Cantor meets protesters in Michigan, rips 'Occupy' for 'ire and hatred'

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), met by an organized protest before his planned speech on economics at the University of Michigan Monday, afterwards criticized demonstrators of the Occupy movement for showing “ire and hatred.”

“To me if you’ve got a problem you ought to go about trying to fix it in a constructive manner,” Cantor said at a press conference following his speech,  according to local news site AnnArbor.com.

The protesters, many of whom were part of the local Occupy Ann Arbor movement, confronted Cantor prior to the speaking engagement hosted by the university’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

The demonstration was staged as a "Funeral for the Middle Class,” with many protesters holding signs shaped like tombstones. 

The Occupy Ann Arbor movement is part of the larger Occupy Wall Street protest movement, which began in New York City in mid-September and has spread across the country. Cantor responded to the protest movement early in the month by calling protesters “mobs,” though he later said he understood the “frustration” that prompted the movement.

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“Let's not pit one against another,” he said following his speech, slamming the “ire and hatred toward certain people” demonstrated by Occupy protesters as something not “constructive.”

He added, “I don’t think it’s reflective of the majority of America.”

Several Republicans, including presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, have attempted to portray the Occupy movement as rife with anti-Semitism, although there has been little proof of this beyond a few isolated remarks by individual protesters. The Anti-Defamation League has said that the movement is not representative of anti-Semitism. 

In his speech, Cantor pushed back against the economic goals espoused by some of the protesters.

Cantor said: “Social justice is about fairness. Fairness is making sure that we afford opportunities for everyone to pursue their happiness. There are several folks that have stood up to say tax the rich. That that’s somehow fair. … that all we have to do is redistribute the wealth and we can create the American dream for more. That doesn’t work … wealth distribution doesn’t work.”

Cantor canceled a speech he planned to give at the University of Pennsylvania earlier this month after the event was opened to the public, because several groups of protesters affiliated with the Occupy movement were organizing to attend.

Cantor addressed the decision to cancel the previous speech.

“The decision in Philly had to do with the fact that there were going to be no students to speak of in the 350-seat auditorium, instead [it was going to be] professional protestors,” Cantor said. “We come to speak to students, that’s why we’re here at the University of Michigan.”

Updated and clarified at 6:08 p.m.

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