Conservative journalist says he infiltrated, escalated D.C. museum protest
A conservative journalist has admitted to infiltrating the group of protesters who clashed with security at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on Saturday — and he openly claims to have helped instigate the events that prompted the museum to close.
Patrick Howley, an assistant editor at the American Spectator, says that he joined the group under the pretense that he was a demonstrator. “As far as anyone knew I was part of this cause — a cause that I had infiltrated the day before in order to mock and undermine in the pages of The American Spectator,” Howley wrote. (The language in the story has since been changed without explanation.)
A group called the October 2011 movement had organized the march in order to protest the U.S. government’s use of unmanned drones overseas, joined by a few members of the D.C. branch of the Occupy Wall Street movement, as the Post reported Saturday. Howley writes that a small number of protesters—himself included—had tried to move past the security guards at the main entrance of the museum. He says that one protester next to him got into a shoving match with a security guard in an antechamber before they hit the second set of doors that led to the museum itself. The guard pepper-sprayed the protester, spraying Howley as well.
But, according to his account, Howley was determined to escalate the protest further. “I wasn’t giving up before I had my story,” he writes, describing how he continued to rush past security into the museum itself. “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 was the only one who had made it through the doors....So I was surprised to find myself a fugitive Saturday afternoon, stumbling around aircraft displays with just enough vision to keep tabs on my uniformed pursuers. ‘The museum is now closed!’ screamed one of the guards as alarms sounded. ‘Everyone make your way to the exits immediately!’”
Howley, in fact, chides the protesters for not taking his lead and rushing into the museum after being pepper-sprayed. “In the absence of ideological uniformity, these protesters have no political power. Their only chance, as I saw it, was to push the envelope and go bold. But, if today’s demonstration was any indicator, they don’t have what it takes to even do that.”
At the same time, Howley criticizes the movement as being “disruptive,” even as he personally helped catalyze the shutdown of a national museum. He warns ominously, “What began on Wall Street is now spreading, and the question still remains: is it dangerous? Socialist indoctrination methods are surprisingly effective.”
But Howley’s participation wasn’t cited in Saturday’s major media accounts of demonstration at the Smithsonian museum, which attracted significant coverage because of the protesters’ links to Occupy Wall Street. (The October 2011 group — also variously called Stop the Machine — had organized an anti-war rally Thursday that morphed into an Occupy Wall Street event.) He maintains that his involvement was for “journalistic purposes,” though the move seems more reminiscent of provocateur James O’Keefe than the conservative coverage of Occupy Wall Street so far.
*Update: This post has been updated to clarify who was involved in the pepper-spray incident. The American Spectator also appears to have taken down the story, which is no longer available online. I have contacted both Howley and the Spectator’s editor-in-chief for comment. You can read the full text of Howley’s original story here.
*Second Update: Howley’s original story is still not available online. However, a second, edited version has been posted in the blogs section of the Spectator’s website. There are changes to Howley’s narrative, but it retains his claim to have been the sole member of the group to enter the museum itself: “They lack the nerve to confront authority. From estimates within the protest, only ten people were pepper-sprayed, and as far as I could tell I was the only one who got inside the museum.”