Police pepper-spray protestors at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington on Oct. 8, 2011. (AP)
A reporter for the American Spectator--who says he "infiltrated" a group of Washington, D.C., protesters "in order to mock and undermine" their cause in his magazine--claims he helped incite a riot at the National Air and Space Museum on Saturday afternoon and was pepper-sprayed in the process.
Patrick Howley, listed on Spectator's online masthead as an assistant editor, described the incident in a post ("Standoff in D.C.") on the publication's website. Howley claims that as the 100 or so protesters--affiliated with the ongoing "Stop the Machine" protest--approached the museum, "all of a sudden liberal shoes started marching less forcefully"--but not him:
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.
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 -- and I wasn't giving up before I had my story. Under a cloud of pepper spray I forced myself into the doors and sprinted blindly across the floor of the Air and Space Museum, 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 was the only one who had made it through the doors. As two guards pointed at me and started running, I dodged a circle of gawking old housewives and bolted upstairs.
According to Howley, he was aggressive in the march on the museum because, "in the absence of ideological uniformity ... their only chance, as I saw it, was to push the envelope and go bold.
Howley concluded that the protesters "lack the nerve to confront authority."
"From estimates within the protest," he boasts, "only ten people were pepper-sprayed, and as far as I could tell I was the only one who got inside the museum. ... I deserved to get a face full of high-grade pepper, and the guards who sprayed me acted with more courage than I saw from any of the protesters. If you're looking for something to commend these days in America, start with those guards."
Like other conservative critics of the Wall Street protests, Howley suggests the reason these protesters are gathering is for dating purposes: "It's hard not to get swept up in the Movement when you're among a hundred foot soldiers--most of them attractive 20-year-old girls--marching down E Street toward Freedom Plaza chanting, 'How do we end the deficit? End the war and tax the rich!'"
"Patrick, my boy---did you get laid?" one Spectator commenter wrote. "That's really the point of attending these things with the 24-year-old hippy chicks anyway, right?"
More important question, from a journalism standpoint: Did Howley--in apparently inciting a riot to produce a story--cross an ethical line?
Howley did not immediately return an email from The Cutline, nor did Bob Tyrrell, the Spectator's editor-in-chief. A phone message for Tyrell was not returned, either.
TBD.com, which has spent the morning "going nuts trying to find information on Patrick Howley," is not sure the "pepper-sprayed provocateur" even exists. But at least one blogger--Charlie Grapski--thinks he spotted Howley in a photo from the protest. And according to his profile on the Spectator site, Howley has been a contributor since at least June.
Howley's apparent "infiltration" of a liberal movement brings to mind James O'Keefe, the provocateur and conservative activist behind those controversial 2009 ACORN videos.
Meanwhile, O'Keefe was spotted at the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York on Monday.
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