So About That Tree of Liberty…

Sunday, April 13th, 2008


Tonight, a group of about 20 D.C.-area libertarians headed down to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial for some flash mob fun. The prank was harmless revelry: To ring in Jefferson’s birthday, we would meet on the steps of the memorial at 11:55pm, wearing iPods, then dance for about 10 minutes, capture the whole thing on video, and leave.

Courtney and I were about 10 minutes late, but by the time we arrived it was already over. The National Park Police broke the whole thing up just a few minutes in, punctuating their lack of a sense of humor by arresting one of the dancers (we’re keeping her name private at least until she’s released later this morning). She was cuffed, taken out to a paddy wagon, then booked and held at a Park Police station. Everyone I spoke with says there was no noise, there were no threats, and no laws broken (the park police I spoke with–including the arresting officer (who, oddly enough, denied to me that he was the arresting officer)–declined to say why she had been arrested).

The police refused to answer any questions, referring all calls to the communication number of the Park Police, which at this hour is closed. They also refused to give their badge numbers.

I’ll post some video tomorrow morning of two flash mobbers who say she was doing nothing at all–she was barely even dancing. Her crime was apparently to ask “why?” when the park police told the group they had to disperse. Note too that this was at around midnight. No one was bumping into tourists, or obstructing anyone’s way. I guess the only conclusion, here, is that it’s apparently illegal to dance on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial–even with headphones. You know, post 9-11 world and all. Harmless fun will be interpreted in the most threatening context imaginable.  Whimsy and frivolity will not be tolerated.

Of course, the real irony here is that all of this happened at the Jefferson Memorial, in observance of Jefferson’s birthday. Go out to celebrate the birth of the most hardcore, anti-authoritarian of the Founding Fathers, get hauled off in handcuffs. The photo’s almost poetry, isn’t it? One of history’s most articulate critics of abuse of state authority looks on as a park police cop uses his elbow to push a female arrestee into one of said critic’s memorial pillars.

The people I spoke with say the other officer pictured in the foreground of this photo told the rest of the group to “shut the fuck up.” When one person politely asked why it was unnecessary to use the word “fuck,” the officer replied that if the guy who asked the question used any more profanity, he too would find himself arrested.

More from Julian Sanchez and Megan McArdle.

MORE: Sheesh. If you’re curious as to how we could be at the point where dancing is cause for arrest, read some of the comments at Megan McArdle’s site (link above). I guess an unlawful arrest is fine so long as the arrestee is upper class, privileged, and/or libertarian (because she’s probably a pot-smoker and/or illegal downloader, anyway!).

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168 Responses to “So About That Tree of Liberty…”

  1. #1 |  Nathan | 

    You probably already have this, but if you do decide to press charges I have the ACLU National Office phone number. (212) 549-2500

  2. #2 |  eli drummer | 

    welcome to orwell’s amerika

  3. #3 |  Law Quiz | 

    I would have at least argued with as to why the innocent person was getting arrested

  4. #4 |  PoliBlog (TM): A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Tales of Worthless Security Measures | 

    […] Contenti.e., a German Sheppard who will, when ordered, rip your face off [↩]Like, I dunno, the Jefferson Memorial [↩]Or, worse, bullying people—which also happens. [↩] Previous Posts 86 Dead at […]

  5. #5 |  jomama | 

    Heads up!

    Relatively small potatoes compared to this one:

  6. #6 |  Ikonoklast | 

    This rings a (dischordant) bell. In the summer of 1988, while living briefly with a girlfriend in the DC area, I committed the grievious offense of entering the Jefferson Memorial without a(gasp!) shirt. I was immediately confronted with a small-mustachioed little martinet — some sort of ranger-hatted fascist fuck — who ordered me to put my shirt back on. Rather than comply with this little shit (someone I could easily wipe the floor with if it weren’t for his sidearm), I simply walked away from TJ’s shrine. But, oh the fuckin’ irony…

    Whatever happened to the BILL OF RIGHTS?

  7. #7 |  ubidubi | 

    Fucking cops. And what’s this about not giving their badge numbers. I hate cops and their ilk. Actually, i really, really, hate paramedics. Do paramedics take a course in douchebaggery, or does the semi-profession/trade attract the douchebag?

  8. #8 |  GNUMD | 

    I just got “processed” this past week to work at a VA medical center. Let me tell you, these authoritarian military types and joiners, don’t like questions of authority. I said I didn’t want to be fingerprinted and asked why and they got all riled up about it. Then basically said, well we won’t force you, your welcome to leave and don’t have to work here. So of course I permitted them to finger print me, I have nothing to hide. But this country is total bullshit and I have no respect for people who volunteer to help keep the authoritarians in power and get paid to do the dirty work. They aren’t heros. Heros don’t have to carry guns to fight for freedom (but should be allowed to) and ought to serve themselves and the rest of us for free and have and follow a creed that values personal liberty and supports the questioning of any infringement upon human freedom. Long live liberty and if anyone tries to take it away from even the least of us then may our mobs beat THEM down verbally and physically if we must! That is a right in the constitution and it is WHY we are supposed to be allowed to be armed. If all citizens were armed then bullshit like this would not happen ever. The government should always fear the people.

  9. #9 |  ClintJCL | 

    So how do we, the readers, ultimately know how this case resolves? Any update links to post?

  10. #10 |  Scott | 

    Whilst I don’t condone excessive police force, you have to wonder about the sense of doing ANY crazy stuff at national monuments in the US given the high terrorism alertedness in that country these days.

  11. #11 |  Frederic Wankarcheese | 

    In ancient Egypt, there is record of the treatment of the bodies of young women that were set out to decompose for a few days before being delivered to embalmers. This practice originated from the need to discourage the men performing the funerary customs from having sexual interest in their charges. Herodotus writes[4] in The Histories that, to discourage intercourse with a corpse, Ancient Egyptians left deceased beautiful women to decay for “three or four days” before giving them to the embalmers.[5][6]

    In some societies the practice was enacted owing to a belief that the soul of an unmarried woman would not find peace; among the Kachin of Myanmar and the Nambudri of India, versions of a marriage ceremony were held to lay a dead virgin to rest, which would involve intercourse with the corpse. Similar practices obtained in some pre-modern Central European societies when a woman who was engaged to be married died before the wedding.[7]

    Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck (1830-1916) engaged in a form of thanatophilia following the death in 1884 of his first wife, the former courtesan Pauline Thérè se de Païva, better known as La Païva. Her naked body was immersed in alcohol in an isolated room of Henckel’s castle at Neudeck in Silesia. Henckel visited her corpse regularly for a strange sort of contemplation. It is said that when, several years after their marriage, Henckel’s second wife unexpectedly discovered the body of her predecessor, preserved in all its glory in a glass tank of alcohol, she suffered a mental breakdown.

  12. #12 |  The Agitator » Blog Archive » Jefferson 1 Dancer Files Lawsuit | 

    […] Here’s my initial post on the incident last April. Here’s some cell phone video that loosely captures what happened. […]

  13. #13 |  OCing and that Harvard Professor.... - Page 3 - INGunOwners | 

    […] Oberwetter hesitated, stopping to ask one officer to explain what laws or rules they had violated. He arrested her, on the charge of "interfering with an agency function," a vague charge similar to Gates’ alleged public disturbance. Oberwetter was never tried, though she […]

  14. #14 |  No Dancing at the Jefferson Memorial | The Agitator | 

    […] federal judge has thrown out Brooke Oberwetter’s lawsuit against the National Park Police, who arrested her in 2008 for quietly dancing at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, […]

  15. #15 |  Hmmm | 

    You should call 911 if they dont give you their badge numbers tell them your friend is being kidnapped by a police impersonator.

  16. #16 |  Sunday Reading « zunguzungu | 

    […] it happened a while ago, it seems a propos to turn from that to the figure of American police enforcing freedom by cracking […]

  17. #17 |  Peter Orvetti: What’s Next for Occupy DC? | 

    […] a question Occupy needs to answer. In D.C., a city where a small band of intrepid libertarians once faced Park Police bellicosity just for dancing a bit at an otherwise-empty Jefferson Memorial in the […]

  18. #18 |  Jefferson’s birthday coming, April 13 — how will you celebrate? « Mr. Darrell's Wayback Machine | 

    […] Probably not a good idea to try a flash mob dance at the Jefferson Memorial […]