Protesters clearly crossed a line earlier this week in their campaign against construction of an inland port in Utah. By resorting to violence, trying to occupy a private building, accosting journalists and others, then pathetically blaming police, who they cast as protectors of the wealthy, they hurt their cause enormously.

Perhaps the best evidence of this was how both Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake Mayor Jackie Buskupski, generally on opposite sides in the debate over how the inland port should be established (the mayor has sued the state, claiming the port usurps city sovereignty), both condemned the protest, which took place Tuesday at the Chamber of Commerce Building in downtown Salt Lake City.

"Violence … will only deepen the divide between us and shut the door on advancing us as a community and our concerns," the mayor said at her own news conference Wednesday, held moments after a separate news conference by the governor. "We are diminished when we use force as a sword."

Herbert went further, calling the protest “borderline terrorism.”

Neither was an overstatement. The protest was a shameful display that showed a lack of respect for democratic processes.

Leaders of the protest shot back by blaming police, and by pushing a confusing narrative about colonialism, privileged interests, immigration, the environment and poverty. They attempted to disavow the violent actions of some in their group, accused police of using more violence than their side, and blamed the media for sensationalizing the protest.

One protest organizer said, “It is our right to occupy these spaces,” clearly showing a misunderstanding of the difference between public and private spaces. The Chamber of Commerce Building is private. Even if it were public, however, protest groups would not have the right to occupy it, damage property or harass those who work there.

The fact that the protesters came from more than one group, and that they may have attracted others interested in using violent tactics, is concerning. It does not absolve the leaders of the protest from responsibility, however.

As we have said before, we share concerns about air quality in Utah, just as we have expressed concerns about port leaders being transparent, including their adherence to the open meetings law, and with some conflicts former board members had with their own private interests.

But we support the idea of the port itself, which would establish a customs and distribution center to potentially handle billions of dollars in goods.

We also support the right to protest and to express opposition to the port and its leaders. This includes the right even to express nonsensical notions. All thoughts and opinions belong in the marketplace of ideas, where the public is free to search for truth and reject ideas lacking in merit.

But Tuesday’s protest went beyond the constructive exchange of ideas, apparently seeking to punctuate a message by force. That effort backfired.

If the groups that attacked the Chamber of Commerce Building intend to continue such tactics, they should be treated as criminals and charged for their offenses. Meanwhile, we doubt they will have much impact on public opinion or keep the port authority from doing its business.