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NOM Exposed is a campaign-style operation that tracks and challenges the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage as it tries to influence elections and legislative campaigns across the country.

BREAKING (NEW VIDEO): NOM Tour Tracker forced to move, threatened with arrest in Maryland

July 22, 2010

“Don’t make me lock you up!” — Annapolis, Maryland police officer to videographer

By Eden James

On Wednesday, Jethro Rothe-Kushel, a Courage Campaign Institute videographer, was removed from a National Organization for Marriage rally — at the behest of NOM’s Brian Brown — and threatened with arrest by a Maryland police officer if he continued to film the event.

The reason is clear: Brown, President of NOM, was embarrassed by yet another rally event in which attendance was extremely low. On this site, we’ve started calling it the #NOMturnoutFAIL, in new media parlance.

We now have video footage to share of the entire incident, including the moments that led up to it and what happened afterwards when Courage’s Arisha Michelle Hatch attempted asked for an explanation from the police officer.

The video speaks for itself, from the moment Brian Brown convenes the extremely small crowd (despite his prediction of “50 (or) 100″ people) to the moment Jethro is threatened with arrest. Watch it for yourself right now:

Let’s be clear. As Popular Mechanics explained on Tuesday, taking video in a public place is not a crime. Period.

Legally, it’s pretty much always okay to take photos in a public place as long as you’re not physically interfering with traffic or police operations. As Bert Krages, an attorney who specializes in photography-related legal problems and wrote Legal Handbook for Photographers, says, “The general rule is that if something is in a public place, you’re entitled to photograph it.”

As the article lays out, citizens have a right to document public events and the actions of public officials (like police) as a check against abuses. It then prescribes the method of responding to an an officer:

So what should you do if you’re taking photos and a security guard or police officer approaches you and tells you to stop?… Ask them what legal authority they have to make you stop. (If you’re in a public place, like a street, a park, etc., they have none; if you’re in a private place, such as a shopping mall, they may have a basis for banning pictures.)

That’s what our videographer did. And that’s why Arisha approached the officer for an explanation. The officer’s response?

“(The videographer) is not a part of this and (Brian Brown) asked to have him move.”

What Brian Brown did — asking the Maryland police to remove our team from the event — was a violation of our First Amendment right to document the rally in a public space on public property. We hope he doesn’t make the same mistake again. What the officer did — threatening to arrest our videographer — was done because Brian Brown is realizing that transparency is problematic for the future of his anti-gay rights organization. And he’ll do anything to stop us from exposing that reality.

Incidents like this demonstrate why NOM’s “Summer for Marriage: One Man, One Woman” national tour is becoming an unmitigated public relations disaster.

Brian Brown and NOM now have a choice: allow their events to be documented by any and all sources, including, or cancel the tour before it implodes and threatens the very survival of the organization.

Of course, if NOM wants to continue broadcasting failure to the American people, we’ll keep documenting every minute of it for all to see.

As Rick Jacobs, Courage’s Chair and Founder, wrote last night in a piece titled “The NOM tour: A celebration of censorship or freedom?“:

Because Mr. Brown is reading this, let me be clear. We, in the equality movement, fully support NOM’s right to protest. We welcome their participation in the dialogue, and here on the Tracker. We respect their right to marry, divorce, bear children out of wedlock, worship as they choose, serve in the military and send their own camera teams to cover our rallies. We also support the Constitution—especially the 1st, 5th, 10th, and 14th Amendments—at issue on this tour, with DOMA, and the institutionalized limits on the rights of millions of Americans in more than 30 states.

Increasing transparency and holding NOM accountable is why we launched, just like we launched and “Testimony: Equality on Trial” to bring the Prop 8 federal trial into the lives of Americans (who were denied the opportunity to watch it on television, after Brian Brown’s friends at appealed to the Supreme Court).

No matter what Brian Brown does, we’re not going away. We’re going to keep tracking this tour across the country, all the way up to culminating event in Washington, D.C. on August 15.

If you appreciate the work that we are doing, please tell your friends about and consider making a contribution to help us cover the costs of our Tour Tracker labor and expenses. As you know, we really can’t do this without your support.

In the extended entry, you can read first-hand accounts of what happened in Annapolis, as written from both the perspective of Jethro, our videographer, as well as Arisha, Courage’s Field Director and our NOM Tour Tracker lead.

Jethro Rothe-Kushel:

We arrived at Lawyer’s Mall in Annapolis, MD at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, video camera in hand, to document Brian Brown’s National Organization of Marriage rally scheduled to start at high noon. But by 12:10, it became clear that the attendance at his “Public” event was limited to a couple dozen people, many of whom were staffers or volunteers.

I could tell that Brown was nervous about what was about to happen and prepared to do anything to stop it from being documented. He said he was expecting 50-100 participants and seemed embarrassed about the low turnout.

After some secretive communications on his mobile device, and a conversation between Mr. Brown and a police officer, he finally began his rally at about 25 minutes after the hour. Like clockwork, just thirty seconds after the rally finally began, I was approached by the same officer, as you can see in the video.

I then tried to shoot from about 100 yards away at the foot of the square over the heads of a handful of his staffers who he instructed to stay close to the stage. Brown started talking about the aftermath of Prop 8 in California, but just I was about to capture some solid footage of the event, the officer again approached me and quarantined me to a corner across the street. This time he was stronger and came with a threat:

“Don’t make me lock you up!”

Ironically, Brian Brown’s anti-civil rights rally was held at the foot of a Thurgood Marshall statue with an inscription above publicly proclaiming “Equal Justice Under the Law.” But what about marriage equality on this summer afternoon at Lawyer’s Mall? As a straight Mexican and Jewish male and California resident, I felt outraged by the passage of Prop 8 and the subsequent marginalization of media in every attempt to document the aftermath, including the trial. However, with great injustice comes great opportunity. Change is slow, but true justice is inevitable.

Arisha Michelle Hatch:

Walking up to the NOM rally in Annapolis, Maryland, I convinced myself that it was going to be an uneventful day. Because of low turnout, Brian Brown decided to start the rally approximately 20 minutes after 12:00 pm (EST). I sat down under a tree and began writing what I thought would be a pretty boring post; the headline would have read: “NOM hosts rally in front of Thurgood Marshall statute, 20 people show up to see it.”

A short note about our process the last few days:

Jethro Rothe-Kushel has been our main videographer, Anthony Ash has been our photographer and I have been writing copy, keeping head counts and identifying people on both sides to interview after the rally. One interesting fact is, that although I’ve been on the tour for three stops now and haven’t had the opportunity to ask Brown a single questions. In fact, each time that I’ve walked up behind Jethro while he’s interviewing Brown to ask a question, Brown finds a way to conveniently end the interview.

The first time this happened I thought it was a coincidence, by the third time, I began to recognize a trend.

Brian Brown does not want to talk to me for some reason. I’m not sure why. I am, after all, African-American and according to Brown most of us “are on [his] side.” But I digress. . .

Back to the Annapolis rally:

Just as I was about to post my first short installment, my field organizer Anthony approached me and said, “Where is Jethro” (our videographer)? We searched for him, but couldn’t find him. Just as I began to panic, my phone rang. It was Jethro telling me that he had just been threatened with arrest by a police officer.

I walked over to the officer that Jethro identified with our flip camera to inquire about why he had been removed. I was only able to record a short portion of our conversation. The officer explained to me that NOM had a permit for the space and that all counter-protesters had to go across the street. I explained to the officer that we were merely documenting the rally. I asked the officer if he was protecting my rights. He said that he was. After about 10 minutes of back and forth that went nowhere, I decided to disengage.

Today, we’re on the road to Ohio, for our longest drive to date. I hope to spend the time reflecting on the last few rallies and introducing you to a few of the NOM friends I’ve made along the way.
FYI, if you enjoyed the video of Paster Jay, the Pentacostal, tongue-speaking preacher from Rhode Island, then you’ll definitely want to check out our footage of Minister LeRoy from Annapolis. More to come…