Local Activist Aaron Brown Arrested at Cruz/Palin Event in Woodlands, Doesn't Even Get to Show His Signs
Local activist Aaron Brown, one of the organizers of protests against Westboro Baptist Church, was arrested by a Montgomery County sheriff's deputy Friday while walking to the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion to protest Sarah Palin's appearance at an event supporting Republican senatorial candidate and Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz.
Brown, 30, was processed at the Montgomery County Detention Center, charged with a Class C misdemeanor for disorderly conduct and eventually released around 3 p.m. Saturday.
In an exclusive interview with Hair Balls, Brown told us he parked in the Tinseltown Theater parking garage at Woodlands Mall and was walking toward the Pavilion when a Montgomery County sheriff's cruiser pulled up and asked him to stop approximately 150 yards from the entrance to the event. He was carrying a sandwich board sign, a camera and a small megaphone.
"The officer stayed in the car, checking my license, talking to me through the window, and talking on his radio for about five minutes. He then got out of the car and informed me that someone had made an indecency complaint against me and that I was being arrested for disorderly conduct."
One side of Brown's sign showed stick figures sodomizing each other while the other side simply said, "Fuck These Assholes." A Woodlands resident, Brown noted that his signs were upside down and partially obscured and would have been difficult to read.
"This all happened so fast, I don't know how anyone could have seen the signs and made a call and gotten an officer to locate me that quickly," Brown surmised. "I suppose the officer could have seen the signs and stopped me, but that works counter to his explanation that someone filed a complaint. Anyway, the longer I thought about the sequence of events, the more peculiar the whole thing seemed."
Brown also surmised that he might have been stopped for the way he looks.
"I have a beard and I look a bit like an Arab, so that might've been a trigger for this guy to roust me, I don't know."
Brown added that he had been approached by a 40-year-old white male shortly after he got out of the parking garage. The man asked what Brown's sign said.
"I told him it says, 'Fuck These Assholes.' And he responded with, 'Did you just call me an asshole?'"
Brown noted that the man came toward him aggressively, but that a nearby bike patrolman saw the encounter and ordered the man to move along.
But within two minutes, Brown was stopped by the sheriff's cruiser, arrested and taken to the detention center for processing.
"I was in a holding cell and I could hear the guy who arrested me and a couple of other officers joking loud enough for me to hear -- I actually think they wanted me to hear them -- about what eventually happens to all these Occupy Wall Street types."
Brown, who intends to contact the ACLU Monday, says that although he has taken part in numerous demonstrations against Westboro Baptist Church around the country, he has never been arrested.
"I use these same signs everywhere I go, at all the Westboro church protests going back to January," Brown explains, "and I've never once even been hassled about them.
"My group and I are pretty virulent when we go into these things, so I've stood on many corners hollering obscenities at the opposition and never once been bothered by the police or threatened with arrest. So I'm very familiar with First Amendment rights. Basically you can say anything as long as it's not threatening."
The head of local nonprofit Foundation Against Religious Extremism and operator of the Web site www.occupythewbc.com, Brown surmised, "I would say this is a case of wrongful arrest."
Those with long memories will remember another indecency controversy in the Woodlands some years back when a frontal-nude "David" statue was removed from the facade of a local strip mall after complaints by residents about the naked likeness.
As for his experience in jail, Brown, who described the arresting officer as "a fatter Wilford Brimley," noted that the whole process seemed like a make-work system.
"MoCo is a little intense. Why would anyone need to be detained over 18 hours for a Class C misdemeanor? It's like getting a ticket; you don't even have to post bail," Brown explained.
"But I will tell you, I've had an ordeal."
Brown noted that he had planned to join an upcoming Chick Fil-A protest in Montgomery County but says, "I've effectively been scared out of any protests in Montgomery County, at least until I can consult some attorneys."
Brown also regretted that the arrest caused him to miss hearing Palin's speech.
"The officer kept me from hearing Palin spew her stupid crap, and I hate that. I really wanted to see her because she's the superstar of idiots."
Brown noted that the sheriff's department retained the sandwich sign as evidence, but his camera, phone and megaphone were not held.
We have a call in to the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department and will update with any additional information as we get it.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.