With a penchant for tough talk and polarizing positions, Republican presidential contender Michele Bachmann is a magnet for controversy — and there's a trail of police reports to prove it.
She and her staff over the years have requested police protection or investigations when her house was egged; when protesters threw glitter on her or held up critical signs; when her campaign yard signs were stolen; when a man wrote an e-mail perceived as a threat; and when she screamed that two women were holding her hostage "against my will" in a city hall restroom.
The series of police reports from the Stillwater Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff's Office in Minnesota show a side of a candidate rarely seen on the campaign trail, where Bachmann has described herself as having a "titanium spine."
Bachmann's campaign and congressional offices wouldn't comment, but her fellow Minnesota Republicans say they're not surprised by the reports.
"Michele Bachmann is someone who tells it like it is with the courage of her convictions," said Tony Sutton, state chairman of Republican Party of Minnesota. "There will be people on the other side who will react in an inappropriate that way. There are a lot of liberals who can't cope with the fact that she's an outspoken conservative who sticks by her guns."
But those who have been a target of her calling the cops say Bachmann doesn't walk the talk.
"She seems paranoid," said Brad Trandem, a Lakeland, Minn., resident who excoriated Bachmann in an e-mail this year, only to face investigators. "She does all this criticism of other people's lives and talks about how people should be 'armed and dangerous.' But then someone says something critical about her and she calls the police."
In Trandem's case, Bachmann's staff forwarded his correspondence to U.S. Capitol Police with the headline "Email Threat to Rep. Bachmann."
At issue, this last sentence of the 128-word e-mail referring to Dr. Marcus Bachmann: "I would also keep a little closer tabs on the dear hubby if I were you."
Bachmann's husband has become the focus of controversy himself, suggesting in a radio interview that homosexuals were "barbarians (who) need to be educated." Though the Bachmanns have denied it, gay activists say the Christian counselor is associated with a type of therapy aimed at stopping homosexuality through spiritual training.
Trandem said his e-mail wasn't intended to threaten anyone, and he wasn't suggesting the congresswoman's husband was gay. He said he was just drawing attention to what he sees as the hypocrisy of social conservatives who accuse others of the offenses they commit.
Trandem's e-mail, though, came a day after a watershed moment in American political history: The Jan. 8 shooting rampage of Jared Lee Loughner, accused of killing six and wounding 14 others — including Tucson congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. In his letter, Trandem referred to "tea baggers" and suggested conservative talk of armed revolt was to blame. Loughner, it turns out, was mentally ill and wasn't a tea party member.
Capitol police referred the e-mail to the Washington County investigators, who determined Trandem posed no threat. Capitol police wouldn't comment.
A spokesperson for another congresswoman and friend of Giffords, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, said Bachmann's staff acted appropriately in referring the matter to Capitol Police, who have asked staffers to report any suspicious or potentially threatening information.
"I wouldn't fault her or her staff," said Schultz spokesman, Jonathan Beeton. "Whether the incidents happen in a bathroom or wherever, it's better to err on the side of caution."
But even before the shooting, Bachmann sometimes worried about the intentions of her constituents. The eight police reports concerning Bachmann exceed the number of reports connected to Miami-Dade's congressional delegation and calls to Wasserman Schultz's home, according to South Florida police.
Though her social-conservatism has helped inspire loathing on the left, it's a potent force in a GOP primary. Some polls show she's leading in Iowa and is now running in second place to Mitt Romney in Florida.
In April 2005, Bachmann held a meeting at Scandia City Hall in her state senate district. But she cut the meeting short when the topic turned to gay marriage. Two Minnesota voters, Pamela Arnold and Nancy Cosgriff, wanted the congresswoman to answer their questions.
Cosgriff, a former nun, said she wanted to know about the "theological underpinnings" of Bachmann's stance on gay marriage. While trying to get a response, Cosgriff said she followed Bachmann into the restroom where the congresswoman washed her hands but wouldn't respond. Palmer then came in and asked about education as well.
"You have to get away from the door because I have to go," Bachmann said she asked repeatedly, according to a police report.
When Arnold tried to get an answer, Bachmann yelled "help me! Someone get me out of here!" Bachmann told police. Arnold and Cosgriff told police Bachmann said something like "Help, help you're holding me against my will!"
Said Cosgriff: "I was amazed and concerned when she erupted in this emotional outburst without provocation. … I tried to apologize for any misunderstanding."
As the startled women looked on, Bachmann ran out of the restroom. She later filed a police report, which an investigator described as a "possible false imprisonment" inquiry. The women weren't prosecuted because the investigator determined that there were "conflicting accounts" and a "lack of any strong corroborating evidence that would suggest criminal activity."
The year before, Bachmann and a Republican state representative sponsored a proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment to stop gay marriage. State Capitol activists put the lawmakers' pictures and home phone numbers on placards and pamphlets that said "shame" and "sponsoring hate crimes legislation."
Bachmann called the Stillwater police "in case she starts to get threatening phone calls," a report said.
Someone tried to throw glitter on the congresswoman as a protest on June 18 — shortly after she declared her presidential candidacy. Bachmann barely reacted publicly. But she called the Capitol police, who notified the sheriff's office of the glittering and a tweet someone posted that suggested "they would be using guns as their right."
Separately, Stillwater police have also investigated the theft of her campaign yard signs in 2002. And she called them to her house in 2007 when she complained her house was "substantially egged" for the second time.
None of the inquiries resulted in arrests.
"Michele is engaged and she's articulate and she is not one to back down," said Scott Fischbach, a Bachmann constituent and executive director Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. "They've tried everything to stop her," he said. "They've thrown the kitchen sink at her."
They've even thrown eggs.
Marc Caputo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.