There have only been a handful of times since I started blogging six years ago that I've covered a story that made me really, deeply, viscerally angry. Tonight is one of those times. Tonight I attended the "TAKE BACK THE RIGHT: Candlelight Vigil & Speak Out for Women" at Virginia's Capitol Square near the Governor's Mansion. It was a small, well behaved and completely peaceful demonstration, as the following photos prove. In addition, I have video which I will be publishing later to show just how completely peaceful this demonstration was.
The crowd was passionate, but extremely well behaved.
The mood of the protesters was peaceful, but determined to make their point and convey their opposition to Bob McDonnell's radical anti-woman social agenda.
The ordinary, uniformed Capitol Police were well represented, at a minimum there was at least one armed, uniformed Capitol Police person at or near the site of the protest for every two protesters. This in itself was a wildly disproportionate response to the scale and character of the protest, which was quiet, even muted.
As this picture shows, the peaceful, unarmed protesters were separated from the Governor's Mansion by a five foot tall stone wall topped by an eight foot tall wrought iron fence topped by spear points. But the 50-100 uniformed Capitol Police and the thirteen foot tall barrier presented by the wall and the fence still weren't enough to make Bob McDonnell feel secure.
As I shot video of the protest and various speakers, I became aware of movement in the bushes above the crowd. I immediately switched my Nikon D5000 from video to still and swapped out my 18 x 55mm lens for my longer 50 x 200mm mid range lens. I began scanning the bushes behind Virginia's Governor's Mansion, trying to find the source of the movement that had caught my eye.
I often joke that my Nikon camera with its Vibration Reduction ("VR") lens can see in the dark, but tonight I found it difficult to get my camera to focus on the shadowy figures darting through the bushes above the peaceful protest.
Finally I switched from ambient light to my camera's built-in flash, pre-focused on a gap in the brush behind the Governor's Mansion, and waited. After about a minute of waiting I was able to snap this picture: a fully armed and armored SWAT team member concealed in the bushes, perhaps 30 feet from the peaceful protestors below.
For the next half hour I played hide and seek with the heavily armed members of Virginia's State Police SWAT team as they darted from bush to bush above the protest.
Some of the Capitol Police and SWAT team members caught on to the fact that I had stopped filming the protest and had my camera focused on their hiding places. Here a Capitol Policeman smiles as I snap a photo; I didn't even have to ask him to say "cheese." It's all a big joke for this guy--after all he's probably being paid overtime for doing nothing but trying to intimidate protesters for Bob McDonnell. All on the taxpayer's dime.
After I'd caught them a couple of times, the SWAT team members became a lot more camera shy.
They began darting from bush to bush much more quickly and I couldn't catch them. So I decided to shift my vantage point. Two can play this game, I said to myself as I darted across Governor's Street and ran half a block up the street to where the fence curved. Sticking my camera between the bars, I shot several frames.
This is what I caught, the members of the Virginia State Police SWAT team lurking near the rear of the Governor's Mansion along with an armored car.
Seeing my flash from an unexpected direction, the brave SWAT members turned and fled, trying to hide their presence.
I switched off my flash and caught this image using ambient light and VR.
Masked in the bushes was the State Police's armored car, their "RV."
Here's what I believe to be the same vehicle in an image taken from a police website.
What I saw tonight at the State Capitol was a massive over-reaction by Capitol Police and a really disturbing attempt by the McDonnell administration to use the State Police SWAT team to intimidate peaceful protesters through the display of overwhelming force. Were it not for the armored car, the body armor, and the automatic weapons, this use of massive armed police power against a small and peaceful group of protesters would seem kind of pathetic. It certainly shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the political situation Bob McDonnell finds himself in. This is not Iran, and "Taliban Bob" McDonnell can't muzzle the voices of free Americans. My camera was just one of dozens--McDonnell's latest over-reach, deploying a SWAT team against peaceful demonstrators is well-documented. Welcome to the world of YouTube and Blogger, Governor McDonnell.