This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Democratic National Convention, an event that made Denver the center of the media universe for several unforgettable days. To mark the occasion, we'll be offering selected flashbacks of Westword coverage. Today's item: The story of an artist whose flyers about potential police violence at the DNC sent a protest group into panic mode.
In "Artist's Prank Punks Re-create 68, Other Activists," a More Messages blog published on July 10, an anonymous artist admitted to having created flyers e-mailed to Democratic National Convention groups such as Re-create 68 that threatened retribution against protesters. He shared information about this elaborate stunt with Westword mere hours before Re-create 68 frontman Glenn Spagnuolo was scheduled to accuse rogue police officers of being behind the mailing at a press conference staged outside the office of Denver's Independent Monitor.
Today, the artist in question is anonymous no more.
He is Pete Bergman, who's been featured in Westword twice in recent years; check out this 2004 article about what he referred to as "a drive-by art show" and a May 2008 blog about a stunt involving Qwest phone books. Moreover, he posted a long letter to the July blog; it's also reproduced below. In the missive, which is addressed to Spagnuolo, he explains his reasoning and takes responsibility for his actions.
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Bergman says that following the furor over the original e-mails, he engaged in a great deal of self-reflection and realized that he'd gone about sharing his views in the wrong way -- and he decided to put things right to the best of his ability. So upon sending the note below to representatives of news agencies that covered the story, he and a cohort dubbed "The Barnacle Protester" donned garb that identified them with the flyer, which is dominated by the phrase, "WE BEAT YOU THEN! WE'LL BEAT YOU AGAIN!" Then, on August 24, the day before the start of the Democratic National Convention, they waded into the zone occupied by assorted demonstrators and tried to give elaborate apology letters encased in a decorative tube to several of those to whom the original e-mail was addressed.
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Not everyone was in a forgiving mood. Bergman says Jill Dreier of Re-create 68 walked past him and said, in a mock-cheerful voice, "Hi, assholes," before moving on -- and a member of the Re-create 68 security staff prevented him from taking a photo with controversial CU professor Ward Churchill, who he admires, even though he believes Churchill was willing to cooperate. In addition, he notes that Clayton Dewey of Unconventional Denver declined to take his I'm-sorry tube with the comment, "I don't care about that." However, Evan Herzoff of CopWatch, who participated in the press conference with Spagnuolo, eventually accepted his apology letter, albeit reluctantly.
Other than pasting in photos at appropriate places, the following letter is reproduced as it was received, without corrections or editing. -- Michael Roberts
Open letter to Mr. Glenn Spagnuolo and cc: to the DNC protest community from the We Beat You Then We'll Beat You Again artist.
This letter contains:
Forward: A revelation of the name and phone number of the "anonymous artist" responsible for the WE BEAT YOU THEN WELL BEAT YOU AGAIN flyer and email.
Item [#1]: A detailed accounting of mis-information Glenn Spagnuolo has fed to the news media resulting in stories on KWGN Channel 2, Fox 31, and Peter Boyles.
Item #2: A respectful request for Glenn Spanuolo to make retractions of false statements made on the Peter Boyles show.
Item #3: The official statement of the individual identified by the Westword in its current Protestation Nation feature as, "The Barnacle Protester."
Item #4: A sincere and heartfelt apology to all recipients of the perceived threatening flyer and email by the now un-anonymous artist.
Dear Mr Spagnuolo,
My name is Pete Bergman.
This letter is in regard to a flyer I sent you and several other members of the Denver protest community, (Recreate 68, Denver Cop Watch, Unconventional Denver, The De-railer Bike Collective, and Tent State in addition to smaller groups locally and in the Pacific North West) in two identical emails sent on 6/4 (7:19pm and 7:21pm) that read "WE BEAT YOU THEN, WELL BEAT YOU AGAIN" from this email account, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to your misrepresentation of my communication at the press conference you participated in on 7/10 at 11am in front of the Wellington Webb building, and your statement regarding the admittedly threatening nature of my flyer and email, I felt it was time to clear the air, ask for you to retract you false statements, and apologize for my poor judgement in an effort to diffuse any potential confrontations between fellow activists during DNC week.
Please see Michael Roberts article titled Art Attack...
Again my name is Pete Bergman. I am a resident of Lakewood Colorado. My phone number is 312.731.6301. I relocated here from Chicago Illinois in August of last year - thus the 312 area code on my cell phone. Glenn, you are free to call me. I will civilly talk to you on the phone, in a public place, or in the media forum of your choosing. I will not be divulging my home address or place of work to you due to threatening remarks you have made to the gentleman identifying himself to the media as "John Q. Public" and identified in the current Westword Issue (Aug 21st - 27th) Protestation feature as "The Barnacle Protester" (see exhibit a).Exhibit A.
The gentleman who has been disrupting Recreate 68's working meetings with an air-horn, a sign that reads "BEWARE SHEEPLE, SPAGZ LIES", while handing out my flyers (both the WE BEAT YOU THEN flyer and a reprint of the Hakim Bey Ontological Anarchist communique "The Haymarket Issue"), and wearing a t-shirt with the WE BEAT YOU THEN flyer on it.
Examples of violent threats you have made to the Barnacle Protester:
7/10 in front of the Wellington Webb Building, "I think your full of (explicative)."
7/24 in front of the Gypsy House Cafe "I'll take that t-shirt and shove it up your (explicative)."
7/24 in front of the Gypsy House Cafe "The Group (R-68) doesn't advocate violence but I do."
As proof that I am not The Barnacle Protester I have attached a surveillance photograph (exhibit b) taken by myself of you passing by The Barnacle Protester on 7/17 as you enter the Gypsy House Cafe.Exhibit B.
The Barnacle Protester and I began to collaborate on this "art project" (see item #5 for a justification of this as "art") following the Webb Building Press conference. Interestingly, we were the only members of the public (non-Recreate 68 aligned, non-media) present at the press conference. Afterwards The Barnacle Protester contracted me in my capacity as a communication media professional to document his activities, make him some custom signs, make t-shirts, and handle his public relations. I took him up on the offer as a way to further documenting my own art. The Barnacle Protester is not taking this opportunity to reveal his name but he has included a statement in this release - see item #3 below.
2. On your spreading of mis-information to the media:
Though I told Michael Roberts for his article titled Art Attack that I "enjoy fiddling around in the communications and media fields." I would like to point out that I sent the flyer and email to you. I did not send any communique to the media until it became necessary to diffuse the spectacle drenched hype that was going to be created by you at the 7/10 Webb Building press conference that Denver Copwatch called regarding the WE BEAT YOU THEN flyer.
Subsequently, you used my communique as a pretext to make false statements pushing your agenda on KWGN Channel 2, Fox 31, and Peter Boyles even when you knew the flyer was not from a police officer, but in fact was a hoax by a quack artist (me).
I am willing to take responsibility for my actions. I am not, however, willing to take responsibility for actions attributed to me by you that never happened. I respectfully request you support my formal request for retractions on the mis-information you fed to media at the 7/10 Webb Building press conference and to Peter Boyles on 7/21.
7/10 False statements made at the Webb Building press conference. Stories ran on KWGN Channel 2, and Fox 31:
You stated that "I've gotten three emails" that one "said denver cops", "we're coming after you", and that "It said I'm their #1 target". Michael Roberts was granted access to all emails sent and received from email@example.com prior to writing the Art Attack article and can verify that your statements are not factually accurate. One email was sent out to twelve addresses all cc:d above from firstname.lastname@example.org to the end of the CC thread. If you received more than one it is only because you received duplicates to more than one account. Adam Jung received two more emails as responses to his replies. Evan Herzoff received one further email in response to his reply. You did not reply and thus received no further emails.
The single email you received does not say the author is a cop, member of the police, or law enforcement. It alludes to the Denver Police Brass being "sissies" but does not say the author is Denver Police. It doesn't say we're coming after you. It certainly does not say your my number one target. If your wondering why The Barnacle Protester is harassing you he, when told of your false statements after the Webb building press conference, told me, "That guy just nominated himself as my number one target." Essentially, Glenn, you have manifested this problem for yourself by telling lies.
7/21 False statements made on Peter Boyles:
You said, "About a week (after receiving the email on 6/4) everywhere meetings were held this person would distribute flyers and put them up all over the building prior to people getting there." I personally dropped a stack of flyers off at the Gypsey House cafe on 6/4 - one time. I had no contact with any members of Recreate 68. No flyers were ever put up on the building. Six flyers were put up on 16th street between Marion and Grant. The Barnacle Protester did not begin picketing your meetings until 7/17, one week after the Webb Building press conference and a full month-and-a-half after you received the original email.
You said, "We received another one (email) a couple of weeks after (the original email) in my email box. In my personal email account thats not made public."
Your personal email, assuming your referring to email@example.com, comes up on Google no less that twenty times. As stated above you received one email, possibly duplicates to more than one account (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com) on 6/4 only. There were no follow up emails sent to you.
You said, "The flyers started showing everywhere we were hosting meetings... they would be plastered all over the outside of the building."
Again, six flyers were put up on 13th street on 6/4 - one time. I dropped off flyers a second time at the Gypsy house cafe on 7/17 but did not put any flyers up.
You are feeding mis-information to the media to support a non-argument about non-existent rouge cops. In doing so your implicating me in criminal activity - that I scrupulously avoided (with the exception of posting six flyers) - exposing me to investigation by law enforcement, demanding it actually, possibly leading to my arrest simply because I have activist tactics that you have deemed "in poor judgement." Ironically, all interaction with Denver Police resulting from this communique has been conducted with the utmost levels of professionalism.
Denver is a small town. In order to protect my reputation and clear my name, I think you owe me an apology and request that Peter Boyles grant you an opportunity retract those statements.
3. Official Statement of "The Barnacle Protester"
It is my observation that you are so entrenched in the specifics of your campaign that you have lost sight of the underlying principles that entitle you to do as you do. My interaction with you over the past few weeks was based on our first amendment rights; to assemble, speak our minds, and protest, both silently and vocally. Your interaction with me started with vulgarity and lies. It progressed with you making continuous, direct, personal threats of violence against my person, allowing members of your group, Recreate 68, to assault me, steal my belongings, put a gypsy hex on me, try to intimidate me with violence, and call the police on me. All this because I was exercising my rights to protest you and your group. How ironic that I was intent on disrupting your working meetings, as you were trying to plan your disruption of the Democratic Parties working meeting. Judging by how much time you and your group spent with me and how you felt compelled to leave your original meeting venue, The Gypsy House Cafe, I was successful with my protest. As an individual, I affected your group.
You and your group have permits and parade routes. I have props and handmade signs. You had to ask your keepers for permission to do as you are doing. I asked no one if I could exercise my constitutional rights. You fear the police and any intimidation from being able to exercise your constitutional rights, yet you call the police and use intimidation to prevent other individuals from exercising theirs. You lie to the media to spread your name and gain support. I speak directly to you to expose your hypocrisy.
4. Many Recreate 68 members are forthright. However, Jill of Recreate 68 is a hypocrite:
Your group, Recreate 68, is comprised of many members who are very conscientious and courteous. Last Thursday 7/21 one of your members pointedly told The Barnacle Protester that she may not agree with his agenda but she absolutely supported his right to be present and was happy that he was out exercising his first amendment rights. Several Recreate 68 members have held long civil debates about important issues with The Barnacle Protester outside your working meeting without resorting to threats, intimidation, hypocrisy, or lies. Unfortunately, one of your principal members, Jill (last name unknown), called Denver Police on 7/24 in an attempt to prevent The Barnacle Protester from exercising his first amendment rights (exhibit c).Exhibit C.
When challenged on her hypocrisy she declared, "I don't give a (explicative) about the first amendment." I would ask how you can justify this sentiment existing within your organization.
5. On the validity of the WE BEAT YOU THEN WELL BEAT YOU AGAIN communique as art:
Glenn, I enjoyed your clever line on Peter Boyles (7/21) that I am someone "pretending to be an artist pretending to be a police officer." Art is subjective Mr. Spagnuolo. I not only respect your right to an opinion on what constitutes art but feel that some of your amateur art criticism was on-point. In this world, however, we are measured by our credentials. I have a diploma from the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago that reads, "Master of Fine Art."
To draw a metaphor, this event is like a pin-ball game. The flyer is the little steel ball, the "anonymous artist" draws back the pin. You are a twenty point bumper meant to deflect the ball. I am the left paddle. The Barnacle Protester is the right paddle. The art is keeping the ball in play.
In the cannon of "interventionist art" and "transgressive art" there are many historical precedents for using black propaganda, misinformation, and false threats of violence. As a professional protester, I'm surprised that you don't know the history of art in your discipline. The Paris student uprising of May 1968 which spread to the Mexico City, Prague, Detroit, Los Angeles, and the Chicago Democratic Convention was largely instigated by artists in the The Situationist Internationale through the dissemination of misinformation and cheaply printed propaganda - namely the pamphlet, "On the Poverty of Student Life". Based on this historical precedent, Evan Herzoff of Denver Copwatch was absolutely correct when he stated at the Webb Building press conference that in a "climate of fear" my flyer and art of its ilk constitutes "borderline incitement" (of violence). After all, the 1968 uprising did devolve into violent riots on an international scale. Those events, whether we believe they were just or not, were the fruit of artistic labor and undeniably changed the world in a way that your backwards looking professional protest group could only dream of.
6. Contrition; my poor judgement and apologies to all:
I sincerely apologize to all those cc:d above who received my threatening email. Especially Adam Young and Evan Herzoff both of whom I continued to make threats against in responding to their replies to my original email. There is no excuse I can make justifying threats, factious or not. By and large, I share your political views, if not your tactics, and could have decided to use my time to make a contribution to the cause in a more constructive way. In re-collecting the emails from the original communique I was horrified to see that I sent the flyer to the Denver Zine Library, an organization who's members I have since met and come to greatly admire. I also very much admired Evan Herzoff's careful articulation of only facts, without any embellishment or hype, and defense of free speech, at the Webb Building press conference.
He, and Clayton Dewey of unconventional Denver, were effective in making me realize that indeed what I had done was unacceptable behavior.
Since an open letter isn't the best format for a sincere personal apology, I have formal apology letters for Glenn Spagnuolo of Recreate 68, Evan Herzoff of Denver Copwatch, Clayton Dewey of Unconventional Denver, Adam Jung of Tent State, and the Denver Zine Library. I will be seeking you all out on the streets of Denver during DNC week for hand delivery.
Glen, you were absolutely correct when you said on Peter Boyles that I exercised poor judgement when I sent out this flyer. It obviously constitutes a personal threat and now looking back on this event, and watching The Barnacle Protesters interactions with you, I have come to fully understand the nature of my incitement. I told Michael Roberts that this "played into my sense of humor". That points to a fundamental character flaw on my part. When I emailed the flyer I was thinking of you only as a faceless public figure - not as an individual. That is unacceptable and I appologise.
Unfortunately, Glenn I feel that your inability to control your bombastic temper and your articulate glossing of the truth is holding back your leadership potential. I've listened to your criticism and have taken it to heart. I hope you can reflect on my criticism, and that of The Barnacle Protester, so that we can all go forward as better people and as more constructive members of our community.