This is the second diary in a 3 Part series. Part I is here; Part III will be published on Monday.
This diary has two parts. The first part tells the story with an emphasis on how Republicans have derailed (temporarily, I hope) my career.
The second part of this diary provides details of my first trial and the role of the Fairfax County Police in unintentionally helping Republican animus toward oppositional press. Especially considering that I’m a white male living in Fairfax, VA with all the privilege that comes with that status, I think it’s worth considering what happens on the streets and in courts when it comes to people of color that do not typically enjoy all the systemic benefits I was afforded.
I was delighted when ShareBlue, an arm’s length American Bridge subsidiary, hired me to be their beat reporter covering Ed Gillespie’s run for Governor in last year’s Virginia election. And almost immediately, I was delighted to hear from several Republican frenemies that the Gillespie campaign had established me as the most hated person on the campaign trail.
My first assignment had me attending one of Gillespie’s small-dollar fundraisers. I made small talk with the candidate, recorded his stump speech (in which I caught him referring to the very diverse and voter-rich Northern Virginia “enemy territory”), and generally learned what I could about his campaign.
The effort paid off a couple of weeks later when I showed up at one of his town halls. Time was about to run out on the Q&A when Gillespie – perhaps recognizing me – specifically chose me out of the crowd to ask the final question of the evening. And I had a doozy teed up for him…
“By the 1990’s, everyone in America knew that cigarettes caused cancer, Big Tobacco lied about what they knew, and continued to use marketing gimmicks like cartoons to addict children – their next generation of customers. Could you please walk me through the moral calculus you went through when you decided to become a tobacco company lobbyist despite all of that?”
Gillespie – god bless his heart – smoothly deflected the question, more or less. But he wasn’t fooling anyone in the audience:
The evening's final question was from a man who asked Gillespie to explain his "moral calculus" for having represented the tobacco industry when he was a lobbyist.
"Will you bring that same moral calculus to your position as governor?" asked the man, who later said he belonged to a Democratic advocacy group.
Gillespie waded into a lengthy answer in which he twice said he was "proud of my career" and three times that he was "honest and ethical."
"You can cherry-pick clients all you want," Gillespie said. "You could have picked Friends of Cancer Research, as well, or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
"I know how to get things done," he promised.
Lisa Smith, 51, who was in the audience that night, had applauded when Gillespie, responding to her question, said he supported medical marijuana. But she was bothered by his tobacco answer.
"It was the whole song and dance of the politician," Smith said. "If you made a mistake, then say you made a mistake. Or admit that you didn't think it was wrong. Be a straight shooter."
And from that day on, Ed Gillespie and his campaign knew exactly who I was.
In fact, just a few days later, Gillespie attended an education event in Charlottesville. I arrived early, presented my media credentials, and set up to record his speech. Alas, within minutes of his arrival, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I knew immediately what was coming; the event coordinator didn’t have to say a word. I made my case that I was media, there to ask Gillespie what he thought was a fair wage for teachers… But there was no way I was going to win the battle. I was asked to leave the property, and complied lest I risk arrest for trespass.
For the rest of the campaign, I’d have to play cat and mouse with Gillespie’s advance team. Sometimes I’d win and find a way to get close enough to the candidate to ask questions about racism and the Confederate monument controversy, the NRA (especially relevant after the Vegas massacre), or Donald Trump, or his despicable anti-immigrant ads. Other times the campaign would see me first and impose on event organizers to have me removed from the premises, or they’d sneak in a side door and sneak out a back door, or they’d make their events invitation-only. The Washington Post actually wrote an article about Gillespie’s “stealth” campaign; I like to think I had something to do with their fear of the public.
Whether I did or didn’t, I was having fun and I really enjoyed the job. As far as I could tell, I was literally the only reporter tasked with following Gillespie to every one of his public events. I felt like my work – which had, for the most part, devolved to me asking questions of Gillespie (and capturing video of his non-responses) as he traversed parking lots – was at least somewhat impactful insomuch that even if my ShareBlue stories weren’t breaking the internet, they were at least noticed within Virginia.
Did I say something about not breaking the internet? Well, all that changed in late October.
That’s when Gillespie’s bus pulled up to the entrance of the Annandale, VA Halloween Parade. We were just days away from the election, and still, nobody knew what to expect. Remember, this was the first major election after 2016… and the memory of how unreliable the polls had been was still fresh for everyone doing campaign work. Everything is molehill is a mountain in the late stages of a contested race, and this race was no exception.
For Gillespie’s team, I’m sure my presence at a public parade was something they really weren’t looking forward to. I had every intention of bird-dogging him for the entire length of the parade over his anti-immigrant ads (Annandale is probably the most immigrant-dense community in all of Virginia).
So Gillespie was in a pickle. His campaign saw me outside. In fact, I taunted them a little bit by approaching their bus and engaging the driver with questions designed to draw out Gillespie. My thought was that if I spoke loudly enough to be heard throughout the bus, maybe Gillespie would come tell me what he really thought of me. I wanted that video!
But Am I A Real Reporter?
Many traditional reporters utterly recoil at the idea that I include myself among their noble and gallant profession. I’m not credentialed, they’ll say. Or I’m paid by a partisan organization, they’ll say. Or you make yourself part of the story, they’ll say. They don’t bother to disguise their condescending resentment.
And this is what I have to say: Fuck them.
But traditional reporters go giggly and go starry-eyed whenever George Will or Bill Kristol or Jonah Goldberg or Byron York are in the room with them. They consider plagiarists Ben Domenich and Matthew Continetti respectable members of their club. They’d never think to question media credentials hanging around Sean Hannity’s or Tucker Carlson’s neck.
And none of the aforementioned are intellectually curious or honest with their audiences. Rather than inform, these “respected” members of the media go out of their way to deceive.
And yet they are embraced by the establishment media at NBC, CNN, Roll Call, The Hill, and Politico.
Do I break a journalistic norm every now and then? Well, I think a better word would be “demolish”, but far be it for me to niggle over nuance. I know enough not to consider myself in the same league as Hunter S. Thompson, but I do think the term “gonzo” suits me well.
Sure, my technique sometimes makes me a part of the story; the nature of the questions I ask makes that an inevitability. So what? I don’t think an honest reporter’s job should be functionally limited to that of a scribe.
Beyond that, I’m a hardcore liberal. But I don’t pretend otherwise, and for that reason, I’m often paid by other hardcore liberals (contrast my situation to any of the Fox News talking heads, or, for that matter, a Mother Jones reporter).
Look: I call myself a reporter because I ask questions related to the public interest, I record answers (or non-answers) to video, and I’m scrupulously honest in sharing the results in full context.
So I asked how it felt to be working for a candidate whose policies were so awful he couldn’t even leave the bus to shake hands with people in the crowd while we waited for the parade to begin? Was it because Gillespie doesn’t like Latinos or Muslims? (Annandale is one of the most diverse neighborhoods I’ve ever visited). Or was it because he knew I’d be walking right alongside him asking him about his racist anti-immigrant campaign ads?
Gillespie didn’t bite, so I retreated.
Alas, making my presence known was probably a mistake.
Just a few minutes later, a policeman came up to me and told me not to go near the bus, and to leave everyone on the bus alone.
This part’s on me: I responded to the cop, “Well, you’re gonna hafta arrest me.”
I knew Gillespie’s team had reached out to the cops (this was verified at trial); how else would the policeman have singled me out of the crowd? But dammit, I didn’t spend four years in the Marines only to be told that I wasn’t going to be allowed to do my 1st Amendment-protected job as a reporter. So I started out a little defiant.
The cop replied, “Don’t fuck with me… Don’t mess with me”, and things quickly went south.
I told him not to fuck with me, that I was a fucking reporter and I was going to do my job. Another policeman came over and told me that if I swore at them again, I’d be going to jail.
Have I told you I’m defiant? And that I’m an attorney? So this is what went through my head in the span of about 3 nanoseconds: “First – that cannot be constitutional. You cannot be jailed for swearing at a cop. Second – Fuck these guys. Third – If I turn away from them and say “fuck this” it really doesn’t count as swearing at them, does it?” Actually, I was thinking aloud by the time I got to the third part.
The police captain said, “Take him to jail.”
I had been recording everything on my cell phone, so when the policeman went to handcuff me and I hadn’t yet pocketed my cellphone, things went sideways in a hurry.
The video is at the top of this post.
The upshot of all of this is that the Gillespie campaign’s efforts to have me neutralized at the parade succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Not only did I go to jail for several hours (and the duration of the parade), but now I had a mugshot and I could honestly be described as someone that “had been arrested previously for disrupting a campaign event”.
In the end, I was charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. At a district court trial, I was found not guilty of resisting arrest, but guilty of disorderly conduct. I appealed the conviction to the circuit court, and charges were dropped before trial in exchange for me not suing the County or anyone involved in the arrest.
A note about the trial and eventual dismissal of charges…
The judge in my district court trial, a former reporter, found me guilty of disorderly conduct. The basis of my guilt: that I taunted the bus driver, so I wasn’t a “legitimate” reporter.
I appealed, which immediately vacated the conviction. Trials at the circuit court are de novo (brand new). The Constitutional protection against double jeopardy protected me against a renewed charge of resisting arrest, but the Commonwealth decided to press forward with the disorderly conduct charge.
The circuit court judge encouraged a settlement. So did my attorney. I settled with an agreement that the case would not be prosecuted, but if I got in trouble in Virginia anytime in the next year, I could be made to pay $2,000. In addition, I was not allowed to disparage the police or County of Fairfax.
I settled with mixed feelings. I was looking forward to cross-examining the arresting officer.
As I mentioned, I cannot disparage the officer that arrested me. But I am a reporter, and since there hasn’t been any reporting of my district court conviction reversal and dismissal of charges at the circuit court, what follows should not be considered disparagement but rather 1st Amendment-protected reporting. Emphasis is mine. I encourage you to compare the testimony to the video I’ll provide at the end (published for the first time today).
This is the testimony given under oath by the police officer at the district court trial:
(Direct — Questions from prosecutor)
WITNESS: Ms. Reuss approached me and stated that the Gillespie campaign had came to her and warned her about a subject that was lingering about their campaign vehicle and around, attempting to locate their candidate. And that they were afraid of him, and they were worried that he might get violent.
Q. And did there come a time during the parade where you came in contact with Mr. Stark?
A. I did.
Q. When was that?
A. I first, a few minutes after Carol had told me that this subject existed, I looked over at the van, there was nobody there. I looked back again and I saw a subject matching the description, he was described as having a gray hoodie as a sweatshirt on, very heavy gray hoodie sweatshirt with some red lettering across the front of the sweatshirt, the lettering was RPI, I guess it's Rensselaer Polytech Institute or whatever, I don't know, it just said RPI. And he had blue jeans on, he's a big fellow about six foot two, about two hundred and thirty pounds, and he had both his hands inside the pocket of this sweatshirt, and I could see that he had something bulky in this right hand inside the sweatshirt. And I just kind of looked at him, he was on the sidewalk and he was right up against the Gillespie van, he was leaning into in and looking into the windows and moving up and down the length of the van when I first encountered him. And I'm just kind of watching from my traffic post and I'm like, boy that guy is acting rather peculiar
Q: When you see this individual with the gray sweatshirt on and he's kind of you said looking in the window, did you hear anything he was saying at that time?
A. No, I could not, he was about eight feet away but I could see that he was interacting with the driver, sort of leaning in towards the driver and berating him, and had then searching the length of the vehicle, looking in the windows. And you know, at that time, from my training and experience and my perspective, and the political climate that we're in, particularly at that time, I looked at this guy and I was like, my God, I hope that he doesn't have a weapon inside that, that sweatshirt, you know, because he had something in his hand. And I kept looking at him and I watched him, but I had to attend to my other duties. We started the parade.
Q. And regarding the Gillespie van, the time he was looking in the window, was it moving?
A. No, not at that time.
Q. Okay, you can continue on.
A. Yeah. And then so, I took my eyes off him and Carol started the parade and we were mixing the units in and whatnot, and I looked back again and I saw the individual this time holding a cellphone in his right hand as if he were filming. And he was at the driver's side and then he moved and went right into the street and got in front of the campaign vehicle, he stood right in the middle of Columbia Pike, less than a foot from the front of the vehicle and was, it appeared filming the inside of the vehicle and the driver, and you know, berating them and yelling and you couldn't make out what he was saying.
Q. What you heard, was it a soft tone, a loud tone?
A. To me, he was shouting, and he was shouting at the driver, demanding answers, and I just thought that the behavior was just very unusual, but the problem is at that time, he's now stepped into the street and is blocking my parade, which has already started.
Q. Well, that's what I'm asking you. When he steps out in the street and looked like he's recording something, was the Gillespie van at that time moving?
A. No, it wasn't, but it was the next to go, because the Boy Scouts and the VFW had gone, and I was beginning to move, or attempting to move the political candidates. Now, that morning, things were so charged that the Democrats that were in the Methodist Parking Lot refused to line up on the street with the Republicans. So we had the Republican gubernatorial6candidate on the street, where Mr. Stark was, and all of the Democrats were lined up in the Republican, I mean in the Methodist Church parking lot. And so I have to move each group, and we were starting to move the political candidates because of horses in the parade, the Fire Department began to roll down the street, and when I turned to start moving the political candidates, I looked at the Gillespie truck and this individual I standing in the middle of the road blocking the truck's path.
Q. And let me ask, how far away is he from this political RV or tour bus I guess you could say.
A. He was two feet off the bumper, sir.
Q. And at that time, were they able to move while he was there?
A. No. No.
Q. What did you do then?
A. I immediately went right to him.
Q. When you went right to him, was he saying anything to you?
A. Not yet, his back was to me. So I went right to him, closed the distance with him, and I engaged him. I said, "Sir, you need to get off the street and get on the sidewalk." At which time he immediately turned to me and went, "Fuck this, I'm a fucking reporter. I'm a fucking attorney, I can do whatever the fuck I want. You can't tell me what the fuck to do." I was just absolutely taken back, because I'm a uniformed police officer just doing my job, trying to get the subject out of the street. So he retreats, or stumbles backwards onto the sidewalk and he starts telling me, "I'm a reporter, you can't tell me I can't film. You can't tell me what to do. I'm going to be all over this guy." And I said, "Hey, you can film, but you've got to stay on the sidewalk, stay out of the street. Stay on the sidewalk." That was the only thing I wanted him to do.
Q. Let me ask you, the vulgarity. What things, beside you said, you know, I'm an F'ing attorney, I'm an F'ing reporter, what else did he say, if you remember?
A. Well, he just was completely recalcitrant, he wouldn't cooperate with what I wanted him to do. He claimed that he could do whatever he wanted to do and so he began to, I had to attend to my duties, so once I got him on the sidewalk, he began to retreat down the sidewalk away from the Gillespie van, so I turned my back on him after that initial engagement and went back to the center of the intersection to continue my duties. And after a few seconds, I looked back and the subject had moved to the center, almost on cue of the ingress and egress of the Methodist Church, hence blocking the parade again. Because I can't get anybody out of the Methodist Church, and Carol can't get anything moving because he's standing in the center of the ingress and egress to the church.
Q. And let me ask you, just so His Honor has a picture in his head, where this church is, what kind of entrance and exit is it? Is it a huge road or is it a…
A. It's a very, it's a very wide driveway off of Columbia Pike, it's almost as if it's part of the intersection. You can go directly from across the intersection at Gallows Road and go straight into that parking lot of that church, it's very wide. So at this point, he and I are provably locked face to face, and I'm shouting and gesturing for him to step back and get onto the sidewalk, and he's telling me that he's on the sidewalk, he's not cooperating. He looks down at his feet and clearly realizes oh, I'm in the center of this ingress and egress, so I'm not on the sidewalk, and he takes a couple of quick steps and then gets himself onto the sidewalk.
Q. And when he does it, does he say anything to you then?
A. Yes. He repeats that he's on the sidewalk. So I then, at that point tell him to his face, I said, "I don't know what your issue is, but if you think you're going to impede this parade today, or stop it in any way, if you step back into this street, I'm going to arrest you for disorderly conduct." Which he responded to me, "Fuck this. I'm here, I can stop this parade if I want to. I'm going to be all over that candidate," and he used a statement from a song, and I'm trying to remember it. Anywhere, any move he makes, any move he makes, any word he says, any move he makes, or something of that nature, I'm going to be there. I'm going to be all over him. And I said, "If you get in this street, and you come off the sidewalk again, I'm going to arrest you." At which time, I broke contact with him and turned away. For the second, third time
(Cross — Questions from Defense Attorney)
Q. Of the Gillespie bus. If I could just finish my question, I would appreciate it. He was standing by the driver's side window of the Gillespie bus, correct?
Q. And you couldn't hear was he was saying, correct?
A. It was not, I could not make out what he was saying, but I could hear him shouting and berating the driver.
Q. Well, you use the word berate, what statements did he use to berate him?
A. Leaning forward at the waist and shouting. I call that berating.
Q. So you observed him leaning forward…
A. Leaning forward at the waist, in the driver's side window, berating the driver. I can't hear what he's saying, because most of his language is probably going into the bus.
Q. And when he said, "I'm a reporter, I'm going to do my job," isn't that true?
A. That's pretty much what I recollect. He told me he was going to interrupt the parade, it's his right to interrupt the parade, he was going to do it no matter what.
Q. Did he use that exact language with you?
A. He told me, and I don't know this, I can't specifically give you the exact words he said, but he said, and he used that statement from that song, any move he makes, any, or he speaks or something of that nature, and I'm going to be on him. And I'll do whatever I want, I will interfere with this parade. He did say that, quote-unquote, "I will interfere with this parade."
Q. How many times would you estimate that he used the F-word with you?
A. Eight or nine times. That's an estimate, I lost count.
Q. There was that many...
Q. ... that you lost count?
A. The vulgarity was really inappropriate.
Q. Okay, and he...
A. The vulgarity was unnecessary, just completely unnecessary and disrespectful
These two videos (stitched together) have never been published before this diary. Please feel free compare the contents to the police testimony above.
Sure, I emerged with a clean conviction record, but my arrest remains on the books and the internet never forgets. The district judge that found me guilty at the first trial didn’t help either: from that point forward, whenever conservative media write about me, they insist on mentioning that I was found guilty of disorderly conduct while covering a Republican campaign, even though that conviction was nullified.
Finally, a reminder: I paid for my own attorney to do the appeal for me in this case, and I face several thousand dollars in legal fees for the arrest I’m going to write about on Monday related to my coverage of Adam Laxalt in Las Vegas, NV. I’m also unemployed, and that situation probably won’t resolve itself until I handle the case in Las Vegas. If you’d like to help me out, my paypal is: stark [dot] m [at] gmail [dot] com.