Capitol Police detained GotNews editor-in-chief Charles C. Johnson at a fundraiser for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in Bakersfield, Calif. over the weekend. Johnson said two policemen interrogated him in the hot sun for an hour and a half outside a country club. He said police questioned him about his political views and if he wished to harm the Speaker. He said police had oddly personal questions for his wife.
“I think a charitable explanation is that it was a mixup,” Johnson told The Mirror in a phone conversation Monday. “They threw me out. I was detained, they asked me all these questions, they asked me about my private life, my political views, when I was married, if my wife is a U.S. citizen. They asked my wife a bunch of questions.”
Johnson explained that when you’re being interrogated by police, you don’t volunteer any more information than is necessary.
“They were pretty pleasant,” he told The Mirror. “They threatened to jail me if I lied to them.”
Johnson said “someone” had paid for his ticket to a Fresno fundraiser, but he showed up to the one in Bakersfield by mistake. “I didn’t go with my reporter hat,” he said in our phone call. “I just went to see what they were talking about.”
When pressed about what uncomfortably personal questions police had for his wife, he replied, “marriage stuff.”
Asked how the authorities spotted the ginger-coiffed journo, he replied flatly, “Pretty recognizable.”
In a more private email sent to a select group, Johnson offered a play-by-play of what happened to him.
The following details come from Johnson’s recollection of events at the Stockdale Country Club on the evening of March 14, 2015.
He got in easily, enjoyed pickles
“I arrived at the event fifteen minutes late. I didn’t see my name on the list so I asked the people at the front and they made me a name tag. I wore the name tag and got an old fashioned, a water, and a steak sandwich. I also had some small pickles which were delicious.”
“I sat down next to Les Clark, an oil executive and Frank Lang, a doctor based in Bakersfield. We were later joined by Philip and Miriam Bourdette, who are personal injury attorneys in Visalia. I told them about my work doing research. I asked Mr. Clark about his work in Taft and who are the worst environmentalists in the country. He replied that a group based out of Arizona.”
The beginning of the end
“Three different people showed up — one who said he was the field representative for Congressman [David] Valadao and two females, one blonde and one brunette,” Johnson explained. “They talked to me while I was talking to them. I showed them the invitation and told them how I came to have a ticket.”
Johnson informed the blonde that he’d be happy to leave if there was some confusion. At which point he says a plain-clothed security guard escorted him outside where he was met by two uniform Bakersfield police officers and two Capitol Hill police officers.
He explained, “One of the Capitol Hill officers said that one of the staffers said I was belligerent and I said that they should check that because it’s a lie. They turned back and interviewed [the staffer] and the staffer recanted.”
Johnson admitted he didn’t know for sure if that is what happened with the aide, but that was his impression. “I don’t know if this actually happened–only that the Capitol Hill police asked about it,” he wrote.
Johnson’s demeanor during interrogation
“I was respectful and kept my cool the entire time. I repeatedly told them that I think there’s been some confusion. They insisted that I stay and answer their questions and I agreed to answer them.”
What police asked and how he responded
“I explained to the Capitol Hill police officers that I am a researcher and that I own two businesses. I gave them both copies of my business cards. I said that I’m a registered Republican but that I have been all three political parties. They asked me my views on the Speaker and I said that I wish him well but that if I were a member of Congress I would vote against him being speaker. I said that I admire law enforcement and that I’ve helped them on several cases in the past. I said that I would never accept money from them for solving a problem for them.”
Police asked if he had guns or a recording device on him. He said no. “They still frisked me because their database showed that I owned a firearm,” he said.
Police asked if he’d ever approached a member of Congress. “I said no, thinking that they meant like, walked up to and talked to them on the street,” he said. “I have gone to members of Congress’s homes before, both invited and uninvited.”
Johnson explained, “The ‘uninvited’ question brought us to the Sen. Cochran affair. I said there was some real questions as to whether or not he lived in that house in D.C. and that I had gone there.”
Mississippi burning, Johnson chased away by goons
They then asked him about Mississippi. “I said that I had investigated a voter fraud incident in Mississippi involving Senator Thad Cochran and the Barbours buying black votes to defeat Tea party challenger Chris McDaniel,” he said. “I said that I had been present in Mississippi and had witnessed some of the corruption and been chased out of the state by two goons.”
Johnson said police told him that going to a senator’s home is illegal. “I said that it was not and that I had filmed the entire episode on camera with a friend and that we spent a total of ten minutes at the home,” he said. “They said it was in a legal gray zone. I said that it was not, especially as I was reporting on the incident. They said it was illegal if I was harassing them. I said, well, there’s no evidence that I harassed anyone and he [the officer] said that it was inappropriate to visit the home.”
Alluding to Cochran’s marital situation, Johnson told police that “it was inappropriate to live with a mistress and staffer and that I had no intentions of going to members of Congress’s homes. We agreed to disagree.”
They asked Johnson for his personal views on various members of Congress. They asked about his family. They asked him to name everywhere he’s ever lived or traveled to — he named 35 states. They wondered about his views on the hacker group “Anonymous.” They wanted to know if he’d ever hacked anyone. They asked about his wife, where she was born and about his autism and if he’s any mental health issues. (He said he has none.)
Johnson said he asked the officer to remove his sunglasses so he could see his eyes and answer his questions “because it’s hard to see him in the glare of his sunglasses.” (The officer complied.)
Police ultimately instructed Johnson not to write about what happened Saturday night.
Even on Twitter, he was mostly subdued about it, saying how polite they were with him.
“I had no desire to cause any trouble,” Johnson told The Mirror. “Looking back on it, it just seems kind of ridiculous. I just wanted to attend the event. Fuck it, just seemed interesting. If Obama had been coming, I would’ve gone to that, if I could get in. A lot of times people think I have this overarching, right-wing bent to things. But really, if a story comes within two or three hours of me, I’m going to go. What else am I going to do on a Saturday night, watch Netflix?”
Johnson doesn’t think he’ll go to any more Republican fundraisers anytime soon.
“I thought I was going to eat crappy food and talk to old people,” he said.