Sam Spadino drove to Rochester last Thursday and waited around for two hours to see President Donald Trump speak, just like everybody else in the Mayo Civic Center.
He held a “Keep America Great” sign and a hat with a hunter orange bill.
Did he have mischief on his mind? Absolutely -- albeit nothing rowdier than a little free speech. The last time Trump showed his face in Minnesota, Spadino got himself kicked out of the president's Duluth rally and earned a nickname: “man-bunned protester." (Trump wondered aloud from the stage whether Spadino was male or female.) What the nickname lacks in cleverness, it makes up in accuracy.
But Spadino hadn’t even done any man-bunned protesting in Rochester when a stranger in a suit put his hand on his hands on him and told him, “let’s go.”
“I didn’t know why they were trying to kick me out,” he says. He couldn’t imagine what the people standing around him must have been thinking -- he says everything happened pretty fast after the man in the suit started to lead him toward the exit.
That was when he started yelling the word “Dad!”
Over and over again.
“It was just sort of a last-minute way to draw some attention to myself,” he says. He didn’t expect to be arrested for it.
Which is what happened.
He says police officers twisted his arm, then slammed him up against a door once he was out of public view and kicked him in the thigh repeatedly, telling him to “stop resisting” as they cuffed him. (Spadino says he wasn't resisting).
He asked why he was being arrested, and at the time, they said “trespassing.” What ended up in the police report, in the address from the state prosecutor to the judge, and all over the news was that he’d been arrested for yelling the word “Dad!” at the president of the United States.
“It’s honestly hard to imagine a scenario where you would EVER arrest someone for: Repeatedly. Yelling. Dad," Spadino wrote in a letter to City Pages prior to our interview.
Spadino was hauled off to jail, charged with four misdemeanors (obstructing the legal process, trespassing, and two counts of disorderly conduct) and, to his surprise and dismay, booked for an overnight stay. He was strip searched.
"They had to take pictures of my Bernie Sanders bird tattoo on my thigh," he wrote in his letter to City Pages, "and another unrelated but equally bizarre tattoo on my crotch. That wasn’t fun for anyone.”
Around 5 a.m.,the next day, Spadino says, a Secret Service agent stopped by to speak with him, saying someone had “told them a story,” as Spadino puts it. That he was “some sort of threat.” (The Secret Service declined interview requests, and said they could not “confirm or deny” whether Spadino’s the incident was still under investigation.)
Spadino is an activist and a comedian. He’s quick to draw a crowd’s eye or make light of a bad situation. He admits this one-on-one scared him. He didn’t even know what he’d done to get kicked out, let alone arrested and questioned by a federal agent. He told the agent he wouldn’t answer any questions. To talk to his lawyer.
Spadino suspects it was the Secret Service who wanted him held overnight, so they could dig through his (prolific) social media accounts "for clues to help ... solve the 'great dad mystery.'"
According to the Winona Daily News, nine other people besides Spadino were kicked out of the Civic Center, but he was the only one criminally charged.
Things have calmed down a little since his release. He has a hefty load of legal bills to look forward to as he fights his misdemeanor charges, which his friends have offered to help with.
Then Spadino's lawyer told him the Secret Service was back in touch, and calling him in for another meeeting. What was it this time?
“They claimed a person had told them that I was talking to myself in the crowd,” Spadino says.
This accuser Spadino seemed unstable, or a little dangerous, according to Spadino. Spadino had headphones in at the rally, and he says he wasn’t really talking to anyone. He was planning to protest like he had in Duluth -- nothing more.
“The Secret Service said they don’t care about protesting, and that it wasn’t them who ejected me from the rally,” Spadino says. So what happened, he wonders? Had somebody in the crowd recognized him and invented a line to make him sound threatening?
Will that person have to face any consequences? Unlikely.
In his letter to City Pages, Spadino expressed sympathy for the Secret Service. "I know you're confused, but honestly so am I, because last time I checked you swore an oath to 'support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.'"
Trump, with his ties to Russian oligarchs and his evident disregard for American law on taxes, business regulations, and sexual assault, hardly fits the bill.
Spadino isn’t done poking the bear. As far as he’s concerned, all this is good fodder for a documentary. Maybe he’ll even run for president, he said. As a joke. “Like [Trump] did.”