By Matthew Rothschild on March 23, 2012

Arthur Kohl-Riggs, a citizen journalist in Madison, Wisconsin, has been covering the capitol for the past 15 months with his video camera, often breaking big stories.

But for the last 10 days, he’s had a hard time doing his work because the capitol police had confiscated the tool of his trade.

Finally, this morning, they gave it back to him.

“It’s a relief,” he says.

On March 13, Kohl-Riggs was at the county courthouse covering the trial of some capitol protesters known as the Rotunda 13. He then went over to the state assembly.

He noticed that black plastic sheets had been placed on the windows of the doors into the gallery so no one could see in or out.

He suspects that’s because the Republicans who run the assembly were angry that he had filmed Republican State Assemblyman Joel Kleefisch voting for several other legislators on Feb. 22, which was an embarrassment to the Republicans who have complained so much about voter fraud.

Kohl-Riggs sat in the gallery “with my camera on the floor for an hour or two and had no problem,” he recalls. But then he says a new assembly page came on and told him he had to put the camera away or else leave.

“I said it was my most valuable possession, and she said, no you have to leave. I said it was my right to have a camera, and the rules were, ‘No filming allowed,’ not, ‘No cameras allowed.’ She repeated that I had to put it away or leave, so I put it under my sweater.”

A few minutes later, while Democratic legislators on the floor were objecting to the Republican war on women, a police officer approached him and asked him to leave.

“I said, ‘I appreciate you asking. But I feel it’s my right to be here.’ ”

The police officer evidently called for back up, and another police officer arrived and told Kohl-Riggs he had to leave and threatened to carry him out if he didn’t cooperate.

You can watch the scene unfold here.

Kohl-Riggs reluctantly got up and went out into the hall with the officer, who said, “You are being detained. We’re investigating you for disorderly conduct.”

After Kohl-Riggs objected that he was doing nothing wrong and that he should be allowed back into the assembly, one officer put Kohl-Riggs in handcuffs and took him downstairs to the capitol police’s station and gave him a disorderly conduct ticket.

The police also held his camera “as evidence.”

A few days ago, Kohl-Riggs returned to the capitol police station with a letter from his lawyer demanding to get his camera back. But they refused to do so.

This morning, Kohl-Riggs had his initial court appearance, where he pleaded not guilty. At that appearance, a capitol police officer told him he could go get his camera back, which he did.

“This was ten days without my camera and without access to the footage that was on the camera”—the footage from the jury trial of the Rotunda 13. The only other person filming the trial was from the rightwing MacIver Institute, and that footage got on Fox News, Kohl-Riggs says. So the reporting of the trial was biased, he argues, because he couldn’t show any other side to it.

“I didn’t have access to newsworthy material because it was being suppressed by the capitol police,” he says.

Kohl-Riggs stresses how important the camera is to him.

“My camera is my protection,” he says. “I don’t wear a suit. I don’t have a position in the capitol. So if it comes down to a legislator saying one thing and I’m saying the other, a camera helps level the playing field.”

His next court appearance is April 20.

“I expect the DA to drop the charges,” he says. But he adds: “I’d be happy to take it to a jury trial.”

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “Romney May Fall Into Trap of Picking Santorum for VP."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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