The young man, a store clerk actually, who answered the phone Thursday at the Dispensary Alternative Care Center sounded guarded. Suspicious even.
The owner of the store, a guy named Pete Zakamarek, had been identified on social media as one of the thousands who flocked to Washington D.C. on Jan. 6 at the behest of an impeached — twice! — president who’d promised a show.
“Be there. Will be Wild!," he tweeted.
And as we all know too well, a planned protest based on a false pretense of a stolen election, turned into a violent insurrection unspooled on live television.
And because Zakamarek posted about his attendance at the rally, he (and his business) turned into a soft target for the indignant. Righteously so. But indignant nonetheless.
And that has made employees nervous. Deservedly so. But nervous nonetheless.
“He’s not here right now,” the clerk said of the owner. “Hang on a second. I’ll take a message.”
Trouble started when Zakamarek was called out online by zealous amateur sleuths aiming to out and publicly shame participants in the insurrection.
No problem there.
Members of the mob — those who actually breached the Capitol, defiled and defaced it — richly deserve the full weight of the justice system.
For the ringleaders, those who organized and those who egged it on, and the bloodthirsty, zip-tied, face-painted lunatics, 20 years for sedition, after trial and upon conviction, seems about right.
But what of the others? Hundreds, thousands, stayed outside the Capitol and on the National Mall behind barricades shouting and nattering on about easily disproved nonsense regarding stolen elections.
People like … Pete Zakamarek. He went, took some photos and posted them online. A caption read, "It's happening." In other photos, he was posing with a sign which reads “Area closed … by order of the United States… .”
Ill-advised and ill-informed, sure. But illegal? Absent a trespassing conviction or more evidence, that’s a reach.
Nevertheless, he was called out online, also free speech. His business, too. And shortly afterward, an electronic mob formed to act as police, judge and jury.
Zakamarek didn’t hide from the fact he was in D.C. on Jan. 6.
“Yes it was me I went to support Trump get to the Capitol after the speech and I took pictures,” he posted on Facebook in response to a rapidly unspooling thread. “Yes I love Trump but I didn’t breech the building or break any laws. I took a pic with the sign that laying on the ground by the time I arrived. Nothing violent I went expressing First Amendment rights.”
The First Amendment, last I checked, protects and guarantees the rights of free speech and assembly, as long as it's peaceable. No yelling "fire" in a crowded theater.
It says nothing about the absence of punctuation or whether the speech in question is false and easily disproved. Listeners have to be smart enough to know the difference between truth and fantasy.
More than 60 judges in some 90 court cases agree that the election was free and fair. Legislatures, individual secretaries of state and now, finally, Congress have said so.
The fact that as much as 40 percent of the country still believes that is as much a commentary on the shortcomings of the public-education system as hothouse media ecosystems that amplify the lies.
'Crazy ... ridiculous'
Once his participation had attention drawn to it, it didn’t take long for the online commentariat to get cranked up. Phone calls (and in-person visitors) started raining down on the dispensary, an employee reported.
“It’s been crazy. Ridiculous,” the clerk offered during a short, civil conversation. (We’ll keep his name out of this out of an abundance of caution.) “People are harassing us as employees. Nobody here did anything.”
And so far, in the eyes of the law, neither has Zakamarek.
His business is at the back of a small office complex. He sells CBD products, trendy hemp oil health-enhancement products proponents swear by.
It’s well-kept, and the staff friendly and professional. The store has been in the same spot for more than two years, so Zakamarek the businessman must be doing something right.
“CBD oil has been recognized for medical uses,” he said in 2018. “It comes from a natural plant with potential to save a lot of lives. Or at least make them easier. It’s not hurting anyone.”
Nor has Zakamarek the protester been accused of causing anyone harm. But that hasn’t prevented angry people from coming by.
“That’s the thing. We’ve got employees who’re big Biden supporters. But people just assume,” the clerk said. “We had one lady come in and flip out at the manager.”
Zakamarek, as of Friday, hadn’t returned a message left with the clerk.
It’s just as well. But here’s the thing: He has every right to express his opinion and assemble with the like-minded, same as everyone else as long as it's within the confines of the law.
Mobs, whether in person or electronic, that gather to intimidate, pressure and/or demand illegal “justice” are antithetical to the rule of law and the practice of democracy.