How to become a TERRORIST without really trying

- An interview with Dave about an experience with the police state

-Pittsburgh, 2000/2001

- conducted by RATical [tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE]

[This interview was published in my magazine that I coedited with etta cetera, "Street RatBag" issue 4. The interviewee was arrested on his way to a protest against a chemical warfare mock attack in downtown Pittsburgh. He was interrogated & both his apartment & his father's home were searched without a warrant. - August 23, 2014 note from tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE]


Editor's note: The "Local and State News" item above is reproduced because it's a blip on the activist radar screen indicating a chemical-warfare-simulation-to-be. This latter lead to a local group creating a street theater piece intended to counter the powers-that-be propaganda. Dave, the person interviewed below, had intended to be part of this street theater. He tells about what happened to him & how NO ILLEGAL ACTIVITY ON HIS PART LEAD TO A SEARCHING BY THE FBI & THE POLICE OF BOTH HIS HOME & THAT OF HIS FATHER. To make matters worse, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette then ran the "Downtown drill invites real-life drama" as an apparent gloss-over of the, to me at least, obvious Police State intrusiveness into Dave's life. In case it isn't already obvious to EVERYBODY yet (or, at least, to Street RatBag readers), we're in a time when all any 'authority' figure has to do is cry "Terrorist" & they can procede to do whatever the fuck they want to. Forget search warrants, forget any laws that've ever been designed to protect citizens from totalitarian control freak zombies, once the cry of "Terrorist" is out of their mouths you can kiss any legal protection to yourself goodbye. Be forewarned.


How to become a TERRORIST without really trying


Dave: Alright, so, Once Upon A Time we saw an article in the paper about a chemical warfare drill downtown & we thought this was messed up because we don't think that the government should be involved in any sort of warfare activitities & particularly not in downtown Pittsburgh - So, we planned some street theater, to go down there, we had a whole play worked out about the history of, about United States chemical warfare activites - starting back, going all the way back to, you know, giving smallpox blankets to the Indians - &, so, on the day that it was supposed to take place, this was a Saturday, we were gonna meet downtown - &, so I went downtown alone - & I had a gas-mask for the street theater in a plastic Giant Eagle bag - &, so, I walked up to where it was supposed to be & the place that we were gonna meet was all cordoned off, so, I thought "Ok, they must be a block away", so I walked up a block away in the wrong direction & was stopped by an officer who said, you know, "Who are you? What're you doin' here? Where're you going? Where're you coming from?" & I said, um, "Dave Romberger & I'm comin' from home & I just wanna watch" - ahh, I didn't want to get into any protest things because I wasn't sure how legal it would be - so they said "Alright, well you'll get a good view of it right across the street over there" so I said "Ok, thanks." So, I started walking across the street & a 2nd officer came up to me & said, "Excuse me. Could you please drop the bag & put your hands on hood of the car." So, I was like, "Oh shit!" but I did it.

RATical: This was just a random car or your car that you were at?

Dave: No, it was a random car - it just happened to be parked there. Anyway, so, they patted me down & pulled all this, like, everything out of my pockets & then they cuffed me & started asking me questions on the street for about a half an hour, refused my request for water for most of that time - at one point, about the 1st time I asked for water, I had a water bottle on me too, &, you know, they got really alarmed & asked "Do you want water from your water bottle" & I was, like, "I don't care - Just give me some water" - so, finally they gave me some water & they took me down to the Public Safety building & put me up in an office there somewhere - they took the cuffs off for that, which was kinda nice - & questioned me for about 2 hours more there &, while they were questioning me, they had a police scanner goin' & I was sorta half listenin' to that & apparen-, like, one of the questions they'd asked me on the street was "How'd ya get down here?" & then "Where's your car?" - so I told 'em & then on the police scanner, about the 1st thing that, you know, when I really started listening to it was when they said "We found a bomb" - I'm like, "Oh shit!! What did they plant in my car?!", you know?, so, they said "It appears to be a stick of dynamite wrapped in cellophane" & it took 'em probably a good 45 minutes to figure out that the "dynamite" was actually a road flare. In the meantime, they kept on searchin' the car & found a buncha "suspicious wires" & some "suspicious liquids" in the trunk, but, these would've been a car DiscMan kit & bottles of water - you know, stuff that you're normally supposed to keep in the car - but, in any case, so - after about 3 hours, total, they said, "Well, we'd like to charge you with terroristic threats, but, we really can't because you didn't do anything, so, we have to let you go now." So they drove me down to my car & it was like, completely trashed - they'd tossed the whole thing - & so I drove home to my apartment & walked in & there were 4 city cops & an FBI agent searching my apartment so I said, "Hi. Can I see a warrant?" & they said "We don't have one - your roommate let us in." So, I was just like, "Alright"..

RATical: Hold on for just a minute - just to backtrack - obviously they found the gas-mask that you were carrying in your bag & they used the gas-mask bag as the justification for asking you to drop the bag & to hand-cuff you etc, etc

Dave: Right.

RATical: In other words, the finding or the noticing of the gas-mask was what basically set off the whole thing. When they were interrogating you they presumably asked you about why you had the gas-mask & what did you tell them?

Dave: I said that, uh, you know, I had heard that they were gonna - this was complete bullshit - I just didn't wanna get into any protest shit 'cause, uh, like, they were pretty interested in that sorta thing. I just told 'em that I'd heard they'd be using teargas or whatever & I didn't wanna get a shot of that if the wind changed or whatever - I should also mention that they questioned me pretty heavily about whether I'd been involved in the Philadelphia protests earlier that summer, whether I'd had any far-right or left-wing affiliations - if I was a nazi - all sorts of stuff, anyways..

RATical: Did they keep the gas-mask? Did they tell you that it was illegal to have a gas-mask?

Dave: No, they gave the gas-mask back. They did, actually they did say it was illegal for a while during the interrogation but I kinda knew that it wasn't so I convinced them to give it back to me [laughs]..

RATical: So, back at your apartment then..

Dave: Yeah.

RATical: You've come into your apartment & unbeknownst to you they've decided to search the place - there's 4 city cops there & an FBI agent & you start talking with them.

Dave: Yeah, so I said "Ok, well, if you don't have a warrant then how did you get in?" & they said "Your roommate let us in" so I'm, like, "I'm gonna have to have words with my roommate" - particularly since I had a butterfly knife & some drug paraphernalia out in plain view on my desk & I think my roommate knew this at the time. Anyways, so, they're searchin' my apartment &, in the middle of this, I get a page from my dad, so I said, "Can I go answer this page? & they said "No, you can't. Stay there." I'm like "Alright, this is illegal, I'm not under arrest & even if I was I'm entitled to phone calls, so, you're gonna have to let me answer the phone & they wouldn't let me answer the phone - you know, go call my dad.

RATical: Did they try to physically intervene between you & the phone? Or what?

Dave: No, they just told me to sit down & I didn't want to push the issue any further than that. Meanwhile, the one cop was talkin' to me &, like, motor-mouthin', "You know, we're only just, we're only here to, look for, like, bomb equipment - we're not here to look for anything else - you've probably got a big baggie of marijuana sittin' in your fridge" - I'm just like Shut-up, "Do you want something to drink? - Just so I can prove to you that there's nothing in my fridge?" It was kindof a frustrating moment, so, finally, they said, like, "Alright, we didn't find anything except for this literature that - from sumthin' called "Food Not Bombs" - This wouldn't have anything to do with bomb making, would it?" [laughter] So, finally they left, & I called my dad & he's, like, "Hi, so, 2 FBI agents & 3 city cops just showed up at my house asking to search it" - so, this was how I found out that they'd been to my dad's place too.

RATical: Did he allow them to search his place?

Dave: Yeah, & they questioned him for a while.. I talked to him about it a little bit. They asked him pretty much the same questions that they asked me - &, next day, there was an article in the Post-Gazette which was - hhmmm, mildly accurate - that would be a generous way of puttin' it

RATical: - & the title of the article is "Downtown drill invites real-life drama" & it mentions that you, "a young man with a gas-mask showed up on the scene uninvited" - now, 1st of all, I don't really see any reason why you'd have to be invited - this was on public property - so that's a, a bit misleading right there - &, 2ndly, they don't mention that you're not wearing the gas-mask. I think it's somewhat implied that, perhaps, you were wearing the gas-mask rather than just carrying one - which is, also, I think deliberately misleading on the part of the Post-Gazette. They don't mention that the so-called "suspicious wires", as they refer to them here, that "were discovered sticking out from trash in the back seat" were your DiscMan wires - & there's nothing suspicious about that except for somebody who's so stupid that they can't recognize what such a thing might be which, presumably, somebody from a bomb squad would be smart enough to recognize.

Dave: We hope.

RATical: So, if only so that they don't blow themselves up! Not to mention the rest of us! Do you have any other comments that you'd like to make about the way the article was written & how you think it affected you at the time?

Dave: Just about everybody I know was, like for the next 2 weeks, you know, sorta looked at me funny or said something to me about it.. - kinda, I don't know, people's reactions to me changed alot after that. It was sorta like, I don't know, I felt like I was almost ostracized for a while.

RATical: Do you think that the article deliberately misrepresented you in a way that's potentially damaging to your reputation with people who don't understand how generally misrepresenting the media, the mass-media usually is?

Dave: I think mostly they did it to try & get more shock value out of it. I don't think it was as ridiculously misleading as some articles I've seen but it certainly was.

RATical: Ok, do you have any closing comments?

Dave: I don't think so - anything else you wanna ask me?

RATical: One thing that's interesting about the article is that they don't mention that the police & FBI went to your apartment & searched it & to your father's home & searched that too. I think that's a fairly major omission which probably the police & the FBI wanted to see omitted & the obvious importance of the omission is that really these were illegal searches, or, uh, unjustified searches that were based on ridiculous things that most people of any intelligence would never consider to be evidence. Otherwise,

Dave: - Actually, um, I have a bit to say about that. The detective that was interrogating me for most of the time actually gave me his card at the end & one of my friends decided to follow up on this a little bit & called 'im up & asked 'im a buncha questions & he went on the record as saying something to the effect of "He should've had to pay for all the overtime hours & materials expended in searching his car."

RATical: Yeah, as usual, WE are expected to pay for our own oppression - that's what taxes are all about, in general. But, one other thing about the article is that they only make an extremely small reference to the existence of other protesters at the very end. In the very last sentence of the article it says "Other than Romberger, the only other civilians with an interest in the exercise were about 10 people with front-row seats inside Bruegger's Bagels on Grant Street who were shouting that the United States should be training for peace, not war."

Dave: - & I'd say that this was even fairly misrepresentative of the protester's point that they were trying to make.

RATical: Yeah, as I recall, one of the points that the protesters were trying to make was more specifically related to chemical warfare. I don't know, I wasn't there, but it was my impression that one of the reasons why this simulated chemical warfare attack was being staged in the 1st place was partially in order to justify the chemical warfare research that's being done at local universities here. Do you know anything about that?

Dave: I know the CMU chemistry department has been heavily involved in the past with government contracts & I couldn't comment on what they're doing currently but I do know that they're getting millions & millions of dollars a year from the government - so they're probably doin' somethin'.

RATical: Yeah, so I think that probably part of the point of the protests was not only to try to educate the people a little bit more about the chemical warfare but to also point out that these public spectacles that're supposedly for the defense of the public are really just as much, if not more so, for the defense of the chemical warfare research that's being done locally.

Dave: That's fair.



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