Washington • The Occupy Wall Street protests that are spreading to cities throughout the nation, including Salt Lake, may be peaceful now, but Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, expects them to turn violent soon.
"They're alarming, and I'll tell you we are going to get more of it. We are going to have riots in this country because of what these people are doing," Hatch told Utah reporters on Thursday.
He said the protesters are egged on by President Barack Obama's populist push for his jobs bill and union leaders like James Hoffa, who said this about tea party Republicans at an Obama rally last month: "President Obama, this is your army. We are ready to march. Let's take these sons of bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong."
Hatch also took umbrage with Obama for saying at his Thursday press conference that unless Congress takes action on a jobs program, "the American people will run them out of town."
Hatch said he thought the comment was unnecessarily inflammatory, creating a politically unstable situation when Congress is forced to reduce spending and therefore cut back on government programs some people now rely on.
"They are going to get people very angry and sooner or later people who basically are dependent upon the federal government and are about to be cut back, yeah, you are going to have lots of problems," he said.
Union leaders and students have bolstered the three-week-old Occupy movement that has hundreds camped out near Wall Street in New York, complaining about corporate greed and a political system bought with campaign contributions.
A group calling itself Occupy SLC organized a march of about 200 people from the Capitol to Pioneer Park, where participants plan to create a base camp. The group also began staging protests in front of corporate offices around town stopping in front of Chase Bank at one point, chanting "Shame on Chase." Its leaders have promised to protest peacefully and uphold the law.
William Rutledge, a 30-year-old Iraq War veteran and spokesman for Occupy SLC, called Hatch's statements "nothing more than fear and speculation."
"One of the first things we agree upon as a group is that we'll be legal, peaceful and nonviolent," Rutledge said. "If our cause turns violent we'd lose all credibility."
However, Rutledge was cheered by the fact that Hatch was taking notice.
"It means we are starting to attain our goals in being recognized by our political leaders," Rutledge said.
Obama also addressed the Occupy protests on Thursday, saying they are an expression of the frustration American people have that Wall Street leaders who contributed to the financial crisis are now fighting regulations meant to ward off a repeat of the 2008 collapse.
"I think people are frustrated and, you know, the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works," he said.
Cathy McKitrick contributed to this report.