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.

Filed Under: , , , , , ,

If you liked this post, you may also be interested in...
Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Oklahoma Cops Think Falling Glitter Might Be A Biochemical Attack, Book Protesters On 'Terrorist Hoax' Charges When It Isn't”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
kenichi tanaka (profile) says:

Sounds to me like law enforcement in the United States is taking the constitution and flipping it on its side.

Since they haven’t been able to find any terrorists, law enforcement in the United States have decided that there is an unlimited number of protestors in the country and what better way than to nail them on “terrorism” charges.

Faux Terrorism? Really? If the judge isn’t laughing by now I’m sure that the jury will be.

DCL says:

Re: Re:

It is true that glitter is the herpes of the art world… is is impossible to get rid of and it is always popping up when you least want it. OSHA should require full BIOSAFETY LEVEL 4 (BSL-4) garb to use it.

Glitter is the epitome of evil. The book should be thrown at the protestors for using such a substance out in the open!


Anonymous Coward says:

Charging protestors as “terrorists”, is the new norm. This is precisely the reason the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, was drafted by Senator Spystein.


Animal rights protestors have been charged as “terrorists” for years, under this federal law. The (AETA) law is simply branching out, and being applied to other areas of protests as well.

The (AETA) clearly states that any act that “places a person in reasonable fear of injury”, is an act of “terrorism”.

The cops said they were scared, so that makes the protestors “terrorists”.

It’s an open a shut case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If a cop is scared by a banner and some glitter I would say the fault is with the cop. Unless the protesters were chanting “death by anthrax” or similar overt threat.

Also, please do not compare a peaceful banner and some glitter with animal rights extremists.

Animal rights extremists use violence and threat of violence for political reasons, which is the definition of terrorism.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Apparently dropping glitter from a banner, is the definition of “terrorism” too. Don’t forget the US Defense Departments training manaul, labels the Founding Fathers of the United States as extremists also.

So let’s see.

Founding Fathers = “Extremist/Terrorist”
Dropping Glitter from Banner = “Extremist/Terrorist”
Animal Rights Protestors = “Extremist/Terrorist”

And the banner wasn’t peaceful, it had glitter on it. Only extremists use glitter!

Anonymous Coward says:

This has never been about terrorism. When you look at all these separate events – from glitter arrests to NSA ultra-serveilance, to FBI fake terrorism plots, to overuse/abuse of license plate readers, to checkpoints to interrogate (I mean question) citizens and “ask” for cheek swabs, DNA, and other information a very clear pattern emerges for the identification, repression, intimidation, and even incarceration of anyone who might be inclined to oppose the rise of an increasingly totalitarian government.

Quite honestly I think the biggest threat to American freedom today is the United States Federal Government.

David says:

Re: Re: Re:

More like “they may as well call themselves communists”. Communism is a political ideology that can’t really be detected in more than traces in the regimes claiming to be communist.

The trend of any government is to focus power to the selected few running the government.

Whether you are talking about “communism” or “democracy”: political systems supposedly expressing the will of the average person or working class will always gravitate to exploitive government by an established privileged class.

When the point arrives where sheep only have wolves to vote on, they have little choice but kill them all and start from scratch (ok, this does sound like Marxistic political theory actually). The frustrating thing is that it will not stick.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Well, I think the real terrorists got their wish. The cops are so afraid, their mind instantly goes to “bio-terrorism” instead of “the flamboyant banner”. Not only that but the people who chose to make the flamboyant banner are now being charged with willful simulation of a terrorist attack.

If this is how those in power are starting to think, then it’s only a matter of time before we, the people, have to force ourselves to think different. Will what I’m about to do look like a terrorist attack to some cop who got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning? Should I go outside in this outfit, will it be misunderstood as covert? Will this collection of plumbing parts I just got from Home Depot look like bomb parts?

Anonymous Coward says:


They suspected environmentalists were performing a bio-chemical attack?
That’s like suspecting animal rights activists of barbecuing dolphins.

[They] 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,”
By the way, if they weren’t wearing gas-masks or hazmat suits, I don’t think you have to worry about biochemical substances carried in a cloth banner.

Anonymous Coward says:

as soon as something happens in the USA that someone in authority doesn’t like, charges are brought against the perpetrators. there may well not be any actual law that applies, so one is easily conjured up to fit the bill. that inevitably leads to the people who are charged with doing something horrendous, which in actual fact is too small a ‘crime’ as to be negligible, being classed as heroes. the ones bringing the charges are then seen as total prats who apart from not deserving to be in a position of authority, should never even be in any employed position dealing with other members of the human race!
any security agency, like any government, can make up laws to fit any ‘crime’. it’s only when the rest of the population are informed of how certain individuals are being treated is there any sort of apology.

David says:

Re: Re:

as soon as something happens in the USA that someone in authority doesn’t like, charges are brought against the perpetrators. there may well not be any actual law that applies, so one is easily conjured up to fit the bill.

One? Dozens. If you don’t fold under blackmail, excuse me, a plea deal, you will have to bear the legal costs of defending yourself against charges adding up to about a hundred years. Only rich people have that option. The others will have to go into the slammer for whatever the prosecutor likes, maybe half a year, maybe more. Or commit suicide like Aaron Swartz in order to save at least their family from bankruptcy.

If you look for justice in some central African state, you’ll have to muddle through corrupt officials.

In the U.S.A., the whole system itself is corrupt. Buying justice is far more expensive than in “uncivilized” countries.

Anonymous Coward says:

So, let me get this straight.

1. Police bizarrely assume that something might be a terrorist attack and arrest some people.
2. The “terrorist attack” is proven to be obviously not a terrorist attack.
3. The people who were arrested are charged with staging a “terrorist hoax”?!

So a corrupt cop could beat me up, take my pocket money, then haul me downtown as a “terrorist suspect”, and when I was proven innocent, I’d spend 10 years in jail for “staging a terrorist hoax”?

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop ยป

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...