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Rush Hush Affair
Tase Him, Bro

What passes for American heroism nowadays

There it is. Andrew Mayer, the University of Florida student tased by campus police during a town hall appearance by John Kerry last month, is no longer a victim of police brutality. Now he’s just an apologetic 21-year-old looking to publicly atone in a vat of whitewash. Press, police and his university (what to expect from grifters, goons and graters?) have ganged up on him worse than when those Blackwater-type cops slammed him down and electrocuted him on Sept. 17 (incidentally, one day after Blackwater’s authentic madmen murdered 17 Iraqis in cool blood). One more example of this country’s obedience to police-state diktat.

First, of course, Mayer’s questioning of Kerry at the town hall meeting was reinvented. He wasn’t a student asking long-winded questions. He had “yelled his way to the podium” and he “kept shouting questions” during his “diatribe,” as a blatantly tendentious Associated Press story by Travis Reed now describes him. The fact that time for questions and answers had run out when Meyer still made his way to the mike is irrelevant: Kerry asked that he be heard. Anyone looking at video of Meyer’s “diatribe” can see that while it could be described as grandstanding—as half the people, especially adults, who pose questions at these events grandstand, if more subtly—he was not being confrontational, let alone threatening.

But in order to prosecute him legally in the public mind, Meyer’s moment at the mike had to be recast as an affront, as an attack on the assembly, as a “disruption of a school function.” And that’s what he got slapped with among other charges, the resisting arrest with violence being the sort of Pavlovian charge every police officer will slap on anyone who so much as bats an eye the wrong way, Mein Fuhrer.

Second, redirect the public outrage. At first the sympathy was all for Meyer. But you could also sense the rising reactionary anger at Meyer, at his defiance of police authority to some extent, but most of all at his defiance of what passes for decorum in public settings these days. He had flaunted the rules of abiding by an agreed-upon dullness, a middle-of-the-roadism that gives the appearance of questioning the Honored Guest, of proposing a clever challenge or two, and instead asked the kind of questions that fall outside the acceptable. Questions, god forbid, that happen to go to the heart of the Honored Guest’s fallibility. Or in Kerry’s case, morbidity. Meyer’s final insult was to spill his spiel in a riff of sarcasm. No sir, not acceptable, not acceptable at all.

He made it easy for the reactionaries radically to turn against him the tide of sympathy initially flowing in his favor. The public began to speak of his being over-the-top, inappropriate, rude, all those little code clichés that innocuously go to the heart of this American culture’s love of command and control above all else. Meyer’s victimhood was turned inside out. He became the police assailant, the psychopath, the speech offender.

At that point it was only a matter of filling in the legal blanks. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, serving as the state’s version of the KGB, investigated, and concluded that the officers had acted properly, honorably, beautifully, wonderfully, and that Meyer had acted incorrigibly. The FDLE concluded that “officers were within law enforcement guidelines for using the Taser because their earlier attempts to control Meyer failed, and he was growing more agitated and resistant. The officers said they did not use pepper spray because it would have been too disruptive to the large crowd gathered.” What marvelous logic. The officers, by rushing Meyer, sparked the incident that gave him the national attention the FDLE says he wanted. The officers, by rushing him, created the commotion that disrupted the entire event. But they didn’t use pepper spray because they didn’t want to create a commotion. Police logic. As Mencken wrote, “The notion seems to be that any device of deceit or brutality is fair, so long as it helps to fill the jails. The government, through its authorized agents, sets itself deliberately to lure men into so-called crime, and then punishes them mercilessly for succumbing.”

The biggest winner is the taser company itself (capitalizing the words gives the company an honor it doesn’t deserve). But the biggest loser is Meyer. He apologized: “I’m sorry that I lost my control in that auditorium.” But he hadn’t lost his control at the mike. He lost his control as anyone not only would, but should, when attacked by goons. That they’re wearing shields and being paid by taxpayers doesn’t absolve them of the requirement to act as human beings. (But it always does.) “I went there to ask an important question. The question of voter disenfranchisement in America cuts to ther heart of our democracy, and my failure to act calmly resulted in this important town forum ending without the discourse intended. For that, I am truly sorry.”

I didn’t attend the forum. But knowing Kerry, the only interesting moment must have been the one Meyer created. Now he’s apologizing for it. What shame. Meyer reminds me of Salman Rushdie’s apology to “Islam” for his offense through “The Satanic Verses.” The day after Ali Khamenei, the Iranian president in 1989, said the Ayatollah’s death sentence on Rushdie might be lifted if he apologized, Rushdie complied. And then he did worse. He opposed the publication of the book in paperback. Then he did worse still. “I do not agree with any statement in my novel ‘The Satanic Verses,’ uttered by any of the characters who insults the prophet Mohammed or casts aspersions upon Islam, or upon the authenticity of the holy Koran, or who rejects the divinity of Allah.” That he did or did not agree with those statements was and remains irrelevant. That he was being made to apologize for them, and that he was complying, is what shamed his position.

Rushdie eventually regretted this brief period of mindlessness. He was, in any case, in hiding, distressed, under threat of death (Meyer just went home to Miami) and, since 9/11, has been a forceful and necessary advocate against giving in to the follies of fanatics, whatever their stripes. Maybe Meyer will come around and see the error of his apologies. I doubt he will though. He’s proving to be what he may have been all along. A showboat.

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