Aiming to Agitate, Florida Student Got a Shock

Captured on video, Andrew Meyer's scuffle with police at a University of Florida political forum with John Kerry touched off a controversy.
Captured on video, Andrew Meyer's scuffle with police at a University of Florida political forum with John Kerry touched off a controversy. (By Andrew Stanfill -- Independent Florida Alligator)

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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Andrew Meyer, the University of Florida student whose Monday arrest at a John Kerry speech headlined CNN and other networks yesterday, has contributed a better lead to this story than we could have invented:

"Don't tase me, bro!"

In a widely circulating video of the scuffle, university police grab Meyer and remove him from a town-hall-style forum at the university featuring the Massachusetts senator. The senior telecommunications major had been given permission to ask a question after the official end of the Q&A portion; the question turns into an increasingly agitated three-parter. He asks why Kerry had conceded the 2004 presidential race ("Didn't you want to win the election?"), why President Bush hadn't been impeached, and whether Kerry was a member of Yale secret society Skull & Bones.

Midway through his time at the mike, as seen on the video, police officers appear behind him. As Kerry is heard saying, "That's all right, let me answer his question," five officers begin to escort Meyer out the door. In what is sure to become an AIM away message for millions of college students, Meyer yells, "Don't tase me, bro!" before an officer fires a Taser at him.

In the police report of the incident, officers state that Meyer calmed down once in the squad car, even joking with them and saying, "I am not mad at you guys; you didn't do anything wrong."

Arrested on charges of resisting an officer and disturbing the peace, he spent the night in the Gainesville city jail before being released yesterday morning. He did not return calls and e-mails asking him for comment.

According to a statement released by university President J. Bernard Machen, who called the takedown "regretful," two officers involved in the incident have been placed on paid leave. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has begun an investigation.

This was not Meyer's first escapade as a provocateur, but it may be his most physically punishing. As a freshman his weekly columns for the Alligator, the campus newspaper, regularly prompted debate. "He would take an idea such as a fundraiser for cancer research, and would bash the way the whole event would go down," wrote Meyer's friend Brandon Crone in an e-mail, noting that some of Meyer's articles were rejected for publication because of their incendiary material.

Some have speculated that his penchant for attention (his e-mail handle is "famouswriterman") led him to stage the outburst to draw traffic to his Web site, http://www.theandrewmeyer.com, a mishmash of political commentary, sketch comedy and filmed practical jokes. On Meyer's Facebook wall, his friends' good wishes are half-horrified, half-admiring.

"Meyer, you are a genius," writes one fan. "Just don't go on Larry King yet wait till you get millions first."

Asked about speculation that Meyer staged the confrontation, university spokesman Steve Orlando said in an interview that someone in the Office of Student Affairs told him Meyer brought his own video camera to the forum, handing it to a friend before rising to ask his question.

But Meyer's closest friends call the theory of a publicity stunt ludicrous. Said Henry Perlstein, a university senior who has known Meyer since high school: "My first impression was that [the video] was a home movie he made for his friends because it was so surreal. Then I heard the screams and he sounded genuinely afraid."

Justin Long, a telecommunications professor who made a special exception to allow Meyer into a graduate-level seminar last year, said that Meyer was outspoken, but never combative. "He might not have used the best judgment because he was overcome with passion," Long said.

John Levy, a graduate student at the university who said he met Meyer in a gifted-students program in second grade, spoke with Meyer shortly before Kerry's talk. He said Meyer was excited about attending the forum; he'd been loading up on questions and was excited to hear the senator's responses.

"Andrew sees himself as a journalist," Levy said. "He didn't want to incite anything, he wanted to motivate other students to ask questions."

Levy spoke with Meyer on the phone yesterday afternoon, shortly after his release from jail. "He's really upset that people are more concerned with the police attack and not with the dialogue he was trying to start with Kerry. . . . What kind of message does that send? He wants to show students it's okay to ask hard questions, and then he gets tased for doing it."

As for Kerry, he said in a statement yesterday that "in 37 years of public appearances, through wars, protests and highly emotional events, I have never had a dialogue end this way. . . . I hope that neither the student nor any of the police were injured. I regret enormously that a good healthy discussion was interrupted."

Staff writer Mark Berman contributed to this report.


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