At first, Kathryn Hill was thinking robbery. Several men had rushed suddenly into her DeSoto County office. Uh-oh, she remembered. But when it was clear the men—one in a safety yellow T-shirt reading “F%%% the Sheriff”—were protesting something and filming it, resentment replaced fear.
“I told them they can leave now,” said Hill, who heads the DeSoto County Tax Collector’s office. “They have that right … but we were closing.”
The event Monday was staged by activists with cameras who have been in statewide municipal and police offices. These loosely affiliated groups “audit” daily government business or confront cops and politicians, post their videos on YouTube or use them on podcasts, their message civil liberties rather than provoking or angering, according to those aligned with the events. Groups such as CharlotteCountyFl Copwatch, Rogue Nation, Government Accountability, Honor Your Oath, Blind Justice, News Now South Florida and others stage these Florida audits. It was DeSoto’s turn Monday.
But Hill didn’t see the spectacle as a solution, not with a woman at her office enduring heckling. Pictured in the video posted on YouTube under the heading “Arcadia dmv s%%% goes sideways,” the woman voiced that wording on the yellow T-shirt was offensive. The man responded unkindly about her apparel. At which point law enforcement was summoned.
“To their credit,” Hill said, “when asked to leave, they did.”
But then things turned ugly outside, according to activists on Monday in DeSoto County. Officers warned of trespassing tickets and other consequences, each violations of First Amendment rights to assemble, take pictures and speak freely, according to Andrew Sheets with CharlotteCountyFl Copwatch, which is the point of such events, he said.
“So many people have forgotten about their civil rights,” Sheets said, “the rights we have. They tell us not to record them, and then they’re (video) recording us.”
An Ocala podcaster named Rogue Nation was here Monday. Monitoring government is “the duty of citizenship, because video can’t lie,” the idea of accountability driving the campaign, he said. “Feelings don’t trump our rights.”
DeSoto Administrator Mandy Hines, however, wasn’t sure that social activism sticks with someone in line to pay a tax bill.
“It was a sad disruption,” she said, “and incited fear … which is not good in our times.”