The t'ai chi instructor and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to T'ai Chi & QiGong was arrested on September 16 while trying to cross Washington Street on his way to protest Mrs. Bush's visit to St. Luke's Hospital. At the time, he says, he was trying to comply with a KCMO police officer's instructions on where he could go to hold his homemade sign, which read "What Is Bush Hiding About 9-11? Stop the 9-11 Coverup!"
Since then, Douglas' account of his harrowing stint in the city jail has become a staple of anti-Bush Web sites and earned him a mention in the lefty magazine The Nation and a nod from Kansas City Star sermonizer Lewis DoGooder.
On the Internet, Douglas is being touted as a prime example of what's wrong with America since the passage of the Patriot Act. This is fueled largely by Douglas himself, whose strident essay about his incarceration refers twice to the draconian police-powers legislation that allows the FBI to pull school records or library check-out information in pursuit of terrorists.
The Patriot Act blows.
But does Bill Douglas' case have anything to do with it?
The 46-year-old protester admits in his own writings that his arrest resulted from a simple misunderstanding.
Douglas says he had no plans to cause a ruckus that day; he merely wanted to hold his sign in whatever area had been set up for protesters. And as soon as he spotted Officer Anthony Hernandez, he asked the cop for directions. Hernandez pointed to where the protest was going on as well as to a police line he told Douglas not to cross.
But after Douglas stepped off the curb to walk away, Hernandez said to him, "What about what I just told you -- didn't you understand, pal?"
Hernandez, plainly, was surprised to see Douglas heading right for the area he'd just told him to avoid. Douglas writes: "The arresting police officer 'assumed' that I intended to cross a police line ... that he'd told me could not be crossed."
Douglas may have intended to do something else, but thankfully, our police forces don't (yet) have the ability to read our minds.
Not exactly the stuff of Guantanamo Bay.
But even more terrifying moments awaited Douglas. While he was sitting in a holding tank, an unidentified officer asked that he be brought out for questioning. The young, dark-haired interrogator asked Douglas what he did for a living. Douglas said he was a writer.
Douglas says the man then asked, "When I look into your writings, will I find anything subversive?"
Douglas knew he had nothing to hide. T'ai chi may be a bit goofy, but no one's using it to advocate an overthrow of the government.
Sources at the police department tell the Pitch that it's unlikely one of their detectives would have taken the time to question a simple protester faced with minor charges. They suggest that the agent who questioned Douglas could have been with the Secret Service. A spokesman at the Kansas City office of the Secret Service says the agency refuses to comment on matters like this.
Are Secret Service officers known for going a little Agent Smith on people who cause disturbances at events involving the president or the first lady? Oh yes, they are. Just ask the young mother who crashed her car last month near a Bush appearance in Mississippi and found herself facing the gun barrels of a half-dozen men in uniform.
In other words, it doesn't seem unusually suspicious for a Secret Service officer, trained to search for the next John Hinckley, to prod Douglas with obnoxious questions.
Douglas goes on to describe his interminable stay in lockdown. "I sat pondering the dozens of people who have been sitting in American jails for many months now, some with no family contact, and some with no legal representation. Those thoughts give you pause, when you are handcuffed, then unhandcuffed, then handcuffed again ... Once in 'the system' you immediately realize that you are completely isolated, and completely powerless."
Yeow! Two hours in custody and the guy's Nelson Mandela already.
Douglas has asked for a continuance, putting off his next court appearance until February so he can have a chance to depose Hernandez -- an almost unheard of practice in such a minor case. Legal experts say he'll pay up to $3,000 to question the cop. The local ACLU declined to intervene -- it doesn't bother with such trivial matters. But the rights organization, Douglas says, has expressed some interest as part of its national effort against recent anti-protester excesses.
This side of beef fully supports the ACLU's attempt to fight "free speech zones" and other dumbass Bush-era tactics to keep protesters away from the president. But is Bill Douglas its poster boy?
Hardly. Douglas' Internet whining about how shocked he was to find that being arrested meant being handcuffed, booked and held in a cage -- who knew? -- makes this flank steak wonder: When did war protesters turn into a bunch of spineless complainers?
No wonder John Ashcroft is winning the war on common sense. Aren't there any fiery protesters left? The kind who aren't afraid to lock arms in a righteous cause and face the prospect of a night in jail with grim determination and a song on their lips?
The Strip figures those days must be long gone.
But no, this slab of protein suddenly remembers that you can still find those kind of dedicated warriors.
Unfortunately, they're in front of abortion clinics.