At GMU, no less.
UPDATE 0755E 16NOV2016: Oleg sends:
I’m not easily scared. Back in my Soviet dissident days, when I was collecting signatures in defense of Andrei Sakharov, I was screamed at, threatened, and lectured by the KGB and Communist functionaries. What I never imagined was that in the United States, the land of the free, I would not only be subjected to similar treatment, but go to jail for my political activism, which never happened to me even in the USSR.
Progressivism and its main tool, political correctness, are absurd and dehumanizing not just in theory; its physical implementation is also rather dreadful and painful, as I personally experienced yesterday, being turned from an activist artist into inmate #2076524 in Fairfax County jail, with aching bruises on my wrists from excessively tight handcuffs, and the prospect of spending five years in prison as a convicted felon.
This was supposed to be a two-day poster campaign, to counteract the George Mason University hosting an official national conference for Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which is an anti-Semitic organization with well-documented ties to Hamas – a terrorist group whose stated goal is to exterminate the Jews. The GMU poster campaign was conceived by the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
My part in it was to create provocative artwork for the posters and to hang them around the GMU campus, as well as to distribute flyers in order to raise awareness among the students, faculty, and the administration about the true meaning of their support for the SJP conference.
On the first day, my friend and I placed a few stickers on walls, poles, and signs around the GMU campus. We also placed paper flyers inside and outside the university buildings. We had decided to hang the larger posters on the following night, right before the start of the SJP conference.
Arriving at the campus in the evening, we noticed a large police presence everywhere, including the campus Starbucks. From what we overheard at the tables, the police were on the lookout for people posting “disturbing” flyers. At one point we considered canceling our mission due to this higher risk, but then decided to hang a few posters in new locations, in order to get the message out more effectively.
We only had time to hang three large posters when, at about 4am, our car was pulled over by a GMU PD cruiser with flashing lights. As we found out later, they already had a description of our rental KIA Optima. Officer M.J. Guston and his female partner, Officer Daniels, requested to see our drivers’ licenses, which they took away. Then they inquired if we had any weapons and proceeded with the visual search, noticing our bucket with mixed wheat paste and some rolled posters on the back seat, covered with towels.
The police officers took pictures of the contents of our car and retrieved some of the loose fliers from the floor as evidence. They claimed that since we were covering the posters and flyers with towels, we intended to conceal our wrongdoing. We explained that the towels were needed to wipe our hands, to prevent the bucket from spilling, and to stop the papers from rolling around the car, which was the honest truth.
The officers said we had been photographed while attaching the flyers, but never showed us the actual pictures. They ordered us to give them our car key and to step out of the car. Then we were told to put our hands behind our backs and to spread our legs. Officer Guston then held my thumbs behind my back with his left hand, while his right hand gave me a complete and very thorough pat-down and searched the content of my pockets. He repeated the same procedure with my friend, repeatedly asking us if we had any kind of weapons on us or in the car.
My friend and I tried to be as friendly and cooperative as the situation allowed, but that had no effect. We were ordered to sit on the curb, as Officer Daniels told us that the content of our posters was violent and disturbing to some students, especially the one with the Hamas terrorist standing in pools of blood over his dead victims. Such interpretation flipped our message on its head entirely, turning it from sympathy for the victims of violence into a threat of violence.
It dawned on me that the reason they kept searching us and asking about weapons was that they were convinced we were members of some violent militant group of “domestic terrorists” who meant to do harm to the students – a stereotype largely created by the “progressive” media and unscrupulous politicians. And now we, defenseless artists, armed with nothing but brushes and paper, became victims of this manipulative mythology, which caused the police to treat us with extreme prejudice. At the same time, the officers who handled us as if we were terrorists, seemed to be blissfully unaware of the true nature of the SJP they were defending, and their organization’s very real ties to a known terrorist organization with a record of mass murder, kidnappings, and targeting innocent civilians.
Since they couldn’t find any weapons and our message was protected by the First Amendment, the officers decided to charge us with “destruction of property worth of at least $2,500,” which was a “class 6 felony.” They claimed we had “super-glued” our fliers to school signs and it was impossible to peel them off.
It didn’t matter that we never used permanent glue, or that there could be other volunteers on campus who posted the stickers they could have downloaded online. Our wallpaper paste was made of wheat and water; we only used it on three large posters, which could be easily removed with water and would be washed off by the first rain. The rest were stickers, printed on regular self-adhesive paper found in any office store. They, too, could be easily removed with a tissue soaked in Goo Gone, a common household cleaner found in any dollar store. We even offered to remove any posters and stickers for them, then catch our flights in the morning and never bother them again. But the officers weren’t interested in that. They seemed to have a rather inflexible phantom image of us as dangerous felons and “right-wing extremists” who belonged in jail.
A phone call that Officer Guston made inside his cruiser seemed to reinforce their determination. Stepping out into the street, he ordered us to put our hands behind our backs and then handcuffed us so tightly that our bruises were painful to the touch even on the following day. Then he emptied our pockets, took away my hat, and placed everything in two plastic bags.
We were then taken to the back of his police car. Officer Guston never read us our rights; he simply declared that we were under arrest for committing felony and were going to jail. The partitioned space in the back of his police cruiser was extremely narrow, which forced my friend and I to contort our bodies in order to avoid additional pain from leaning on our tightly handcuffed hands behind our backs.
The full, politically correct name of the county jail was Fairfax County Adult Detention Center, but the jailers inside continued to refer to it as “jail.” We were put before a magistrate named W. Talavera. Officer Guston repeated his trumped-up charges about the destruction of property, supporting them with a dozen computer printouts. They were daytime photographs of our stickers posted around the campus. The officer put extra emphasis on pictures that documented his unsuccessful attempts to remove the stickers with his fingernails, which in his mind was undeniable proof that the paper was “super-glued” and thus anything to which it was attached was irreparably destroyed.
Some of his printouts were almost completely black night shots, looking like screen captures of security camera footage. Allegedly, they had our car in them. That was probably what he meant when he claimed that we had been “photographed.”
When we were given our chance to speak, we explained our motives and our mission, which was to help stop campus support for terrorism and anti-Semitism. The magistrate asked how we would feel if someone would come to our house and post stickers everywhere. My first impulse was to say that if I were unwittingly giving aid and comfort to terrorist supporters and someone would point it out to me in such a memorable way, then yes, I would probably be annoyed at first, but in the long run, as an honest person, I would most likely be grateful for opening my eyes to my bad judgment. But considering that such an answer would further antagonize the magistrate, I only said that we would never destroy anything, or do anything we thought was a felony. I repeated that the stickers were easily removable, which was why no destruction of property had occurred. I also volunteered to prove it by removing any remaining stickers myself, whether they had been posted by us or by others.
The magistrate’s decision was quick: $8,000 bail for each of us and a mandatory court hearing within several days. As we were led away to be processed into the system, Officer Guston said, somewhat triumphantly, his final words to us: “You can’t come to GMU ever again.”
We were then fingerprinted and searched again. We were only allowed to keep one shirt, one pair of pants, and no shoes. The next 14 hours we spent locked up in a smelly room with about a dozen other inmates, most of whom were sleeping on the floor. As hours went by and everyone woke up, it appeared that many of them were brought there for public intoxication, and one of them claimed that the police asked him to step out of the bar into the street, and then charged him with being drunk in a public space. Everything pointed to the fact that the Fairfax police department could be somewhat overzealous in trying to justify its existence in a wealthy Washington, DC, suburb largely populated by federal employees and other professionals feeding off the plentiful government trough.
The room had an old-fashioned telephone on the wall, programmed to tell time and make collect calls. I had to enter my inmate number and calling pin, which I found written on a yellow piece of paper above my mug shot. Luckily, I’m blessed with a very supportive wife who set up a pre-paid account for my calls and was extremely helpful in communicating messages between me and the Horowitz Freedom Center throughout the entire day, even though she was at work. When it became clear that, for one reason or another, the Freedom Center bail was never entered into the system and we could easily spend the next night in a jail cell, she contacted the local office of the Freedom Bail Bond Company and paid them 10% of the $16,000 bail for the both of us. We were released shortly after 6pm, 14 hours after being arrested.
The troubles didn’t end there. Our rental car had been impounded with our personal belongings inside, but the police gave us no receipt. The jailer who discharged us lied to us when he said we would find the receipt inside the plastic bag with our belongings, for which we signed, but which we weren’t allowed to open until we were outside. Luckily for us, a sympathetic Freedom Bail Bond employee made the necessary research and then even gave us a ride to the car pound.
The car had been rented from Advantage. Our rental term hadn’t even expired and we imagined we could pay the towing and other fees, pick up the car, extend the term by one day, and return it at the airport in the morning. But according to the existing rules, we had no right to retrieve either the car or our personal things until an Advantage employee arrived in person. Given that it was already Friday night, and they don’t do this on weekends, we had to wait until the middle of the following week because they allegedly had a list of other such cases and ours had to wait. This, of course, would lead to continued lot charges, thus taking advantage of our misfortune to the tune of $800 – a practice that gives the car rental company a completely different meaning. Upon hearing our story, however, the towing company workers allowed us to pick up our things from the car. The unused posters and flyers, and even the bucket with paste were still there, covered with hotel towels. We threw all of it into the dumpster, picked up our bags, and called Uber for a ride to our hotel.
Since we had booked our room only until 11am that morning, it was already rented to someone else. My helpful wife had called the hotel earlier, and they placed our things into boxes for safekeeping in the office. We were able to rent another room in the same hotel that night, but had to use Uber drivers for the rest of our stay in Fairfax.
Needless to say, we also missed our flights home, and booking new tickets resulted in new expenses.
Our posters contained a hashtag, #StopCampusSupport4Terrorism. The just and moral choice here is clear to any decent human being. But when political correctness comes into play, morality becomes blurry and justice switches the polarity. As a result, terrorist supporters ended up having a safe space and vigorous protection, while their non-violent opponents were subjected to brutal force, thrown in jail, and were robbed blind by the system.
George Orwell once said, “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” That is what the future of America also will look like if progressivism and political correctness continue to expand their grip on every sphere of life.