Baltimore Blogger Webcasts his Standoff with SWAT Team

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On Saturday night, Frank James MacArthur, author of the Baltimore Spectator and “Baltimore’s premier independent crime correspondent and street reporter” (well, according to his own blog), barricaded himself in his home as a SWAT team stood outside, ready to bust in. And, in true blogger form, MacArthur live-broadcasted the whole incident — the negotiations with the tactical team, his own claims that the police were sure to kill him, and his eventual surrender.

There’s a lot of heated rhetoric online about the incident, but the facts seem to go like this:  earlier on Saturday, police tried to serve MacArthur with a warrant for missing a court date on a years-old weapons charge, but the blogger “felt under threat to personal safety” and didn’t answer the door. So far, nothing crazy. But then MacArthur made a very dumb mistake:  He took to his Twitter feed and wondered “if I should definitely try to take a few out on my way out, or just go out zen style, no resistance.” MacArthur says this was clearly meant sarcastically, but police say that the threat against officers is what led to the SWAT team’s return to the MacArthur residence.

As the evening wore on, the police negotiator tried to get MacArthur to come out of his house, while MacArthur continued to tweet, livestream, and blog his way through the standoff. Eventually, after more than 10,000 people joined into the livestream and thousands retweeted his play-by-plays, the standoff ended peacefully.

So, this is a complicated one. MacArthur’s blog has a healthy strain of paranoia running through it (“attempted abduction by rogue members of [the] Baltimore Police Department,” etc.). He ended his broadcast by playing Ron Paul’s farewell address to Congress. His situation was picked up by the kinds of blogs that have “37 Things to Hoard!” ads in their sidebars. Many are dismissing him as a nutbag, and it’s not so hard to see why. But I suspect that the reason MacArthur’s situation got such wide play beyond the usual Ron Paul/government conspiracy circles is because there are fears about the Baltimore police overstepping their bounds. From recording conversations on public transit to shooting unarmed citizens, the department has given the paranoid some cause for their paranoia.

“He initially felt that he was very wronged by the police and I guess the entire criminal justice system,” Delegate Jill Carter, who spoke with MacArthur during the incident, told the Baltimore Sun. “I think so many times, all people really want is to be able to tell their story. I think that could have been a part of what went on.”

(The link between Ron Paul, whose complicated history with race is well-documented, and activists like MacArthur — who is black, and who has a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. as his Twitter background — is another complicated knot that’s worthy of untangling.)

Anyway, the upside is that everything ended peacefully. And no, don’t worry, Baltimore Fishbowl has no plans to barricade ourselves in our offices any time soon.

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