On November 5, 2013 Michael Carr was arrested after cutting a police line near the White House. As part of the Million Mask March, he was demonstrating by the White House fence. He was instructed by one federal law enforcement agency to leave the area near the fence for security reasons, while another agency stopped his exit by surrounding the demonstrators with police tape. Michael Carr stepped out of the crowd and cut the police line.
He was charged in relation to an incident where a police tape was cut during the Million Mask March last year. He was promptly cuffed, laid on the ground, kneed, stepped on, and stuffed into a patrol car. The arresting officer saw fit to add insult to injuries by charging him with a collection of bogus criminal actions. I was just feet away when the incident occurred and photographed the ensuing debacle. The photographs and videos I had obtained led to my subpoena. The entire drive to DC was filled with thoughts about the ineptitude of a system that would pursue charges against a man about an incident they could watch on YouTube. As a general rule, receiving a subpoena from the federal government doesn’t make for a good day. In this case though, I was happy to drive from Florida to Washington, D.C. to testify for the defense in the trial of Michael Carr. Incidentally, that isn’t his real name, but anonymous anon is anonymous.
Washington’s corruption and moral decay infected the road system heading into the city. In true government style, road work wasn’t underway but lanes of traffic were closed; slowing my descent into the cradle of the best of the worst. Every third or fourth car was federal law enforcement. Nothing says land of the free like the red, white, and blue; unless of course those colors are flashing in your rearview mirror as part of some general search thinly disguised by the veil of national security.
I was certainly in enemy territory. Luckily, I know that DC hires the most incompetent officers in the country. After all, even with the total police state, the city still manages to double the national crime rate average. While I was certain any of my transgressions would go unnoticed by the less than trained eyes of law enforcement, the thought of thousands of armed gang members patrolling the streets with unhindered power made me wish I had brought a Kevlar vest. There was also the threat of criminals that didn’t have badges or patrol cars.
Around three in the morning, I pulled my Cherokee to the valet curb outside the Hotel Monaco to find a cluster of people wearing cheetah and zebra patterned bathrobes sitting on the steps drinking. This was obviously my kind of hotel. I took a sip from my flask as I neared the laughing crowd. Upon further examination I found they all had MIT police badges hanging around their necks. Great. Nothing better than drunk cops. The loss of inhibition that accompanies a flood of alcohol amounts to putting the metaphorical fire to the gasoline of the culture of entitlement, violence, and immunity that swamps law enforcement departments all over the country. It’s not that all cops are bad, but the bad ones give the other five percent a bad name.
“Sorry, you came to the wrong hotel.” One of the peace officers stated as an attempt to apologize for their drunken antics. I wondered what they would do to college students drinking and being loud outside the dorms in the wee hours of the morning. I snapped a photo and walked inside, screwing the top back on my flask. Suddenly, I didn’t want to drink with these people.
A convention of hypocrisy awaited me. Apparently I have offended God at some point during my travels and He saw fit to exact his vengeance by placing me in DC testifying on behalf of a young man wrongfully accused of assaulting a cop while the city was observing National Police Week. The federal government decided that being able to speed, maim, assault, and kill without consequence wasn’t its own reward and that the nation needed to have a special week where cops from all over the country could travel to the nation’s capital to booze it up on the taxpayer’s dime. It was as if my own personal hell had been constructed around me.
On the bright side, the taxpayers were picking up my hotel bill as well. Thank you, by the way. My bill for two nights was about a grand. Don’t worry, it’s not like the Chinese will stop lending the government money or your children will be paying for this excursion for the next twenty years or anything.
I grabbed my gear and suitcase, then let the valet park my jeep. He was obviously more accustomed to parking manicured luxury sedans than the mobile office of a journalist who spends way too much time on the road. His eyes drifted over the giant ammo can bungeed in the back of the SUV, then to the combat boots and gas mask sitting in the back seat. I handed him the keys and ignored the facial expression that was begging me for an explanation. I half expected the Department of Homeland Security to show up as I climbed into bed.
For the record, the ammo can contains the tools every journalist needs: press passes, gas mask filters, first aid kit, MREs, antacid solution for treating pepper spray, field surgery kit, water purification tablets, Jack Daniels, etc.
Three hours later I woke, dressed, and walked the few blocks to the DC courthouse. I passed directly by a memorial for fallen law enforcement officers and the accompanying crowd of cops wearing their badges and “thin blue line” paraphernalia. For the uninitiated, cops often display clothing depicting a black field with the blue bar running horizontally through the middle. It allows them to identify each other when they are outside of their normal jurisdiction so that they can be extended professional courtesies. In that sense, it’s comparable to the red bandanas worn by members of the Bloods. Just past the memorial, I watched one of the thin blue line mock a homeless man still in his sleeping bag from the night before.
I have always felt that one of my strongest attributes is my innate ability to remain completely detached from events I observe, record, or participate in. While I understand the realities of injustice and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mr. Carr was innocent, it wasn’t an emotional pursuit for me. I would present the videos and facts I had in my possession, and hope that at least one person on the jury wasn’t conditioned to believe that officers were above lying. I felt confident of his chances of beating the case if there was any justice in the world, but I am also acutely aware that truth and justice are rarely found in a courtroom; especially a federally funded one.
I sat on the bench outside the courtroom leaned back and went over the answers to the questions that I anticipated being asked. There were several cops in the hallway doing the same. I didn’t see the officer that had arrested Michael, but I recognized a few others. I almost felt sorry for them. Their testimony would surely include their version of what the arresting officer had told them. They would swear that they had witnessed it with their own eyes, and then I would present the videos showing that a crowd was blocking the view of all of the officers except for the cop that made the arrest. They would look stupid in the eyes of the court, but they wouldn’t be charged with perjury. Professional courtesy would win the day and the thin blue line would protect itself.
There have been a few moments in my life when my detachment failed. I opened my eyes to see a young lady walk in and sit outside the courtroom. She was pregnant and the Guy Fawkes tattoo on her wrist identified her as Amy, Michael’s girlfriend. The reality that Carr might not hug his child outside of a visitation room for a decade set in. Suddenly, I wanted to choke the life out of every cop who has ever lied on the stand and every prosecutor who has chosen to seek a conviction rather than pursue truth. I closed my eyes and let the anger subside. Providing testimony is an art, an art that cannot create the desired outcome if emotions are involved.
Carr walked down the hallway. Even though we never spoke other than me asking his name while he was being arrested, he was easy to recognize. His curly hair and youthful appearance were unmistakable. His lawyer approached me and took me into a conference room. I handed him a thumb drive containing the videos and a stack of photos from the Million Mask March. He flipped through them and asked about my trip and the hotel. He seemed a little worried about a perceived lack of sleep. I assured him I was fine.
I returned to the bench in the hallway and waited for the proceedings to start. I listened as a prosecutor and defense attorney negotiated a plea deal on different case. Some guy was about to receive drug court and a year’s probation for felony possession of PCP.
My ears perked up when Carr’s attorney stated that the prosecution had given in on a few fronts. The subject had apparently been brought up yesterday while I was driving from Florida, but now it was official: the prosecution was willing to drop all of the felony counts, leaving only a single misdemeanor count of destruction of city property. Carr and his attorney disappeared into the conference room to discuss whether or not to take the misdemeanor to trial.
A few minutes later they emerged with the consensus to enter a plea of guilty. Relatively speaking, Michael Carr had already won. Even if the judge sought to impose the maximum sentence allowable by law, he would still only do less than 10% of the time he was facing just a few minutes ago. While a year in jail may seem like an eternity to most, it would be over before he knew it.
Since I would no longer be called as a witness, I entered the courtroom and took a seat while we waited for him to enter his guilty plea. The US Marshal in the corner of the room kept eyeballing me. I tried to scan back through years of incidents in a vain attempt to remember whether or not I had previously pissed this guy off. I’d hate to get ambushed in the parking lot and not remember what I had done to deserve the beating. I couldn’t place him.
Michael entered his guilty plea and the judge asked for the prosecutor’s sentencing recommendation. The government wanted Michael to receive a year’s probation and a fine. His attorney argued for no probation and restitution for the damaged police tape. The judge disagreed with both attorneys and sentenced Michael to time served. Statutorily, Michael was obligated to pay $50 to a victim’s fund, and that was his only penalty.
I stepped back into the hallway while Michael and his attorney worked out some paperwork. While I waited, the Marshal from inside approached me. I reached into my pocket and closed my fist around my keys so that a key was sticking out between each finger. The idea of fighting a Marshal in a federal building didn’t appeal to me, but it didn’t look like he was going to leave me an alternative. He stopped about six inches too close to me. Federal agents are notorious personal space invaders. I raised my eyebrows in response to his presence.
“You were here for that trial right?” He asked.
“Yes.” I have a theory that nothing raises contempt in a fed’s heart faster than fully answering his questions. I personally believe they like to work for their information. It lets them feel like they are doing their job. I always try to keep my answers as short as possible while appearing to cooperate.
“What’s that kid’s story?”
“The charges were dismissed.” He studied me, trying to decide if I was mentally defective or was actively trolling him. Maybe I’m wrong and they would enjoy people just directly answer their questions. I’d have to give a few more short answers just to be sure.
“It looked like he was trying to video tape the judge.” There was no question in that statement so I just stared blankly at him. “Do you think he would do that?”
“Nothing surprises me.”
“So, who are you with?” It occurred to me that Raylan Givens’s cousin was under the impression that I was a federal agent of some kind. This was a perfect opportunity to engage in some real life trolling, but Michael and his attorney emerged from the doors behind the Marshal. So I just laughed and said I was a journalist before walking off. I made a mental note to leave the beard just a bit longer than its current state next time I had to shave. I wouldn’t want real people thinking I was a fed.
Michael, his lawyer, Amy, and myself walked outside the courthouse. He was smiling from ear to ear, and I presented him with the police tape that he had cut back in November. For some reason when the incident happened and the tape fell to the street, I picked it up and stuffed it in my camera bag. It remained there until I was served with my subpoena.
I took Michael and Amy out for a celebratory lunch in Chinatown. It was the first time I had really been able to engage the couple in conversation. I’m used to being the weirdest guy at any table, but I wasn’t even in the running here. Michael possesses a personality unique to computer-types; almost infallible logic and a relative disregard to normal social conventions. He is extremely intelligent and very questioning in conversation. In hundreds of interviews, I don’t believe I have ever been asked about my past. Typically, the person being interviewed is completely concerned with how they will appear in print. Neither Michael nor Amy seemed to remotely care about the notoriety that would accompany the dismissal of the charges. Anonymous doesn’t get a whole lot of wins inside courtrooms. It stands to reason that the collective will celebrate Michael’s victory.
I asked the pair what was next for them. Most in their position would try to leverage their newfound status. The sentiment that most thoroughly expressed their feelings: To fade away and become anonymous within Anonymous again. The conversation turned to the expected topics: the NSA surveillance state, police corruption, wasting taxpayer dollars on this ridiculous farce; typical dinner conversation in an era when money is speech and corporations are people.
When we left, Amy took the excess food from the table and left to distribute it to the area’s homeless. Michael and I headed back to the hotel. We arrived back at the hotel just in time for the complimentary wine hour. Sadly, the bar was filled with cops.
I went back to my room and changed into my normal clothing, that is to say I went from someone mistaken for a federal agent to someone more likely to be mistaken for a homeless person. I took a friend on a quick tour of the National Mall to see the Vietnam War Memorial. Walking there we watched as hundreds of mostly overweight officers wandered the streets proudly displaying their badges around their necks. As we neared the mall, we watch one of a trio of officers kick a pigeon. I didn’t see the whole incident, but I’m sure the pigeon was resisting.
Once you’ve awakened to sad state of affairs in the world, war memorials take on a whole new meaning. While some wars are necessary, most are not. The tens of thousands of names inscribed on the wall are a reminder that needless wars and loss of life are not a 21st century invention. That takes nothing away from the sacrifices of the soldiers in the field. Most voluntarily put their lives on the line for something they believed in; it’s too bad we aren’t all that noble. In a way, the names on that wall are a perfect example of the failure of the American people to govern themselves and to keep their politicians in check.
There were some private school children searching for the names of fallen soldiers as some form of history project. Hopefully, the 1% of those children that will someday be in a position of leadership will remember the name of that fallen soldier and gain some appreciation for the fragile position of human life in combat.
In a somber mood, we made our way back to the hotel. It was time to meet up with Mr. Carr again. I sat on the front steps of the hotel smoking a cigarette while I waited for Michael to come down. We walked down the street in the general direction of some bars we had seen earlier. Michael informed me that he didn’t typically carry identification while he lit a joint as we walked down the street. A small act of defiance, but defiance nonetheless.
The first bar we stepped inside was filled with cops. “This place is filled with the wrong kind of people.” We left. It wouldn’t be wise to celebrate the dismissal of charges related to assaulting a cop in the midst of a bunch of drunken officers.
We found a wings place inside Chinatown and settled in. Michael still displayed a nonchalant attitude towards his victory, and indicated no desire to take any sort of a public role within Anonymous. Instead, we talked about his adventures hopping freight trains and some of the online techniques employed by Anonymous. It was an odd mix; high-tech discussions of various techniques blended with stories from what would seem a bygone era. He invited me to take a trip with him cross country on the rails.
A couple of pitchers of beer later, we were wandering around town rather aimlessly when nature called. We ducked into an alley to relieve ourselves on a sign that said “Don’t pee here.” He smoked a little more. Emerging from the alley reeking of beer and pot, we ran into two uniformed officers. Michael asked to take a photo with them, when they agreed he donned his Guy Fawkes mask, and I snapped away. We were both laughing and obviously inebriated, but the cops either didn’t care or were simply part of the 5% that were more concerned about real criminal behavior. They laughed and smiled with us.
After a few more minutes, we found ourselves back at the hotel bar. We drank until the early morning with periodic breaks to step outside. The bartender asked what we were celebrating, and Michael relayed the story to a sympathetic ear. Amy rejoined us and we rounded out the evening by discussing the power of video in situations such as his.
At the end of the night, I laid in bed with the room spinning and my mind swimming with the realization that after this article Michael would once again disappear into the faceless hive that is Anonymous. However, another thought occurred to me: the security forces of the world are on notice. The activists are coming. They are armed not with guns or flaming Molotov cocktails, but with cameras and a burning desire for the truth. While we may never publicly hear the name Michael Carr again, rest assured that he will still be on the frontlines of the fight. No name, no ego, united with others as one, and divided by zero.