Police receive complaints of strange looking group intimidating others
Their antics won’t earn them a Key to the City. They are disruptive group but, if you ask them, ultimate defenders of American rights.
DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) -Police received several complaints Wednesday about people rambling around Dothan and causing commotions.
That’s because the group of seven—some resembling 1960′s hippies stuck at Woodstock-- darted in and out of public places with their video recorders turned on. They recorded everyone who got in front of their lens whether those people liked it or not.
Those stirring the pot are YouTube phenoms called First Amendment auditors and who use pseudonyms like News Now Ninja, James Madison, Rogue Nation, and Rights Crispy.
Those auditors, self-proclaimed press, usually operate independently of each other but, this week, they joined forces and traveled to Alabama where they believe authorities are either ignorant or defiant of the U.S. Constitution.
Their antics won’t earn them a Key to the City. They are disruptive group but, if you ask them, ultimate defenders of American rights. Patriots, perhaps, but also those who push public access and free speech to their limits, occasionally pushing so hard they get arrested.
That happened Tuesday in Prichard, Alabama where those same auditors verbally clashed with police who charged three of them with misdemeanor obstruction offenses. One reason for going to the Baldwin County city is another auditor, the one known as Rogue, had previously been arrested there. He believes that arrest violated his constitutional right to free speech.
Auditors, though arrested, are seldom convicted. usually because law enforcement officers let their ego get out of hand. Translated---they know less about laws than do the auditors who spent endless hours doing research.
Those charged in Prichard don’t seem at all concerned about a few hours in the slammer. After posting bond, they traveled to Dothan with the other four auditors that included one woman and a former police officer.
By Wednesday morning they were back at it, first at the Northside Post Office where their intimidating appearance quickly provoked a call to 911. Officers responded but left after concluding, while perhaps aggravating, the auditors had not run afoul of the law when they went inside the post office with cameras in tow.
The way officers handled the matter contrasts with a confrontation in November when a Dothan police officer briefly detained another auditor who, from a public sidewalk, recorded emergency vehicles violating traffic laws. The officer responded after receiving a complaint from a nearby hospital.
After that incident, Dothan officers received additional training on how to handle these matters.
So why do auditors push so hard when they know it will often get them cross ways of public officials? The man who calls himself James Madison Audits told WTVY there are financial incentives.
Sometimes they are paid by those who believe public access rights have been violated so they summon auditors to their city. Another revenue stream comes from their popular YouTube channels that often broadcast live and attract thousands of viewers.
Then, there are the lawsuits. Occasionally, auditors litigate when they believe their rights have been violated and sometimes, they receive settlements. Rogue, though, claims those settlements are usually too meager to motivate attorneys.
One of those auditors who visited Dothan Wednesday threatened a lawsuit when he got into a brief verbal confrontation with a deputy who provides security for the Houston County Administrative Tower. Eventually, the auditor gained entry to that Government building without further incident as did the other six.
Once inside they went from office to office—probate, revenue commissioner, mapping, and others videotaping employees and asking them a couple of routine questions.
From a hallway they recorded an unsuspecting county worker playing solitaire on a government computer.
“Men in power will not be noble unless somebody holds them to account,” said George, or Rogue as he is known.
They did not attempt to go into employees’ private offices or restricted areas such as the probate courtroom where adoption and mental competency hearings are conducted in private.
Rogue, whose given name is George, had previously been to Dothan, gave deputies who provide security at the tower better than average marks for how they handled auditors on Wednesday. Much better, he said, than his prior interaction when at least a dozen law enforcement officers detained him. (In fairness to this report, that Tower confrontation happened in June when only limited access to county offices was permitted due to COVID).
After leaving the county building, auditors went elsewhere in Dothan, including the downtown post office. Officers received additional complaints but did not confront the auditors because they committed no crime.
Houston County Commissioners have other possible plans after receiving complaints from employees who feel threatened by th auditor though none have a history of violence—one is a former police officer. They are considering an ordinance that would ban cameras in their public buildings, except in limited circumstances. Auditors say that would violate the constitution.
Mainstream media may also oppose that ordinance because it forbids them from interviewing commissioners or other elected officials without receiving prior permission.
As for those auditors creating all the ruckus, after leaving Dothan one of them went to the tiny village of Climax.
Unlike Dothan, nobody in that small Georgia town called police and, in a flash, that auditor was on his way out of town.
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