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US Sen. Scott Brown disavows tomahawk chop video

BOSTON — Staff members for Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and the state Republican Party are seen in a new video shouting war whoops and performing tomahawk chops in an apparent reference to Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren’s claims of Native American heritage.

Brown said Tuesday he hadn’t seen the video, which surfaced online the day published reports outlined legal work Warren performed for a company fighting a federal mandate to pay additional money into a health care fund for retired coal miners.

The video shows supporters of Brown and Warren shouting and chanting. It was posted online by the Democrat-leaning Blue Mass Group, which said it was recorded at a Brown rally on Saturday in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. During the 46-second clip, supporters waving Brown signs are seen making tomahawk chopping motions with their arms and making war cries.

Brown, who won a 2010 special election to succeed the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, has made the question of Warren’s heritage a central theme of his campaign.

Warren, a Harvard Law School professor, listed herself in law school directories as having Native American heritage, but records show she identified her race as “white” on an employment record at the University of Texas, where she worked from 1983 to 1987.

Warren also has acknowledged telling officials at Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania she had Native American heritage but said she offered that information only after being hired.

“I didn’t check a box to go to college. I didn’t check a box to go to law school,” she said Monday. “The only box I checked was in a directory. I didn’t do this to get a job.”

A Massachusetts Republican Party spokesman confirmed one of its field coordinators, Brad Garnett, is seen on the video leading the whoops and making tomahawk gestures. State Democratic officials identified another person making tomahawk motions as Jack Richard, a member of Brown’s U.S. Senate office.

Officials from Brown’s campaign and his Senate office wouldn’t say if any of their staffers were involved. Garnett did not immediately return a call or email.

Brown stopped short of saying he would apologize to Native Americans or discipline any staffers if they had been involved.

“That’s not something I condone. That’s certainly something, if I am aware of it, I would tell that member not to do it again,” he said. “I know everyone is in the throes of the political season. I ask everyone to show real class and decorum on both sides.”

Brown said “the real offense is the fact that Professor Warren checked the box. She said she was white, and then she checked the box to say she was Native American.”

Warren said she would have handled the video differently.

“If this had happened on my staff there would be consequences,” she said. “There would be serious consequences.”

Warren has said she was told growing up that her mother was part Cherokee and part Delaware Indian, but she hasn’t offered any documentation of that heritage.

The video surfaced as the Brown campaign seized on reports of Warren, a consumer advocate, having done work in the 1990s for LTV Steel as it fought the mandated health care payments. The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald reported Warren was paid about $10,000 to assist in a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the company, which was emerging from bankruptcy.

Congress in 1992 passed the Coal Act, which required companies to pay into the fund for long-term health care of retired miners and their families.

During a late afternoon news conference at a Boston union hall Tuesday, Warren said the law already guaranteed that payments would be made to the miners. The outcome of the legal case, however, could have made it harder for miners to file claims in the future.

“If the law is changed in any way that makes it harder for them to make claims in the future, or for some of them, completely locks them out of the system, then there will be people who will suffer serious injuries, some of them will suffer death, and they will have no opportunity for compensation,” Warren said.

“I was there to defend them,” she said.

Brown accused Warren of hypocrisy for campaigning in support of unions and the middle class while having done work for big corporations. His campaign had previously criticized Warren’s work as a legal consultant for Travelers Insurance in a complex U.S. Supreme Court case involving a trust fund for asbestos poisoning settlements.

Warren, a bankruptcy expert, argued that Travelers should be protected from future lawsuits from victims because such suits would prevent similar trusts from being created, making it impossible for all victims to be paid.

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