The Battle of the Air and Space Museum

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 9 2011 5:50 PM

The Battle of the Air and Space Museum

The American Spectator's Patrick Howley walked alongside the protesters who tried to protest drones inside the Air and Space Museum. After wiping pepper spray from his eyes, he reported what he saw.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

After sneaking past the guard at the first entrance, I found myself trapped in a small entranceway outside the second interior door behind a muscle-bound left-wing fanatic and a heavyset guard. The fanatic shoved the guard and the guard shoved back, hard, sending this comrade -- and, by domino effect, me -- sprawling against the wall. After squeezing myself out from under him, I sprinted toward the door. Then I got hit.
Being pepper-sprayed is a singularly agonizing experience -- enormously painful, but even worse for a hypochondriac. When the spray begins soaking into your eyeball, swelling your eyelids and rendering them largely inoperable, it's hard not to worry that you might soon have to invest in stronger-prescription glasses.
But as far as anyone knew I was part of this cause -- a cause that I had infiltrated the day before -- and I wasn't giving up before I had my story. Under a cloud of pepper spray I forced myself into the doors. Suspecting that the entire crowd would be able to get inside, I ran blindly across the floor of the Air and Space Museum to find a place to observe, drawing the attention of hundreds of stunned khaki-clad tourists (some of whom began snapping off disposable-camera portraits of me). I strained to glance behind me at the dozens of protesters I was sure were backing me up, and then I got hit again, this time with a cold realization: I may have been the only one who had made it through the doors.

I'm seeing some commentary and analysis that argues Howley egged on the protesters, somehow, by going slightly further -- by accident! -- than they did. No, I'm not buying it. Howley stumbled upon conservative media gold by covering the October 11 movement's co-opting of Occupy Wall Street/Occupy DC. The October 11 movement is a hodgepodge of anti-war in Afghanistan groups, which has nothing, technically, to do with the Occupy movement. In this video, you'll notice Code Pink's omnipresent Medea Benjamin among the people in histrionics over the pepper-spraying. Generally speaking, if Benjamin shows up at your march, your march has been proven to attract the press, making it ripe for a co-opting.

One D.C. organizer sympathetic to the Occupiers warned me last week that the 10/11-ers were totally capable of dragging the new movement down with their ineffective, camera-hungry strategy. What does a protest of drones have to do with a new populist protest of income disparity and bank deregulation? The question answers itself. What does radio host Mike Malloy's widely-reported speech to the 10/11 rally, about how George W. Bush should be tried for war crimes, have to with it? Another dumb question. These protesters have it in them to wreck the image of the new movement, and all Howley did was notice.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


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