MANCHESTER, NH –Rod Webber has held hands and prayed with Jeb Bush. He’s prompted Chris Christie to publicly question his standing as a good Catholic for practicing birth control. He’s offered daisies to average citizens and presidential candidates alike, to convey the message that a peaceful world is possible.
Webber is a pacifist, a vegetarian, a singer-songwriter, a neo-hippie and performance artist, who’s made a name for himself on the campaign trail of late as “the flower guy.” He sports a beard and a top hat while philosophizing over Biblical passages on war and fracking, and what makes a man well-suited for public office, always offering a peace offering of a flower in the end, to punctuate his point of view.
Candidates say he’s memorable, if not unusual – although the New Hampshire campaign trail is nothing if not unexpected.
Everything changed Monday when Webber became “that guy arrested” after a disturbance at the No Labels convention at the Radisson. He was charged by Manchester police with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Webber says he was simply trying to hold Donald Trump’s feet to the fire over an incident on the campaign trail a few weeks ago in Rochester, during which Webber says he was assaulted by Trump’s handlers.
On Monday, Trump was just starting the Q&A session when Webber, who was in the front row filming the event, took advantage of some dead air to ask Trump why he allowed his handlers to physically assault him.
“Some guy is directing me to go to the official microphone, so I head down the aisle, to where they’re directing me, and all of a sudden, I’m surrounded by these guys who tell me I have to leave. Things went rapidly downhill from there,” says Webber, who alleges he was pushed to the ground and thrown over a table on his way out the door.
It was not what he expected.
“Obviously it elevated to a level I couldn’t have imagined in Rochester. I was horrified and full of adrenaline,” says Webber.
“I’ve been to between 50-100 events this year, quite peacefully. There’s only been a problem at Trump’s rallies,” says Webber. He mentions a recent incident at Rivier University, where he was initially ejected from a Marco Rubio event for having a camera, but then allowed back in.
“Later they reversed that and set up a meeting between Rubio and I. I gave him flowers,” says Webber. “It’s symbolic, like, if you become president, that you have a peaceful term. Rubio said he was starting to get jealous that I hadn’t given him a flower yet.”
Although Webber admits that he tends to show up most often at Republican events, it’s mostly a statistical probability, given the current field of candidates.
“I do not discriminate, but there are more Republicans. I’ve actually been to way more Bernie Sanders events, but he won’t allow me to be a part of it. A lot of these guys will allow me a question, but Bernie’s people won’t give me a question,” says Webber. “That’s OK. I try to do my very best to be respectful.”
His mission is fairly simple, says Webber. He’s a humanist who is just trying to get people thinking about peace. He references John and Yoko Lennon “bed ins,” and talks about an encounter he had with John McCain and Lindsey Graham, over the “fighting hunger incentive act.”
“I believe there can be change. That’s really my mission. And that bill, which started as HR644, has been gutted twice now, but basically what I tried to explain to Lindsey Graham an John McCain was that up to 40 percent of food made in America is wasted because there’s no funding to get the trucks to bring the food to the homeless and the veterans,” says Webber.
“Because I have this thing with flowers, they’ll listen. I can get their ear. It’s not simply about making someone smile by giving a stranger a flower, but it’s really about trying to have an effect on people’s lives, and guiding them,” Webber says.
In recalling that night in Rochester, Webber says he responded as an audience member when Trump called out for someone to cite a favorite Bible verse. Webber went with a verse from Timothy, which has to do with the qualifications for “overseers,” that includes not being quarrelsome, not being married more than once, or being a lover of money.
Trump responded with some comic relief by saying he was “in trouble” with that one. But Webber says Trump’s supporters – and his own entourage – turned on Webber afterward, verbally and physically assaulting him after the rally.
“Even with Trump, my message is that I’m going to support you – not as a candidate, but I believe humans can be better and learn from each other. When I quoted Timothy 1 from the Bible to Donald Trump, I hoped he’d hear it and take that lesson – although, my suspicion is he’s not as great a reader of the Bible as he says he is.”
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