When a right-wing blogger from St. Paul and the president of a progressive think tank from Texas dueled in the street one summer night, the Minneapolis police ended up getting sued.
On June 16, 2011, two conferences – the conservative Right Online and the progressive NetRootsNation – were held simultaneously on Nicollet Mall.
John Hugh Gilmore, the brain behind Minnesota Conservatives, walked out of the first and headed down the street toward the News Room restaurant, where he’d planned to meet friends for dinner.
En route, he naturally singled out two hijab-wearing Muslim women for a discussion about feminism. He asked their opinion of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born Muslim feminist who wants to reform Islam. The women answered that they were not fans, but suggested they could just “agree to disagree.”
“This is America. Welcome to America. This is the Western world,” Gilmore allegedly shouted in response. Passersby later confirmed that he also bombarded the women with racial slurs and began snapping their picture.
The commotion caught the attention of Matthew Glazer, founder and president of Progress Texas, as he came out of NetRootsNation. Glazer stepped in and told Gilmore to “walk away.”
When Gilmore refused, Glazer asked him if he knew the difference between assault (which can be any action that induces fear) and battery. According to Glazer, Gilmore threatened, “I haven’t hit anyone … yet. Just wait.”
Glazer flagged down a pair of Minneapolis officers, Deitan Dubuc and Joshua Stewart, who caught up with Gilmore in the News Room.
They asked to speak with Gilmore outside. He refused. The officers used a wrist lock to force him out.
According to the officers, Gilmore refused to talk. So they cuffed him, stuffed him in the back of their squad, and booked him in jail. He was charged of misdemeanor disorderly conduct and obstruction of legal process, but both charges were eventually dropped.
Gilmore later alleged that he was never given the chance to tell his side of the story. The blogger said that he had only approached several Muslim women to ask them their opinion when a “flash mob” of screaming liberals suddenly mobbed him. He said he tried to videotape the scary liberals, but was chased down Nicollet Mall.
Gilmore sued the Minneapolis police for violating his First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights by arresting him without probable cause. A district court disagreed. Since multiple witnesses told police that he was taunting people in the street and getting angry at folks who stepped in, that was enough reason for cops to make an arrest.
Undeterred, Gilmore tried his luck at the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
This week, the appeals court upheld the district court’s ruling, though one judge out of a panel of three wrote a dissenting opinion in support of Gilmore’s First Amendment right to insult and take photos of strangers in public.
If Gilmore wants to press on for vindication, he’ll have to take his case up with the U.S. Supreme Court.