Oklahoma Cops Think Falling Glitter Might Be A Biochemical Attack, Book Protesters On 'Terrorist Hoax' Charges When It Isn't
from the 10-years-for-momentarily-frightening-police-officers dept
I’m beginning to think the DHS, NSA, FBI and TSA are largely extraneous entities. We appear to have a shortage of terrorists to defend against. We can’t seem to find enough terrorists worldwide to justify needlessly intrusive surveillance programs. The FBI can’t seem to land any big fish without dropping the line into its stock pond. And what we have managed to scare up as prime terrorist suspects have been captured by zealous local law enforcement teams, utilizing a blend of expansive anti-terrorism laws and a credibility not normally granted to foul-mouthed teens using social networks.
The all-purpose “War Against Terror” tool has been applied again, and at least as clumsily as any of the above linked instances.
It’s not uncommon for environmental protesters to face arrest, but here’s an apparent first: On Friday, Oklahoma City police charged a pair of environmental activists with staging a “terrorism hoax” after they unfurled a pair of banners covered in glitter—a substance local cops considered evidence of a faux biochemical assault.
Here are a few more details just in case anyone thinks I’m glossing over the real reason these protesters are facing terrorism-related charges.
Stefan Warner and Moriah Stephenson, members of the environmental group Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, were part of a group of about a dozen activists demonstrating at Devon Tower…
Warner and Stephenson hung two banners—one a cranberry-colored sheet emblazoned with The Hunger Games “mockingjay” symbol and the words “The odds are never in our favor” in gold letters—from the second floor of the Devon Tower’s atrium…
[W]hile their fellow activists were arrested for trespassing, Warner and Stephenson were hit with additional charges of staging a fake bioterrorism attack
Oklahoma City police spokesman Captain Dexter Nelson tells Mother Jones that Devon Tower security officers worried that the “unknown substance” falling from the two banners might be toxic because of “the covert way [the protesters] presented themselves…A lot were dressed as somewhat transient-looking individuals. Some were wearing all black,” he says. “Inside the banners was a lot of black powder substance, later determined to be glitter.” In their report, Nelson says, police who responded to the scene described it as a “biochemical assault.” “Even the FBI responded,” he adds.
OK. So the falling glitter was a bit frightening, seeing as it was outside its normal habitat, like a rave… or a 14-year-old girl’s bedroom. But, this whole “terrorist” situation was all cleared up when it was determined to be nothing more than some ill-advised protest banner bedazzling, right?
Doug Parr, an attorney for the activists arrested on Friday, says he’s never seen “terrorism hoax” charges—defined as “the willful conduct to simulate an act of terrorism”—filed against activists. “I’ve represented any number of political activists in Oklahoma for 35 years,” he says. “This is the first time I am aware of that anyone has been arrested on terrorism-related charges for protest activity.” Parr adds, “In my humble opinion, this is not at all an appropriate use of this statute.”
Nope. The pair still face these charges, even after it was determined the substance was nothing more than harmless glitter and after Devon Tower employees removed the banners without the use of any Personal Protective Equipment. (OSHA has yet to offer an opinion on the dangers of airborne glitter.)
Apparently, not being a terrorist attack is its own crime, punishable by a 10-year prison sentence. All you have to do is make someone believe it might have been a terrorist attack (or at least believe it enough that they can sell their supervisors on it).
Parr says Oklahoma City police seemed determined on Friday to arrest the Devon protesters on terrorism-related charges. He says he overheard an officer at the scene, Major Steve McCool, ask for guidance by phone on how to charge Warner and Stephenson under Oklahoma’s anti-terrorism act.
For someone blessed with such an obviously awesome name, McCool seems to be a very petty little man. This sounds very much like someone checking books on the legal bookcart for heft before deciding which one to throw at the two protesters. If nothing else, knocking a couple of protesters down with overwrought charges will deter a certain number of “covert […] transiently-dressed individuals” from showing up at the next event, meaning even less effort will need to be made during the mop-up phase. It’s a chilling effect, deployed completely without irony by Major McCool.
Parr suspects the problem runs deeper, all the way back to Transcanada, which has made a push in recent years to have protesters (of which Transcanada collects plenty) charged with terrorism-related charges — even going so far as to produce and deliver presentations directly to law enforcement agencies and the FBI itself. If you think having a few over-imaginative officers is a problem, just wait until you get a whole department fresh off some “corporate training” wading into the next Occupy Wherever or interior bannering. And with every arrest, they’ll build caseloads and precedent, making the next trumped-up, ridiculous charge even easier to apply.