- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2019

For most of the protesters arrested during Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, the moment has come and gone, as forgotten as the accusations against the nominee by Christine Blasey Ford and others.

Yet the fleeting moment represented one of the largest incidents of civil disobedience in American history, energizing the anti-Trump resistance even as senators complained that it cheapened a serious moment in American political debate.

“You ask yourself, ‘Is it worth it to get arrested?’ ” said Caroline Debnam, who was collared after protesting in the offices of Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican. “Sometimes it’s worth it, and this time it was.”

She was one of more than 1,000 people arrested during what became weeks of intensifying protests, culminating in several drama-filled days of committee meetings and a momentous three days of action on the Senate floor.

For Ms. Debnam, 25, her protest cost about $50, a fine issued after her wrists were zip-wired and she was processed outside.

Others said the protesting that led to their arrests were more of a spur-of-the-moment decision.

“I spoke as a mother because my daughter deserves to have her right to choose,” said Ariel Gold, a 43-year-old mother of two who attended Justice Kavanaugh’s initial hearings in September dressed as the Statue of Liberty and who estimated she was among the first dozen protesters arrested.

“They hauled me up and pulled me out of the chair,” she said. “They lifted my entire body up, actually, and I continued to speak.”

Processing took some time for Ms. Gold because authorities made so many arrests that day. After some six hours, she was hit with a $35 fine.

Ms. Gold is a national co-director of Code Pink, one of several left-wing groups that organized the protests and that, according to the impression of many involved, seemed to have some sort of understanding with the Capitol Police beforehand on how arrests would be handled and what fines to impose.

Whether such a deal was ever finalized remained unclear. Capitol Police were unable or unwilling to answer questions about it.

The force’s public affairs section did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails from The Washington Times seeking details.

There were no reports of police brutality, however, and the drama never escalated into the kind of violence that characterized such left-wing protests as the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

“We were just sitting there, or talking to aides, while some others were chanting in the hallway,” Ms. Debnam said. “I got two warnings to leave, and I made a conscious effort to get arrested.”

Regardless of any set conditions, some protesters said they were handled roughly.

“The Capitol Police are a wonderful organization, but they’d obviously been told to quell this protest,” said Tighe Barry, who was arrested in September on the third day of Justice Kavanaugh’s committee appearance.

Mr. Barry, whose partner, Medea Benjamin, is a co-founder of Code Pink, is a professional left-wing activist who is familiar to cops around the Capitol and Supreme Court. He said this arrest was particularly vigorous.

“I’m an experienced protester, but when you get arrested, it can be frightening in a lot of ways,” he said. “They threw me to the ground and pushed their knees in my back. They were very physical.”

Mr. Barry, who was hit with more charges than the simple “crowding, obstructing or incommoding,” was also denied the more routine process that Ms. Debnam and Ms. Gold experienced.

Looking at more serious misdemeanors such as disturbing the peace, it was jail time for Mr. Barry.

“Normally, you would just pay $35 or $50 and leave, but this time they put me in some special vehicle, took me to the central cell block and held me overnight. I got arraigned the next day in D.C. Superior Court.”

Some of the cases like Mr. Barry’s that made it to D.C. Superior Court are still being adjudicated, but the status of those was unclear.

Capitol Police would not provide a list of those arrested, either throughout the confirmation hearings or for the 14 people who were hauled out of the Senate chamber for protesting the final Oct. 6 confirmation vote.

With Vice President Mike Pence in the Senate president’s chair to oversee the historic vote, one protester repeatedly shouted, “I do not consent!” Another young man, as he stood up to leave the chamber, shouted “Texas will remember” at Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican. A mortified older woman who was with him, presumably his mother, grabbed his shirt and pulled him out of the seats.

Officers, who usually just muscle protesters out of the chamber, were going through a more robust process this time, including warning protesters and asking them to sit down. Several officers later said that allowed them to pursue slightly elevated charges.

The theaters and arrest count escalated from September into October as Justice Kavanaugh was smeared with a litany of ever more lurid and improbable accusations of his behavior as a teenager in the D.C. area.

His apparently smooth elevation to the Supreme Court became a drama that transfixed much of the country, summoning memories of Justice Clarence Thomas and what he called the “high-tech lynching” of his 1991 confirmation process. With much of the mainstream press sympathetic to the protests and giving airtime and print to every accusation, the protesters were often portrayed as glamorous revolutionaries.

Justice Kavanaugh called it the “most unethical sham.”

Arrest reports were dotted with the occasional celebrity, such as actress Amy Schumer and model Emily Ratajkowski, while others found some minutes of fame.

Brooklyn artist Dina Selden found herself profiled heroically in Vogue magazine after she was arrested. But that minute of fame has turned ugly, she said, declining to talk to The Times after facing vile anti-Semitic attacks in the wake of the Vogue piece.

None of those arrested told The Times they had any regrets.

“It wasn’t my intent to get arrested, actually,” Mr. Barry said. “But when I listened to the judge, the absurdity of it all hit me, and I thought, ‘I should stand up and oppose this.’ “

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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