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Profile: The Drop Zone
The Drop Zone was a participant or observer in the following events:
Several of Joe Miller’s private security guards stand over a handcuffed Tony Hopfinger, whom they detained during a political event. [Source: Anchorage Daily News]Tony Hopfinger, an editor of the Alaska Dispatch, is “arrested,” detained, and handcuffed by private security guards employed by US Senate candidate Joe Miller (R-AK) after he attempts to interview Miller. Miller appeared at a public event at Anchorage, Alaska’s Central Middle School, sponsored by his campaign. The guards handcuff Hopfinger, place him in a chair in a hallway, and stand over him, presumably to prevent his “escape” from custody. They release him when Anchorage police arrive on the scene and order him arrested. The security guards come from a private security firm known as The Drop Zone; owner William Fulton, one of the guards who detains Hopfinger, accuses Hopfinger of trespassing at the public event, and says he assaulted someone by shoving him. Anchorage police say they have not yet filed charges against anyone. [Alaska Dispatch, 10/17/2010; Anchorage Daily News, 10/18/2010; Salon, 10/18/2010] Miller, Fulton, and The Drop Zone are later shown to have ties to Alaska’s far-right paramilitary and militia groups, to employ active-duty soldiers, and to lack a business license to legally operate (see October 18, 2010).
Small Gathering Marked by Candidate Dodging Tough Questions - The 3 p.m. event is billed by the Miller campaign as a chance for voters to “hear Joe Miller speak for himself,” and is clearly a public event: in a Facebook campaign entry, the campaign urges supporters to bring their “friends, colleagues, family, acquaintances, neighbors.” The entry also tells voters, “Don’t let the media skew your views.” Miller spends some 45 minutes addressing the crowd of several hundred voters and, according to the Anchorage Daily News, “answering—or deflecting—questions.” While there are many Miller supporters in the crowd, some hostile questioners also make themselves heard. One questioner, referring to Miller’s admitted reliance on medical care subsidies and other federal benefits in contradiction to his campaign theme of such benefits being unconstitutional, calls Miller a “welfare queen—you had a lot of children that you couldn’t afford, and we had to pay for it.” Miller responds that he is not necessarily opposed to such benefits, only that they should come from the states and not the federal government. Another criticizes Miller’s announcement last week that he would no longer answer questions about his character or his personal history. The questioner says that while his opponents have previous records in elective office, he does not: “In this instance, you have no record, so it’s meaningful and it’s reasonable that we would want to examine your professional background and your military…” Miller cuts her off and calls her a known supporter of his opponent, write-in candidate Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who lost a narrow primary vote to him. Miller says he has a public record as a state and federal judge, but adds that he wants to discuss his position on federal spending and not federal subsidies he may have received. During the questioning period, he says he will stay to talk to individuals, but when the period concludes, he quickly leaves the room. [Anchorage Daily News, 10/18/2010] Miller does speak to a few participants in the school hallway after leaving the room. [Alaska Dispatch, 10/18/2010]
Detained after Asking Questions - Hopfinger, carrying a small video camera, approaches Miller after the event, and asks questions of the candidate concerning disciplinary actions taken against him while he was a lawyer for the Fairbanks North Star Borough. The topic is one Miller has cited as driving his refusal to answer further questions about his character and personal history; he was disciplined for using government computers for partisan political activity during his time as a part-time borough attorney. Three press outlets, including the Alaska Dispatch and the Anchorage Daily News, are suing the borough to get Miller’s personnel file. Miller walks away from Hopfinger without answering. Some of the people in the vicinity tell Hopfinger to “quit pestering” Miller. As they walk down the hallway, Miller suddenly changes direction, leaving Hopfinger quickly surrounded and pressed in by Miller supporters and a large contingent of private security guards, all of them wearing radio earphones. (Miller later claims that Hopfinger is actively blocking his exit from the hallway, a claim not backed up by evidence, and tells a Fox News reporter that Hopfinger “was hounding me… blocking the way.”) Hopfinger later says he feels threatened and pressured, so he shoves one of the guards aside. “These guys were bumping into me,” Hopfinger later says, “bumping me into Miller’s supporters.” He later identifies Fulton as the individual making most of the physical contact with him. The man Hopfinger shoves is not hurt, Fulton later says, though Hopfinger later says Fulton is the man he pushed away. No one else comes forward to say they were the person “assaulted,” Hopfinger later says. At this point, Miller’s private security guards seize Hopfinger, push him against a wall, cuff his hands behind his back with steel handcuffs, sit him in a chair in a hallway, and “confiscate” his video camera. Hopfinger later says he chooses not to resist, saying “these guys would have had me on the ground; it ramped up that fast.” He later says that when the guards tell him he is trespassing, he is given no time to leave, and is immediately seized and handcuffed. Everything happens in seconds, he will say. Hopfinger later says that when he receives his video camera back, the segment of video showing his questions to Miller, and the ensuing scuffle, have been deleted. Hopfinger refuses an offer from police to have the video camera taken into custody and analyzed by the crime lab. The guard who takes the camera later denies erasing anything, and says Hopfinger dropped it during the altercation. [Anchorage Daily News, 10/18/2010; Anchorage Daily News, 10/18/2010; Salon, 10/18/2010; Fox News, 10/18/2010; Alaska Dispatch, 10/19/2010] A Miller supporter who witnesses the incident later says Miller knocks her aside and “bowl[s] over” her eight-year-old son in his attempt to get away from Hopfinger (see October 17-18, 2010).
Other Reporters Threatened - Hopfinger later says Fulton then says he is calling the police, and Hopfinger responds that calling the police is a good idea. Hopfinger is then handcuffed. Fulton later says he does not know how long Hopfinger was detained for; Hopfinger later says it seemed like a long time to him. While Hopfinger is in handcuffs and surrounded by Miller’s guards, the guards attempt to prevent other reporters from talking to him, and threaten the reporters with similar “arrests” and handcuffing for trespassing. An Anchorage Daily News reporter succeeds in speaking with Hopfinger, and is not detained. Several small altercations between the guards and reporters ensue, consisting of chest bumps and shoving matches as the guards attempt to prevent reporters from filming the scene. Video footage shot by Anchorage Daily News reporter Rich Mauer shows three guards blocking Mauer and Dispatch reporter Jill Burke from approaching Hopfinger, and shows Burke repeatedly asking a guard to take his hands off her. When police officers arrive, they order Fulton to release Hopfinger from the handcuffs. According to Hopfinger, during the entire time he is detained, he is in the “custody” of people who identified themselves only as “Miller volunteers,” though most of them are wearing the radio earphones. [Alaska Dispatch, 10/17/2010; Anchorage Daily News, 10/18/2010; Alaska Dispatch, 10/18/2010; Anchorage Daily News, 10/18/2010] An Anchorage police officer removes the cuffs and refuses to accept Fulton’s “private person’s arrest” (Alaska’s equivalent of a “citizen’s arrest”) after interviewing people at the scene. [Alaska Dispatch, 10/18/2010; Anchorage Daily News, 10/18/2010]
Miller Campaign Accuses Hopfinger of Assault, 'Irrational' Behavior - After the incident, the Miller campaign quickly releases a statement accusing Hopfinger of assault and attempting to “create a publicity stunt” (see October 17-18, 2010). [Anchorage Daily News, 10/18/2010] Hopfinger later says he would have preferred a less confrontational method of questioning Miller. “I was not assaulting or touching Joe, I was asking him questions,” Hopfinger will say. “I would certainly prefer to sit down with Mr. Miller and ask him the questions, but he drew a line in the sand a week ago and said he wasn’t going to do that. That doesn’t mean we don’t go to functions or public appearances and try to ask our questions.” [Alaska Dispatch, 10/19/2010]
Further Investigation - The school’s security camera may have captured footage of the incident, police say. Hopfinger is considering whether to file assault charges against Fulton, “The Drop Zone,” and/or the Miller campaign. [Alaska Dispatch, 10/17/2010] However, Heidi Embley, a spokeswoman for the Anchorage School District, later says security cameras were partially installed at the school but were not equipped with recording devices, so no video of the scene is available from that source. She later says that Miller’s group paid $400 to use the school for three hours, a standard fee for any non-school group. She also says that any such gatherings are technically private events because the group is renting the facility for its meeting. [Alaska Dispatch, 10/18/2010] The campaign rented the cafeteria, stage, and parking lot, the school district later notes, and the hallway outside the event venue was not covered in the rental agreement. [Anchorage Daily News, 10/18/2010] Sergeant Mark Rein of the Anchorage Police Department says Hopfinger is not in custody or under arrest. [Crooks and Liars, 10/18/2010] Al Patterson, chief Anchorage municipal prosecutor, later decides to file no charges against anyone involved. [Alaska Dispatch, 10/19/2010]
False Claim of Security Requirement - Miller later tells national news reporters that he had been told by the school district to hire private security guards as part of his agreement to use the facility. He later tells a Fox News reporter, “I might also note that the middle school itself required us by a contract for a campaign, required us to have a security team.” And he tells a CNN reporter: “There was a—a private security team that was required. We had to hire them because the school required that as a term in their lease.” Embley will state that Miller’s claims are false, and there is no such requirement for private security guards in the rental agreement. The agreement does require some sort of security plan, Embley will say, no matter what the function. She will give the agreement to reporters, who learn that the plan basically involves monitors to watch over parking and ensure participants do not bring food or drink into the facility. Miller’s campaign will later claim, again falsely, that the security plan called for Miller’s “security team” to enforce a “no disruptive behavior” clause, and in its assessment, Hopfinger was being disruptive. [Alaska Dispatch, 10/18/2010; Anchorage Daily News, 10/18/2010]
Entity Tags: Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch, Anchorage Police Department, Fox News, Fairbanks North Star Borough, Joseph Wayne (“Joe”) Miller, Central Middle School (Anchorage, Alaska), Tony Hopfinger, Lisa Murkowski, William Fulton, Mark Rein, Heidi Embley, Richard Mauer, The Drop Zone
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism, 2010 Elections
The campaign of Joe Miller (R-AK), a candidate for US Senate in Alaska, releases a pair of statements following Miller’s security guards detaining and handcuffing a reporter for attempting to ask Miller questions after a public event in Anchorage (see October 17, 2010). The first statement is a single paragraph from William Fulton, the owner of “The Drop Zone,” a private security firm whose guards, employed by Miller’s campaign, handcuffed and restrained Alaska Dispatch reporter Tony Hopfinger. Fulton himself was one of the guards who handcuffed Hopfinger. In his statement, Fulton accuses Hopfinger of “assaulting” one of his guards, and claims that because the school district rented the space to the campaign, his guards had the right to declare anyone in trespass. He says Hopfinger was “stalking” Miller and posed a security threat. The statement from the Miller campaign, entitled “Liberal Blogger ‘Loses It’ at Town Hall Meeting,” accuses Hopfinger, the editor of the Alaska Dispatch newspaper, of being “an irrational blogger” attempting to “create a publicity stunt” by assaulting someone during the event. The statement says Miller’s guards were forced to take action to restrain the “irrational” Hopfinger. “It is also important to note that the security personnel did not know that the individual they detained was a blogger who reporting on the campaign [sic],” the statement continues. Miller campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto refuses to comment or make Miller, himself a witness, available for news interviews. [Alaska Dispatch, 10/17/2010; Anchorage Daily News, 10/18/2010]
Miller's Statement - The statement reads in full: “The Miller campaign was required by the facility to provide security at the event. Even though Joe had spent nearly an hour freely answering questions from those in attendance, the blogger chased Miller to the exit after the event concluded in an attempt to create and then record a ‘confrontation’ with the candidate. While Miller attempted to calmly exit the facility, the blogger physically assaulted another individual and made threatening gestures and movements towards the candidate. At that point the security personnel had to take action and intervened and detained the irrational blogger, whose anger overcame him. It is also important to note that the security personnel did not know that the individual they detained was a blogger who reporting on the campaign. To them, the blogger appeared irrational, angry, and potentially violent.” [Joe Miller, 10/17/2010; Crooks and Liars, 10/18/2010]
Security Guard Insists He Had Legal Authority to Handcuff Reporter - Interviewed by a reporter from the Alaska Dispatch, Fulton says he and his guards pushed Hopfinger into a wall and handcuffed him because he refused to leave a private event and was trespassing. The event, which was clearly public, was indeed private, Fulton says, and Hopfinger should have been aware of that because of the “Joe Miller for Senate” signs outside the venue, an Anchorage middle school. “They leased it for a private event,” Fulton says. “It wasn’t a public place.” That, he says, gave him the legal authority to tell Hopfinger to leave, then grab him and handcuff him when he didn’t do as told. Hopfinger says he was given no warning and no opportunity to leave. He says he had no idea who Fulton was. The security guard was in a black suit, not a uniform, Hopfinger says, and refused to identify himself. “He throws me up against the wall,” Hopfinger states. “He handcuffs me,” and even then, Hopfinger says, Fulton refused to identify himself. Hopfinger says he was attempting to get Miller to answer questions about disciplinary hearings he faced while a lawyer with the Fairbanks North Star Borough, questions Miller has repeatedly refused to address. Fulton states that he and his fellow guards restrained Hopfinger because the reporter was “getting really pushy with Joe. Joe was trying to get away from him.” Fulton goes on to state that he was suspicious of Hopfinger because the reporter “had something in his hand,” but admits he knew Hopfinger was not carrying a weapon. “It could have been a camera,” he says. “It could have been a recording device. It could have been an iPhone.” Hopfinger was carrying, and using, a video camera. According to Fulton, when his guards surrounded Hopfinger, the reporter “shoulder checked a guy into a locker.” Fulton says whomever Hopfinger pushed aside “wasn’t one of our guys. It could have been anyone. [But] I saw that shoulder check as being violent.” Hopfinger says he was trying to get some room from the crowd of guards and Miller supporters pressing in on him, and only remembers touching Fulton. He says he did not “shoulder check” anyone, and says he put his hand on Fulton’s chest to try to push him away. “I was being pushed into a lot of people,” Hopfinger says. “I used my hand. It all happened in seconds. He said it was a private event. He grabbed me and said, ‘You’re under arrest.’” Fulton says as a private security guard he has the authority to police “private events,” but refuses to answer questions about how this particular event, billed as a public gathering at a public school, could be private. The Alaska Dispatch writes: “The meeting was open to the public. There were no names taken at the door. Reporters were not asked to apply for credentials.” Fulton insists, “This is a simple trespassing issue,” but no one else “trespassing” in the hallway with Hopfinger was detained. Fulton admits that others in the hallway may have been reporters, and says: “I think we told them [all] to leave. It’s not a public [place] if it’s leased. It was a private event… because it’s a private event, and we’ve taken over the school.” [Alaska Dispatch, 10/17/2010; Anchorage Daily News, 10/18/2010]
Witness: Guards Overreacted, Miller Shoved Her, Knocked Over Young Boy - A witness to the incident says while Hopfinger was rude, he did not threaten Miller and the guards overreacted. Lolly Symbol, a Miller supporter from Big Lake, drove to the rally with her two young sons to ask Miller about his stance on gun control. She says she received the opportunity just after the town hall event, when Miller spoke with a few people outside the main room. She says she was standing next to Miller when Hopfinger began questioning him. According to Symbol, Miller was already angry with another questioner, an elderly woman who asked him about his military background. “He ended up getting really huffy with her,” Symbol says. She began asking him her question, she recalls, when Hopfinger interrupted her with a camera and a question about the incident with Fairbanks North Star Borough. “I would say Tony was aggressive, and I would say he was rude because he interrupted me, but he didn’t do anything wrong and he wasn’t posing a threat to Miller,” Symbol says. Miller shoved her aside, Symbol says, and “bowled over” her eight-year-old son Vincent Mahoney in his attempt to get away from Hopfinger. “I don’t know if [Miller] didn’t see him or didn’t care, but he didn’t say ‘excuse me’ or ‘I’m sorry.’ He didn’t even turn his head,” Symbol recalls. “He simply did not care at all.” Hopfinger continued to try to question Miller, but the security guards blocked his access. “They kept pushing him back,” she recalls. “He kept saying, ‘I have a right to be here, I have a right to be asking these questions.’ Tony would try to walk forward and they would push him back.” Symbol says she did not see Hopfinger push anyone, though the reporter has said he did push someone he thought was a security guard who had bumped him to keep him back. Heidi Embley, a spokeswoman for the Anchorage School District, says security cameras were partially installed at the school but were not equipped with recording devices, so no video of the scene is available. Symbol says she attempted to give her statement to police, but no one would take her information. Of Hopfinger, she says: “I do not believe that he did anything wrong. He was rude and he was aggressive but that’s just what the press does. Legally he did not do anything wrong that deserved to be put in cuffs.” Of Miller and the incident, she says: “The whole thing just made me sick. I was a big supporter of Joe Miller, I really was. But not anymore.” [Alaska Dispatch, 10/18/2010]
The poster featured in the front window of the Drop Zone. The caption reads: “Fascism. Socialism. New World Order. InfoWars.com.” [Source: Life in Spenard (.com)]Investigative reporters and bloggers learn that the private security firm hired by Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller (R-AK) is also active in right-wing militia and paramilitary activities. They also learn that some of the guards employed by the firm, the Drop Zone (DZ), are active-duty military soldiers, and that the firm is unlicensed and therefore operating outside the law. [Huffington Post, 10/18/2010; Anchorage Daily News, 10/18/2010; Salon, 10/19/2010]
Senate Candidate Has History of Armed Intimidation, Association with Militias - Miller himself has a history of armed intimidation: according to blogger and reporter Shannyn Moore, in 2008 he attempted to stage a “coup d’etat” of the leadership of the Alaska Republican Party, appearing during a meeting with a group of armed security guards. (The attempt, as such, was unsuccessful, and Miller currently enjoys the support of the Alaska Republican Party.) During the 2010 Senate campaign, Miller’s supporters drew media attention by brandishing assault rifles during campaign rallies (see July 19, 2010). [Huffington Post, 10/18/2010]
Security Guards on Active Duty with Army - On September 17, Miller’s security guards forcibly detained and handcuffed reporter Tony Hopfinger for attempting to question Miller about disciplinary measures taken against him while he was a lawyer for the Fairbanks North Star Borough (see October 17, 2010). The security guards work with DZ, and two of the guards who roughed up Hopfinger are on active duty with the US Army. The two guards, Specialist Tyler Ellingboe and Sergeant Alexander Valdez, are members of the 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade at Fort Richardson. Army public affairs officer Major Bill Coppernoll says neither soldier has permission from their commanding officers to work for DZ, and the Army is still looking into whether previous company or brigade commanders authorized their employment. “They’ve got to be up front with the chain of command,” Coppernoll says. “The chain of command needs to agree they can do that without affecting the readiness and the whole slew of things that are part of being a soldier that they need to do first.” DZ owner William Fulton, who was one of the guards who restrained and handcuffed Hopfinger, says it is not his job to ensure that the soldiers complied with Army regulations. “They’re adults—they are responsible for themselves,” Fulton says. [Anchorage Daily News, 10/18/2010; Salon, 10/19/2010] Hopfinger identifies Ellingboe and Valdez as two of the guards who stood over him during the time he was handcuffed. Hopfinger says Ellingboe and Valdez refused to give him their names and would not identify their company or who they were working for. At one point they told him they were volunteers, he says. [Alaska Dispatch, 10/19/2010] A Defense Department directive from 2008, entitled “Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces on Active Duty,” states in part, “A member of the armed forces on active duty shall not:… [p]erform clerical or other duties for a partisan political committee or candidate during a campaign.” [Department of Defense, 2/19/2008 ]
Security Firm: Ties to Militias, Blackwater - Fulton is an active member of the Alaska Citizens Militia, where he is titled a “supply sergeant.” The organization is led by former Michigan Militia leader Norm Olson (see April 1994, March 25 - April 1, 1996, and Summer 1996 - June 1997), who recently attempted to run for lieutenant governor of Alaska under the auspices of the secessionist Alaskan Independence Party (AIP—see September 6-7, 2008). [Yahoo! News, 10/20/2010; PalinGates, 10/20/2010] Many DZ employees have bragged about their connections to far-right elements in Alaska’s political and paramilitary scenes, and have said that the firm employs a number of former Blackwater security personnel. The firm displays a large poster of President Obama as “The Joker” in its front window and a link to InfoWars.com, a right-wing conspiracy Web site hosted by Alex Jones. The owner of the Drop Zone, William Fulton, has boasted to patrons about his partners’ participation in renditions and “black ops” overseas, and likes to show his .50-caliber sniper rifle to prospective customers. Fulton has frequently told patrons about his fondness for Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, saying to one, “Glenn talks to the crazies,” who are his best customers. Fulton also has suspected ties to the Alaskan Independence Party, which once claimed Todd Palin, former Governor Sarah Palin’s husband, as a member. [Huffington Post, 10/18/2010; Anchorage Daily News, 10/18/2010; Life in Spenard, 10/18/2010; Salon, 10/19/2010]
Miller's Ties to Militias - Alaska Citizens Militia leader Ray Southwell, a longtime crony of Olson’s and a fellow leader of the Alaska Citizens Militia, recently wrote of meeting Miller at a militia leader’s home in Soldotna, Alaska. Southwell wrote in a militia forum that he recently encouraged Miller to run for state office: “We need leaders here to stand against the feds.” In that same forum, Olson posted his endorsement of Miller’s candidacy. [PalinGates, 10/20/2010]
Expired License - Investigating bloggers also find that the Drop Zone’s license to do business as a security firm (under the name “Dropzone Security Services”) expired in December 2009. The firm updated its license on September 18, 2010, the day after its guards detained and handcuffed Hopfinger, but only renewed its license to trade, not its license to provide security. [The Immoral Minority, 10/19/2010; Yahoo! News, 10/20/2010; PalinGates, 10/20/2010] Fulton tells a reporter that he is not a security guard and that DZ is not a security guard agency, therefore he needs no license to operate as a security firm. Instead, he says, DZ is a “contract agency” and that he and his people are considered “security agents,” not guards. “We don’t do anything covered under the security [statutes],” he says. “We don’t do anything that the state has any authority to tell us what to do.” He denies having any employees, and says he hires specific people on a contract basis. DZ is primarily a military supply store, Fulton says, and only does security contracts “three or four times a month.” He admits to doing business with Miller in the past, but refuses to go into detail. He goes on to say that his guards at the Miller event were unarmed, and his “contractors” only carry weapons when they undertake “fugitive recovery” jobs: “All the guys we use are professionals, and they act professionally and dress professionally.” Hopfinger disagrees with Fulton’s contention that he is a security “agent” as opposed to a “guard,” saying: “He certainly acted like an aggressive security guard and he may have broken the law. It was an illegal detention and an illegal arrest.” Of Miller, Hopfinger says the candidate is exhibiting “poor judgment… to have Fulton and active-duty soldiers be his bodyguards.” No other Alaska political candidate he has interviewed, including Miller’s Republican opponent Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), has security guards with them, he says. [Alaska Dispatch, 10/19/2010]
Investigation - The firm is being investigated by the Alaska Department of Public Safety, both for its handling of the Hopfinger incident and for its unlicensed status. [Alaska Dispatch, 10/19/2010]
Entity Tags: Alaska Citizens Militia, Fairbanks North Star Borough, Bill Coppernoll, US Department of the Army, Alaska Department of Public Safety, Alaskan Independence Party, Alaska Republican Party, Barack Obama, Alexander Valdez, Tyler Ellingboe, William Fulton, Todd Palin, Lisa Murkowski, Tony Hopfinger, Glenn Beck, Norman (“Norm”) Olson, Joseph Wayne (“Joe”) Miller, Sarah Palin, Ray Southwell, The Drop Zone, Shannyn Moore
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
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