt. Fowke said.

A source close to the situation added that the Manchester police continue to receive numerous e-mails from “concerned people around the country, all asking, ‘Why don’t you arrest this guy?’”

A spokeswoman at Mr. LaRouche’s Virginia-based headquarters acknowledged that two supporters had been involved in Monday’s incident, but could not confirm if the organization planned to press charges against Mr. Franken.

Theater manager Peter Ramsey compared Mr. Franken’s move to a “hefty Patriots block,” according to the Manchester Union-Leader, while witness Tim Russert of NBC described the encounter as “unbelievable” during a conversation with talk-radio host Don Imus.

Mr. Franken, whose eyeglasses were broken during the tussle, told the New York Post, “I was a wrestler, so I used a wrestling move,” acting to support “freedom of speech.”

The incident inspired multiple reactions.

“We compassionate conservatives have launched a new charity to help ‘change the tone’ of politics: The Al Franken Anger Management Fund,” said talk-radio host Laura Ingraham yesterday.

She has urged her listeners to “send extra pocket change” to E.P. Dutton, publishers of Mr. Franken’s book, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right,” which landed him in court last year with Fox News on charges of copyright infringement. The suit was later dismissed.

At Mr. Franken’s fan Web site (http://alfrankenweb.com), supporters accused “conservative” news media of mounting “a smear campaign” by leaving out details and framing Mr. Franken as an aggressor, rather than a man defending himself from an elbowing heckler.

“What about the ‘right to free speech’ for the heckler?” asked one Franken critic at Lucianne Goldberg’s online news site yesterday (www.lucianne.com).

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